Blending the Physical, Mental and Spiritual Being

Liz Price-Kellogg practices yoga at the Clayton Opera House where she holds her weekly River Yoga classes.

By: Norah Machia

One of the best kept secrets in the north country may be the myriad of alternative treatments that are available to help people heal both the body and the soul. 

    Alternative therapies have earned a reputation for helping to improve a person’s overall health, because they take a “holistic” approach aimed at treating the “entire person.” Treatments are designed to reduce stress and anxiety, improve quality of life, and/or help the body heal itself.

   some alternative medicine practitioners have been working in the region for decades, while others have recently become established.

     they offer an integrated approach to healing through alternative treatments such as plant-based remedies, licensed massage therapy, yoga and meditation, licensed acupuncture, reflexology and reiki.

     here are the stories of several caring and compassionate women who are offering healing alternatives:

Monica Behan, Modicum Skin Healing Products, Watertown

Monica Behan

     Monica Behan had lived in New York City and Los Angeles for decades after graduating from Watertown High School in 1982, carving out a successful and fulfilling career in the music industry.

    She recorded with RCA Records, Chrysalis Music Publishing and even wrote for film and television. Her songs have been heard on the Fox, Lifetime, CBS, TNT and Disney networks. She also designed a fashion label, Goretti, a high-end women’s clothing line featured in many national publications.

     When she returned to the north country several years ago, Ms. Behan decided to pursue a different passion that was based on her strong interest in health and nutrition.

     “I needed to be creative to be happy, and music was my outlet,” said Ms. Behan, who splits her time between New York City and the Thousand Islands region. “But then I discovered another creative outlet – helping others to heal.”

     She turned to her love for everything natural, and with guidance from cosmetic chemists, Ms. Behan developed a skin cell nutrient system called “Modicum” (from the noun meaning “a small quantity of a particular thing, especially considered desirable or valuable”).

       “I have always been into natural medicines,” said Ms. Behan. “I was raised with eight siblings, and the only drug we had in our house was a bottle of aspirin. We just didn’t go to the doctor’s office.”

      Ms. Behan decided to produce the Modicum skin care line after she experimented with creating her own plant-based skin healing serum following a snowmobiling accident a few years ago in the Canadian Rockies.

      She wrote the following description of her accident, injuries and recovery: “I awoke from unconsciousness with several broken bones and lacerations on my face and neck,” she wrote. “I worried that lacerations to my face would leave me with permanent nerve damage and scars. Plastic surgery was recommended.”

    “During my convalescence, I applied a serum of my own invention based on the fundamentals of plant chemistry I had studied,” she added. “These essential oils and chemical building blocks allowed my skin to rejuvenate naturally, leaving no visible scars—without surgery.”

   “I knew I had to share this knowledge with the world,” she said. “This was the beginning of Modicum.”

     After her accident and her recovery, Ms. Behan started to work with a team of cosmetic chemists to create and refine her skin care product formulas. The current line is designed to provide anti-aging benefits, and treat skin conditions such as acne, scarring, eczema, burns and psoriasis.

     “Plants have amazing healing properties, and can be more effective for cellular regeneration than chemical-based products,” she added. “All my products are vegan- and organic-based, and designed for healing the skin by providing nutrients for cell regeneration.”

     Her product line features the Essential Serum, Essential Cleanser and Essential Exfoliant. When combined, they reflect a simple skin care regime that doesn’t “require a vanity full of products” to achieve healthy skin, she said.

    The Modicum products are for people who are health conscious, looking for a natural product and not harsh chemicals, and “who depend on cellular rejuvenation and reproduction to help skin recover and heal,” Ms. Behan added.

     Some ingredients in the Modicum skin care line include Helichrysum oil, sea buckthorn berry oil, black cumin seed oil, and rose dimiscus. Many of the botanicals in the products deliver large amounts of Vitamins C, E, and A, carotenoids, Omega 3, 6, 9 and 7, linoleic and oleic acid, and manganese, all working as anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories and anti-bacterials.     

      “I believe in the natural path, but it has to be effective,” Ms. Behan said. “People will take natural solutions if it works for them.”

     The skin care products are produced in a laboratory in Watertown, and then shipped and distributed to stores nationwide. They are often sold in “beauty boxes” which include a variety of products, and also on-line through the Modicum website.

