05/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Can Yoga Fix Health Care?

Most of us agree that America's health care system is broken. Disease management is a more accurate way of putting what we have in our country's operations. Have a pain? Take a pill. Don't worry about why or where the pain came from in the first place or what it could develop into without behavioral change. If Americans were healthier, doctors and pharmaceuticals would lose business. So what is the solution? Many Americans aren't covered anyway, or spend too much of their income on insurance premiums. Millions of people pray they don't get sick because who knows what their insurance won't cover when they really need it.

Americans are catching on, or at least becoming aware of something that can make a major difference in our collective health. A regular yoga practice keeps the body strong, vibrant, and sharpens and calms our minds. It also keeps you healthy, and mends a lot of the chronic problems for which standard medicine hands you a prescription and mountain of nasty side effects. You probably won't need those pills during your lifetime if you practice yoga regularly and eat well. Healthy eating is one of the many benefits of practicing yoga. Yoga keeps us enjoying and treating our bodies well.

When the lovely Verena Von Pfetten asked me if I wanted to attend the Urban Zen conference and interview Donna Karan about yoga and health care, I was all over that. Walking in the front door to Donna's (I can call her Donna now because I met her, right?) Urban Zen store, an enchanting smell of essential oil goodness infiltrated my system, causing some deep breathing to happen. The Urban Zen line is the same easy to wear, classic, eclectic pieces for which we all know Donna Karan. These are the kinds of clothes you can actually live in and wear to all occasions.

Urban Zen brings like-minded people together to educate and inspire everyone to make a difference. When Donna Karan calls, people show up. Rodney Yee, Dr. Oz, and Mariel Hemingway are among the many distinguished figures involved. One of its focal points is the integrated therapist training program, currently operating at Beth Israel. Urban Zen therapists work with nurses and doctors to provide yoga, reiki and aromatherapy to the patients and families. Donna stresses caring for the patient, rather than only the disease. You might guess it's an odd tension, dropping an ancient system for health care that appears strongly critical of many currently mainstream medical practices in the middle of one of the largest hospitals in the country. But it seems to work. Her vision came from personal experience during her husband Stephan's struggle with cancer. She saw the need for better nutrition, yoga, and other healing techniques that help the patients and families during traumatic times, dealing with disease and dying.

Donna's efforts are a good step forward in making yoga available and building awareness of benefits from practice. Yoga isn't just toning your muscles, although it does that too. A regular practice will keep you healthy and out of the hospital. Urban Zen is there when you need some extra help.

For more info about Urban Zen, check out my interview with Donna.