Urban Zen with Donna Karan


Each morning of the forum started out with a yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong class, such as The Path Yoga Training Class taught by Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee. These yoga classes integrated yoga sequence, restorative yoga postures, yogic breathing, and meditation to help the patients in their healing process. This was followed by lively discussions, such as the Open Discussion: ‘The Path’ – Integrative Medicine, which provided a comprehensive overview dealing with the experience of patients and their loved ones as they worked through serious illnesses in today’s medical environment. The discussion was led by leading names in healing, such as Dr. Woodson Merrell, the M. Anthony Fisher Director of Integrative Medicine at New York Beth Israel Medical Center alongside the likes of Professor Robert Thurman, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University and director of the Tibet House, and Rodney Yee, a yoga instructor.

These diverse minds led to lively discussions. Dr. Merrell said, “What we hope to achieve is to help make fundamental changes in the way health care is delivered; to make it more integrated than it is now.”

In a taped message, Senator Clinton said, “Our healthcare system is one focused on sickness, not on wellness. Lifestyle issues are central to well-being. We need to develop programs to serve as new models.” The Urban Zen Initiative worked on doing just that.

The main goal of the panels was to inform. It gave attendees and speakers an opportunity to interact and work on problem solving, work towards solutions. Many of the discussions also focused on the support of pilot programs at local hospitals using the concepts discussed throughout the Initiative.

Karan also opened an Urban Zen boutique throughout the duration of the event, which sold Urban Zen clothes, art objects, and books about health and healing, with profits going to help the initiative. Well-renowned photographers such as Annie Liebowitz, Michael O’Neill, and others also donated works for an auction whose proceeds will be used to help with pilot programs at various medical facilities, such as the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at New York Beth Israel Hospital.

The Well Being Forum is just the beginning of Karan’s philanthropic side. Upcoming forums are in the works that will focus on some of her other passions, such as the preservation of indigenous cultures, and the empowerment of children through spirituality.

When discussing whether the integrative changes will be implemented in hospitals, Dr. Dean Ornish mentioned that no hospital wants to be the first to change, and no one wants to be the last. Karan, always with her queen fashion sense and quick wit, replied, “I’ve seen it happen in fashion; one designer does short skirts, and then everyone’s doing it.” As many people have followed her keen direction when it comes to fashion, the total wellness trend may catch on sooner than we think.