Since the announcement of Salem University’s new Integrative Health Institute (IHI), there’s been growing excitement around the initiative and its mission of opening up the world of integrative health to new generations of healthcare professionals. It’s a mission that is both personal and professional for Bruce Cryer, who is not only IHI’s executive director but also a facilitator, with courses covering topics like self-care and the power of creativity to become part of your personal well-being strategy.
“In the last 150 years in the West, there’s been kind of one way to do things, and it wasn’t necessarily focused on the whole self,” Cryer said. “Integrative approaches to health and healing begin with the realization that, first and foremost, people are multidimensional. We’re not just physical — we’re also mental and emotional and spiritual, all these facets.”
Cryer is a long-time advocate of holistic and integrative health principles, having been a personal student of the field since the early 70s, exploring everything from vegetarianism to newly discovered superfoods to meditation and spirituality, and later biohacking. In 1990, he become a co-creator of HeartMath Institute, which has taken a strong research- and evidence-based approach to the field of integrative principles and techniques.
But his passion for this field came even more into focus in November of 2009, almost thirteen years ago, when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Cryer was acutely aware how all aspects of him — mind, body, and spirit — were affected by the diagnosis.
“It wasn’t just my body that responded to that news,” Cryer said. “My mind went crazy wondering, ‘What’s this going to mean? What about this? What about that?’ And then there was the emotional response of fear and worry, and then there was even the spiritual perspective of wondering “why me?” All of those facets make up my health, not just the fact that I have a tumor in my body.”
Cryer points out that his journey with cancer, and some complications that unfolded, led to a new perspective on the techniques he’d been studying and practicing for so long.
“I had been practicing and teaching these ideas on integrative health for 20 years at that point, but having to apply them to a potentially life-threatening condition meant really staying in tune with myself,” Cryer said. “I know the physiology, the biochemistry, that happens in our blood when we’re always anxious or worried or fearful. There’s adrenaline, cortisol, stress hormones that — when you don’t need them for an actual fight — can depress and harm your immune system. When you’re dealing with a life-threatening condition, you need maximum energy devoted to healing, not fighting every fear you can think of. You have to practice the tools to balance your emotions and balance your stress in order to recover and live more healthfully.”
From his personal journey to his work in biotech, HeartMath, and now with Salem’s IHI, Cryer has been in the field of integrative therapies for long enough to see it develop and change quite a bit — from the skepticism and resistance a few decades ago to a slow-growing acceptance.
“The idea of integrating different therapies certainly isn’t new, but it’s taken a while to catch hold in the West,” he says. “In the past, our approach was very reductionist and mechanistic. The heart, for example, was viewed as an incredible machine that wasn’t connected to emotion or love or courage or wisdom.”
But that view is gradually changing, especially as more and more scientific data is proving what people like Cryer have been advocating for years. In fact, over 400 peer-reviewed studies have been conducted on HeartMath’s integrative, research-based techniques to date, and practices that were once considered “out there” or “alternative” — like yoga, mindfulness, meditation, trauma-informed care — are much more mainstream.
“I think one of the biggest shifts in the healthcare world is there’s been a tremendous amount of research over the last 20 or 30 years and health-enhancing technology has advanced a lot, too,” Cryer says. “And as we do more and more mainstream research using mainstream methods that validated these techniques, the industry matured and organizations in general have started to level up.”
That’s why this felt like the perfect moment, in Cryer’s opinion, to launch something like IHI with the framework of a respected institution like Salem University, which already has well-rounded healthcare degree programs in place.
“Generations of healthcare professionals need to be trained in a different way — to include self-care as a priority — so that they survive and thrive and don’t give up on the field,” he points out. “So many of them get into healthcare motivated by genuine compassion and service, and I feel there’s a profound need to embrace a holistic approach because COVID won’t be our last public health crisis. I’m hopeful and inspired about the possibilities this opportunity presents.”
As a facilitator for IHI, Cryer is currently teaching a class on self-care and has another one, called “Creativity as Your Personal Well-Being Strategy,” that starts June 2.
“I believe it’s a fact that human beings are all fundamentally creative — we are designed with the power to create life — so it became a mission for me to help others awaken the creativity that’s in them,” Cryer says. “It doesn’t mean everyone is an artist, but you can’t just define creativity by whether you’re an artist or not. Creativity involves problem solving, it’s marketing — creativity spans a vast array of creative approaches to life, health and relationships. Many people tell me they used to have a lot of fun writing or painting or singing or whatever, but then they stopped over the years because of work or family or stress, and so this course on Creativity for Well-Being came out of that.”
The four-week course centers on five catalysts that Cryer has found useful for sparking creative inspiration: mindfulness, movement, nature, artistic expression, and playfulness. While it’s now a part of IHI’s new integrative offerings, he emphasizes it can be useful for anyone looking to reignite their own creativity.
“It ends up being this collective journey as a class where you’re rooting for each other and supporting each other. People often come to class with that feeling of, ‘I know I’m creative, I know there’s thing I want to be doing but haven’t done,’ and it’s one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had to help them reignite that spark. I don’t even really teach or critique. I create a safe supportive environment to guide and support them and create just enough structure where they get to play and experiment and explore. It’s super fun.”
Enrollment is open now for the “Creativity as Your Personal Well-Being Strategy” course, and you can also sign up for a May 16 webinar featuring Cryer and Dr. Brian Luke Seaward where they will be discussing Dr. Seaward’s upcoming classes on stress management and life balance being offered through IHI.
If you’re interested in learning more about Salem University and our new Integrative Health Institute, you can also contact us to speak with our staff, who would be happy to answer your questions or assist you in enrolling in a course.