We humans are fascinatingly complex beings.

Our physical and mental health and vitality are the manifestation of complex physiological processes, lived experiences, socio-cultural inputs and contexts. We are social creatures, evolved to be in community with other humans. We are natural beings, evolutionarily drawn to be in connection with life-sustaining nature. Over thousands of years, our bodies have evolved into an elegant, whole system with unfathomable intelligence in returning to balance.

Yet our modern world presents many challenges to our beings remaining in balance: modern society, at least in the United States, appears to be accelerating toward a stressed out, disconnected, self-medicating reality. Increasing time in front of screens, distracted consumption of non-nourishing foods and products, and toxic stress and anger challenge our precious beings’ ability to maintain internal balance and optimal health. The choices we make as we navigate this landscape tip the balance in the direction of health and wellbeing or degeneration and disease.

When imbalance in our body occurs, our body communicates with us in the form of symptoms or illness. We can take these opportunities to learn more about what our body needs, and to support it in returning to balance. Each of us, as beings inhabiting these incredible bodies, can learn how to listen to this communication and respond by nourishing ourselves toward wholeness.

Those of us in medicine have a sacred responsibility to share what we’ve learned; in fact, the Latin root of the word “doctor” is “to teach.” I treasure this responsibility. In addition to the joy of sharing the amazing complexity and brilliance of our biology, sharing what we know about how to care for our bodies is aligned with the “first, do no harm” oath we uphold. Working with the natural regenerative, restorative capacities of our bodies allows us to minimize reliance on pharmaceuticals.

In order to provide this empowering style of care, I will be offering group integrative medicine visits in my practice at the Coastal Health Alliance. The groups’ focus will rotate through systems that commonly become imbalanced, creating troubling symptoms or life-threatening illness (for example, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, sleep, women’s health). These visits will allow the time to explore each system in depth: how it works, how to support its needs, and how to address signs of imbalance or disease processes as they arise. Participants will be supported to examine where they may be out of balance and to make changes that will improve their health and alleviate symptoms. We’ll learn from leading science and from each other.

Bringing people together around a shared experience is good medicine, too. In our fast-paced, often socially isolated culture, taking time to connect with each other is healing. In fact, statistically speaking, feeling lonely is as dangerous to your health as smoking cigarettes. Having a health challenge can feel isolating and alienating. Applying community as medicine—generously listening to someone share their experience, reflecting and reciprocating, attuning oneself to the person with whom you are sharing, feeling a part of something larger than oneself—nourishes that part of our being that is hard-wired to be woven into the village, into the human family.

Our modern medical system, heroic in measure, works well in responding to the life-threatening emergencies that arise. For all that we spend on our health care, however, we are not achieving better health. Perhaps taking a closer look at what human beings, in all of our glorious complexity, need in order to be well, balanced and whole, will guide us toward wellness. Perhaps community members coming together in support of each others’ health and vitality will allow us to regain our collective and individual health and vitality.

If you would like to participate in this innovative way of approaching health challenges, please check Coastal Heath Alliance’s website, coastalhealth.net, for the schedule of the groups and call to schedule as with other appointments. These groups are open to all Coastal Health Alliance patients.

These thoughts and beliefs are also guiding the development of programs within the Commonweal Garden, as it becomes the home of the new Natura Institute for Ecology and Medicine. Natura’s programs will explore reconnecting people with the living systems that restore us to wholeness, and will illuminate the medicine of being in reciprocal relationship with the Earth. Please visit naturainstitute.org to learn more and register for programs, and stay tuned for ways to engage.


Anna O’Malley, M.D., is a lover of nature, mother of children, speaker of truth and beholder of the wondrous gift that it is to be alive.