As its name suggests, the Sun Valley Wellness Festival takes a broad view of its subject. Each year, it brings in doctors and mystics, gurus and psychologists—a range of speakers covering every end of the wellness spectrum to round out its program. With dozens of speakers, classes and workshops scheduled, this year’s roster is no different.
“It’s the most powerful lineup in the history of the festival,” President Andria Friesen told the Idaho Mountain Express. “We have many speakers this year that could absolutely be the keynote, and we have vendors in the Experience Hall that could easily be speakers. To say we raised the bar is true, but it’s by far more than one rung.”
Here’s a look at a few of the personalities slated to appear.
Roshi Joan Halifax
An anthropologist, Buddhist leader and advocate for end-of-life care, Halifax has lectured on death and dying around the world since earning her Ph.D. in medical anthropology in 1973—and she continues to work with medical professionals and caregivers to teach the “psycho-social, ethical and spiritual aspects of care of the dying.”
She’s also the founder and abbot of the Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M., where she teaches Buddhist practice and encourages social service—like the Upaya Prison Project, which she too founded, to develop meditation programs for prisoners.
At Sun Valley, Halifax will deliver a talk titled “The Healing Power of Compassion,” which the festival calls “a deep dive into the obstacles we face in our encounter with suffering, and the practices we can engage in to transform them into the strengths that foster resilience and moral character.”
Barbara Coombs Lee
Twenty-five years in clinical environments led Barbara Coombs Lee to her current role as president of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit advocating for options and agency in the care of terminally ill.
In her career as a nurse, nurse practitioner and physician’s assistant, Coombs Lee was required to perform futile—often painful—interventions on dying patients. Those experiences forged her views around individual choice in health care, including a patient’s right to die. Coombs Lee backed those beliefs with a degree in law, and transitioned her work to legal advocacy for those at the end of their lives.
As a staffer in the Oregon Senate, Coombs Lee helped state Sen. Frank Roberts draft the Oregon Death with Dignity Act—one of the first pieces of legislation to authorize physician-assisted suicide in America. That law was passed by citizen initiative in 1994, and, continually backed by Coombs Lee, survived challenges as high up as the U.S. Supreme Court.
She published her second book, titled “Finish Strong: Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End,” in 2019, billed a practical guide to dying. Currently bolstered with a 4.9 out of 5-star rating on Amazon, it has been endorsed by advice columnists, medical professionals and even human rights activist Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Her lectures at Sun Valley borrow their title from the book, and also aim to advise listeners on how to address the taboo topic, and evade an “over-zealous medical system that can subvert our sincere intentions to live as well as possible, as long as possible.” She’s also scheduled to take a deeper dive into the issue with a workshop designed to create documents to guide those final steps.
As an early investor and acolyte, Robert McNamee made a lot of money on Facebook. The self-described tech “evangelist” even mentored a young Mark Zuckerberg and advised “Zuck’s” younger company.
Now, McNamee is one of the social media platform’s fiercest critics.
Part memoir, part exploration of a truly modern phenomenon, his 2019 New York Times bestseller “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe” offers a pointed critique of the company, and its impact on American democracy.
McNamee will take that a step further during his address at the Wellness Festival, titled “Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and the Threats They Pose to Your Health.” There, he’ll focus on the dangers of tech-nological exposure, particularly to children and teenagers.
Dr. Steven Gundry
Cardiac surgeon by trade, Dr. Steven Gundry makes a return trip to Sun Valley to speak on a subject near and dear to his heart: longevity.
This bestselling author and medical researcher is a leading expert on lectin-free diets, which he says can help reverse disease, increase lifespan and “de-age” the body and mind.
In “The Longevity Paradox: How To Die at a Ripe Old Age,” Gundry will break down “seven myths of aging” to improve health and extend life.
Another regular, naturopathic physician Stephen Barrie returns to Sun Valley to talk about his signature subject: the connection between the microscopic organ-isms inside the human body—or,
“microbiome”—and overall health.
Now chief business devel-opment officer of the microbiome testing company Viome, Barrie developed a number of diagnostic assessments for both physicians and consumers aimed to de-termine the cause of disease, including breath and stool tests. For the past six years he’s been working in China to help the central government implement “functional medicine” into its national health-care system.
He’ll deliver the festival’s wrap-up lecture, “The Microbiome Is Your World.”
“Dr. Barrie will help synthesize this cornucopia of information into a cohesive whole that ties together the four pillars of the weekend—Body, Mind, Spirit, and Environment,” festival organizers wrote. “How do we incorporate/coordinate these insights into our daily lives, so we carry these lessons with us throughout life? The story of the festival can become the story of our lives.”