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The Holistic Alliance of Western New York started almost eight years ago, with six people in Nancy Weil’s living room.

“It was during Hurricane Katrina, and we wanted to do something,” said Weil, of Snyder. “We ran a little holistic event to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, to rebuild homes in New Orleans. I had this amazing group of people who wanted to help, and then nobody showed up for the fundraiser. We ended up working on each other. We had a wonderful time together, and we raised a little money.”

Eight years later, the alliance Facebook page has more than 375 followers – you must live in the region to be given “friend” status – and 30 to 50 people generally gather for alliance meetings at 7 p.m. the second Friday of each month in the community room at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph’s Campus, 2605 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga. They hear a guest speaker talk about their holistic health practice and mingle afterward. Next week’s speaker is Clay Dinger, a hypnotist who will talk about how self-hypnosis can relieve stress. The gatherings are free and open to the public.

Weil, 52, owns the Laugh Academy – which teaches therapeutic laughter and laughter yoga – and also is grief coordinator with Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese of Buffalo, a job separate from her holistic health work.

She continues on her learning curve when it comes to holistic health. When you’re looking into all avenues to keep well in mind, body and spirit, she said, it’s a process, not a destination.

“Because of the community we’ve built with all these holistic health practitioners, I learn from all of them,” said Weil, author of the book “If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might.” That community includes chiropractors, homeopaths, neuropaths, massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga instructors, meditation leaders, reiki masters and more.

How does laughter fit with holistic medicine?

As I learned laughter yoga and exercises, I began to learn more about the benefits of laughter, why we laugh, how we are wired. Because one of its benefits is stress reduction, I began to see there’s all these other things – essential oils and breathing techniques – that you can do for stress reduction. … I teach these simple, effective tools at corporations and companies that are just at the maximum stress level. They lose productivity. Morale drops. Stress is killing us, so to be able to teach these natural, holistic ways that are able to help reduce the stress is great.

Who comes to the alliance meetings and doesn’t come back?

The group’s attitude is “How can I help people?,” not “How can you help me? How are you going to send me business?” If someone comes in and they’re all ego, we know they won’t come back because we don’t feed that. We don’t have membership (dues). We’re just a group that gets together once a month, like-minded people who support each other and support the holistic lifestyle. Eating vegetarian doesn’t sound weird in this room. It isn’t “Really? How are you not going to eat steak?,” it’s “So, have you seen this website? They’ve got some great recipes.”

This sounds like a support group.

Our primary focus is education, because how are you going to know that something’s available to you if you don’t know what it is? Once you get into holistic, there’s so many ways that people practice, study and offer (services). If you don’t know what that means, or is, how are you going to take advantage? People know yoga, they know meditation, but you can spend a lifetime learning those. This also becomes a support network: the referrals, the support. We’re finding more and more interest in the community, and people are hungry to want to know more.

You say Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hospice Buffalo are embracing holistic medicine?

I was in the room at Hospice with somebody who was passing a few weeks ago when a music therapist came in and played her guitar. You could watch this woman, who was dying, you could see her whole energy change as the music came over her. It was amazing to see her relax, see her breathing change. And the Life Transitions Center – the bereavement arm of Hospice – has a reiki master come in for people going through cancer or serious illness.

You’re seeing more and more of this become integrative, or complementary. It’s not about being against Western medicine. If I break my arm, please put a cast on it, please take care of me. We are absolutely not about isolation of treatments; we’re about integration of treatments. When my mother had cancer in Cincinnati, I found an oncologist who did acupuncture, and research shows that acupuncture tends to alleviate some of the side effects of chemotherapy.

So if people come thinking “I could get rid of my doctor” – please don’t. That’s not what we’re about. If someone happens to have an interest in holistic – they want to come but really don’t know much about it – when they come, they will not feel out of place.

So is this a judgment-free zone?

Exactly. We’re not trying to convince anybody of anything. Anytime you have a group the size as this one, you’re going to have a lot of different backgrounds, beliefs, philosophies.

What do you say to critics who maintain there’s no place for holistic health in a health section or serious discussion about health care, it’s a bunch of mumbo jumbo?

If that’s your truth, then that’s OK, but there are other people who do have an interest and do want to know more. We’re not looking to change anyone’s mind. We’re not looking to recruit people. We don’t need to. We’re just saying that if you’re interested in this, educate yourself. Take self-responsibility for the decisions that you’re making about your life. It’s just “Here’s what this is; maybe you’ll find this helpful.” One meeting is not enough to know everything. It’s a little seed you plant.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Read about the Laugh Academy and an electrical-worker-turned-massage-therapist at blogs.buffalonews.com/refresh