While devotees are often focused on caring for their spiritual health, our bodies are temples that we use to serve Krishna, and must not be neglected – especially as more ISKCON members become advanced in age.
“It is important to keep the body fit and healthy so that we will not meet the obstacle of ill health while serving Krishna,” Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter dated June 19th, 1975. “Ill health may hinder one’s service, so, we want to avoid it as much as possible.”
He added, in a 1976 letter to Dr. Suresh Chandra, “So long we have got this material body the problems of birth, death, old age, and disease will continue. Therefore, to help the devotees when they’re in bodily ailments is also a great great service.”
With this mindset, many devotees from the ISKCON Alachua community attended the “Hare Krishna Health Fair” preceding the Sunday Feast on September 8th, under the temple pavilion.
Over thirty vendors were present at the fair, with both outside agencies coming to offer free screenings and health information, and devotee professionals sharing their expertise with health products and services.
Organizer Radha Selvester is also the coordinator for the local Hare Krishna Social Services program. “We respond to many crises related to failing health,” she says. “So one devotee suggested that we take a proactive stance, and offer the community of devotees a Health Fair so that they can make improvements to their diets and lifestyles to live healthfully into old age.”
Many booths at the event offered the Western medical services one would expect at a regular health fair.
The Alachua County Health Department gave free blood sugar checks, and information about low cost healthcare treatment.
At “Ask A Nurse,” Saradiya, Citra and Madhurya-lila, devotee nurses who work at local hopsitals, did blood pressure checks, and gave advice on medical questions and concerns.
Gaura Shakti, his brother Navin and wife Krishna Dhama, who run Allin Family Dentistry, were there to give dental advice.
Priyanka Vyasa, an Indian congregational member who works as a pediatrician, offered hearing, vision and scoliosis screenings for children. Several new mothers arrived just to see her, excited to talk to a doctor who understood their cultural perspective on topics like vacccines.
Haven Hospice, who have become skilled at working with devotees and understanding their needs, were present to speak about end of life care and living will paperwork.
Param Birenbaum, a gurukuli who works as a Medicare specialist, helped people find the best strategy for them.
And Days for Girls participated to distribute free sustainable menstrual supplies that were washable and reusable.
Meanwhile, in addition to conventional Western medicine, there were also devotees and others giving information and free short samples of a variety of different alternative therapies, including massage, yoga, reiki, auric clearing, Ayurvedic postpartum care, Ayurvedic eye basti, and DoTerra therapeutic essential oils.
Stillpoint Therapy Center and Oriental Healing Center, who both specialize in acupuncture, were present, as was Barnhill Chiropractic Clinic. Alachua County Library, which offers free Tai-Chi and exercise classes, and is of course the first stop for information on health and nutrition, had a booth, as did Anastasia Arguelles, who does exercise classes for senior devotees.
Mental health, of course, is just as important, and was not forgotten. Representing this side of balanced healthcare were NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness; the Alachua Country Crisis Center; Satvatove Institute; and counselor Thomas Martucci.
In addition, the Relationship Committee created by ISKCON Alachua’s Community Development Initiative (CDI) was there with a questionnaire listing hobbies and gender-specific support groups that devotees could check if they were interested.
These included women’s groups, men’s groups, LGBTQ groups, arts and crafts, cake baking, child/family friendly activities, music, photography, woodworking, hiking, soccer, springs visits, gardening, archery, and many others.
“We are promoting connections based on hobbies and groups, because a key part of poor mental and physical health is loneliness,” says Radha Selvester. “And even though we have the largest community of Hare Krishnas in North America, you could be here and be lost in the crowd. You have to get your tribe together of people who share common interests. Then you feel happier, because you’re working together and connecting with others.”
Along with the main vendors, there was healthy prasadam for sale such as vegetarian sushi, vegan tacos and mac and cheese, veggie burgers and snow cones made with juice, as well as free drinking water and fruit.
There were also exercise and craft activities for the children, so that they could improve their health and social connections too. These included yoga and capoeira classes, arts and crafts, and a fitness challenge where kids could win free passes to a local trampoline park.
There were prizes for the adults as well – each vendor contributed a door prize that promoted health, joy or spirituality. Numbers were called out, and attendees could pick from Safe Sleep ? for newborns, gift cards for spas or groceries, water picks to clean their teeth, a poster of Vrindavan Dhama, or prasadam items.
“We also had an outreach element,” says Radha. “We offered a selection of fruit on the altar on Saturday, and then during the Health Fair we presented each non-devotee vendor with a gift basket of maha fruit, a little bag with a book, brochures, and information about Hare Krishnas, and a thank you letter.”
For next year’s Health Fair, Radha hopes to use an indoor venue with classroom space so that workshops can be offered. She also hopes to add vendors who were not able to attend this year, including domestic violence center Peaceful Paths, the Senior Center, and an eye doctor for vision screening; as well as resources for other community needs beyond healthcare, like childcare.
Even without these additions, however, this year’s Hare Krishna Health Fair was a clear success.
“Everybody was really happy with what they had learned – everything might not have been relevant to everyone, but most people found at least one or two things that were,” says Radha. “One mom told me about how her son, a young adult, didn’t have health insurance, and was able to connect with someone about how to get free medical help. Several pregnant women came up to me saying they were so excited to meet the new pediatrician.”
She adds: “Many devotees are very separate from the rest of the world. So if we bring the healthcare experts over to our turf, hopefully it gives them a positive impression of Hare Krishnas, and it makes the devotees more comfortable to call them and get help.”