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Want to Quit Smoking? Try Lettuce

Alok Health used to be a successful advertising man with a name that made sense. At one point he became a holistic health counselor. His program will assist you in achieving your health goals with proper nutrition, yoga, meditation, massage, and open dialogue. A successful workshop at Alok’s will bring an end to both the belly and the depression.

By Yaniv Halily

A passerby who sees Alok Health for the first time may think that he is a party man from Goa, India, who tried getting to the ashram but got lost on the subway. His shiny bald head is covered with a white Hassidic cap (though he does not belong to any sect), his clothing arrived with him from New Delhi, and his big eyes glow with undefined light. In short, chic peculiar. The surprise gets even bigger when you arrive at Alok’s spiritual palace in the East Village. Mattresses and pillows are spread on the floor and new age music plays in the background. And despite the fact that there are no illegal drugs around, we are stoned from the ambience. Alok may be a familiar persona in the East Village and Lower East Side eccentric scene, but a short conversation with him is enough to understand that he should be taken seriously. His official title, according to him, is Holistic Health Counselor. “I work with people to help them achieve their health goals, but not only these goals,” he explains. “Any area in a person’s life he’d like to marshal, we’re working on it utilizing food, meditation, dance, or any other method appropriate to that person. I have no agenda and I don’t work with templates. I choose the method according to the person.” With the spreading fashion, Alok brought the holistic health counseling from the Far East, but simultaneously he had studied in two important institutions in the USA. He is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners as a Holistic Health Counselor and by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where he also teaches. “The basic rule with integrative nutrition is eating what nature provides in each area. If for example you live in New York, you should eat what grows locally, according to the seasons. This system is called macrobiotic.”

What grows here except for rats?
“Everything that grows upstate, all that nature provides.” Alok doesn’t only combine nutrition with spirituality. He also integrates different diet systems. In addition to the macrobiotic system, he works with ayurveda, but as a rule, he prefers not to fix himself to one specific category. The principle with all the methods is similar: physical and emotional balance. “A person needs to balance the body by reducing excesses and strengthening the weaknesses. Today’s world is very complicated. Every day brings with it the latest diet system that takes over – the don’t-eat-at-all diet, enemas, liquids, you name it. The way I work doesn’t look like any of these diets.”
Alok (‘light’ in Sanskrit; he refuses to give his birth name) offers a six- month program. The client arrives at Alok’s private ashram, and at the end of 12 sessions, he leaves healthier, and especially calmer and more balanced, according to Alok. “I begin by investigating the client’s history: where is he coming from, where did he grow up, what kind of work does he do, what’s his lifestyle, what are his medical problems, and so on.. According to these factors we devise his diet.”

Theoretically, could there be a situation in which you’ll be approached by a client for whom none of your methods would fit?
“It hasn’t happened so far. It has a lot to do with the client’s intention. The fact that a person has decided to place his health at the top of his priority list is already a major step. I won’t be able to cure someone at the final stage of cancer, but with the methods I use, it’d be possible for him to lower his pain and prolong his life.”
Many of Alok’s clients are bothered with their weight. Others want to work on skin problems, headaches, and other concerns. What the clients share is the wish to integrate a nutritionist and holistic counselor with a psychologist. From this aspect, a successful workshop with Alok could bring the end to both the belly and the depression.
Alok of course did not invent the wheel. During the past few years, the global quality-of-life police had placed it’s headquarter in the Far East. Yoga replaced the aerobic dance of the past, an ashram is a hostel with ambient, and rocks are used not only in riots. In addition to nutritional knowledge from western institutions, Alok combines holistic-spiritual traditions. His clients receive yoga classes, meditation, and massage. Once a month they all gather for a cooking class. At the end of the class they eat what they’ve cooked. The dishes, all organic, are accompanied with detailed explanations about their nutritional value and their effect on the mood. At the end of the culinary part, the participants expose their musical talents. Along drumming and listening to live music a dance party takes place. “Our eating habits and the foods we place into our bodies are a mirror to our emotional processes,” Alok explains. “Even people who eat only healthy food, go to the gym, and have a strict physical discipline have certain problems. It may indicate that they are too rigid. I have such clients, and from them I ask to do something bad, to make one horrible sin: cross the street on a red light, eat ice cream. They’re happy because they’ve received permission to break away from their restrictions. Obviously I won’t ask them to do something radically bad.” Alok says that in most cases his treatment provides an answer to the voids that the conventional medicine cannot fill. “I let the client speak and try to make him understand why he eats so much sugar. I don’t just tell him to stop eating sugar; it’d be the same as to tell someone to quit smoking. The sugar and the smoking are not the problem; they are just the expression of a different problem. Everyone searches for his emotional and physical balance, and instead of arriving at this balance, we jump from one extreme to the other.”

