Retreat program to offer the ill alternative paths to wellness

After being diagnosed with serious illnesses, one can become overwhelmed by the numerous paths that promise wellness. Juggling visits to the nutritionist, the herbalist, the massage therapist and the medical doctor can be a full-time job.

"When people get diagnosed there's so much coming at them that they don't know where to go," says Varda Rabin, who incorporates traditional Jewish healing stories into the "wellness mini-retreats" she facilitates, where participants can learn about a panoply of different wellness techniques.

Diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia 10 years ago, Rabin sees the revelation her diagnosis presented as "a big, big tunnel.

"I learned so much that now I feel it's my turn to give back to the community," she says.

Rabin's next retreat program will be held during February and March at the Marin Jewish Community Center, where she chairs the nursery school committee.

Raised in an Orthodox family in Tel Aviv, Rabin uses Jewish ideas in the discussions she holds at the retreats. This year, for example, she will talk about the relationship between the Hebrew words for "creation" (briyah), and "health" (briyut).

"Our bodies keep creating new cells all the time," Rabin says. "Our job is to create the best condition for the body to recreate itself."

Rabin's retreats, co-sponsored by Marin Oncology Associates, center on what she calls the five components of the wellness puzzle. These include meditation of the mental, emotional and spiritual variety; jin shin jyutsu acupressure, balancing what she calls the life force of the body; macrobiotic food; and therapeutic yoga.

During the macrobiotic lunch, speakers will discuss the chemical balancing of the body by focusing on Chinese herbs and Western medicine.

There will also be a group healing session, with discussions on how to deal with stress.

Participants will practice Jewish-style meditation, which is taken from the mystical tradition in which one might meditate on the Sh'ma, or on the four Hebrew letters that make up the unpronounceable name of God.

The macrobiotic meals also happen to be kosher.

"God intended us to eat macrobiotic," Rabin says.

One aspect of the retreats that has proven popular in the past is the self-applied jin shin jyutsu acupressure. Rabin says this practice "works with the body's energy to correct imbalances, relieve stress and boost immunity and vitality."

Ten years after her diagnosis, Rabin speaks and acts with energy and vitality. She's had only one chemotherapy treatment in the last 10 years, and her lymphocyte count is low — although she doesn't promise these results for everyone.

She stresses that all the practices she advocates in her retreats should be done in conjunction with, not in lieu of, standard medical intervention. And she welcomes any participant, ill or not, who wishes to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

"We call it a wellness program rather than a healing program, because healing implies a cure."