Whether you’ve heard meditation may boost relaxation, reduce stress, and clear your mind or your schedule is so packed that your weekly massage is the only thing on your calendar that’s holding you together, it’s tough to argue that “integrative health” isn’t for everybody. In this hyper-connected age of technology, social media, and the 24 hour news cycle, more people are making a conscious effort to unplug and slow down. That’s why we almost lost our breath over the concept of the brand new Graf Center for Integrative Medicine at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
The center is set within the hospital, giving easy access to patients, caregivers and medical staff, but the zen-inspired industrial chic design feels like a serene, luxe spa once you step through its doors. That’s because this respite is open to anyone in the community, making it accessible to the stressed out, tired, or just plain old overbooked (so basically everyone). Think of it as having a personal wellness swat team all in one place, working together on your behalf.
We sat down with the woman behind the concept and champion of integrative medicine, Jennifer Graf, to find out the how’s and why’s behind her beautiful dream that’s just become a reality and how she balances mom-life with her active role in the center.
How did the concept of this new center come about? What was your main reason for opening this center?
I started as a Reiki master about 18 years ago, which served as a great introduction into other modalities. I had insomnia for some time and was told Reiki could help me get a good night’s sleep. It completely helped and it was so nice to be able to sleep through the night again. I eventually earned my Reiki mastery and also went back to school to get my masters in social work. When I moved to Bergen County and started our family, I continued doing social work and began my training in mind-body medicine. I approached Englewood Hospital about conducting stress management programs and they loved the idea. Of course this has always been a dream of mine from the beginning. I kept visualizing what I wanted the center to become so this opportunity is really a dream come true. The Graf Center for Integrative Medicine has now become a place for the hospital, its patients, patients’ family members and caregivers- including doctors and nurses. We wanted to make it accessible for the hospital staff because they are also dealing with stress and burn out. Now they are able to come to the center for a massage or other treatments and are returning to their patients more refreshed and energized. That is what it’s all about. We offer everything from acupuncture and Reiki to massage, yoga, meditation, wellness coaching, and holistic nutritional counseling. We also have a boutique where we sell toxic-free products, books, and other resources.
How have you seen the center really impact people in general?
Numerous studies suggest that services such as acupuncture, Reiki, yoga, and massage may speed up recovery times, help with stress, reduce cortisol levels and blood pressure and strengthen the body’s immune system. I think it’s extremely important to introduce these methods of integrative medicine with traditional medicine to fully treat the individual.
Can you tell us a little more about Reiki?
Reiki is a gentle laying on of hands. It’s an energy balancing modality that helps balance the nervous system and in turn allows the body to better heal itself. Reiki helps with all of this and in fact so does acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. These are all different avenues to get us to the same place, which is relaxation and a place of healing. Our center offers many different methods as people enjoy doing different things. One person may enjoy doing yoga to help relax but that may not work for someone else. That person may prefer massage or acupuncture. There are many different ways that can help and we want to offer all of them to people.
How do you envision people coming to the center? Can anyone take advantage of these services?
Absolutely. You do not have to be sick to book an appointment at the center. This is simply a wellness model. Yes, some people may have cancer, a heart condition, or high blood pressure, for example, but anyone can benefit from this and it only enhances traditional medicine, which is why we call it integrative medicine because the two of them work beautifully together. A doctor can do what he/she does and then we do what we can do to help care for ourselves through exercise, meditation, diet, how we socialize, family time,--it’s a great way to find balance. Working with the physicians may lead to a more speedy recovery and better experience overall.
How are people staffed at the center?
Some people already work at EHMC and some are sourced outside of the hospital. Our medical director, Dr. Despina Psillides, is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics, and is Harvard-trained in acupuncture. Beth Tansey-Peller, is our Holistic RN Coordinator and is also a certified professional health and wellness coach. We have amazing acupuncturists, we hold stress management workshops, yoga, and meditation classes - basically anything that has to do with the mind and body and can help improve the way you feel.
Were you involved in the design? Was there anything specific you wanted to see in the center?
The key for me was making everything as green as possible, so I was really pushing for toxic-free materials. I wanted it to be organic, very zen, clean but warm and inviting. I am extremely pleased with how everything turned out.
Talk a little bit about your personal life, how involved are you going to be and how to find balance in your life?
I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without all of the support and help that I have. But balancing work, family time, me time – that is all very important to me. Every morning is my special time with my girls. I make sure we start the day with a healthy breakfast and we also do gratitude check-ins where we go around and say what we are thankful for. I also try to get my kids to do breath work to help get us going. I also use the morning to do meditation and work out, make sure I have healthy food for the day. All of these things help me prepare for the day ahead. I also try to delegate as much as possible and to take things easy. I always try to remember that things will get done and not to stress out about each little thing. I take deep breaths and do a lot of self-soothing to give myself encouragement. I love what I do and I try to come up with programs that I know would really benefit people.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
I just want to reiterate that the center is a place for everyone – anyone who wants to enhance their health or people who have health issues and want to improve their health. There is mounting evidence that practicing these mind-body modalities increases the body’s immune system. As busy moms, we keep going all day long but if we don’t take care of ourselves by working out, eating healthy and taking time for ourselves, our gas tank will run out. Our center is a way to help refuel that gas tank. Or if you are with someone in the hospital and you need a break – you can come to the center and go back to your loved one feeling refreshed. It’s truly a great resource for people. Yes, you have to find the time, but it’s completely worth it.GrafCenter@ehmchealth.org