How will you treat a case of smoking or sugar?
“I’ll investigate what in the secondary food makes the client want to smoke or consume large amounts of sugar. Our primary food – love, friendship, satisfaction – is effected by the secondary food. I add certain foods and reduce the quantity of other foods in order to obtain the needed balance. To a smoking person, for example, I would increase the amount of lettuce since it is an airy vegetable, which provides an effect similar to that of smoking. I don’t look for a precise middle, but rather aspire to reduce the extreme margins. There will always be harmony between the cuisine the client grew up on and the way we would work. If I have a client from an Italian background, I won’t make him eat seaweed all day long, because this is not the cuisine he grew up on. I will use his favorite Italian dishes, only with incorporating healthier ingredients in the menu. In any case, he won’t eat things he doesn’t like.”

What should someone who constantly wants to eat ice cream do?
“If you eat a lot of ice cream, you are probably lacking one of its ingredients. In such a case you may need more fat, which can be obtained from better nutritional sources such as olive oil.”

Are six months long enough time to implant the knowledge and not get back into bad habits?
“Yes, because it will be implanted for life. Some chose to continue for another six months, because they want to go deeper. I too see a holistic health counselor because it’s important for me to have someone who listens to me, and this is another dimension in the counselor’s profession.” According to Alok the psychological dimension in the treatment is not less important than the nutrition. It’s not enough that you’ll eat agricultural sawdust, you also need to vomit the problems. Only getting out the bothering things will lead to solving a case such as if there is a connection between the okra stew and the bad mood of Sunday night. Alok requires meeting the client prior to beginning the program (not to mention taking off the shoes at the entrance to his home). If there is no connection, there is no treatment. “There are people who come to improve their quality of life, but they also come to argue. I don’t want to argue with anybody. If someone came for this purpose, it’s better if he goes to special workshops for arguing.” The approach, as expected, is finding the relationship between the emotional problem and the nutrition, or to understand the root of the emotional problem through the culinary perspective. “For people who do not eat protein, eat lots of sweets, and drink lots of alcohol, each problem that will pop into their lives will make them fly, because they are not grounded. It all depends on the attitude: there may be a person who went through sexual abuse at a young age and today she prospers and lives a happy life. On the other hand, there may be a person who carries a big trauma from an early age, because his father told him he was useless, This person, until this day, continues failing himself just to prove to his father that he ruined his life. It all depends on how you accept things and what type of energy you take with you. Many times an emotion is taken to an extreme, or even generated, as a result of improper nutrition. Therefore I integrate all the aspects in the treatment: nutrition, yoga and meditation, dance, cooking classes, massage, and even writing exercises that allows looking at things from above and getting the right perspective.”
In order to complete the treatment, Alok provides a list of the organic restaurants in New York (“I don’t give myself the illusion that people will start cooking at home every single day.”) The treatment, which takes half a year, costs $1,500 and includes 12 sessions, yoga classes, meditation, cooking classes, lectures, and plenty of soulful conversations.
Not everyone is born with an incense stick in his mouth. During his previous incarnation in New York, Alok worked in advertising. He was the account executive on the telecom giant AT&T account, planned federal campaigns, and was a welcomed guest in the Congress House in Washington. “After several years I realized that this wasn’t my purpose. True, my pockets were full with money, but it was important for me to do something that I love, to share my knowledge with others. At a certain point I couldn’t care less if people will place calls with AT&T. Today nothing could make me happier than the responses of my clients.”

Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the new age business became a little tiring, even pretentious.
“Maybe I’m pretentious. There are things in new age that I like and adopt, such as a smelly incense sticks, there are some which I don’t. It all depends on our choices of what to believe in.”

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