     This June, the company will mark its two-year anniversary. Modicum is working to develop a new product to treat cold sores, and a men’s aftershave and moisturizer, she said.

    “There is a wonderful current moving through this area” of acceptance and interest in natural remedies, and “the community has been very supportive of Modicum,” Ms. Behan said. 

Elizabeth “Liz” Price-Kellogg, River Yoga and Live Yum, Clayton

Liz Price-Kellogg

  Elizabeth “Liz” Price-Kellogg, owner of River Yoga in Clayton, has been teaching yoga for more than 20 years. She says the time people spend “off the mat” is just as important as the time they spend in her yoga class.

     “I teach yoga as a lifestyle, not just an hour on the mat,” said Ms. Price-Kellogg, who holds classes in the Clayton Opera House. “The eating experience is also very much a part of the holistic approach to health.”

     She combined her expertise in yoga with her passion for healthy food to write a book with co-author Kristen Taylor called “For the Love of Food and Yoga: A Celebration of Mindful Eating and Being” that was published in 2015 by Skyhorse Publishing.

     “We really wanted to inspire people,” Ms. Price-Kellogg said. “Our message was that yoga practices don’t end when you get off the mat.”

     The book is described as “a visually rich exploration of how the inner awareness we develop on our yoga mats fuels our bodies, minds and overall states of well-being.”

      It contains scenic photographs taken throughout the Thousand Islands region of students and teachers in yoga poses, combined with 100 original vegetarian, vegan and raw recipes. Also featured are 100 “YogiBites” which are described as “a collection of time-tested yoga teachings.”

     “The idea behind the book was to take the basic lessons – that we are not just training the body, but we are training the mind as well, and apply that to the eating experience,” Ms. Price-Kellogg said.

     Just as yoga poses are “modified and varied on mat,” the same should be true with food, she said.

    “We tell people to celebrate their time on the mat,” Ms. Price-Kellogg said. “But we also want people to slow down and celebrate their time in the kitchen, especially with the people they love.”

     In addition to the book, a “Live Yum” wellness blog was created to keep an updated forum for sharing healthy recipes and eating practices.

     “It’s also about the way you relate to people, the way you feed yourself, the way you look at the world,” Ms. Price-Kellogg said. “Every day we wake up in our bodies, it’s a gift.”

     But it’s not always easy to appreciate that gift, so Ms. Kellogg-Price also teaches her students meditation techniques to relax, no matter how chaotic their lives may be at the time.

     “This gives people the opportunity to really try and observe their thoughts,” she said. “I remind people that negative thoughts fuel more negative thoughts.”

    Ms. Price-Kellogg has expanded her yoga classes over the years, and offers a class specifically for men, as well as free “chair yoga” for residents of the Riverview Apartments on Strawberry Lane.

  “Once people get into it, they feel a lot healthier,” she said.

Kathleen Merrick, OpenSky Healing Arts Center, Lowville

     Kathleen Merrick recalls moving from the Albany area to Lewis County more than 17 years ago, and attempting to start a therapeutic massage practice.

Kathleen Merrick

    It wasn’t an easy task.

    At that time, the concept of licensed massage therapy wasn’t well known in the area, so she took every opportunity to spread the word about its many health benefits, both mental and physical.

     “I spoke at church suppers, women’s group meetings, and at the Elks clubs and Lions clubs,” said Ms. Merrick, a licensed massage therapist who trained at the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, Albany. “Anywhere they would have me, I would talk about massage.”

    She explained how therapeutic massage could help release the stress in muscle tissue and increase the flow of blood within the muscles for added movement and comfort. She also noted the many reasons people might want to consider a massage – for stress reduction, to release tight and tense muscles, and for help with anxiety and depression.

     Other conditions that can be addressed with therapeutic massage include migraines, arthritis, aches and chronic pain, Ms. Merrick said.

    A lot has changed since those first presentations she held so many years ago. Today, Ms. Merrick owns and operates the OpenSky Healing Arts Center, Lowville, which employs nine licensed massage therapists, along with a part-time acupuncturist available to treat patients once a week. The center also offers natural body treatments designed to exfoliate, detox and rehydrate.

