A fashion designer's natural healing technique – for free right in the hospital room

CORP20160344_Zen_blog_smallSomeone you love is in the hospital — not feeling great, not sleeping well and having some anxiety.

A nurse trained in a therapy called Urban Zen, inspired by fashion designer Donna Karan, comes to the hospital room to help with natural healing and relaxation techniques.

I know, you're thinking: "Donna Karan, what?" And don't make the mistake of picturing young professionals doing yoga atop a downtown roof, like I did when I heard the name Urban Zen.

Urban Zen Integrative Therapy combines essential oils, yoga and Reiki — a healing technique that channels energy into a patient by touch.

The therapy doesn't replace traditional medical care but complements it, helping with pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation and exhaustion.

It's available for free to patients staying at hospitals affiliated with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center — from new moms to cancer patients. Outpatients, family members of patients and medical staff also can request the service offered through our Integrative Medicine program.

Karan saw the benefits of applying a gentle, human touch to her husband as he was dying of lung cancer. She also noticed that yoga techniques and the scents of oils improved his mood and relieved his anxiety while he received care at the hospital. After he passed, Karan launched the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program for hospitals.

Clinicians at the Wexner Medical Center have witnessed the benefits.

"Most people fall asleep," says nurse Beth Steinberg, director of Nursing for Critical Care at Ohio State who trained for 50 hours in a hospital setting to be an Urban Zen integrative therapist. "If you can sleep and relax for 30 minutes during a hospital stay," she adds, "that's a big deal when everybody's poking and prodding and wanting something from you. Being able to relax is the best feeling in the world."

Steinberg, also associate director for Integrative Nursing, is one of more than a dozen medical center employees trained in Urban Zen. Many are nurses.

Ohio State patients who desire the complementary therapy simply need to ask. An integrative therapist will come to their rooms or outpatient facilities and explain the program.

Steinberg recently joined two other therapists in a 30-minute demonstration to a lung-transplant support group at Ohio State.

Here’s what the experience is like:

"Has anyone here ever experienced Urban Zen?" Steinberg asks the group.

"Yes," says a member. "It was peaceful."

"We're going to give you all a chance to experience it now," Steinberg tells the transplant patients — some of whom recently received new lungs while others are awaiting donated organs.

The therapists squeeze drops of essential oils onto cotton pads and hand them to the members.

"Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable in your chair, like you're planning to fall asleep," says Susan Cunningham a nurse, yoga teacher and Urban Zen therapist.

"Notice how much light you're able to sense. Notice the sounds of the room. The hum of lights. Your own breath. The scent of the oils."

The support group members listen to Cunningham speak in a meditative rhythm. They inhale the scent of peppermint — good for relieving pain like headaches — and lemon — good for lifting one's mood.

The members gently move their feet, arms, hands and heads.

They feel the soft touch of the therapists' hands on their shoulders.

Steinberg tells the group:

"We're a society that doesn't keep still. Doesn't it feel nice to relax and hear your own breath?"

Still in a meditative trance, the group members nod and smile in agreement.

Urban Zen is just one of the wide variety of services meant to heal the whole person through our Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. Find out about acupuncture, guided imagery, mindfulness, music therapy and more.

Learn more and schedule an appointment by emailing urbanzen@osumc.edu.

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