Wanderlust Festival calls for personal health care reform

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STRATTON — As a boy, Robert Graham always wanted to be a doctor.

"My dream came true," the Harvard-trained physician says today.

Then Graham woke to a nightmare: Pushed to see more and more patients, he found himself overwhelmed and overworked as appointment times shrank and incentives to prescribe drugs skyrocketed.

"Our health-care system is so " he says before catching himself from cursing. "Messed up here. We have to change the philosophy."

That's why Graham and nearly 100 other wellness specialists joined several thousand people over the weekend at the Wanderlust Festival at Stratton Mountain Resort. Organizers known for orchestrating Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza usually serve up music. But in Vermont, they shared how mindful living can pay off not only personally but also socially, politically, economically and environmentally.

"Patients are increasingly frustrated and want more choices for wellness and healing," said Graham, who's based out of New York City. "It's not just a pill for an ill. The health-care system needs a little bit more health and care."

Graham and his wife, health coach and yoga instructor Julie Graham, named their office FRESH Med to note its focus on food, relaxation, exercise, sleep and happiness — the latter through positive psychology.

"People are fed by a food industry that pays no attention to health," he said at one Wanderlust workshop, "and cared for by a health industry that pays no attention to food."

That's why Graham now uses his prescription pads to spell out a plant-based diet, having swapped a hospital roof's smoking area for a high-in-the-sky vegetable garden while attending culinary school so he can teach others how to cook green and lean.

"Taking a pill is easy," he said. "Self care is the best form of health care, but you have to do the work."

The Wanderlust Festival offered lessons in yoga and meditation as well as speakers addressing mindful living both locally and globally.

Take Ken E. Nwadike Jr., founder of the Free Hugs Project. His awareness of the need to solve problems thoughtfully began at age 8 when he saw police handcuff and haul away his father, leaving himself, his mother and four siblings in a Los Angeles homeless shelter during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

"It was utter chaos," he recalled. "At that age, I thought, 'Is this going to be the end of the world?'"

Then Nwadike joined his school track team, which helped him win admission to college, decide to become a peer mentor and launch the annual Hollywood Half Marathon fundraiser for homeless youth in 2012.

Seeing news of the Boston Marathon bombings a year later, Nwadike tried and failed to qualify for the 2014 race. He attended anyway with a "Free Hugs" sign and T-shirt, not knowing a YouTube video of runners embracing his effort would go viral.

"It showed me the power of how we respond to things," he said. "I thought this same love should work anywhere."

Nwadike now makes news acting as an intermediary between protesters and police at such hotspots as Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C.

"In my mind is, 'What's a positive outcome I can create out of this negative situation?'" he said. "With all the pressure people are dealing with, we can encounter moments of crisis at home or work. The more we can respond with love, the more we can be effective in creating change."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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