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Jul 2003 / elsewhere :: email this story to a friend

Finding Health Outside Traditional Practices: Iowa City's Answer
By Gina McGee

Being creative takes energy and looking at traditions differently. Some visitors to the Iowa City, Iowa, area consider it to be one of the most fertile sites for creativity in the United States. Artists of all types, entrepreneurs, genetic scientists and truth seekers represent the most obvious of the area's creative population. Thus, learning that residents of the Iowa City area seek new or nontraditional solutions for their health concerns surprises few. Yet, Iowa City has one of the country's largest complexes of teaching hospitals and clinics with its local institution of higher education, The University of Iowa (UI). Without question, residents have a choice of medical options. They can go to the UI Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) for medical concerns, to a private hospital, or to numerous private physicians operating in the area and have their visits paid for by insurance.

Gina McGee Even so, more and more nontraditional or alternative therapy practices keep opening their doors. What types of practices can be found here? Acupuncture, every type of massage therapy from Swedish to Shiatsu, Chinese herbal medicine to homeopathy, Reiki of several schools, yoga to Pilates, as well as the mystical — psychic, astrology, or pagan — can all be found within a county of no more than 80,000 people, as of the 2000 census.

Generally, few residents look askance if you say you have a massage scheduled or plan on learning yoga or transcendental meditation. Openness to finding what works for the individual becomes essential in this community of creative residents. A friend of twenty plus years had migraines that refused to go away without a morphine drip and when she discovered that Reiki helped ease them, she learned Reiki and is today a Reiki Master/Teacher. Another friend gave up a musical career playing in a big city orchestra to learn and practice acupuncture and the herbal side of Chinese medicine. Almost every member of the professional staff in my office has a regular massage therapist that they visit at least once a month. Today, even the UIHC and the other local hospital have come to understand the importance of providing clients/patients with alternative therapies for their healthcare. The UIHC family practice clinic provides certain types of massage therapy; the pain clinic provides biofeedback, visualization, and self-hypnosis techniques for patients; and the obstetrics clinic offers the services of an in-hospital midwife for patients. A nontraditional pharmacy, NuCara, specializes in compounding individual medicines for humans and animals, aromatherapy, homeopathy, and allergy-free foods as it continues to build its clientele. Other individuals seek knowledge of nonwestern traditions such as Feng Shui — the Chinese art of placement — as a means of increasing balance in their daily lives.

The demand for nontraditional or alternative healthcare options continues to grow. I consider an area's telephone yellow pages an excellent source of learning about a community. Therefore, I went to the current QwestDex Iowa City and Surrounding Area Telephone Directory to check out what listings I could find for several of these treatments. Within the directory's yellow pages, I found seven massage schools within a sixty-mile radius, five licensed acupuncturists, three pages of counseling options including GMI (Guided Imagery Therapy) and Music-Centered Therapy, more than forty practicing licensed massage therapists, and five yoga instruction businesses. The fascinating fact almost all of these different treatments share is that no insurance coverage is available to pay for them. Individuals using these service/treatment healthcare options consider the benefit worth paying for out-of-pocket.

Different people give different reasons for the success of nontraditional health practices and their seeking of truth and spirit in nontraditional venues. My friend who has practiced pagan rituals over the years claims Iowa City has a unique magic about it that makes it possible to recognize special relationships and connections that other places have lost. The Maharishi University of Management, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1971 in Fairfield, Iowa, (a community ninety miles southwest of Iowa City), is known for its students' practice of Transcendental Meditation®, the TM-Sidhi® program, and its Golden Dome where students learn yogic flying. Some claim that Fairfield was picked for its energy and its location along an energy meridian. Fantasy and science fiction writers take such energy meridians as a norm yet seldom does one find such a reference to them in our present world. Be it magic or energy meridians or just good land and people, the Iowa City area has become a magnet for creative people.

Regardless of the magic or latent energy in a physical location, I do think that creative individuals seek out and support the growth of nontraditional health practices. The majority of these practices provide clients several things that are difficult to find in today's world: one-on-one attention; personal touch or contact; an opportunity to ease the noise of our minds trying to organize, plan, remember, and see our own personal matrix of complex relationships; a quiet haven where judgment stays outside; and a care provider whose goal is to bring comfort and care to the individual receiving the treatment, reading or counseling. The creative spirit in each of us needs nourishment as much as our bodies need food. In Iowa City, much of that creative spirit nourishment comes from participation in nontraditional health practices.

Gina McGee has worked in the funding and development area for twenty-two years at The University of Iowa with seven years of program building in the Office of Cooperative Education and with fifteen years in the Division of Sponsored Programs, the office that handles external grants and contracts for The University of Iowa. McGee has become known for her innovative program development and grant writing abilities.

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