Self-care has been a big buzzword during the pandemic, as people look inward and deeply examine their personal well-being. Patients are focused on taking a more holistic approach by working to prevent issues before they start instead of waiting for symptoms to arise. Local professionals—from cardiologists and family practice doctors to physical therapists and bodyworkers—are weighing in on what seems to be a cultural shift from clients’ inaction to proactivity.

They are championing the importance of exploring an integrative, preventative approach—and always looking for connections in the body (such as hormones, diet, exercise, cardiovascular health and mental wellness) that may lead them to prescribe lasting solutions. These leaders are watching people in Sarasota–Manatee take health into their own hands, and they are guiding them every step of the way.

Meet Dianne Glass, a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist with a virtual Yamuna Body Rolling studio; Jennifer Danahy, a physical therapist and certified lymphedema therapist with the Physical Therapy Center at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center; Dr. Karen Brainard, a board-certified family practitioner of integrative and holistic medicine, and co-owner of Bradenton East Integrative Medicine; and Dr. Chippy Ajithan, a board-certified cardiologist with Heart Specialists of Sarasota, who heads the Dr. Dean Ornish and RENEW lifestyle medicine programs at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Inspiring Behavioral Changes

Dr. Karen Brainard of Bradenton East Integrative Medicine ( helps her patients self-advocate. She views herself as an adviser to her patients who can address nutritional, physical, emotional and spiritual needs in order to help them achieve lasting good health. She stays current on the use of natural, pharmaceutical and technological treatments, and subscribes to the idea that each of these options has a place in an integrative approach to medicine. Her particular areas of clinical concern are diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and women’s health. Navigating the pandemic has been a learning experience for Dr. Brainard as a practitioner, she says. Some of her patients who were previously on track to a holistic, proactive approach have stepped back and lost motivation. “A lot of people want to prevent things from developing—and to focus on nutrition and self-care (emotional, spiritual, exercise-based). People have lots of good ideas and intentions, but people who have been going in that direction have really had a hard time since March,” Dr. Brainard says. “Although you might think it’s the perfect opportunity to take your walks and eat at home because you have so much extra time, the emotional challenge of dealing with the isolation from the physical presence of other human beings is demotivating.

Some people have thrived by having no external demands, but not most people.” Dr. Brainard understands, but the shift surprises her. “I naively thought people would be able to move into the other gear when they were freed up from all the responsibility. People think, ‘If I had more free time, I’d be able to do X, Y or Z,’ but if you don’t have the emotional energy, it’s hard to make yourself do behavioral change,” Dr. Brainard says. “So I’ve been doing some brainstorming with people about what they think could be one thing for them that was a positive trigger in the past that could motivate them. Maybe they feel really joyful if they put on ’70s rock ’n’ roll music or just sit by the river—little things that give them a feeling of peaceful reconnection to the world.” But that world outside is also flawed—namely the medical world. “The system is not integrated at all, and even I have difficulty being able to get another practitioner on the phone in the middle of the workday.

So the practical reality is that you have to work with the patient to advocate for themselves and look at where the connections are, and to seek out practitioners who are open to new ways of looking at things,” Dr. Brainard says. “I think one of the big roles of the family doctor is to be the recipient of all the different information from all the specialists and to translate it into normal English for the patient. I do try to say, ‘This is what your cardiologist has said, this is what the G.I. has said, etc., and this is what it means.’ Sometimes, you have joint symptoms that are related to G.I. symptoms, but you may not see they’re related. Having one person who is like the captain of the ship who can take all the information and explain it is so important.”

Dr. Brainard has seen the working evidence of that approach. “We try to really get to know people individually and provide them with continuity of care, and to meet them where they are and craft a plan for them that’s individualized. To see somebody go from feeling miserable every day to having energy and joy again gives me a lot of satisfaction,” Dr. Brainard says. “That cascade of self-discovery and how long-lasting that is is what has kept me inspired.”

Encouraging Well Care

Dianne Glass, a Sarasota native, became a massage therapist in 1981, studied bodywork in Spain and now runs a virtual Yamuna Body Rolling studio (, an innovative approach to body alignment and strengthening. She offers biweekly Zoom classes and, during non-pandemic times, leads destination retreats. “What I do is supereffective work and, in as little as five minutes, you can affect change in the body. I’ve worked with many top athletes, working toward recovery and preventing injury,” Glass says. “We try to keep clients doing the things they love for as long as they can.” And people are chasing this objective, maybe now more than ever. “I think self-care is at the top of people’s minds nowadays, especially this past year,” Glass says.

“A positive side effect of being in quarantine is that people learned how to use a computer and go online and exercise.” They did so not just for physical exercise but for mental stability. Glass’ video subscriptions took off as a result of the quarantine, as clients would often work out with her on their lunchbreaks. “During lockdown, people were like, ‘I need to keep my immune system going. I need to exercise, just for my own sanity.’ Now I’ve got all the Boomers on Zoom,” Glass says. “And honestly, what we were doing before as a culture wasn’t working—grinding through 40-hour workweeks and coming home exhausted.

