Students learn Swedish massage technique through giving each other massages in the Holistic Health Program. Photo by Daniel Green
Students learn Swedish massage technique through giving each other massages in the Holistic Health Program. Photo by Daniel Green

For over 25 years, UC Santa Cruz’s Recreation Department has housed the Holistic Health Program. Despite offering a variety of classes that promote physical well-being, the program often struggles to boost their enrollment numbers. Director Shelley Patton said through the Holistic Health Program, students learn skills and techniques that work to their benefit.

The Holistic Health Program’s courses vary depending on the quarter. Some of winter quarter’s options are acupressure, Swedish massage and anatomy. All courses are funded by enrollment fees, which also pay for all the materials used inside the classroom. When classroom numbers are low, funding is also low.

Although the program offers knowledge about health and career opportunities, Patton said it lacks popularity on campus.

“Amazingly, we have been able to run this program for all those years but sometimes we just squeak by,” said Patton. “I’m the director of the program and I’m only on campus once a week.”

Aside from the tactile skills and opportunities provided by classes like Swedish massage, the Holistic Health Program also offers classes on natural medicine. One such course, Holistic Health’s herbology, teaches students how to use natural resources to make their own medicine. Instructor Darren Huckle, who has his own clinical practice in Santa Cruz, takes students for a hike around several areas on campus and shows them which plants can be used for curing and preventing illnesses. From Huckle’s lessons, students can make their own medicine, providing them with alternative methods of keeping themselves healthy.

“The western approach to medicine doesn’t approach every part of the body or the prevention of disease and this was my way of balancing it out,” said Holistic Health student Michelle Hickman. “It’s life-changing because I can incorporate different ideas into my diet and into my day. I’ve been feeling a lot better since then.”

One of the most popular classes with Holistic Health students is the Swedish massage class, which uses lectures, demonstrations and guided practice to teach students about the physical manipulation of muscles and joints. Swedish II, the advanced Swedish massage class, teaches techniques that help relieve stress and common aches and pains as well as how to increase energy and toughen up the immune system.

Students who participate in the Holistic Health Program’s classes are also eligible for certification from the state. Courses are offered at different times during six days of the week where students can complete the hours and the classes needed to get certified. Students seeking certification are also required to complete a certain amount of volunteer hours, depending on the program they are enrolled in.

The Holistic Health Program aims also to provide a therapeutic knowledge that can help de-stress students or their peers. Ellen Garfield, UCSC alumna and current Holistic Health student, said the program has taught her about helping others and has also given her more options regarding her health.

“This is going to be not only a back-up thing, but something that really helps me acquire knowledge that’s really good for helping my friends and family,” Garfield said. “I’m also getting a lot of information on my own body and about different options besides just going to the doctor. It’s empowering, I think.”

Patton said students who are enrolled in the chair massage course often complete their volunteer hours by working on their peers. These students meet the required eight volunteer hours by going out on the campus and working on peers, staff and faculty.

“The bottom line is to be able to de-stress and help other people,” Patton said.

Because the employment highway is often plagued with bumper-to-bumper traffic, certification offers students a job to fall back on if they hit a bump in the road. Patton said she has seen students make a profit from their studies in the program.

“We have a couple of students that have had their certification already and instead of getting themselves a job to get through school, they have a massage table in their dorm room,” Patton said. “There’s so many places you can take it with you. It’s like having a hammer in the tool belt.”