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4 Critical Pillars to Pursuing Holistic Health in Westchester

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Tobi Kundid of Tovami Yoga;
Photo by Toshi Tosaki

The phrase “holistic health” is often interpreted as a reference to alternative therapies, like acupuncture, naturotherapy, and yoga. And while you absolutely can incorporate these practices into your lifestyle, they are not the sole paths to wellness.

Living holistically means taking care of your entire self — mind, body, and spirit — and working to balance the critical pillars of health: physical, mental, nutritional, and financial. In the following pages, local experts break down the individual significance of each pillar, to help make 2020 your healthiest year yet.

– Pillar 1 –

Work Out Smarter

Physical health is more than just running and lifting weights.

Regular exercise is constantly touted as an essential component of optimizing health. Even if we struggle to fit it into our busy schedules, few if any of us doubt its benefits. But it’s not just how often we move physically and the exercises we perform, the practices that we maintain outside of the gym are just as important to physical health as picking up a dumbbell.

John Calarco, founder of Power Health and Performance, in Harrison, says moving the body isn’t enough. It’s critical to consider the mind, body, and spirit when looking to achieve the best state of well-being and, “if you are in an optimal state of health, you’re going to perform better at everything in your life,” he says. Calarco helps clients focus on six specific components of health and performance: thinking, breathing, sleeping, hydrating, nutrition, and movement.


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Meditation is a useful tool for creating a clear mind. “Thinking is where our power is,” says Calarco. “Thinking is being able to focus and not have our attention pulled in different directions. Where our attention goes, energy flows.”

Calarco focuses on breathing drills during his clients’ training sessions. “If you practice breathing, you’re pretty much meditating. If you spend five to 10 minutes focusing on the breath, you’re focusing your attention on one thing, and that’s what meditation is all about.”

According to people with Calarco’s mindset, the old adage “Sleep is for the weak” should be banished. He recommends at least seven, ideally eight, hours a night. “If you speak to any of my clients, they will roll their eyes, like, ‘This guy, all he does is encourage us to sleep.’ I’m really disciplined about my sleep.” A good night’s rest, in addition to improving clarity and brain function, can help maintain weight, improve heart health, and reduce inflammation.

“We all have sufficient power to live in an optimal state of health and perform at a high level…”

A Precision Nutrition-certified coach, Calarco adds that hydration and healthy eating are critical when approaching overall physical wellness, emphasizing a focus on organic foods. Drinking enough water daily helps the body not only eliminate harmful toxins but also helps keep joints lubricated, skin supple, and enhances sleep quality.

In terms of exercise, Calarco recommends an hour three times a week (or six times a week for a half-hour), incorporating all of the seven human movement patterns: hip hinge/bend, squat, lunge, push, pull, twist, and gait (walking, running), because these actions are practiced daily (pushing yourself out of bed, picking up a child, twisting to load the dishwasher), not just at the gym. Calarco says that a comprehensive approach to physical training should address the following key components: mobility training (10 minutes of drills to help improve the joints’ ranges of motion), strength training (30 minutes of weightlifting or other strength training), cardiovascular conditioning (15 minutes of running, biking), and recovery (five minutes of breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga).

“We all have sufficient power to live in an optimal state of health and perform at a high level, whether it’s in sports or in life,” asserts Calarco, a former college basketball player. “If we take a holistic approach to health, we’re going to bring much better energy and clarity and focus of mind to everything in our lives — our businesses, our relationships — everything.”


Pause Meditation, Mamaroneck
Photo courtesy of pause meditation

– Pillar 2 –

Sound Mind, Sound Body

Take a tech break. Mindfulness can have profound effects.

Maintaining a healthy mind is key to overall health and can include everything from praying to flowing to breathing. In a busy and tech-oriented world, where we are always “on,” it can be difficult to stay present and simply “be.”

Betsy Kase, owner of Yoga Haven in Tuckahoe and Scarsdale, advises that to have holistic health, you have to experiment to find out what works for you. Instead of viewing the body as being ill or being broken, she advises focusing on rebalancing it by taking into account all of its systems, which include the mind. “Diet, acupuncture, reiki, massage, and yoga can have profound effects on how you feel,” Kase says. “Each of these can affect the different systems of the body and bring back the balance of overall health.” Kase adds that practicing at Yoga Haven is not about fancy poses or expensive clothing; it’s about practicing self-care and nourishing overall well-being. “We get the body moving; we get the blood flowing; and we practice mindfulness. We’re not just exercising; we’re learning how to take care of ourselves.”

