Holistically yours

[wide]holistic[/wide]They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as free care. Dozens of local practitioners of holistic and alternative treatment methods have been giving it away for years, under the name Health Care is a Human Right.

Each month, the collective of healers holds clinics in a number of places — the Darmstadt Shelter and Kirkland Hotel in Kingston, the Parish Hall on Main Street in Phoenicia and the Woodstock Community Center. (The Darmstadt clinics are open only to shelter and Family Inn residents and staff; all others are open to the public. The next one at the Kirkland, 2 Main St. Uptown, will be next Thursday, Aug. 8, from 4-7 p.m.)

According to Susan Weeks, RPA-C, who co-founded the group 10 years ago and now serves as its director, the group’s mission is “to provide holistic health care to all regardless of ability to pay.”

The providers, or “faculty” of Health Care is a Human Right cover a broad span of disciplines: acupuncture, nutrition, homeopathy, massage therapy, reiki, energy work, hypnosis and more. All told, there are about 60, who all work pro bono, and more are being interviewed all the time, said Weeks.

Money truly is no object: insured or not, anyone seeking holistic care will be helped, for free. A triage procedure which involves the filling out of some forms and releases is done on each client but that’s about it. Which is not a bad deal at all, considering holistic and alternative care is not always covered by insurance or if covered, not very well, and can be expensive. “It gives people an opportunity to experience modalities that they normally wouldn’t be able to,” said acupuncturist and group managing director Julia Rose of Phoenicia.

The idea, said Weeks, is to bring healing back to its true basics: helping someone who needs help. “I think we have an amazing faculty of healers who are an example of what healing should be — people who are experts in their field and give of themselves selflessly to help others,” Weeks said, noting that it includes some of the most experienced practitioners in the area. “I’m really proud of them and I think they deserve a tremendous amount of credit.”

Last month’s clinic at the Kirkland featured a number of these providers treating a steady stream of people who appeared to be from numerous walks of life. Every nook and cranny of the hotel’s public interior space seemed to be in use — one room hosted massage, while a hypnotist set up in the landing between flights of stairs.

Driving with distractions

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Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography.
Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography.

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It’s likely we all know at least one person who didn’t make it through high school. For me, it was my classmate Scott Safer in Vermont in the late ’70s. He was a passenger in a car whose friend was changing a cassette tape while driving on an exit ramp. The car flipped over, and Scott didn’t survive. He was 16.

Avoidable fatalities caused by distracted teen driving cause thousands of hearts to break every year. Parents, family and friends find themselves devastated by the too-brief life senselessly snuffed out. It often seems to happen around now, prom time, just before graduation, a time that should mean new beginnings and new adventures for high-school kids.

Distractions that cause accidents, from drink or drugs to interactions with too many friends in the car, are many. The risk factor is exacerbated by the sense of invincibility that many young people have and compounded by their inexperience at driving.

But the deadliest factor, in 2013, is the telephone. Whether used for talking, surfing, reading or sending texts, it contributes to the vast majority of car accidents that claim lives. Text messaging is the worst culprit, creating a crash risk that is 23 times worse than normal driving, comparable to driving after four drinks or with a blood alcohol level of 0.8 percent, the legal limit. Texting while driving is responsible for eleven teen deaths every day in this country, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Even hands-free phones create a cognitive distraction from what the driver sees, hears and takes in about the conditions around him or her.

Statistics from 2011 say that 23 percent of crashes involved phones, and 21 percent of fatal ones involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19, were the result of cell phone usage. This percentage is growing as much as four percent every year. Eighty-two percent of 16- and-17-year-olds now have their own phone, 54 to 56 percent admit to talking on the phone while driving and 13 to 34 percent to texting.

The Centers for Disease Control report that nearly half of all U.S. high school students aged 16 years or older text or e-mail while driving. Students who text while driving are nearly twice as likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking and five times as likely to drink and drive themselves.

So far, the research indicates that the cognitive distraction of having a hands-free phone conversation causes drivers to miss the important visual and audio cues that would ordinarily help avoid a crash. Safe driving requires optimum visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver. Eating, grooming, looking at a map or adjusting the radio take the driver’s eyes from the road or a hand from the wheel momentarily, reducing the effective attention on the task at hand. Using a cell phone diminishes all three: the eyes leave the road, a hand leaves the wheel, and the driver is thinking about something besides the road.

Joblessness and your health

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Illustration by Rick Holland
Illustration by Rick Holland

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For so many, losing a job can mean losing everything: family, finances, health, home and sanity.

According to Andrew O’Grady, executive director of Mental Health America of Dutchess County, there are, in the event of job loss, factors which predict worsening mental health and factors that predict the opposite.

“If someone defines their lives by their job, and then you lose that job, then you lose who are you when you lose that job and that’s a predictor of worsening mental health,” said O’Grady. “If family members criticize … for being jobless, or insinuate that your performance was an impacting reason for your unemployment, would also make it negative.”

O’Grady said that it’s common that when money gets tight, relationships begin to deteriorate and that causes more stress and depression. Therefore, the family structure, and how well supported the person is within it, is also an important predictor.

But, O’Grady said that not everyone who loses their job goes to Hades in a hand basket. He said it’s about what and how we spend our time, such as having routines and enjoyable activities to replace the job. O’Grady also pointed out that sometimes untreated mental health issues may have been an underlying cause for losing the job.