    Ms. Merrick is especially proud of her partnership with the Veterans Administration in Syracuse through the agency’s “Care in the Community” program. The program is designed to help provide certain types of treatments for veterans which are not offered in VA facilities, including licensed massage therapy.

   “This is a wonderful program,” said Ms. Merrick. “It looks at services that could benefit veterans, and covers the cost for them to seek that type of care in the community.”

    The OpenSky Healing Arts Center staff provide massage therapy to 16 veterans from throughout Northern New York through the program. There is no cost to the veterans, and the center is reimbursed by the VA system for their services.

   “They approve between six to twenty sessions at no cost to the veteran,” she said. “Many of them are coming off painkillers. Some had never imagined they would be seeking massage treatments as part of their care.”

     There are veterans receiving therapeutic massage at the OpenSky Center who have served up to 25 years in the military, she said.

     Others are younger, and in some cases, they are working to resolve pain issues in their shoulders, neck or back that may be preventing them from starting a second career, for example, in law enforcement, she said.

     “I’m so grateful to be able to provide this type of help to our veterans,” Ms. Merrick said.

     She also promotes the practice of meditation prior to a massage, if needed, to help people become relaxed before getting onto the massage table.

      “Some clients may have a lot of tension and anxiety, and you just can’t get them on the table right away,” Ms. Merrick said. “A short meditation makes it more effective.”

    The practice of meditation “also gives them another way to manage their stress when they leave here,” Ms. Merrick said

     “I can do the physical massage, but they need to care for themselves outside of the center as well,” she said. “I try to teach people that they are in charge of their bodies, and the more they work with their thoughts, the better they can relax.”

Shelby Connelly, Five elements living, Colton

     Shelby Connelly, a licensed acupuncturist, wanted to do more than just practice her specialty – she wanted to build a center that offered a variety of “healing modalities” for north country residents.

Shelby Connelly

     That center is Five Elements Living, located in Colton at the foothills of the Adirondacks. It offers a variety of healing modalities, including acupuncture, reiki, yoga, massage, holistic nutrition and meditation.

     There is also a focus on helping people improve their health through nutrition education – a philosophy of “eating for cellular health,” said Ms. Connelly, who is nationally certified and received her master’s degree in acupuncture from The Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, Maryland.  

     Overnight accommodations are available for those interested in “a very integrated retreat” experience that offers opportunities to “refresh the body, heart and mind,” she said.

      “A lot of women don’t have the time to drive somewhere to get away,” so the location draws north country residents, as well as people from outside the region, Ms. Connelly said.

     “We are also the only salon in the area that uses fully organic products,” she said. “We can focus on both the inner and outer beauty.”

     For those interested in learning more about the retreat, or other aspects of healthy living, Ms. Connelly offers “Five Elements TV,” a series of video segments that are aired on her website. 

     “We interview people in the center, and people outside the center,” said Ms. Connelly, who is using a Massena-based production company for the video work. “We started this project because we wanted to get the word out through video.”

     “A lot of people need education, even between visits,” she added.

     An acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of extremely thin stainless steel needles into precise points on the body. The combination of points are prescribed based on the pattern of imbalance determined by the practitioner, according to the center’s website. Acupuncture works by causing physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain, affecting blood pressure and body temperature.

   There are a variety of conditions that may be helped with acupuncture, including physical ailments, psychological issues, digestive disorders and women’s health issues, said Ms. Connelly.

     Acupuncture is also used to help cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, she said. Some patients use it to control pain and to relieve nausea and vomiting, and to help with anxiety and depression.

     Ms. Connelly is working with 15 cancer patients at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, Ogdensburg, and five at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

   Another practitioner at the Five Elements Center is also helping cancer patients to deal with the side effects of their disease and treatments.

     Sarah Pickard is a Reiki Master, a teacher, spiritual counselor and veteran schoolteacher, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Elmira College. She left the classroom after 18 years of teaching high school and middle school students to start her fulltime healing practice.

     She also provides reiki treatments to cancer patients at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, and has a private practice in Potsdam, along with her practice at Five Elements Living Retreat in Colton.      

