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Thursday, February 10, 2011

He wasn't open to the woo-woos: The Urban Zen Foundation

As a designer for Anne Klein, Donna Karan gave birth to her daughter Gabby the same week a collection of resort clothes was due, even as her boss Anne was succumbing to cancer. Donna's mother died on the day of a fashion show, and her husband died the same week as a show. Through it all, Donna kept working, later leaving Anne Klein to form Donna Karan New York. She got involved in philanthropic work when the AIDS epidemic broke out. It’s now the 25th anniversary of the start of her fashion label, and two years since she founded the Urban Zen Foundation, located in a large art studio in Greenwich Village in New York City.

Long a New Age devotee, she was transformed by her husband Stephan Weiss' seven-year battle with lung cancer. She says, "Stephen wasn't open to what he would call my woo-woos – all the alternative methodology journeys I would take. But all of a sudden, when he got sick, he realized the importance of them. He did yoga four times a week; he had an Iyengar teacher who would come because he needed postural positions to help him breathe. We did acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage and raindrop therapy with essential oils. It became obvious to me that this was what was missing in the hospital system."

She was also deeply affected by the struggle of her best friend, Lynn Kohlmann, who died from breast and brain cancer in 2008. "When you get the call, panic sets in: What do we do? As loved ones, we're not trained in health care. But when you're a patient or a loved one, you need a guide….So I asked, 'Who is putting together a movement that is changing the hospital system?' There was a void. No one was integrating" the health care.

Now her Urban Zen Foundation offers a 500-hour Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program that brings together health professionals and yoga teachers who are taught in-bed yoga, meditation, Reiki, aromatherapy, palliative care and nutrition. The participants in the first year, who include doctors, nurses, yoga instructors, yoga practitioners, physical therapists and other healthcare providers, complete 100 hours of clinical rotation at a hospital.

"Our healthcare system today needs help. This is a huge project, and there's a lot of work to do. I have to take it one day at a time. This is in its infancy stage. This is a movement that's being created. I want to join with all these brilliant people: Deepak Chopra, Mehmet Oz, Mark Hyman, Woodson Merrell. If we all join forces, we have a lot of people on this path. It's definitely a mission, and it's the most challenging thing I've ever done."

Thanks to Leslie Bennetts for her source article in the July 2010 issue of Town & Country.

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