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Hospital goes Zen to aid in recovery

February 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Millions of people will be admitted into hospitals across the country this year. Good care can be the key to a quick recovery. See how one hospital is teaching their caregivers and patients how to go Zen. Nurses at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City take special breaks.

In Beth Israel, a respite does more than relax the busy staff. It relaxes their mind before they head back out to the cancer ward.

"Patients can feel if they're so stressed out," said Aurora Ocampo, R.N., M.A., C.N.S., Beth Israel Medical Center.

The New York Zen Center is the first in the country, and what they learn here they take out on the floor.

"I've seen the benefits," said Darcy O'Sullivan, R.N. "People really appreciate these options."

O'Sullivan uses aromatherapy to help her patients deal with chemo treatments. Lavender is used for relaxation. Peppermint curbs nausea.

"It helps people get through treatment. It helps people find hope and to fight," Elaine Meszaros, R.N., C.N.S., Beth Israel Medical Center explained.

"Patients seem more satisfied and more cared for," said Shirley Escala, R.N., Beth Israel Medical Center.

Nurse Debora Matza uses her 19 years of experience now as a yoga therapist at the hospital.

"It is deeply relaxing," said Matza.

Methods like yoga and relaxation have been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and decrease fatigue. They can help boost mood, concentration and even memory.

"It also works on other levels like helping to facilitate circulation," said Matza.

"It feels relaxing and it's a lot for the mental also" said Erik, a patient at Beth Israel.

That's something that is good for both the patients and the caregivers.

Patients at the hospital practice yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, reiki, and undergo nutrition training. They are also assigned a "patient navigator" to help them during their stay in the hospital.

Web Extra Information:


"Zen" is the Japanese word and "Ch'an" is the Chinese word derived from the Sanskrit word "Dhyana" meaning "meditation." Zen began in China back in the 6th century CE. Zen is practiced all around the world and has recently found a huge following in the United States. Zen Buddhism focuses on gaining enlightenment through meditation. Zen is a means to reaching enlightenment. Zen declines the study of scriptures, devotional practices and any religious rites (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica). Some of the key beliefs of Zen focus on The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path:

  • First Noble Truth: The observation that suffering (dukkha) is pervasive in life. Second Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is because of craving. Third Noble Truth: Suffering can be ended by ending the craving. Fourth Noble Truth: Follow the Noble Eightfold Path.
  • The Noble Path: Right views, right understanding of the mind, right speech, right conduct, right vocation, right effort in meditation, right awareness in meditation and right contemplation to achieve complete meditation.

The New York Zen Center is the first Buddhist organization to provide chaplaincy to a mainstream hospital -- Beth Israel Medical Center. The Contemplative Care Program consists of student chaplains visiting staff and patients and conducting weekly group meditations. Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City is taking advantage of those services and offering Zen at work for employees and patients who may be under stress.


According to Forbes Magazine, the top 10 best stress relievers are: acupressure, exercise, hobbies, staying hydrated, massages, meditation, sex, sleep, therapy and maintaining a nutritious diet. There are also prescription hypnotics, antidepressants, beta-blockers and sedatives that may relieve some stress. Some people relieve stress by volunteering, playing with pets, keeping a journal, breathing and practicing self-hypnosis.