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Angel By My Bedside

Synergistic and Holistic, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Is Bringing Care Back Into Healthcare


Last Updated: 12/12/2016 9:27 am

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In 2008, Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan conducted a yearlong research project using UZIT on one of its oncology floors—and the result was a savings of nearly $1 million that year on medications for pain, anxiety, and nausea. Since the strong endorsement of that study, about 750 practitioners have trained to become Urban Zen integrative therapists, and the program has spread its wings to UCLA Medical Center, Ohio State University Medical Center, Boulder Community Hospital, and about 10 different facilities in the Greater New York City area. Not just in hospital settings, UZIT has also branched out to rehab centers, women's shelters, yoga studios, and classrooms, with a modified version tailored for kids in inner city San Francisco schools.

"In the institutions that we're in, the staff members are so happy we're there because the patient is happier and there are better patient outcomes," says Mary-Beth Charno, a Kingston-based holistic nurse and one of UZIT's senior nurse trainers. "A lot of times the physician will say, 'I don't know what you're doing, but keep doing it.'" Charno is bringing UZIT to the Hudson Valley with a series of workshops to begin in January at Wellness Embodied in New Paltz. Designed for laypeople as well as health practitioners, and appropriate for any caregiver, from a nurse to a parent—the UZIT model begins with self-care. "The whole foundation of the practice is self-care," explains Charno. "You have to get yourself into the yoga poses and feel them. You have to become the lavender oil that you use." The philosophy is simple: You can't effectively take care of other people if you don't take care of yourself. We can't give from an empty vessel or from an exhausted, stress-wracked body.

"We like to think of [UZIT] as a life vest," she explains. "As clinicians, we're trained with this multitasking mind. We have to hold 10 or 12 things in our mind and juggle them. It creates a fragmented being because the mind is separated from the body. These therapies offer an invitation for the mind and body to have a moment to come together. Whether you simply recognize that your body has weight, or take a moment to feel your feet on the ground before you walk into a patient's room, that's where the magic is. There's an availability to be present to what's unfolding in front of me. I can hold those 10 things that I need to keep in my mind, but there's something more supportive there. I can see the patient and what they actually need in that moment." In the hospital room, the UZIT practitioner is trained to keep the language neutral and accessible, not using words like yoga or meditation. "When we present it as, 'I'm going to have you move your arms and legs in bed so that you don't get a lung infection,' that's understood by everyone. Really what we're trying to do is get the patient back into their body, and into their breath."

Finding Refuge from Suffering

Marina Vandenbergh, a functional medicine nurse based in Peekskill, took the UZIT training in 2012 and did her clinical rotation at Health Lodge—a free place to stay for cancer patients receiving treatment in Manhattan. "Many of the people I met were extremely sick and doing experimental treatments," she says. "A few minutes into a session, everybody would be asleep. Just from sheer exhaustion." Yet the tables turned for Vandenbergh two years later, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Lyme disease. She already had a self-care practice in place thanks to UZIT—a practice that she slipped into like a hammock for her discomfort-wracked body. "I have a daily breathwork practice that grew because of that training, and that has really helped ground me over the last few years. Whereas some of my other go-tos, such as yoga with large movements, weren't as accessible, the breathwork was. Sometimes there's no other way around [the pain] but through the breath."

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