At Kula, we believe in taking a holistic, integrated approach to health. One of our pediatric programs, which we’re highlighting this month, is Integrative Pediatrics. We’re lucky enough to have Dr. Larry Rosen, Founder of the Whole Child Center and leader in the field of Integrative Pediatrics, on our Medical Advisory Board. (He’s also one of this year’s Gala honorees!)
We spoke with Dr. Rosen to learn more about his incredible work. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about your integrated, holistic approach to pediatrics, and what first sparked your interest?
I practice what we call Integrative Pediatrics, which essentially is a philosophy of care that combines conventional medicine with certain complementary therapies like yoga and meditation, to optimally heal kids. It’s an approach that I was not born into, but developed later in my career, based on personal experiences, and experiences with kids in my practice.
I grew up in a family in northern New Jersey where we went to a conventional doctor and did all of the typical stuff that people do, and I took my medicine like a good kid!
I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about other ways of healing until I got to college and developed an interest in health and medicine. What piqued my interest in the field is the “art of medicine,” focusing on the relationships with patients and how to help them be healthier. But my training in medical school and residency was very much the antithesis of that. I was trained conventionally in an acute care based system, with everything that is both good and bad about our current healthcare system. I became very skilled in emergency and ICU care, learning how to administer life saving treatments to really sick children.
I came out of my training feeling really good about acute care treatments, but I was woefully underprepared for basic preventive pediatric care – nutrition, parenting, development -- you name it. All of the stuff that is just about keeping kids healthy, which was now my job – and I was not ready for that kind of practice.
Then, when my son was born in 1998, I realized that I didn’t know how to be a parent – I didn’t even know how to feed him! I felt like a fraud. That was a moment of crisis, coupled with the fact that I was now seeing kids every day that were unhealthy and getting sick. I could help the kids who were acutely sick, but I couldn’t really help those with chronic issues. This was the late 90s, when autism was exploding and we were seeing more and more kids diagnosed with ADHD, food allergies, asthma, obesity-- the numbers were skyrocketing. Many pediatricians, myself included, felt unprepared.
Parents, though, were telling me about changes they were making on their own – going to an acupuncturist, or changing their kids’ diets, or practicing yoga – and I saw these kids getting better. I realized that they were having much more success than the standard stuff I had learned, so I opened my mind and listened. I spent time shadowing practitioners in the community - nutritionists, acupuncturists, chiropractors – I wanted to learn more about this new field of integrative medicine.
I also discovered there were doctors in academic medical centers beginning to investigate nutrition, acupuncture and mind-body medicine. I learned techniques like guided imagery, meditation, and self-hypnosis that I was able to use in practice with teenagers who had stomachaches or headaches, or irritable bowel syndrome – signs of stress. I found that these practices were really effective, and allowed these kids to be much happier and healthier and productive.
Over time, I slowly integrated more of these complementary therapies in my practice, and ultimately became involved on a national level with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), helping to develop a Section on Integrative Medicine. I also developed two hospital-based integrative programs, first at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital (Westchester, NY) and then at Hackensack University Medical Center – where one of Kula’s Integrative Pediatrics programs is now hosted.
Tell us more about how yoga positively affects kids, and why it’s become such an integral part of your practice.
I just finished a review of the medical literature on the safety and efficacy of pediatric therapeutic yoga for Pediatrics in Review – the article will be coming out in October. We reviewed controlled studies published in the last 20 years, finding a consistent positive effect on children’s mental health and cognitive function.
When comparing with alternatives, often medication, yoga offers a very viable first line option for anxiety and stress-coping. We’ve witnessed these positive effects in Kula programs for children with cancer and autism, in all facets - physical, emotional, and spiritual.
You founded the Whole Child Center, a center dedicated to Integrative Pediatrics, in 2008. How did that come about and why?
I reached the point in my life and career when I needed to devote my whole practice to integrative pediatrics. In 2008, I left a very busy conventional group practice and started the Whole Child Center with Karen Overgaard, a holistic nurse trained in yoga, infant massage and Reiki. We wanted to care for children and families authentically in a space that was completely integrative. Within months, we were very fortunate to be seeing hundreds of families who were interested in our practice.
