Donna Karen and fellow designer Sonja Nuttall
by Ann Brode
Donna Karan, internationally acclaimed designer, has launched a healing initiative called "Urban Zen" which intends to raise awareness and funds to further the practice and understanding of whole person health. In Karan's words: "I have always dressed people; now I want to address them. I want to address their needs, that is what I feel I have been given a gift to do." Karan's passion for this initiative was an outcome of her experience with her husband's and her dear friends bouts with cancer and an awareness that healing-centered hospital care needed to include patient advocacy,, organic nutrition, restorative yoga and tai chi, and healing rooms offering alternative therapies. "I do not have all the answers," Karan said recently. "In fact, I don't have 80%. I have an idea here and an idea there. But if you bring the right bunch of people together, we will come up with conclusions. And at least we will get the dialogue going on every different level." Along with her personal motivation, Karan has the financial wherewithal to realize her dreams. She also has contacts to bring together some of the world's top conventional and alternative health professionals as well as yogis, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and high-profile patients for workshops on integrative medicine and patient care.
An offering of yoga instruction the Urban Zen Initiative in New York
The very first Urban Zen program took place in New York City for May 14 to May 24, 2007. Titled "The Path" (Patient Awareness Towards Healing). The daily schedule included panel discussions on familiar integrative medicinal themes, sessions of yoga, zen meditation, tai chi and qi gong classes, and meals prepared by Living Foods chef Jill Pettijohn. Some of the luminaries participating in the panel discussions were: Christiane Northrup MD, Larry Norton MD, Robert Thurman PhD, Rodney Yee, Alejandro Junger MD, Mehmet Oz MD,and Ingrid Sischy along with Michael J Fox, Arianna Huffington, Diane Von Furstenberg, Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Roth and Roshi Pat O'Hara. As Karan said, "The alternative world of medicine can exist. This is not woo-woo talk anymore. Breathing, meditation, song, dance are all part of the healing process. I keep on saying it's not either or, it's and. It's inclusive, not exclusive."
According to Karan, the idea of integrating mainstream with complementary forms of health care is more relevant than ever. "Disease touches every single human being. We all have loved ones. I want a better place for my children and grandchildren. I don't want them to have to go through some of the things I see my friends go through." The challenge now is how to bring all of the modalities of healthy care together to create a new paradigm of healthcare. Urban Zen intends to continue with its programs and initiatives around the world with all of the proceeds going to support integrative medicine. In addition to the money raised through donations and attendance at the Urban Zen sponsored events, Donna Karan also set up a retail store where she sold clothing, art objects and educational materials related to health and healing including Santa Barbara somatic therapist, Ann Todhunter Brode's meditation CD "Body Breath"!
Patient Awareness Towards Healing was an enormous success as would be expected with vice-chairs including Michael J Fox, Demi Moore, Ashton Kushner, Katie Couric, von Furstenberg, Evelyn lauder, Kenneth Cole, Christina Ong, Graydon Carter, and Anna Wintour; and corporate partners LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, Sephora, Rodale,Inc, Christina Ong, Gaiam, and Citibank as sponsors. There was also a lot of press generated with a kickoff dinner featuring a performance by patti LaBelle, Angela McCluskey and Paul Antelon and a benefit dinner hosted by "Vanity Fair".
The next Urban Zen initiative is scheduled to take place in June,2007, and will focus on helping impoverished cultures in Africa.