Naturopathic doctor serves community as well as his clinic clients
By Kaye Hult
During the time naturopathic doctor Toby Hallowitz has practiced in Coeur d'Alene, he has reached out to the community to introduce people—besides his clients—to the reality that nature plays a crucial part in keeping people healthy.
One opportunity was on a mid-August Wednesday when he offered a presentation on "Nature Immersion and Immune Enhancement" to about 20 people at the Shared Harvest Community Garden in Coeur d'Alene.
The lecture was a joint program of Shared Harvest, Pilgrim's Market and Toby's practice, Coeur d'Alene Acupuncture and Holistic Healing.
Toby described himself as a proponent of "ecotherapy," which teaches "how focusing on being in nature affects our immune system and our health," he said.
He said connecting with nature can affect a person's immune response to the COVID-19 virus, citing research and a video from Harvard Medical School.
Toby's calling came shortly after he married Brigitte and was ill with Crohn's disease. He was fresh out of college, where he had studied pre-med, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor.
During his junior year, however, he did not like what he learned about where the medical profession was going. Suddenly, he lost his purpose.
He tried conventional therapies from his gastroenterologist, which did not help. He was very sick with vomiting, diarrhea and pain.
About that time, Brigitte's parents asked them to come to Austria, where Brigitte had grown up, high in the Tyrol mountains, to help on their Alm—seasonal mountain pasture—high in an Alpine valley for two or three weeks.
"I had not been in nature like that before," he said.
From their grass-fed cows, they collected milk, from which they made cheese and other products. They made spelt bread. They drank mountain spring water, which was alive with vital energy. They breathed fresh air.
One day, Toby took a walk on his own, which he hadn't done there before. It was meditative.
"My senses became alive," he remembered. "The nature was so intense. I felt the sun warming my arms. The colors were brighter. My eyes were drawn to every passing bush and boulder. I smelled the sweetness of the forest. I tasted the dried dirt kicked up by my boots.
"My mind quieted, hearing the sounds—the chatter of birds, the crackle and babble of the stream," he continued. "Then came the realization that I no longer felt sick. I wasn't sick. I had forgotten what health felt like. I remembered living."
As he walked up the trail, Toby found new purpose.
"It was my calling," he said. "It spoke to me with all my senses. It was my voice deep inside my chest and my head, and it was also the voice of the mountain and the trees in front of me. It was strong and powerful, and it said, matter-of-factly, 'This is me. This is how I need to live my life. I want to live in tune with nature, I want to help people, everyone—not just the sick—to learn how to live healthy. I want to learn this and I want to teach this'."
Toby returned to the U.S. with a focus, but no knowledge of how to bring it to pass. He learned about nature medicine, which led him to study at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore. He graduated in 2004 with a doctor of naturopathic medicine and master of science in Oriental medicine degrees.
While studying, he and Brigitte took in his grandmother, who suffered from dementia. She had been in an assisted living facility. During the years she lived with them, Toby took her off her medications. While she still dealt with dementia, she came alive, he said. They took her with them everywhere. When they left the Northwest for western New York, she came. He saw once again in her the healing power of nature.
Toby built a practice in a small, rural community in an area depressed because Welch's Grape Juice, its main employer, had moved out.
While there, he reached out to the community to offer classes in Qi Gong, generally outside in a park, but inside in the winter.
He and Brigitte had loved living in the Northwest, so in 2011, they returned, this time to the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area.
In Coeur d'Alene, Pilgrim's Market owner Joe Hamilton built a clinic. Toby agreed to run it.
"I was drawn to how I would not only see patients in the clinic, but also serve the community, such as at school," he said.
"In addition to clinic work, I gave talks on topics, such as what foods help improve health. I offered advice on how to cope when a person can't eat bread, cheese or eggs for breakfast. I taught Qi Gong. I offered lectures on how to make bone broth soup, baking with alternative flours and sweeteners, and benefits of black seed oil," Toby said.
Brigitte, Toby and their son Lukas shared Austrian recipes for people on dietary restrictions.
"I was available in the natural healing department for an hour at 4:30 p.m., Wednesdays, to answer questions, and to be a resource for people to test the waters about what natural medicine can do for them," he said.
After working in the Pilgrim's Market clinic for five years, he realized he wanted to practice medicine in his own location, so he moved to an office just off Third St for three years while he regrouped.
With his move to larger quarters at 810 E Sherman Ave. this spring, Toby has room to expand not only his practice but also his community engagements.
He still consults with customers at Pilgrim's Market for a small stipend.
Now he has a community room for teaching Qi Gong, for book clubs, lectures, meditations and more.
Toby plans to connect with the Coeur d'Alene Art Association to display local artwork in the clinic and to be part of the monthly Artwalk.
He still feels called to engage with the community.
"I'm making the clinic about nature medicine," he said. "It's important to connect with nature on a deeper level in different ways. I want my practice to be about offering myself and the clinic as a community resource."
Toby hopes his lectures will inspire a passion to heal the community through integration and immersion with nature. They will include forestry, environment, recycling and art therapy.
His practice gives him the infrastructure to support community events to improve lives.
"We can be in nature here," he said. "Just living here versus living in an urban area, we're healthier. When we slow walk and tune into nature with all five senses, our health parameters improve, and even more when we practice Qi Gong in nature.
"We all know our assets here are our beaches, the lake and the trails. Our health as a community is much stronger because of the environment in which we live," Toby said.
He believes COVID numbers are higher where people are not in nature.
"This pandemic shows how essential it is for us to participate and actively engage in this, our prized foundation of who we are here," he said. "Ultimately, the more involved my patients are in nature, the more healing occurs on both the individual and community level.
He will offer the community opportunities to tune in to "our bodies and spirits through nature," and is bringing in a counselor who focuses on ecotherapy, helping the community reconnect with nature.
For information, call 208-665-2293 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2020