Urban Zen with Donna Karan


Karan writes, “When first my husband became ill with cancer, then my best friend Lynn Kohlman, I realized something was terribly wrong with the way they were being treated. I was blessed to see that they both got the best medical care, but even with that, even in the best medical facilities in the country, the disease was being treated, but the patient-that living, breathing, sensitive human being whom I knew and cared for so much-got lost in the process.” Unable to sit by helpless, Karan brought healthy whole foods into the hospital, along with yoga instructors to teach breathing and relaxation. “I encouraged [my husband and Lynn] to connect spiritually so they could become empowered in the healing process. Stephan responded immediately,” Karan shares. Sadly, he eventually succumbed to the illness, but it was after living with the disease for seven years.

Lynn Kholman was only given months to live when she was first diagnosed with both breast and brain cancer, but is still alive today, nearly four years later. “She will tell you it had everything to do with her integrative treatment and her own fierce will and passion to live,” writes Karan.

The Urban Zen Initiative is based on the success of these integrative treatments. The program brought together the best minds and healers from all traditions both East and West in order to help pave the way to making changes in the current healthcare system. The forum unites respected yoga instructors with healthcare leaders, unites nurses with patients and spiritual leaders. “My mission is to create a working environment where the worlds of conventional and alternative medical practices unite to create new ways of healing, health, and well being, focused on the total human and medical needs of the patient,” says Karan.

Karan is the underwriter of the Urban Zen Initiative, along with several corporate partners. One hundred percent of all contributions to the Initiative will support pilot programs that arise out of the Forum’s Workshops, and fifty percent of the tickets were made available free of charge to qualified healthcare professionals. (Ticket prices ranged from $100 for a yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong class to $6,000 for the Healer Sponsorship, which included one ticket to Wellness Launch Party Benefit and 5Rhythms® Trance Dance Benefit, as well as a priority pass to all the Well-Being Forum Workshops and a VIP gift bag.)

Urban Zen Initiative took place at Stephan Weiss’s sculpture studio on Greenwich Street, playing host to a myriad of events all centered around one concept: Health. The program was based on “The Path,” both homage to the Zen concept in Mahayana Buddhism that asserts that enlightenment can be attained through meditation, self-contemplation, and intuition, and an acronym for Patient Awareness Toward Healing.

The event garnered its fair share of celebrity support, with Michael J. Fox speaking on one of the panels that convened daily. Hilary Rodham Clinton was an honorary chair for Urban Zen, while supermodel Christy Turlington was a co-chair. “Donna and I had this discussion about what it was like to have experienced a loved one who was ill, and how hard it is on the people around them, let alone the patients,” Turlington said. “Donna has been a huge example to me. She is now in a place where she can dedicate time, money, and her interest solely on making the world a better place. It’s quite inspiring to be a part of it.”