Edgemont resident Stephanie Falk, a mom of three, opened Pause Meditation in Mamaroneck late last year after realizing the Westchester community could benefit from a studio that focused on mindfulness through group meditation. “Everyone tells you to exercise at the gym, and exercise for your body and for your heart, but exercising for your mind helps with so many things — especially with distractions, like the phone, and other ways that our attention is demanded.” At Pause, she is striving to create a space where people can breathe, slow down, and unwind.

“Mindfulness is a really incredible way to learn how to reset, recharge, reboot yourself, so you’re really ready to go and face the world out there,” Falk continues, “which can be really overwhelming for some people, especially in Westchester, where there are so many busy families and people running to the city and juggling so many things.”

She points out that meditation, an important aspect of a mindfulness regimen, has some misconceptions. “Some think you don’t talk for hours and that you have to do it for [a certain amount of time]. You can do it for five minutes. Meditation is a huge piece of holistic health.”

Tobi Kundid of Mamaroneck’s Tovami Yoga points out that we are often living outside of our bodies and that connecting within is crucial. She says holistic health is “having an intuitive understanding of yourself and your needs, knowing when to be working and resting, when to be taking care of yourself. It’s an ability to find a state of peace.”

Tuckahoe-based holistic wellness coach and graduate of the FBI National Academy Peggy Belles says, “In pieces, people try to find health, and they think it’s a number on the scale; they think it’s a size; they think it’s weightlifting or yoga alone, but it’s not just one thing. It’s several things that work synergistically.” The real way to get healthy, she believes, is through primary food. She explains: “Primary food is everything you don’t put in your mouth — it’s your relationships; it’s your career; it’s your environment. Those things we know are the things that drive stress for a lot of people,” so working on maintaining a strong mind and resilience is indispensible.

Holistic Havens

Struggling to find inner peace no matter how many Oms you utter? Escape to one of these nearby retreat centers for guidance.

Sometimes, maintaining a healthy life balance is too much to grapple with alone, despite the promises we make to ourselves to eat clean and make time for daily meditation.

Luckily, Westchester is only a short drive away from top-notch, quality retreat centers staffed with experienced teachers, practitioners, and professionals who specialize in holistic healing. A weekend (if you’re indulgent, a week) might be all you need to restore your Zen.

Garrison Institute

14 Mary’s Way, Garrison; 845.424.4800; www.garrisoninstitute.org

Make like a monk by heading to this storied retreat located on the east bank of the Hudson River in Putnam County. A former monastery, the institute offers simple accommodations and focused programs (poetry, dance) that incorporate mindfulness and meditation. Deep reflection is the focus here (the property has walking trails and a labyrinth). Hardcore contemplatives can opt for Garrison Institute’s silent meditation retreats. Perhaps intimidating at first, quieting the mind is predictably much easier when you’re, well, quiet.

Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

57 Interlaken Rd, Stockbridge, MA; 866.200.5203; www.kripalu.org

Steeped in the teachings of Kripalu yoga, this center in the Berkshires boasts not only idyllic views but transformative themed programs (drumming and music, writing, running for yogis, chakra activation).

Roughly a two-hour drive from White Plains, the former Jesuit seminary draws students and teachers of all experience levels. Daily yoga, silent breakfasts, and healing arts — such as acupuncture, massage, and acupressure — are highlights. Indoor dorms and private rooms are available.


Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Rhinebeck
Photo courtesy of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

150 Lake Dr, Rhinebeck; 845.580.9049; www.eomega.org

With a campus in Rhinebeck (and a presence in NYC, California, Arizona, and Costa Rica), the Omega Institute is an all-encompassing center that offers R&R retreats that include yoga, tai chi, and meditation; specially designed programs for veterans and those who have experienced trauma; and theme weeks (Arts Week features workshops in painting, music, and writing; Family Week includes dance and games).

Stay in a dorm for a communal experience, a cabin, or be one with nature, in a tent.


YO1 Wellness Resort and Spa, Monticello
Photo courtesy of YO1 Wellness Resort and Spa

YO1 Wellness Resort and Spa

420 Anawana Lake Rd, Monticello; 845.237.9100; www.yo1.com

This Indian wellness retreat, which opened in 2018, proves you can be awash in divine luxury and still achieve inner peace. Upon arrival, a wellness counselor will create for you a personalized itinerary that may include acupuncture, hydromassage, mud masks, and Ayurvedic therapies, like Shiro Abhyanga (oil is dripped on your head during a head massage to promote concentration). Situated in the Catskill mountains, the property features oversized hotel rooms with private massage rooms, a 5,000 sq. ft. indoor pool, nature trails, and an indoor theater.


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– Pillar 3 –

Nutritional

Food for Thought: You are what you eat.