It was not sustainable.” Neither is the American health-care system, Glass says. “I think we have a ‘sick care’ system, not a ‘well care’ system in America, which is a huge problem. Even specializing in medicine the way we do, you learn one body part and that’s it,” Glass says. “But our bodies don’t work that way. Our bodies are holistic.” With this in mind, Glass is always referring clients to renowned nutritionists, chiropractors and surgeons, fortifying her network. “What is often called an ‘alternative’ approach to wellness is really just integrative medicine, and a lot of it isn’t covered by insurance, unfortunately,” Glass says. “I’d like to see more support and coverage for that so it is affordable and sustainable for people.” While clients often view Glass as a one-stop shop because she can work on them structurally (and she also does acupuncture and nutrition), she doesn’t want to be “all things to all people,” she says. “I’ll refer people to a medical doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, dermatologists, sports medicine doctors, even oncologists when I fear there’s maybe something deeper going on there,” Glass says. “I think having a team of healers, especially if you’re going through a health crisis, is good because there are so many different pathways to healing.”

Women Taking Charge

One of those pathways is through physical therapy, which is where Jennifer Danahy comes in. She has been a physical therapist for 20 years, and with the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center ( five. Danahy specializes in women’s health, including pelvic floor disorders (which are often overlooked in the traditional medicine world, at least in Florida). She wishes more integrative approaches were available in the area, for women especially.

“There are so few pelvic floor therapists, especially in this area, and health care is lacking in Florida for the services my patients need,” Danahy says. “In other parts of the country, like Chicago and San Francisco, there are pelvic health centers where you can meet with a nutritionist, a gynecologist, a hypnotist, a physical therapist, a urologist and a psychologist. I’d give anything to have those resources all in one place to help guide my patients.” Sadly, America does not prioritize pelvic care the way other countries, like France, do, Danahy says.

“In France, it’s mandatory to do physical therapy to train your pelvic floor, but finding an OB/GYN that is going to be willing to work with you and send you to therapy during pregnancy or postpartum here is hard to do,” Danahy says. “In an ideal world, the best thing to do is to find a good primary care practitioner that aligns with your goals. And it’s so important to be honest, to say, ‘This is where I am and this is where I want my health care to go.’ A lot of people are taught that the doctor knows best, but, really, they’re there to guide you to making an informed decision.”

Women, who tend to put their own health on the back burner in favor of helping others, are starting to change course, Danahy says. “I’m seeing them being more proactive. The age range of my patients is dropping. When I started, it was women 75 and older. Now the average age is 40s and 50s,” Danahy says. “Women have sought me out, which is great. And I always tell people, ‘Listen to your body. Don’t push a symptom aside because you feel like it’s normal. I think, sometimes, women kind of step back and say, “I don’t want to be a complainer.” But I tell them to be a savvy consumer. Do your research ahead of time and come prepared. Know how you want your care to go and find a doctor who is willing to guide you, not necessarily dictate to you.”

Healing Heart & Mind

Dr. Chippy Ajithan  ( is a board-certified cardiologist with Heart Specialists of Sarasota and was named Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s 2019 Physician of the Year. But her practice is moving into a more mind-body-soul approach, as she heads the Dr. Dean Ornish and RENEW lifestyle medicine programs at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. After 20 years in practice as a cardiologist, her focus on treating chronic ailments has shifted toward lifestyle as the key to preventing, healing and even reversing disease. “Meditation is the prescription for change and, when combined with movement, nutrition and self-love, real transformation of body, mind and spirit can occur,” Dr. Ajithan says. “For clients willing to put in the work, healing is not only possible, it is a life-altering reality—one which allows a person to reach his or her full potential.” Transitioning to this holistic technique has been critical to Dr. Ajithan as a well-rounded practitioner. “The majority of a physician’s time is spent addressing chronic disease. But I feel that every physician needs to shift to addressing the root cause of why these disease patterns keep occurring. Since 2019, we’ve noticed a shift in life expectancy. The curve is trending down,” Dr. Ajithan says.

“Wellness is really crafted from nutrition, physical activity, stress management and loving connection. We’re creating meaningful changes in people’s health and that’s now my focus.” Dr. Ajithan is now hosting meditation sessions and promoting the Dr. Ornish method of healthy living (which has been known to help prevent heart disease). “I still intend to practice cardiology because people want to come in to see a doctor, have medication handed to them, and have stents and bypass procedures. There are some things we absolutely need. We need a surgeon to fix a valve. And when you’re in the throes of a heart attack, that’s not the time to talk about nutrition,” Dr. Ajithan says. “But as soon as the procedure and life-altering intervention takes place, you have to kick into gear the behavioral modification, because that’s where the healing happens.” The healing goes deep.

“The healing doesn’t happen if you don’t love yourself, if you don’t forgive your own transgressions or move past your mistakes. I really want to get this message out there, that it takes an incredible effort to create conscious healing,” Dr. Ajithan says. “It’s integrating all of these aspects into your well-being. If you need a chiropractor to reset you, go to one. If you need a massage therapist to help you with stress, do it. The only provision I give is: make sure that practitioner is authentic.” That is certainly not always the case. “We’re doing such a horrible job in the medical field right now. We’re just giving people medications and subjecting them to surgeries. They go back to doing exactly what they’re doing and come back with another heart attack,” Dr. Ajithan says. “I can’t do it anymore. It’s eating up my soul. At the end of the day, I feel like I should be able to make a bigger difference in society. Incremental changes cause exponential shifts in health. But when, as doctors, do we ever stop to really figure out what’s going on with a patient?”

Meditation allows for that reflection, says Dr. Ajithan (who started practicing the technique at age 15 and now meditates twice daily for 20 to 60 minutes). “We cannot realize our infinite potential until we stop what we’re doing, put everything down and go inward. If you don’t manage stress, even if you manage your diet, everything goes out the window. It falls apart,” Dr. Ajithan says. “Meditation allows you the strength to deal with adversity, and the ability to bounce back from any event and to do it with a sense of equanimity.” And, during a global pandemic, what could be more important than that? SRQ