Green for less: Donna Karan wears it well

You wake up in the morning feeling a little congested...what's the first thing you do? If you're like most Americans, you reach into your medicine cabinet for some instant relief, either from over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs that resulted from many visits to a doctor. But what if you could cure what ails you with a little stretching, some breathing exercises, a healthy breakfast or even just a kiss from somebody who loves you?

Fashion designer Donna Karan wants to save you some money on your health care bills and make you feel better with a nationwide initiative to spread the word about holistic medicine. She calls her foundation Urban Zen, and so far the holdings consist of a training center, a store that sells Karan-designed clothes, a center for healing at Beth-Israel Hospital in New York and an educational campaign to spread the message across the country.

"Yoga isn't about flexibility," Karan told WalletPop when we went to visit her at the Urban Zen space on Greenwich St. in lower Manhattan to film our "Loose Change" video on how to cut your medical costs the natural way. She explained that they had just had a group yoga session sitting in chairs at the two-day conference she was hosting. She has been working with doctors, physical therapists and nurses to come up with yoga exercises that people can do in bed, wheelchairs and when they have very little energy after being depleted by chemotherapy.

Other protocols they are working on use breathing, meditation, aromatherapy and acupuncture to deal with pain, nausea and other discomforts without medications, something that could save people millions of dollars a year collectively. Nutrition is also a key element, and can help condition from diabetes to cancer to menopause.

Karan, herself, is an enthusiast for juices and soups -- uncooked soups that blend vegetables and herbs into broths -- inspired by chef Jill Pettijohn, who has also served as a raw food guru for many other celebs, including Tom Cruise. For the conference, participants sat on low cushions around tables where wheatgrass juice, coconut water and bottled water were the beverages of choice (and a few cups of coffee hear and there), plus bowls of raw nuts and figs and stacks of green apples.

While Karan and her doctor pals preached a back-to-nature approach to nutrition, they all expressed some flexibility with it. In a presentation, Karan admitted that after a recent knee surgery, what she wanted most of all was "a huge steak with a bone in it." Eating healthy, she says, doesn't have to be expensive or restrictive, but the key is to stay away from processed foods as much as possible.

Karan started on this new initiative after her husband, artist Stephen Weiss, was diagnosed with cancer. He died in 2001, but she says his quality of life was much improved by treating his whole body -- mind and spirit included. While saving money on expensive medical bills is a great goal, there's no price tag you can put on that.

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