Stretching beyond New Age

Therapies like yoga have become part of the mainstream in the last 30 years. But other approaches – such as channeling Archangel Zadkiel – still beckon from the outside.

Christina Florence lays out the colorful cards from the tarot deck on the table between her and a client, and passes her pale, green eyes over them with a swiftness born of experience and confidence.

“Well, I can see that you’re a grounded person and you’re a survivor,” she says. “But this fear card keeps coming up. It’s keeping you in the hamster cage, keeping you from trying new things.”

Florence, 47, a South Valley native, is reading cards in a backroom at the Blue Eagle Book Shoppe, a metaphysical book and gift store at Juan Tabo and Menaul boulevards northeast.

Those gifted enough to understand the tarot cards are thought by some to be able to help others look into the future, into themselves, into what might be.

It’s a centuries-old practice but one that 30 years ago got linked with the emerging New Age movement along with a bewildering array of philosophies and practices including Wicca, acupuncture, psychic communication, meditation, past-life regression, massage therapy, UFOs, yoga and more.

Thirty years ago, almost any spiritual or social movement or health practice that was considered counterculture or over the edge qualified as New Age.

But today, disciplines such as yoga and alternative or complementary health practices like acupuncture, massage therapy, Ayurvedic medicine, herbalism, chiropractic and homeopathy have grown so rapidly in acceptance and popularity that they are the mainstream – or verging on it.

“More and more hospitals are integrating these practices,” says Arti Prasad, a physician who is chief of the University of New Mexico’s Integrative Medicine Section.

“There have been published national surveys which clearly demonstrated that two out of five Americans were using some kind of complementary medicine.”

Many of these innovative medical approaches will be in the spotlight Saturday and Sunday during a World Wellness Weekend in Albuquerque that features complementary medicine pioneer Deepak Chopra as keynote speaker, more than 100 exhibitors, and dozens of classes and lectures.

Not all New Age practices or beliefs have flowed toward the mainstream, however – although they might have many adherents.

“A very high percentage of people in the country believe they have had a past life or have seen a ghost or have seen a UFO,” says Wes Vincent, 48, one of the owners of the Blue Eagle Book Shoppe.

For 20 years, in one Albuquerque location or another, Blue Eagle has been serving New Age – or metaphysical – interests of every stripe.

“Our mission statement is to provide a path for all spiritual seekers,” says Mitch Rubin, 50, Vincent’s business partner. “Still, most people who come in here are looking for help in finding the basic human needs – money, protection and love.”

In Blue Eagle’s backroom, Florence looks up from her tarot cards and at her client.

“I keep seeing a dark-haired, brown-eyed woman in your future,” she tells him.

Yoga teacher Herb McDonald freely admits to having been a ’60s hippie and a member of a Kentucky spiritual group that espoused a New Age philosophy.

But it rubs him wrong when people stick yoga with a New Age label.

“So much of what is New Age is simplistic,” the 56-year-old McDonald says. “Yoga is much more mind-body aware. Your mind is being challenged when you put your body in a really unusual position and still pay attention to your breathing.”

The hatha form of yoga that McDonald teaches at his Wellspring Center for Yoga combines breath work with poses that he says stimulate the organs and lymph system while relaxing the nervous system.

“I see yoga as an active form of meditation,” McDonald says. “When I teach I try to relate doing poses to being more sensitive and aware.”

McDonald, who grew up in Florida, discovered yoga during a free class in Tallahassee in 1971. It changed his life.

“I just loved the way I felt after that first class,” he says. “I just felt very clear-headed, energetic and calm. I have never considered it a discipline. It’s just something I love doing.”

McDonald says the popularity of yoga has exploded in the last 20 years.

“When I moved to Albuquerque in 1985, there were only a handful of yoga teachers here, and I knew them all,” he says. “Now, there are scores and scores of people teaching yoga in Albuquerque. Right now, yoga is enjoying a five-year growth spurt, maybe even longer.

“Maybe it’s here to stay. You’d almost have to say that it’s more than a fad.”

Nina Wallerstein, a public health professional who has been attending yoga classes at Wellspring for more than four years, says yoga is part of her spiritual and physical health routine, and, as such, enhances her quality of life.

“I like the mindful concentration away from the stresses of other parts of life,” she says.

Mind-body therapies like yoga and meditation are frequently recommended to patients at the UNM Integrative Medicine Clinic founded by Prasad.

The clinic, at 7801 Academy Road N.E., also offers access to acupuncture, botanical medicine, massage therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, osteopathy and Ayurvedic medicine, the latter a holistic approach that dates back 5,000 years.

“Rather than New Age medicine, you can say this is new medicine – or old medicine with new concepts,” Prasad says.

