- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

Everyone has a healer within, that army of cells and energy designed by nature to help the body function optimally. This concept is the hallmark of osteopathic doctors, who emphasize the body’s musculoskeletal system and the belief that different parts of the body impact other parts.

Many people don’t understand how to harness that equilibrium of mind, body and spirit to set themselves on the lifelong path to good health.

“The Healer Within,” a traveling exhibit focusing on self-directed wellness, aims to show and tell visitors about the self-healing mechanisms. The 2,000-square-foot exhibit, newly mounted at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts & Industries Building, runs through Sept. 2.

Created by A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Kirksville, Mo., “The Healer Within” honors health care practitioners who treat the whole person, not just the disease, and encourages visitors to make lifelong lifestyle choices to support their well-being.

“Internal and external factors in our lives determine our health,” says the exhibit’s executive producer, William A. Castles II. “External might be being a responsible citizen in terms of the environment, while internal might be making the decision whether to smoke. It’s the decisions we make now that affect our health later.”

“The Healer Within” speaks volumes to children — especially ones of middle school age — with its combination of gross, awesome and just plain cool interactive displays.

The 34 workstations include a joint-mechanics site that shows how bones, connective tissue, nerves and muscles unite to ensure smooth movement, while two skeleton puppets demonstrate the right and wrong ways to lift an object.

“Your Messenger Service” features a replica of the human nervous system. Visitors are invited to press buttons to light the nerve path used to perform each task listed, from clapping hands to taking a deep breath.

Via colorful iMacs, visitors can play a video game, posing as white blood cells defending against cancer, making lifestyle decisions that help or harm the healer within.

A startling skeleton — wearing a helmet, of course — is the centerpiece of “As Easy as Riding a Bike.” The life-size robot pedals a bike at the visitor’s command, with glistening, rubbery leg muscles flexing and contracting on one of the skeleton’s legs. The display is intended to illustrate the teamwork of bone and muscle that’s just one part of a bodywide network of coordination that occurs in every movement.

Still another display, “The Feel of Disease,” shows visitors how osteopathic doctors apply their highly developed sense of touch to pinpoint problems, particularly in muscles, tendons, nerves and joints.

In this display, visitors can handle pads of fabric to try to discern different shapes embedded beneath, “not unlike an osteopathic doctor probing the body’s soft tissues such as organs and muscles to diagnose the spectrum of wellness and disease,” reads the text. “[Osteopathic doctors] have extensive training in finding clues in the soft tissues that suggest reflex changes from an organ that lies much deeper inside the body, out of reach to direct touch.”

The entire exhibit, from silly to serious, is a hit with children, Mr. Castles says.

“Kids love it,” he says. “When we catch them with this exhibit, they’re at a formulative stage. If you can do it in a fun way that’s enjoyable and interesting, the kids learn so much more than they would otherwise. Good health starts with each one of us being responsible for ourself, and we have an obligation to our children to set an example, showing them how to take care of what’s inside so they can work well with others and perform at their best.”

When you go:

Location: “The Healer Within” is presented in the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts & Industries Building, 900 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington.

Hours: The exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through Sept. 2. Admission is free.

Parking and transportation: Limited on-street parking is available, and commercial lots are nearby, including a L’Enfant Plaza lot directly across Independence Avenue. The Arts & Industries Building is accessible by Metro’s Blue and Orange lines (Smithsonian stop) and Yellow and Green lines (L’Enfant Plaza stop).

Information: Call 202/357-2700. The Web site is www.si.edu/exhibitions.

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