I am a great lover of words and their meaning, origin and way in which they lend potency to an idea. Lately I’ve been contemplating words pertaining to the type of healing I aspire to facilitate in our community and beyond. In so doing, I am considering the state of medicine, and of the science, and what it means to restore the healer to her (or his) rightful role in the village.

How can words describe the deep transformative work of healing?

The word that really has my wheels turning is “regenerative.” Over the past year, I have been blessed with the opportunity to co-direct the Art of Vitality program at The Regenerative Design Institute in Commonweal Garden. My longstanding appreciation of permaculture principles has deepened in my work with James Stark, my co-director, and Penny Livingston, who have trained thousands of people in the regenerative permaculture principles that yield flourishing people, communities and natural systems.

A growing movement is afoot to apply these principles to social systems in support of a transition to a regenerative culture in which humanity and the larger community of life on our planet can thrive.

Sounds inspiring, right? Wouldn’t health care and the practice of medicine benefit from a regenerative approach? One that deeply considers the larger whole of which the patient is a part, supports the healing process with the most beneficial and least harmful treatments available, and makes careful, thoughtful observations before intervention? That recognizes that the health of a person or population cannot be effectively addressed without supporting a culture of health and wellness?

In a word, yes. In classic allopathic style, however, “regenerative medicine” is defined as “a branch of translational research” in tissue engineering and molecular biology that deals with the “process of replacing, engineering or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs to restore or establish normal function.” In other words, the hope is that with advances in stem cell science, regenerative medicine will allow us to grow new tissues or organs that have worn out due to disease.

While intriguing and potentially useful in limited applications, these interventions are far downstream, will cost millions or more to develop (let alone deploy), and do nothing to stem the tide of chronic disease caused by our ailing culture. Perhaps a deeper type of regenerative medicine is needed.

It is this deeper medicine that has been happening over the last nine months in the Commonweal Garden and the Coastal Health Alliance’s Integrative Medicine Circles.

The Art of Vitality is an immersive course in attunement, re-connection, wisdom cultivation and practical application of the rich science behind optimal practices yielding health. Each season, we come together over a three-day weekend to reflect on the regenerative wisdom within nature and how we can attune ourselves to its rhythms and cycles as we deepen the self-awareness central to becoming our most vital and expressed selves. How do the choices we make about food affect our bodies? How does nourishing experience lead to optimized cellular repair, genetic expression and, in fact, regeneration? How can we cultivate meditation practices, now shown to lengthen telomeres and hence longevity? Why do dance, ceremony, forgiveness and movement heal us? How does reweaving ourselves back into the fabric of nature affect neural plasticity, immune function, inspiration and manifestation? How are we made anew by the energy of love? How does remembering that we are social beings—evolved to be in community, sickened by isolation—inform strategies to actualize wellbeing? How can these strategies ripple out from the inner being to inter-being and beyond?

Our Integrative Medicine Circles, which will be opened to our entire community in September 2018, re-envision the limiting 20-minute office visit in order to empower patients and community. Each session focuses on a health challenge shared by many (such as gastrointestinal wellness, cardiovascular health and disease, or women’s health) through the lens of integrative and functional medicine. I share leading edge information about how our bodies work, engage the circle in dialogue about their experiences and facilitate conversation about healing. The circle weaves interconnectedness through the sharing of collective wisdom and through partnered explorations of personal relevance, imbalance and behavior-change goal-setting.

With a deeper understanding of what brings our bodies back into their natural, balanced state, we are better positioned to work with healing modalities that will “do no harm,” limit medication exposure when possible, and walk our path toward healing on a whole-person level.

We are living in a time of transition and great opportunity. We can choose to create our highest health and co-create a culture of wellness. We can consider whether we are aligned with regenerative practices in our lives, communities and systems in which we function, or with those that are depleting or destructive. We invite you to help deepen our collective resilience through cultivating such a culture in West Marin.

The next Art of Vitality program begins in late September (details can be found on Regenerative Design Institute’s website). This fall, I will offer monthly “billable to insurance” integrative medicine circles for C.H.A. patients and a monthly half-day integrative medicine program in the Commonweal Garden. If you would like to hear more and engage in a dialogue about what is possible for our community, please join James Stark and me in conversation at the Dance Palace on Tuesday, June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m.


Anna O’Malley is an Integrative Family and Community Medicine physician in West Marin. She is a lover of all creatures, great and small, especially the beautiful blue whale on the beach near her home. Her favorite new word of the week is “mysticeti,” which is the suborder of baleen whales to which the whale belongs. The word itself evokes the otherworldly grace and beauty of these creatures; I’ll leave the origins to the etymologically curious.