These complementary treatments, she says, have become more accepted in mainstream medicine in the last 15 years for a couple of reasons – the first of which is that people were becoming dissatisfied with Western or standard medical care.

“Western medical care was not very patient-oriented,” she says. “People are looking for healing relationships with providers.”

In other words, people want doctors who will listen to them and work with them.

She says complementary medicine teaches people that health is not just the absence of illness but total physical, mental and social well-being, and that yoga, meditation, nutrition, herbal remedies and other complementary approaches can prevent disease if the patient is willing to try them.

Another reason complementary medicine is gaining in popularity, Prasad says, is that it has proven effective in the treatment of chronic ailments like arthritis, depression and stress-provoked maladies.

“People are looking for pain management and quality-of-life treatments,” she says, “and there has been good research that showed positive results on acupuncture as a treatment for arthritis and St. John’s Wort as treatment for mild to moderate depression.”

Prasad, who studied medicine in her native India and in the United States, emphasizes Western medicine is still the best approach for many medical conditions, and it is the combination of standard medicine and complementary treatments that provides the best formula for patient well-being.

Still, it took her five years to get approval for her clinic.

“New Mexico has a rich tradition in natural healing and folk medicine. So I was surprised it took so long,” she says.

Prasad knows there will always be skeptics, and there will always be promoters.

“But if you are in academic medicine,” she says, “you have to be an open-minded skeptic.”

On a recent broadcast of his Transitions Radio Magazine program, host and co-producer Alan Hutner interviewed the Archangel Zadkiel, who, at the time, was inhabiting the body of angelic oracle Kira Raa.

“What has always intrigued me about Alan is his willingness to interview the most bizarre people,” says Elizabeth Rose, music director, co-host and co-producer of the TRM show and Hutner’s partner in life.

A faint smile emerges from among Hutner’s trimmed, gray beard.

“We don’t do a lot of screening,” he says. “We try to represent many viewpoints.”

Hutner, 63, and Rose, 45, are in the studio portion of their home southeast of Santa Fe. It is here they put together the radio program that airs from 8 to 11 a.m. Sunday mornings on KBAC-FM (98.1 in Santa Fe, 95.9 in Albuquerque). It can also be heard at

Hutner, who dropped out from the corporate rat race back East in 1977, started the radio show, originally called “Cosmosis,” in 1984. Back in the early days, the guest list was more likely to include archangels and UFO cultists than it is today.

“I’d say less than 5 percent of the shows today have guests such as Zadkiel,” says Rose, a massage therapist and midwife assistant who joined the program in 1995.

In 1991 Hutner changed the program’s name to Transitions Radio Magazine in an effort to shake its New Age image.

“I think New Age had become a term for debunking those who were different or who appeared to be different,” Hutner says.

Rose thinks when most people hear New Age, they think of froufrou, crystally things that are not grounded.

“And I think we are very grounded,” she says. “We do shows that empower people to live better, more healthful lives.”

Now TRM bills itself as “whole brain radio,” a socially conscious program that offers an eclectic mix of music for life and features for a changing world.

Interview guests include free-spirited singer Arlo Guthrie, integrative medicine champions Chopra and Andrew Weil, political activist Daniel Ellsberg, author and spiritual seeker Ram Dass and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

UFOs, extraterrestrials and mystical phenomena are still discussed on TRM from time to time, but issues are more likely to be the environment, alternative health, relationships and family, spirituality, sacred sexuality, anthropology and world culture, and business and government.

“I don’t know what you call it – New Age, New Paradigm?” Hutner says. “I just want people to wake up and find out who they are. That’s what it is all about.

“We need to quiet down, to get to the deeper place in all of us so we can find out what purpose we are here for or what teachings we are here to learn.”

Vincent of the Blue Eagle Book Shoppe has seen a sharp decline in his business since the presidential election of 2000 and the terrorist attacks of 2001.

He fears a conservative wave rolling across the country the last few years has cowed the movement that gave us Earth Day, whole foods, yoga and complementary medicine and that spurred an interest in Buddhism and pre-Christian pagan religions, setting people on new spiritual paths.

“Since 9/11, people want to feel safe again,” he says. “They want to believe what people are telling them. That’s why, in some cases, they are going back to the churches they grew up in.”

But tarot reader Christina Florence, the host of “Om Talk,” a New Age interview show that can be seen at 7 p.m. Saturdays on Public Access Channel 27, thinks the New Age movement is here to stay.

“I think people are searching more and more,” she says. “I have more mainstream clients than ever before – lawyers and bankers and people who never set foot in my office before.

“They are feeling out of place and trying to find out if they are doing the right thing. The big question for these people is ‘What is my path?’ “

The answer might be in the cards.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Albuquerque Tribune, USA
Apr. 8, 2005
Ollie Reed Jr.

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 12, 2005.
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