Sampling alternatives; Balance: Howard County workers and officials gathered yesterday to learn health-enhancing, stress-reducing techniques.


Howard County police Capt. Richard E. Hall was listening to health experts talk about stress reduction and healthy eating at the kickoff of Public Health Week yesterday in Columbia's Gateway building, but his thoughts were elsewhere, he confessed.

"I could use a Krispy Kreme [doughnut] right now," he said, as the county health director, Diane Matuszak, welcomed county officials and employees to the two-hour demonstration of Power Yoga, aromatherapy, shiatsu massage, and various other exercise and relaxation therapies.

Old habits die hard.

Their boss, County Executive James N. Robey, a former police officer, confessed he has gained 50 pounds since his election in 1998 and isn't getting the exercise he should.

"It's really the schedule I keep that makes it difficult to eat healthy and eat regular meals. Boy, did I get a lecture" when he went for a physical and a blood pressure medication review last week, he said.

The doctor marched him right out to the parking lot for a demonstration of proper daily walking, he said. "We drew quite a crowd."

Robey said nearly half of all adults 18 and older experience health problems because of stress, and more than 200,000 workers suffer stress-related injuries in the workplace each year.

But, essentially, the pressures on people now are no different than those faced by prehistoric men and women, said Libby Lewandowski, wellness director of state employees.

"Cave men and women had two choices when confronted with a saber-toothed tiger. They could fight or they could run." Now, she said, our attackers are more tenacious: never-ending traffic congestion, budgets, daily pressures that, unlike wild animals, never quit.

"It's just when it is chronic and it goes all day and you have no way to release it, that it is harmful," she said,

The means of escape were all over the room.

A snack table filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, crackers, fruit juices and bottled water appeared to be the most popular attraction.

Robey said he easily could have fallen asleep during the demonstration of shiatsu that he received from practitioner Jackie Hoerichs. She described shiatsu as being like acupuncture without the needles.

"Your mind's clear. Your mind starts wandering," Robey said afterward, as soothing music filled the room. "No thoughts of budget, union negotiations."

"She hits the muscles, the right points" with her gentle ministrations, reported county Health Department worker Deneen Early, who also got the treatment with her face cradled in a fresh towel in a massage chair. "It is relaxing, really."

Nearby, Patricia Martin, who teaches Power Yoga for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, was conducting short, guided-imagery sessions for groups of five people.

"Take your awareness to your chest. Take it down through your hips to your thighs. Let the energy go down your calves into your feet and down into the earth," she said soothingly as people sat, eyes closed.

Judith Davis, a housing office worker, loved Frances Muldrow's display of aromatherapy items. She eagerly showed them to co-workers.

"I'm really stressed. You gotta take time out and smell the roses," she said, ecstatic over the herbal spa wrap, a tubular canvas bag containing "organic flaxseed, eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, thyme, yarrow, cinnamon, wintergreen and essential oils" that can be heated in a microwave and worn, hands free, around the neck at work or at home.

Other products include a lavender eye pillow, bath crystals made of lemon balm, bay leaves and mint, and body butter named for ancient Egyptian Queen Anahita.

More familiar exhibitors, such as Howard County General Hospital, the county Health Department's program for healthy babies and Synergy, a health club for women in east Columbia, also had displays.

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