Barbara Hale, Peace and Wellness Center, Adams

Barbara Hale

     In January, the Peace and Wellness Center was opened in Adams by a woman who had worked in the nursing profession for 30 years before deciding it was time for a career change.

     Barbara Hale left her last nursing position in the South Jefferson Central School District in 2011 to attend the Onondaga School of Therapeutic Massage, Syracuse.     During the course of her nursing career, she had started to see the profession changing – and found herself spending more time on the computer and less time with the patients.

     Today, she is working as a nationally board-certified New York state- licensed massage therapist. Ms. Hale offers a variety of therapeutic massage treatments, and is also trained in reiki and integrative reflexology.

     Several hospitals in New York state have licensed massage therapists on staff to provide treatments to hospitalized patients, which shows a recognition by the medical profession of the value in massage therapy, Ms. Hale said.

     “Massage has so many health benefits,” she said. “It can provide relief for pain, arthritis, muscle tension, and also help to relieve stress, reduce blood pressure, and anxiety.”

      Therapeutic massage treatments could be used alone, or in conjunction with another type of therapy, such as physical therapy, she noted.

     “People can do their own research” to find out the type of treatment that works best for them, Ms. Hale said. 

     “All doctors are different, but some are open to change,” and are interested in working together with care practitioners such as licensed massage therapists to help patients, she said.

   In this manner, massage therapy can be viewed not as “alternative care,” but rather, as “integrated care,” Ms. Hale said.

         “I have always been concerned about the temptation to first turn to pharmaceuticals to treat a medical condition,” she said. “I’m interested in promoting an “integrated” form of treatment where physicians and nurses work together with practitioners, such as licensed massage therapists.”

     People may also benefit from different care techniques, such as reiki or reflexology, she said. Ms. Hale offers both therapies at the Peace and Wellness Center.

     Reflexology is a treatment that focuses on applying pressure to specific nerve zones in the feet, and is based on the ancient belief that every part of the human body is “mapped” to their feet. It’s a treatment that has been used to address conditions such as allergies, headaches and depression, she said.

     Reiki involves the gentle laying of hands to conduct an energy force between the client and practitioner that can help to alleviate stress and chronic pain. It is a practice based on the concept of “cleansing and balancing the energy system in the body to strengthen the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms,” according to her website.

McKenzie Cantwell, Licensed Acupuncturist

     McKenzie Cantwell, a graduate of the Thousand Islands Central School District, is a licensed acupuncturist with a practice in South Carolina. She also treats people in the Clayton area when she is home during the holidays and summer breaks.

McKenzie Cantwell, LAc

 She has provided acupuncture treatment to patients ranging from ages 12 to 99 years old, said Ms. Cantwell, who received her master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls in 2013.

     “Although it’s a preventative medicine, society teaches us to seek a health service only when we need help, so most people come to me for pain relief,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But I also see lots of people for insomnia, stress/relaxation, infertility, menstrual and women’s health issues, migraines and digestive issues.”

      She has also seen people with Parkinson’s disease, and helped cancer patients deal with the side effects of chemotherapy.

     “My passion, and the reason I got into this profession, is to help people with mental and emotional disorders; anxiety/panic attacks and depression,” she wrote. “However, whenever there is any sort of dis-ease, or energy not flowing freely through the entire body, acupuncture can help.”

    Many people seek treatment from her as a last resort, and have told her “I’ve tried everything, and nobody can figure it out,” she added.

    “Those are my favorite patients because I know I can help them, and almost every single time, everything they say to me makes perfect sense in my Chinese Medicine brain,” she wrote. “I almost instinctively know what to do and how to treat them. And it makes my love for what I do grow, continually.”

     There is “no one protocol for any condition in Chinese Medicine because symptoms present differently from person to person,” Ms. Cantwell wrote. “If ten people came to me with migraines, I would treat every single one of them differently. Which I think speaks to how powerful the medicine is. I treat the root cause of a condition, not just the symptoms.”

     The role of an acupuncturist is to “manipulate energy and stimulate the body to heal itself,” she added.

    “I’m just a medium in helping the body heal itself. I don’t think people understand how powerful the body truly is,” Ms. Cantwell added. “I’ve come to realize a big part of my job is to show them, educate them, and put them on a path to knowing how to remain in a healthy state physically, emotionally and spiritually.”