YMCA Expands Acupuncture, Holistic Healing Programs to St. Paul Midway and Beyond

Pioneer Press

St. Paul, MN (Oct. 12, 2022) — After surviving breast cancer in 1996, Penny George was taken aback by the lack of non-clinical hospital services that might aid in her recovery. Where was the holistic healing, the massage therapy, the guided meditation and mindfulness coaching?

“I got great clinical care, but it missed the part where I was a human being,” said George, wife of former Medtronic chief executive officer Bill George, who would join her husband in efforts to elevate those types of services through the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at Allina Health.

More recently, they’ve sought to bring many of the same kinds of offerings to everyday people outside of the hospital walls in a more preventative fashion. Discussions with the Twin Cities-based YMCA of the North network blossomed into the George Wellbeing center at the downtown Minneapolis YMCA on Nicollet Mall, which offers a series of low-cost holistic services for members and non-members alike.

Those programs — which range from massage to health coaching — have been available in Minneapolis for about four years, and are now expanding throughout the Y’s Twin Cities network, beginning with the St. Paul Midway YMCA at 1761 W. University Ave.

“It’s kind of a perfect alignment between their mission of mind, body and spirit and our family foundation’s mission, which is to foster wholeness in mind, body and spirit in community,” said Penny George. “We don’t achieve wholeness in clinical settings. Unfortunately, we’ve been led to believe that there’s a pill for every ill.”

An $8 million gift from the George Family Foundation to fund the expansion represents the first major donation in a $29 million campaign that organizers hope will make George Wellbeing the national model for the entire YMCA brand.

“We have been known as a ‘swim-and-gym,’ ” said Sally St. John, vice president of Whole Person Wellbeing for the YMCA of the North network. “And now we are evolving to a whole person wellbeing approach. We’re seeding an initiative.”


Earlier this month, Bill and Penny George visited the St. Paul Midway YMCA for a launch party of sorts. The Midway Y began offering walk-in acupuncture last week in an effort to promote the growing menu of George Wellbeing services at the location, which include yoga and guided meditation. Acupuncture will cost $16, with financial assistance available. No one will be turned away for inability to pay, St. John said.

And, acupuncture will be offered at five additional YMCA locations in 2023. A survey seeks public input on what other holistic services might join the menu.

“Penny would say these services traditionally have been reserved for the affluent, white community,” said Glen Gunderson, president and CEO of YMCA of the North. “Throughout the pandemic, the conversation really expanded into more of a program or an initiative that could be delivered through partners, as well as through a physical space.”

In St. Paul, plans call for a community kitchen that will eventually host classes in healthy cooking, and other locations such as Hudson, Wis., have begun experimenting with farm-to-table style gardening to produce healthy foods for school backpack programs. The largest network-wide initiative will be digital, including a free online library geared toward healthy living, and virtual group and one-on-one health coaching, including cohorts focused on reducing anxiety, boosting immunity and other benefits.

“Not just money is a barrier, but time is a barrier,” St. John said. “Which is why we’re moving into the digital space.”


Some Minneapolis-based services will roll out through camps, partnerships and special events.

On Tuesday, Paula Jimenez, senior director of Integrative Health and Wellbeing for the Y, used seven quartz bowls of various sizes to ring notes on the major scale, each intended to represent healing for a different area of the body. While visitors relaxed on their backs in a meditative posture, a second instructor performed reiki, a type of Japanese energy healing that involves moving hands closely above each participant without actually touching them.

Other George Wellbeing efforts have been showcased within the Fridley school district, which last year introduced community acupuncture, healthy coaching cohorts and mindfulness classes for teachers. Some services debuted at the YMCA’s Camp St. Croix “Forever Well” camp in Hudson, which enrolls seniors age 55-plus.

“The Y needs to move programming to where people need it, especially front-line workers,” St. John said.


An aging population, said Penny George, isn’t just shouldering more chronic illness than in years past. It’s also shouldering more of the cost.

Minnesotans living with chronic illness paid $12,800 per year for their care in 2012, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, or nearly eight times the average spending of an insured resident without a chronic condition.

Those numbers have surely gone up in the past decade.

“Part of what has happened nationally is more and more of the cost of care is being shifted to the consumer,” George said. “You can prevent these illnesses, or at the very least delay them a long time, by changing the way you live. There are healing modalities that can be more helpful than medical procedures when it comes to chronic illness.”