My Memories Teaching Wellness & Complementary/Alternative Medicine

In last month’s blog post Auntie ALS Gets Cured, I poked fun at alternative therapies, bogus doctors and their so-called “cures.”  Maybe you wondered why I could take such liberties with the topic. Especially since my About Me page states that in 1996, I was part of a team that created the first hospital-based complementary and alternative medicine (C.A.M.) center in the state of Iowa.

Precisely! Not only am I qualified to have a few opinions - - I faced my own share of critics as well!

Throughout the many challenges though, I worked with a fantastic and talented staff. We took pride in the quality of our programs, the opportunity to work with all kinds of people and most importantly: the ability to share a laugh and go with the flow. Of course, I want to share a few favorite memories with you.

We offered a holistic approach to providing integrative therapies; in other words, encouraging the use of both traditional and non-traditional medicine to treat the whole person - - body, mind and spirit - -some pretty new concepts at the time! So, even though we generated lots of interest and support throughout the community, it still was a learning curve all-around. Often I’d answer the office phone and hear:  “Tell me more about those yo-gurt and tye-cheese classes you’re offering.” I’d just smile, take a deep breath and slowly pronounce, “Ah yes, our yo-gah and tai-chee classes…”

A few months had passed since our grand opening when I was called in to see the hospital’s medical director. He told me that the local psychiatrists were having concerns about our meditation classes. It didn’t help that the Maharishi University was only forty miles south of us in Fairfield, Iowa, and newspapers loved reporting amusing stories about Maharishi followers claiming to levitate while meditating. I was given a twenty-minute time slot at the upcoming Psychiatry Section meeting and as I was leaving he added, “Oh, and help them understand you’re not doing hypnosis.” Whaat?!
My sheer earnestness and belief in the modality must have helped me pass the test. The next evening as I faced nineteen esteemed physicians I spoke of research, health benefits and even had the whole group sitting in silence in a beginner meditation; listening to their own breathing - - all within my allotted time. Not a question was raised.

Our meditation classes went on to be well attended. One well-meaning but slightly confused hospital lobby volunteer even gave us added help when a group of law students stopped by her desk seeking the room number for Mediation Training. Once at their destination the students slipped into the last empty seats in an already full room. Imagine their surprise when the lights dimmed and the instructor led several deep breathing exercises. “Medi-tation? We wanted Mee-diation they exclaimed!” We quickly resolved the mix-up and sent them on their way. However, the next week when the law students returned - - they each signed up for the remainder of our classes!

Besides meditation, our Center for Health & Well-being offered yoga, tai chi, pilates, massage therapy and reflexology. Within four years we added Holistic Nursing, healing touch therapy, acupuncture and even an Integrative Medicine physician. If there was valid research as to the benefits of an alternative therapy, we were allowed to offer it. A requirement that became so important to our existence I quickly learned how to read research documents inside and out!

We had a shoe-string budget for promotions, which meant I spoke to a lot of community groups - - averaging 100 speeches a year, every year - - for twelve years! Clubs, support groups, retreats, conferences and even radio and TV. My husband used to joke that if there were five people standing on the corner, I’d offer to tell them all about the Center for Health and Well-Being!

During our second summer of operation, in order to promote our classes and stay in the public’s eye we began “Tai Chi Tuesdays in the Park.” Every Tuesday at noon, I’d meet our tai chi instructors and their students in the small park located near our town’s downtown area. For about a half-hour we’d practice and demonstrate various tai chi routines and invite onlookers to join in. The office workers who took their lunch hour in that park would comment that they actually looked forward to Tai Chi Tuesdays - - after a calm lunch in the park watching tai chi being performed, the rest of their day just seemed to go smoother! A great example of the Relaxation Response!

The park experience was so positive we decided to celebrate our first year anniversary by hosting “Iowa’s Largest Tai Chi Demonstration.” Over 200 people showed up! We made the local news and fall classes hit their highest enrollments. 
The Gazette - Front Page - September 28, 1997
Even though it offered health benefits for young and old alike, not everyone embraced tai chi. I remember being asked to provide a tai chi demonstration for a local home school group as part of their unit on the history of China. It was an awkward few minutes when I arrived at the school and found several students in the hall outside the classroom. Seems their parents thought tai chi was Chinese religion and didn’t want their kids exposed to it.

The instructor apologized but there was nothing she could do. So while four students waited in the hall I taught the rest of the class how to move as clouds, balance like a bird and experience the mental control of a relaxed body. They learned that tai chi’s roots were in the martial arts, isn’t practiced as a religion but as a sport and the many health benefits of tai chi have made it an accepted class offered by hospitals, clinics, as well as community and senior centers. Hopefully later during outdoor recess, my young tai-chi "birds" shared what they just learned with their four sad classmates.

A happier memory of working with young students is the day I spent as guest instructor for Roosevelt Middle School and introducing all the 8th grade P.E. classes to the benefits of yoga. Look at the photo of the kids lying down...what you don't see are the P.E. teachers who were watching us. I'll never forget the look of awe on their faces when I had all the students so relaxed (even the "squirrely" ones) the gym was silent for five long minutes!

Through a partnership with the Women’s Care department, we brought complementary therapies to the patients in the hospital. Aromatherapy, music, massage, reflexology and healing touch therapy were provided right in patient rooms to help reduce pain, stress and ease their hospital stay.

There are of course many more memories than I have space to share here. The highlights range from hosting many intern students, presenting at the national conference for the American Organization Nurse Executives and the American Holistic Medicine Association to this last one....

A couple of years after we opened, a yoga student took me aside and said, “I thought you’d like to know that my doctor recommended I take classes from you.” Would you care to share your doctor’s name? I asked. “Sure,” she replied, “It’s Dr. A----.“

Sure enough, I recognized the name as one of the doctors from the Psychiatry Section meeting I spoke to ‘way back when.’ I shook the student’s hand and said, Thank YOU!

Now years later and living with ALS, I hope you can understand why I have déjà vu whenever I read about alternative therapies. I support them, use them and still scrutinize the research. Just remember, healing Body, Mind and Spirit begins with a positive attitude - - and, the ability to laugh.  

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Muriel Strude


  1. Love the history you created, and glad you were a pioneer to help bring these modalities into the future. Feels good to be a part of this!

    1. Thank you Julie! And thank YOU (one of our great massage therapists at the CHWB!)for being there to help create the legacy... and continuing to share your healing skills with others.

  2. This sounds like my life and how I ended up in a better place solely by having an open mind. I now share research information with C.A.M. doctors and some exceptional practitioners. While many ALS patients are waiting for a miraculous drug C.A.M. docs and practitioners are making a significant headway in improving symptoms. My husband has been a Tai Chi instructor for years. It is not a religion and I do not bow down to him when he walks through the door. I can attest to the fact that I have seen incredible health improvement with many in his class. We are also advocates of TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors]. They address the cause [s] as well the blockages in the meridians but do not label people with diseases. People get well at a much faster pace compared to those who are medicated.

    1. Yes, we can only benefit by choosing the best of both worlds of healing - - we each have unique needs. I support your efforts to share C.A.M. information with physicians and pALS and wish you success with your future center!

  3. Thank you for sharing Dagmar. You always give great information! Take Care, Cindy


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