The urban shaman

Holistic healing in Tel Aviv.

Naturopath and clinical herbalist Udi Sahar. (photo credit: OR DANON)
Naturopath and clinical herbalist Udi Sahar.
(photo credit: OR DANON)
Natural healing and maintaining maximum health are processes that take time and – according to naturopath and clinical herbalist Udi Sahar – cold-pressed fruit juices.
Sahar, 34, was born with an auto-immune dysfunction, severe allergies and atopic dermatitis.
“I was just ill all the time,” he says of his childhood and early teenage years.
His American mother didn’t believe in conventional medicine.
“Back in the ’80s you’d call her a New-Age mom. She wouldn’t take me to conventional doctors when I was sick because they’d prescribe antibiotics. She sent me to all the alternative practitioners possible; except a naturopath, because she didn’t agree to taking certain foods out of my diet. I was always exposed to these ideas, vegetarianism and a healthy lifestyle. But I used to sneak out to doctors to get prescriptions for stuff because I didn’t want to feel so sick.”
Neither conventional nor alternative medicine relieved Sahar’s constant itching and inflamed nasal tissues and weeping eyes.
“I was just one big allergic reaction,” he says. At age 16, he took his health into his own hands.
“I realized that there was a connection between what I eat and how I feel,” he recounts.
He stopped eating dairy products and sugar, with immediate relief. But eating differently than other teenagers didn’t come easy.
“In high school, not eating sugar or dairy made me a weirdo. But I felt so much better. I didn’t sneeze all the time, I was able to sleep all night without scratching myself like a madman. My eyes stopped tearing and my nose stopped running.
“I was always drawn to the kitchen, baking and making smoothies already at age six or seven. I was in the house on my own a lot as a kid, because my parents were divorced, and my mother was at work all day. The easy foods that kids eat – cornflakes with milk, cheese, pizza, ice cream – everything was dairy. Once I took dairy off my diet, I had to learn to provide food for myself. So I’ve had a relationship with the kitchen ever since I was a kid.”
A FAMILY trip to Mexico at age 11 exposed Sahar to an indigenous culture for the first time. The impression he received stayed with him well into adulthood, leading him to travel extensively in South America and India after his army service. He roamed in Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, then Peru and Mexico. Another seminal experience was attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada during a visit to the US as a teenager.
“It opened my eyes,” he says. “I was an adventurous kid and just talked to everyone, asked people about whatever I was in interested in. And people are friendly, they like to teach.”
In deep talks with indigenous healers and shamans, he realized his vocation was in the culinary arts, herbal medicine and nutrition.
Returning from his travels in South America and India, Sahar tended bar and managed several restaurants.
“I was in the food industry since I first started working,” he says. Oddly, he credits mixology for jump-starting his pursuit of health via liquidized fruits and vegetables. “Tending bar gave me the background to begin thinking of creating super-foods from juice combinations,” he says with a smile.
Sahar studied holistic medicine for four years at Broshim, an off-campus training school for practitioners of holistic medicine at Tel Aviv University. After graduating, he moved to California, where his vision of a wellness center in Israel took shape.
After several years absorbing American culture and naturopathic practice, Sahar returned to Israel and opened his own consultation clinic. An important part of his program is helping patients detoxify from stress, pollution and bad nutrition. This is done by completing a guided juice fast, where the patient subsists on nutrient-dense, cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices for a length of time varying between one and five days.
The juices used are combinations of many organic fruits and vegetables that range from ones you expect like apples, grapefruit, kale and cucumbers, to wild dandelions and nettles. According to naturopathic theory, cold-pressed fruit and vegetable juices retain all their original vital nutrients, unlike commercially squeezed juices. Each kind of juice combination has a specific health-building purpose.
Sahar offered his clients a unique service delivering their daily cold-pressed juices to their doors every morning. His clientele grew.
Like-minded people inevitably meet. Naturopath Naomi Bubis came across Sahar while looking for topics to write about on her vegan-inspired blog, Tel Aviv Notes. They hit it off immediately, agreeing that Tel Aviv lacked a wellness center and that they were just the practitioners to launch one. They opened a juice bar in Tel Aviv's Nahalat Binyamin Street, called Urban Shaman, as a market test.
People seeking health in a glass bottle flocked to the bar. Its success convinced Sahar and Bubis to create a full version of Urban Shaman that incorporates a clinic, holistic treatments and classes, and a vegan restaurant. They opened the facility on Dizengoff Street in mid-June.
“Usually you have to go to retreats outside the city to get these treatments,” says Sahar. “We want to offer an urban retreat, which is why we call the center Urban Shaman. We have three treatment rooms in the basement where licensed naturopaths treat patients, and people seeking healing can choose between acupuncture, yoga, shiatsu, meditation and a nutrition plan, or integrate all treatments into one daily routine.” Sahar himself is a yoga teacher of 10 years’ experience, having studied the practice in India.
“Upstairs, there’s the restaurant, vegan of course. It’s a healing oasis,” he concludes, “a California-style spa with a desert vibe, in Tel Aviv.”
Urban Shaman
210 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv
(03) 752-1102