Integrative Health and Wellness at the Library

Ana Campos, Principal Librarian, Central Library Services,
 Dr. Desmonette Hazly in the kitchen
Dr. Desmonette Hazly

Beginning in April, Central Library will be offering an Integrative Health and Wellness Series presented by Dr. Desmonette Hazly. We wanted to learn more about what integrative health is and how Dr. Hazly uses this concentration of well-being to help the community. We have invited Dr. Hazly to participate in a brief Q & A to introduce the series and herself.

What is your definition of integrative health?

Integrative health and wellness incorporates traditional health practices with other modalities of treatments from all over the world to care for your mind, body, and spirit. It focuses on the whole person and takes into consideration that all aspects of a person’s life contribute to overall health and wellness.

How long have you been involved with integrative health education?

I have been involved with various aspects of integrative health for over 15 years. When I was working on my graduate degree in social work, I developed an interest in social medicine and became a medical social worker. In the final year of my social work degree, I interned at the VA hospital in Westwood, and developed an integrative health program for veterans who frequented the emergency room due to social and emotional issues rather than actual physical conditions.

My career in social medicine and social work took me abroad and I was able to see how other countries utilize integrative health modalities to help and heal individuals and communities. My work on special programs with the United Nations, UNICEF and the International Services of the Red Cross gave me an opportunity to see how people all over the world use integrative health to address wellness from the cumulative perspective of body, mind and spirit. I incorporate what I have learned from other cultures into the workshops that I teach to give people a more comprehensive view of integrative health.

How has integrative health and wellness impacted your life?

I have always understood the significance of integrative health and wellness but my relationship to integrative health became deeply personal when I became the primary caregiver to multiple people in my family. I was caring for family members who were diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular disease and illnesses associated with stress and life choices connected to nutrition and exercise.

I went back to school and learned everything I could about integrative health and wellness and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) so I could assist my family. I extensively studied various modalities of integrative health including aromatherapy, art and music therapies, nutrition, kinesiology and movement, yoga, and meditation and mindfulness. I received my state certification in massage therapy and became a medical massage therapist and joined the Greet the Day/Institute of Integrative Oncology team and provided oncology massage therapy to cancer patients in various hospitals throughout Southern California.

I not only became a knowledgeable integrative health educator, I became a committed and dedicated advocate for integrative health and wellness and CAM. I am now working with various agencies locally, nationally and internationally and became the Chair of Integrative Health Education for Greet the Day/Institute of Integrative Oncology.

You have also developed a unique integrative health culinary arts programs. Could you tell us about that?

Cooking is not just a hobby for me, it is a passion and my stress reliever. I have always loved to cook but I did not make the decision to go to culinary arts school until I was in grad school. I was stressed out from my studies and had recently lost my grandfather and was grieving. I went to a local cooking school to focus my energies on something I enjoyed.

When I graduated from cooking school and received my graduate degree in social work, I decided I wanted to use cooking as a means to improve the quality of life of the people I served in the community. I have created culinary arts programs for gang members, homeless vets, and teen mothers. When I worked as a site coordinator for a domestic violence shelter, our group counseling sessions were conducted during our cooking classes because the participants said they felt more comfortable talking about personal issues when they were in the kitchen cooking together and enjoying a healthy meal in a supportive group.

collage of photos from a healthy cooking program at the Vernon Branch

Culinary art class at the Vernon Library in 2014

I began to use culinary arts as a community integrative health education tool when I began teaching classes at the Vernon Branch Library, when you were the branch manager. We worked together to develop a program that not only taught people how to cook, but also provided information on how each ingredient impacts the body. Participants could make the link of food being medicine, and that they can use what they eat to improve and maintain their overall health.

The culinary arts classes have been very successful, and I am now working with other libraries and agencies like Alma Family Services and South Central Family Health Center to provide culinary arts classes for their clients.

I have also been given the opportunity to work with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and develop and implement an Integrative Health Culinary Arts program that will provide classes and information to people who receive emergency foods and the service providers and community partners who work tirelessly to address the issue of hunger in Los Angeles County.

Why is integrative health and CAM becoming so prevalent and why do you feel it is important for the community to be aware of Integrative Health?

When I am working in the community, I see how stress and life choices can destroy people’s health. I think people are actively looking for ways to improve their bodies and state of mind. Integrative health and wellness strategies are a practical choice for people because they can access and use the techniques and skills easily. Learning to breathe when you are under pressure and taking a walk when you are having a stressful day doesn’t cost anything. Eating a fruit salad you learned how to make instead of having a bag of chips is a choice that is not a complicated concept for people to grasp.

Improving your health does not have to be costly. It is about choices and integrative health and wellness and CAM give people more choices to help themselves.