We now have 6 practitioners and a really dedicated staff who all buy into our mission and live their lives this way. The success of the Whole Child Center speaks to the power of the families who believe in what we’re doing. It’s a great partnership between us and these families.
The Whole Child Center is a “green” facility – what does that mean and why did you opt to go that route when building it?
We built the center to be ecologically sustainable. I was increasingly aware of the impact of the environment on kids’ health, and I wanted to practice healthcare in a way that wasn’t further contributing to environmental health woes. We built our space using green materials, and in every way tried to create a physical environment that reflected the kind of care that we wanted to deliver. This is a very powerful message to our patients, and we’ve had families who join us because of that mission, then feel empowered to change their own lives trying to be more environmentally healthy for their kids.
When did you personally start practicing yoga, and why?
As the Whole Child Center thrived, I was very proud our work. About five years ago, I became involved with Kula for Karma. I realized I was promoting all of these therapies in my practice, specifically yoga and meditation, but not routinely practicing them myself. I was in my mid-forties, not feeling as optimally healthy as I wanted, and I realized I wasn’t as authentic as I could be personally about my own healthcare. I had devoted a lot of time and energy into the practice, but I really wasn’t taking as good care of myself as I needed. I started breaking down, injuring my knee badly, and I decided – something had to change. I was ready.
So, with the encouragement of my wife, Laura, I took a long hard look at myself and committed to a regular yoga practice. I started very simply with private sessions with Ben Wisch to become comfortable with the basics. With Ben’s nurturing guidance, I changed my life. Slowly over time, I began taking classes and I appreciated the physical, emotional and spiritual changes that had a profound impact on my life and my practice. I finally felt like I was authentically working with families and kids, by showing them that you really have to start with yourself.
I needed to be ready. It’s like the saying – when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I talk to people now, especially guys my age, and I see the look on their faces, and that was me just a few years ago. When you feel ready to practice, to dig in deep, there are resources for you.
How can families who are interested in a holistic approach make changes in their homes and routines?
The first thing I tell families is that you don’t have to change everything today. It’s overwhelming for parents to try to address everything all at once. Don’t panic – start with one thing at a time. Baby steps. Maybe it’s your pantry and you want to address healthier snacks for your kids. Eat real, whole foods – start with that. Maybe that’s what you’ll do for the first week or the first month.
Then maybe you can tackle your cleaning supplies – look at the materials you use and start buying things that have no toxins in them. Next, maybe you’ll look at cosmetics, body care products like sunscreen, shampoo, deodorants. Just take on one thing at a time. Focus on common sense, affordable, natural solutions, rather than getting wrapped up in the latest, most expensive health trends.
What are your tips for helping kids avoid stress and find balance?
There is clearly an epidemic of stressed out kids and most are not coping well. As much as we want to get rid of all the stress in the world, we can’t do that. What we can do is teach them tools to better cope with their stress. I actually think that a certain level of stress is a good thing – it can be motivating. Our goal really shouldn’t be to rescue our kids. So I try to shift the conversation to stress coping and finding balance and learning from struggles.
I encourage kids to build their stress coping toolboxes. That can include getting outside more, exercising, eating healthier, getting more sleep, being creative, reducing screen time, and finding specific mind-body therapies that work – breath work, guided imagery, journaling, yoga, meditation and so on. There are a million different ways to cope with stress – you just have to figure out what works for you.
I also encourage parents to act as role models for coping with stress. We need to walk the walk and show them how it works.
Dr. Rosen’s holistic approach to pediatric care is innovative and inspiring, and we’re honored to have him as Kula advisor and friend. He and his colleagues continue to work on a national level to move all pediatric care in this direction, and we look forward to seeing this movement grow and expand!
Dr. Rosen encourages our community to engage with the Whole Child Center and with Kula for Karma! You can connect with the Whole Child Center on their website, or on Facebook and Twitter, and with Kula on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
We’re hosting a fun sweepstakes on Instagram as well, highlighting our Integrative Pediatrics program. All you have to do to enter is share a photo of children in your life practicing yoga, and you could win a pair of leggings and a set of headbands by Emily Hsu Designs, plus two tickets to our KULAnary Gala on November 2nd! Learn more here.