By Deepti R Paikray
The New York center, with its courses in alternative healing, spirituality and world culture, is quietly ushering the new age in the big apple.
|A space of warmth and intimacy: The cafe on the ground floor of the New York Center|
The word ‘open’ says it all. It promises freedom from all that is restrictive, and holds in its heart an expansive space that facilitates freedom, healing and unlimited growth. It is therefore only appropriate that the New York Open Center, situated in pulsating midtown Manhattan, New York, with its chrome offices, lighted stores and ethnic restaurants, should be one of the world’s leading centres of holistic learning and world culture.
With the recent launch of its online learning programmes, the Center’s portals are now open to body-mind-spirit seekers across the globe keen on a value-based transformation in their lives. The Center offers the best in wellness, spirituality and global culture to nearly 10,000 people who enrol for its course annually at its New York centre.
Managing Director and co-founder of the Center Thomas Amelio (Shivanand) was at the 16,000-square-feet-three-storey Center building to welcome me into the bright, inviting premises that are, he says, enveloped in ‘force fields of positivity and light’.
Amelio is a founding member and senior teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health at Lenox in Massachusetts. He has lived and worked in Kripalu ashrams for almost 20 years, including a one-year sabbatical in India, where he edited his book Yoga: The Ultimate Spiritual Path. He has briefly worked for Deepak Chopra besides holding directorship of the Ross Institute Center for Well-Being, New Hampton, New York. By day, he runs the Open Center and at dusk leads students to seek oneness through classes on chants and meditation.
There is a vibrant café and bookshop on the ground floor, and the floor above has classes and the meditation room. The last floor houses staff offices.
Inside the Center, city-dwellers troop in to mull, ruminate and meditate even as Hindu deities and winged seraphim look on benignly. In the office, a Bodhisattva and Laxmi-Ganpati are privy to my exchanges with Thomas, who shares with me how the Centre evolved and its path ahead. He pauses a while to chant a mellifluous Gujarati bhajan, a distant but rooted memory from sojourns in Indian ashrams.
The New York Open Center was founded in 1984 by a group of individuals who felt the need to create a space in the heart of the Big Apple where the best teachers would share techniques that would fulfil the body’s needs and spirit’s aspirations.
Ralph White, a founding member of the Center, was associated with Findhorn, a spiritual community and international centre for holistic education in Scotland. Ralph teamed up with Sandy Levine, who is the programme coordinator at the Center, and invited illumined teachers like Letha Hadady, an expert on Asian healing modalities, Mary Shomon, a specialist in thyroid and hormonal imbalances, Naina Marballi, an authority on ayurvedic nutrition, Gerald Epstein, MD, a doctor who places emphasis on the holistic https://lifepositive.com/Mind/body approach, Lewis Mehl-Madrona who practises biomedical psychiatry and coyote hypnosis.
|Messenger of light: Thomas Amelio|
Center believes in drawing from and teaching the essence of spiritual practices, religions and world cultures. For instance, Sufism with its mysticism is emphasised over Islam, which is more formal in its approach. The Centre’s workshops are explored through the five perspectives – society, ecology, culture, psychology, holistic health, bodywork, yoga studies and arts and creativity. Among the workshops offered at the Center are those on self-development, livelihood, sexuality, herbs and nutrition, Chinese health practices, holistic animal care, yoga, reflexology, creative writing and feng shui. The centre also offers courses on sound and music facilitation that take into account the transformative effects of sound in general and voice in particular on the human organism. Students learn, for instance, how sound regulates nitric oxide levels in the body, which, in turn, impacts the immune and nervous systems, muscles, pregnancy and fertility. There are also practices like space clearing and womb healing rooted in the wisdom of Native American and Afro-American cultures.
Oasis of peace
The Center’s advantageous location offers New Yorkers a space of retreat minus the hassles of travel. A harried mom can attend a two-hour class on Qigong for her troublesome back and returns rejuvenated to her toddler. A grandma can enrol for a course in therapeutic nutrition and share her learning with others who suffer from her condition. A practitioner in alternative therapies can layer her learning with a four-to-six month course in herbalism or ayurveda. Fees for these courses vary from $20 to $400, with most priced under $100. Some introductory courses on subjects like bereavement counselling, psychedelic healing, divine intuition and sound therapy are free. Duration of courses offered at the Center vary from two hours to three years.
Some programmes at the Center focus on getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. There was an Art of Dying Conference at the Center recently. Presenters included a variety of experts and innovators in Tibetan culture, doctors, nurses, hospice workers, therapists, bereavement counsellors and spiritual teachers. The conference drew attention of the participants to the inevitability of death and highlighted the importance of living life fully because the end often comes without warning.
|read signal: The cozy and colourful bookstore|
Many of the instructors at the Centre are MDs like Deepak Chopra and Andrew Newberg who supplement conventional medicine with alternative therapies.
Andrew Newberg, an associate professor at the department of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, has extensively studied the relationships between brain function, alternative therapies, meditation and mystical experiences. His research explores how spiritual ideas and practices like prayer affect the brain on a biological level and people on a psychological and spiritual level. He has shared the results of his research in his book, How God Changes your Brain.
While the tribe of doctors exploring alternative medicine continues to be small, course attendances in reiki and reflexology courses at the Center indicate an increasing willingness on the part of nurses to learn and apply holistic sciences. The popularity of such courses also underlines how complementary healing practices have become more rewarding than ever.
While course fees cover over 50 per cent of operating expenses at the Center, attempts are made to raise additional funds through donations from those with an open heart and generous pockets. The Center, besides its core team, is largely run by enthusiastic volunteers. Unlike a degree-granting institute, the Center is not entitled to government aid, nor can learners apply for loans on offered programmes. For now, the Center runs on leased property that has a church for its rightful landlord.
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The Center’s Community InReach Project brings holistic classes into community centres and social service agencies in the city, making it possible to reach those unable to come in person for classes. The InReach Project serves agencies working for cancer and HIV/AIDS support, drug/alcohol rehabilitation, mental health, shelters for women and children who have experienced domestic violence, female ex-offenders, families of 9/11 victims and the elderly. In the past year, InReach offered 400 classes at 16 sites free-of-charge or by donation. This effort has been generously supported by private foundations and individual donors.