When New York-based artist Stephan Weiss fell ill with lung cancer 10 years ago, he relied upon the calming effects of the Eastern modalities of yoga, spiritual guidance and breathing techniques to ease his discomfort in addition to his Western medical treatments. During the course of his illness, his wife, fashion designer Donna Karan, realized these complementary techniques were extremely helpful, yet sorely missing in traditional healthcare.
When Weiss passed away, Karan repurposed his art studio in the Chelsea section of New York City into what is now the Urban Zen Center, home of the Urban Zen Foundation, an organization that, among other endeavors, provides integrative therapy training to healthcare professionals so they can include Eastern modalities in patient care.An integrative therapy class begins.
One of Weiss’ last requests to his wife was to “take care of the nurses” he had come to know and love during his bout with cancer. This year, Karan fulfilled that request when she partnered with The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future to award four RNs scholarships to the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program.
Karan and Andrea Higham, director of The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future, met at an event last fall, and the idea to work collaboratively grew from there. “They had a similar interest in supporting the nursing community,” Higham said. “We felt that their goals worked well with what we are trying to do.”
The two parties decided scholarships to the program would be a great endeavor. “Nurses are the backbone of healthcare,” Higham said. “They have intense stressors at work, dealing with all the different patient complexities. This program is a way to give back to the caregiver while, at same time, giving them additional tools to care for their patients.”The areas outside the loft provide a soothing place to dine and meditate.
To be considered for The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future scholarships, applicants had to meet requirements which included being licensed as RNs, LPNs or APRNs in a U.S. state with at least one year of experience, having at least two years of a personal yoga practice and submitting a video explaining why they were the right candidates. If chosen, applicants also had to commit to documenting their one-year journey in a blog or other social media vehicle. Of the four scholarship winners, three are from New York Liz Lattuga, RN; Debra Cappock-Clegg, RN; and Patti Heidmann, RN. The fourth winner, Jennifer Owens, RN, is a nurse at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.
As an ambulatory surgery nurse in the breast health center at Southampton (N.Y.) Hospital, Lattuga is a yoga enthusiast and was familiar with the program’s techniques. She heard about the scholarship from one of the integrative therapists at her hospital who graduated from the program. “I applied the very next day,” she said.Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee are co-directors of the Urban Zen Foundation’s Integrative Therapy Program.
Cappock-Clegg and Heidmann both work at Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y. Cappock-Clegg, of the adult psychiatric unit, learned about the scholarship from a physician and, like Lattuga, applied the next day. Cappock-Clegg has been using Eastern healing modalities for many years and for the past four years has organized weekend retreats for lay people. “I’ve been a registered nurse for 40 years and have been using therapies like therapeutic touch, Reiki and basic reflexology for about 30,” she said.
When Heidmann was told about the scholarship by a colleague, she knew she had to apply. “I had read an article about [the Urban Zen Foundation] years ago and thought to myself ‘this is something I really want to do with the rest of my career’.” The adolescent psychiatric nurse already had begun training in a yearlong aromatherapy program and felt the integrative therapy certification would be a great addition to her practice. She too, applied soon after hearing about the program and even had a friend shoot her video with her iPhone so she could get it in quickly.
Launched in 2009, the UZIT Program is an intensive 500-hour course that focuses on integrating multiple therapies with traditional medicine. Students meet with instructors from April to January for one weekend a month at the Urban Zen Center for training. They must complete 100 hours of supervised clinical rotation at a program-approved site and 15 hours of community service.Inside the loft, natural furniture makes up the decor.
Students are trained in yoga therapy, Reiki, nutrition, contemplative care and essential oil therapy. According to Karan, the interweaving of these modalities gives the students the expertise to treat the PANIC — pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation and exhaustion — that often accompanies a chronic illness. “Putting all the modalities together is what makes the difference,” she said.
To date, the program has graduated more than 80 integrative therapists, according to UZIT faculty member Rodney Yee. “We started with about 100 students, and 85 successfully completed the requirements to graduate,” he said. Yee and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee, are seasoned yoga instructors and longtime friends of Karan and Weiss, so they were the natural choice to serve as the program’s co-directors. The program uses a train-the-trainer approach, and graduates also become trainers. “About a third of the class comes back as mentors,” Saidman Yee said.
The Yees will begin similar programs in other states, beginning with Ohio in September and San Francisco in the near future. “We know a lot of the country’s top yoga instructors, and we’re getting them involved as well,” Yee said.Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee instruct a class at the Urban Zen Center.
Foundation-trained integrative therapists work at area hospitals, including Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and Four Winds Hospital, where they promote the program and teach self-care.
Although this is the first year for the scholarships, Karan has been fulfilling her promise to “take care of the nurses” in other ways. According to Karan, through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Urban Zen Foundation has created a special curriculum of self-care for nurses that is being taught at Kent (Ohio) State University College of Nursing. “Our dream is to be part of nursing curricula in schools across the country,” she said. “I hope this is just the tip of the iceberg.”