“There are physical symptoms for depression: headaches, back pain, difficulty sleeping, weight loss or gain, sleeping too much, physical pain,” said O’Grady. “That all happens.”

No money, fading health

For many, losing a job is a fast track to faltering health. Poughkeepsie-based oncology Nurse Practitioner Chris Egan said she notices that when someone loses their job a cancer diagnosis is quick to follow. Why? Egan’s personal opinion was that it’s about defenses; when a person takes a blow, such as sudden unemployment, their immune system begins to unravel with them.

William Bell of Middlehope has Crohn’s Disease, a chronic autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the digestive system creating painful bouts of stomach pains, exhaustion, malnutrition and bleeding. In early May, Bell was told his job would be terminated as part of a corporate reorganization. “Initially I was devastated, I loved the job and the people I worked with, but eventually I started to think perhaps a new job, higher salary, closer commute could be a good thing — I was wrong,” said Bell.

As the summer progressed, Bell’s headhunters and recruiters at all the major agencies were turning up nothing, some explaining the job market was on hold until after Labor Day, not to worry, it would pick up. “As I began to worry about money, my health started deteriorating … My symptoms worsened as I began to get depressed about the unfortunate turn of events in my life. The symptoms became regular, daily, and more severe.”

The true believer

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Photo by Lauren Thomas
Photo by Lauren Thomas

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The oldest remedies often turn out to be the best. Take, for example, “Thieves,” a blend of clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils used by grave-robbers during the bubonic plague, which decimated much of Europe and Asian in the 14th century, wiping out almost entire populations. “Thieves” allowed the grave-robbers to secure the wealth of deceased victims without contacting the disease themselves. They were protected so well that courts would order them to provide their secret weapon: nature’s oils.

Given our modern pharmaceutical enterprises, that tale could sound foolish — the stuff of legend. But when I was introduced to essential oils almost six years ago by my mother, a veteran counselor and workshop leader, I took her advice to heart. She had many ties in the traditional and not-so-traditional worlds of therapeutics. She had workshops and certifications. And she had accumulated a vast network of alternative-healthy, life-loving friends. Her clients were astounded that what she swore by was “hot water and lemon,” via Deepak Chopra and essential oils.

Besides, she’s my mother. How could it hurt if I followed her advice?

So I used lemongrass to offset the onslaught of bugs during the recreational baseball season, and basil to help cure the itch of bug bites and poison ivy. Prone to panic, I found that lavender essential oil, placed on my temples, sternum and palms of my hand, helped me sleep and relax.

Tending to three active children who are usually running cross-country or swimming when they’re not doing homework kept me busy. It was a full-time chore for me just to keep them fed, not to say vitamin-sufficient.

Subscribing to the age-old remedy of essential oils, every night I would anoint my children every night with Thieves, purification and alternate amino-power. The result? No one got sick. The strep throat which had plagued our swim-family abated. Though we avoided the flu shot, there were no sicknesses.

The hedonism (and healthiness) of hiking

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Photo by David Shankbone
Photo by David Shankbone
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What’s the most enjoyable and exhilarating way to fight depression, cardiovascular disease and a host of other ills?

Hiking is an all-season pursuit with many benefits, but perhaps most important is the pure hedonistic joy of it. Although it’s not for everyone — many of my nearest and dearest would rather not — I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, and I love it. Of the sports I enjoy I’d have to say it’s at the top.

Only fear of bears and human predators keeps me from getting out there all the time. When I was a kid in Vermont I ran around in the woods fearlessly alone, or with a buddy, a gang of kids, my class or the whole school. Or my family. My mother, once an enthusiastic hiker, is a veteran of many solo backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail and Vermont’s Long Trail. Hiking is in my blood. I always did it just for the fun of it, with no thoughts to its physical and mental benefits.

Hiking is the epitome of flexibility. It can be done any time of day or year, at any level from a casual half-mile stroll on flat pavement to extreme mountain climbing on the highest peaks. If you customize your ventures to your fitness level, you won’t burn out. You can keep the fires of fervor for the sport ever burning.

What I love about hiking is how it can combine beautifully with other interests I have, like appreciating nature’s flora and fauna, foraging for edibles, camping, travel and admiring art. If you’re a shopper you can hike a huge mall like Woodbury Commons, although some studies have shown that with the absence of fresh air and varied terrain the mental and physical benefits dip sharply. The British mental health group Mind found in a study that outdoor hikes lower depression and boost self-esteem and mood, while shopping-center walks do the opposite.

Hiking satisfies, or at least teases, the essentially human desire to explore and conquer. Going uphill here, downhill there, adjusting your pace, provides the variety the treadmill lacks, not to mention the discovery of more interesting and varied vistas than whatever’s on the TV at the gym. Like other aerobic workouts it benefits the heart, blood vessels, lungs, muscles and bones all over your body. Carrying a daypack full of water bottles ups the advantages.

“Walking is one of the lowest impact sports around,” maintains the American Hiking Society. “This means that while you derive all the cardiovascular benefits of other aerobic activities, you do so with a minimum of stress, strain and pounding to your body.”

Hiking fights diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, hypertension, high cholesterol and overweight. Mental benefits include control over insomnia, depression and stress, as well as heightening a sensory awareness that is lacking in this all-too-technological age. Unplug, put away the phone, and listen to the birdsong, feel the sun on your skin and breathe in clean piney moss-scented air. And do it as often as you can, even if for just a few minutes, scheduling longer jaunts as time allows.