We all know that fueling the body helps fuel the mind. Proper nutrition is absolutely essential for overall  health, says Peggy Belles, a certified health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She stresses the importance of understanding exactly what you are eating and often tells clients that it is not their fault that they are not eating healthfully. “Many people do not know how much sugar is in food, and it is in everything,” she notes. Fad diets don’t work, she adds, because, “Anybody can lose or gain weight in a prescribed period of time by following X, Y, or Z, but how can you really make small changes for monumental transformation?” Some think that they have to only eat salad or kale to be healthy, but Belles assures that isn’t true. Nutrition, she explains, is highly individualized: “One person’s medicine is another person’s poision. So there’s not one diet that fits all.” Some tips she suggests are to always eat breakfast (slow-cooking oatmeal, Ezekiel toast, an egg, or fresh fruit); always have snacks when traveling (nuts, fruit); and when food shopping, minimize purchases of processed foods. “If [a packaged food] has more than five ingredients, you’re starting to get into dangerous territory. If you have no idea what the ingredients list says after you read it, or if you can’t pronounce the words, stay away from it.” Belles continues, “You don’t have to buy everything organic but there are certain fruits and vegetables that should be: things with skins where pesticides and chemicals can really seep in,” she says. She advises trying to prepare food at home if you can because “you know what’s going into it.”

Grub on the Go

Sometimes you’re too busy to cook. Here are a few of our favorites for a quick, nutrient-packed snack.

BeWies Holistic Market

430 Bedford Rd, Armonk; 914.273.9437

What has made this market a staple for many is the focus on quality ingredients — whether they are in the organic fresh juices, açaí bowls, smoothies, and snacks (gluten-free muffins are popular) or in their products (essential oils and natural skincare lines). Those with dietary restrictions and health issues are offered many artisan, gluten-free, and organic options, as well as homeopathic products.


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Organic Pharmer

15 Rye Ridge Plaza, Rye; 914.481.4300; www.organicpharmer.com

The philosophy here is that food is medicine. Snacks and meals free of gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and egg — common allergens — are the focus. Hand-prepared foods include falafel snack packs, chickpea salad tartines, and mung bean fusilli with kale pesto. The juice shots (ginger, probiotic, coconut water) are a quick way to deliver your body a big punch of vital nutrients.

Good Choice Kitchen

147 Main St, Ossining; 914.930.1591; www.goodchoicekitchen.com

A vegan café and culinary center, Good Choice offers breakfast dishes like protein power hot cereal (quinoa, millet, and amaranth), almond pudding, and avo toast; Lunch options include soup, salads, and savory bowls, like vegetable tikka masala. Hands-on cooking classes and wellness events are occasionally offered, to help bring healthy eating habits into the home.


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– Pillar 4 –

Financial

Money isn’t everything, but smart financial strategies go a long way in the quest for well-being.

Wellness coach and motivational speaker Peggy Belles says, “Financial health is one of the slices of the pie [to maintaining overall health] and for probably a lot of people, the number-one stressor. We are living way outside what we can afford, in Westchester especially. It’s very difficult to escape it, because of the lifestyle and the things that we have bought into, that we believe — or have been taught to believe — are important.” She explains that “so many people I work with have maxed-out credit cards, or they are driving cars [for which] they can make the payments, but they can’t afford them.”

To maintain financial well-being, Belles says it’s imperative to be frank with yourself. “Your behavior drives your financial picture a lot of the time. Get honest with your behavior… to get to a place financially where you are maybe not free, but it’s doable.”

Just like health, wealth can fluctuate. Nick Palumbo, founder and CEO of Armonk-based Truvium Financial Group, says that instead of chasing rates of return, it’s important to “look at the overall picture, because every financial decision that someone makes causes something to go right or wrong.” His tips on safeguarding financial health are to protect your wealth, have liquid savings, invest in a proper asset allocation model, and choose a financial advisor who plans holistically.

“When you build a financial castle, you always have to put a moat around the castle,” Palumbo explains. First, you need to make sure your assets are protected — against lawsuits, taxes, inflation, market volatility — in the case of a death, disability, or other planned or unplanned life event. Second, it’s vital to have liquidity in your wealth, meaning assets in cash. Then, invest in a proper asset-allocation model, where, Palumbo says, “You not only try to maximize returns, you try to mitigate risks, and you mitigate risks by having all asset classes across the board.”

“Most people want to buy the hot stock or time the market,” Palumbo continues, “they want to do all the things that Wall Street wants you to believe, but that’s not the right way to plan.” Instead, Palumbo stresses the importance of financial growth components, whether it be real estate, the stock market, and/or the bond market, and advocates a holistic approach to financial planning, to properly structure and protect your money, even if it is something as simple as making sure you have a proper will.


Garrison Institute, Garrison
Photo courtesy of Garrison Institute

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