On a campus where it seems that nearly everyone, whether undergraduate, graduate student, or faculty member is a bona fide overachiever, is it even possible to get a quiet moment of solace in to simply contemplate and experience your surroundings? The Holistic Health Club, established early this month by three undergraduates, has come to prove that ambition and relaxation can go hand-in-hand.
London Holt, the third year undergraduate and vice president of the Holistic Health Club who focuses on meditation for the organization, traveled to Beijing for nine weeks in the summer of 2012 to study abroad. While he was there, he climbed two mountains in the Wu Tai Shan Mountain Range and meditated with the native Buddhist monks. He was so enlivened by his experience that when he returned to Case Western Reserve University, his stories caught others’ attentions and caused a ripple effect of ideas to bring cultural forms of healing to campus.
“My family background is very into Chinese medicine and alternative medicine, so I missed all of the practices and the tai chi meditation,” said Lisa Liang, second year undergraduate and president of the Holistic Health Club. Liang, who focuses on tai chi, teamed up with Holt to form the organization. “Coming to campus, I saw that a lot of the students were stressed. I thought that bringing [the Holistic Health Club] to campus would help a lot of people.”
According to the executive members of the club, holistic health is in high demand on campus. Faculty and students, including a CWRU medical anthropology professor, petitioned to see the club in full fruition at the beginning of their development. Not even a month in the running, the Holistic Health Club held their first general body meeting in the beginning of February.
“Personally, I’ve been through a lot of stress, and I see my peers go through a lot of stress. The imbalance has not only impacted their academic selves but also their social life and their personal development… I wanted to introduce this holistic practice to the campus so people could learn and practice and utilize it in their everyday lives,” said Liang.
Johanna Lam, a second year undergraduate student and the treasurer of the club was one of those “stressed out peers.”
He and Liang practiced meditation and yoga together every morning and enhanced their understanding of holistic healing from their SAGES course, Chronic Illness in the context of Culture, before they formed the club.
“You can feel the stress [on campus],” Lam said. “I want this club to be a resource for us to learn how to do better without stressing out, by living a healthier lifestyle.”
Holt describes himself as the living embodiment of “meditation.”
“Not only do I have a passion for holistic medicine, but my majors are psychology and Chinese. I want to become a marriage therapist that uses holistic modalities,” he said. “I also have a passion for personal development and bringing the ‘amazingness’ out of people… Meditation and other modalities of relaxation have helped me so much,” he said. “This group is the manifestation of a huge paradigm shift that’s taking place in American culture because people aren’t just using western medicine.”
The Holistic Health Club plans to focus on three main practices: tai chi, meditation, and yoga, but they are also open to exploring other forms of cultural healing such as integrative nutrition and reiki. The club’s executive board also includes their secretary, second year undergraduate Amber Beserra, who is currently studying abroad in India to enhance her understanding of yoga.
“[Tai chi] is basically a very graceful art of slow moving meditation. It originates from martial arts, so there’s actually a lot of defense and attacking abilities. Through the slow moving, your body is synchronized,” Liang said. “The moving meditation is centered about the theory of yin and yang… That balance in energy is basically what tai chi stems from.”
Holt explained that meditation originated in the Hindu belief system, but it does not necessarily take on a religious label.
“I think that a lot of meditation is connected to many different belief systems, and it is just a belief that it can help you connect not only to higher powers but the divine essence within yourself,” he said. “Even if people don’t believe in a higher power, it just helps you at the biological level by releasing different neurotransmitters that are conducive to helping you.”
According to Lam, yoga takes its roots in Indian culture. “It is actually very closely linked to Hinduism,” she said. “It is also a moving form of meditation. A lot of it is based on the chakras [different center points of energy in your body].”
“When you have blockages in these different energy points, it can manifest in your consciousness… and that connects to reiki healing, which is used to open up these different energy points,” Holt said. “It’s like you’re healing the person, and the person is healing themselves with energy that’s flowing through you,” he said.
According to Liang and Holt, the typical reiki style that is practiced is laying hands, or a massage with energy. Reiki healing is now being practiced at the Cleveland Clinic, and the club hopes to get in contact with a reiki healer from there.
Liang, who is a majoring in nutrition, shed her perception of the impact of eating habits on campus health. “I think that integrated nutrition, such as herbs or natural eating habits, is very important, especially in today’s world. I think that what we eat directly impacts not only our bodies, but also our minds, so we’re really hoping to—”
“Make ourselves a resource,” Lam said, finishing Liang’s sentence. “Make people more aware of what they’re eating, essentially.”
The group would also like to collaborate with the Student Dietetic Association (SDA) for future events.
If the Holistic Health Club could give one snippet of advice to the whole campus on how to lead a healthier lifestyle, what would it be?
“You see everyone caught up in their own lives, deadlines, this and that—take five minute, set a timer, and just deep breathe,” Lam said.
“Breathe in for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds,” Liang said.
“You’ll feel that your life isn’t just run by deadlines,” added Lam.
“I feel like a lot of kids at case are extremely ambitious individuals, so they place these huge goals on themselves to the point where if they don’t reach these goals, they’re not giving themselves love energy. I tell people that unconditional love is kind of like breathing oxygen,” Holt said. “You don’t ‘become’ successful, you are already worthy of ‘amazingness.’ You are amazing because of who you are – you’re not earning it through your GPA.”
“Just like the people, I’m curious… we just set the space for the curiosity,” Holt continued. “Our group is just open for anyone who is curious—for the atheist, for the Christian, for the Hindu, for the Buddhist—it’s open for everyone because these practices within themselves may have originated with certain religious or spiritual beliefs, but even if the person doesn’t have those certain beliefs, they can use [these practices] in their everyday life.”
The Holistic Health Club meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. in Spartan Room of the Thwing Student Center.