Urban Zen


The answer to Generation Burnout


The alarm goes off on a Sunday morning, you drag your zombie-like self to the kitchen where your true best friend resides, coffee. You guzzle the syrupy liquid before throwing yourself into the shower; step two of operation: Wake Up.

After serpentine driving maneuvers, a phantom of your former self sits hunched in front of a screen. Hours later you emerge from your cave (now well-fuelled with several more cups of caffeine) only to find yourself slithering through traffic once more. Your evenings are far from restorative – emails and phone calls keep you tied to the desk you left behind until you make your way back to the bed you didn’t have time to make that morning. And so the cycle continues.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. A recent survey shows that 71 per cent of women have suffered an anxiety or panic attack brought on by long working hours and everyday stress. This phenomenon is now so commonplace that the term Generation Burnout was coined, referring to millennials – those born between 1981 and 1995 – and the effect of the strain on their lives.

Even more worrying is that burnout among doctors has dramatically increased over the past three years – the very people who are responsible for our health are suffering from their own. A new study by Mayo Clinic in the US found more than half of physicians felt emotionally drained, ineffective and unmotivated.

Enter Urban Zen, an integrative therapy program founded by fashion designer, Donna Karan. After watching her late husband Stephan Weiss battle with lung cancer for seven years, Karan realized that his doctors were treating the disease and not the patient and it became her mission to “bring the care back into healthcare.”


For Weiss and Karan this meant more than just treating the patients, but also the doctors and nurses who were looking after them.

Karan turned to her long-time friends and renowned yoga teachers, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee, to develop a program that brought holistic healthcare into hospitals. Immediately, the yoga and wellness community took notice. Yoga teachers who personally watched their students go through burnout wanted to offer more than just a traditional yoga class. Instead of rigorous asanas (postures), students can expect restorative yoga poses supported by props such as blankets, blocks, straps and bolsters peppered with compatible essential oils, Reiki therapy and body scan meditations.

Cairo West Magazine connected with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee to talk about their journey into the creation and development of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program.

CWM: How did Urban Zen originate for both of you?

RY & CSY: We were friends with Donna Karan and her husband, Stephan Weiss. At the end of his life he asked Donna to take care of the nurses and help bring complementary healthcare to the healthcare system. In her work, she asked us what we were going to do about these situations – we ended up having a wellness initiative that lasted ten days with nurses, doctors and allied health professionals as well as yogis and other people involved in complementary healthcare. We decided that we needed to create Urban Zen Integrative Therapy and spent three years compiling the program and refining it.

How did you get the therapy from paper to the public?

We had our first training in 2009 with about 100 people that were pioneers in their own field and wanted to be a part of this movement. Now, in 2016 almost, we’re in many hospitals and schools and have several training programs in place. It’s a beautiful endeavor – we get letters every day with people saying that their lives have become better because of an Urban Zen Integrative Therapist in their hospital.

What are the benefits of having a combined holistic concept?

We were a little skeptical at first but when we gave the first training in 2009 and saw people in restorative poses with essential oils and Reiki, we realized that the sum was far greater than the addition of the parts. We’re realizing more and more that we can teach people small tools but in the combination of teaching the tools together they become far greater at what they can do for self care, for the care of their family and eventually, if they get trained enough, care in clinical situations.

Where do you see Urban Zen going internationally?

I believe that it will become almost like Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy, an integral part of every hospital, school and corporation. People need to learn how to take care of themselves and each other in really simple ways.

How do the modalities of Reiki, yoga therapy, essential oils, nutrition and contemplative care blend with modern medicine?

I think it’s a doorway to augmenting a lot of modern day healthcare with other practices from around the world that other societies and cultures have developed. Unfortunately, I think that post-industrialized nations tend to use Western medicine only and I think that is very limiting. Our world is now opening up to really cultivating wisdom from a lot of different cultures and beginning to look at healthcare in a much broader way. I think that is the future of healthcare and Urban Zen Integrative Therapy is a part of that paradigm.

How did Urban Zen move from a clinical setting to a yoga studio?

There were a lot of yoga teachers taking the classes, most of whom knew that restorative yoga is essential for our modern life. >>

It wasn’t popular yet because everyone wanted to get physically fit, lose weight and have good skincare but even from a scientific perspective, they are just now understanding the relationship between rest and health.

Tell us about the evolution of restorative yoga into Urban Zen as a full integrative therapy.

We started taking the restorative yoga poses that we knew and incorporating them with Urban Zen’s PANIC model (referring to pain, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, constipation and the more recent additions of sadness and exhaustion). We became specific about which poses, movements, oils and Reiki to do in different situations. Breaking it down in this way really helps people to realize what tools to use with each symptom. It’s the beginning of a great movement, of synthesizing our knowledge so that the everyday person can benefit every day.

How do you recommend people incorporate it into their busy day-to-day lives?

I would like to think that every household will have a little place where they can do a restorative pose every day or perhaps pick out an oil and use it. I wish that everybody would learn self-Reiki and then with all of these tools, understand the interrelatedness of these modalities – in a simple ten minutes, people can get restored. Personally, conflict happens a lot of times when I’m exhausted; I don’t think any of us do good work in the world when we’re exhausted. These aspects of the practices we brought together help restore the human being deeply, profoundly and quickly.

As the human impulse to move towards a healthy, long life grows so will the popularity of integrative medicine and holistic wellbeing. From cleaner eating to meditation and fitness, Cairenes are moving towards a wholesome, well-rounded lifestyle. In Colleen and Rodney’s words, “We have the solution, now we have to apply it into our everyday lives.”

Urban Zen is now available at On The Mat, Zamalek and Tūla, Mohandiseen.


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