The other day after my workout, I headed to the sauna to savor some quiet time to detox and unwind. Shortly after I got settled in to my warm cocoon and a meditative state, another woman came in to do the same, or so I thought. Wrapped in her terry cloth robe, she immediately reached into her pocket, pulled out her smartphone and began texting away.
Many things have happened lately to make me fearful of others and of life itself. My world seems to be filled with people who hold unfounded grudges that baffle me and choose to say vindictive things for no other reason than spite. We’ve had deaths and serious illnesses, difficult medical prognoses. Family members whose actions are more about greed than family values. Job losses and insecurity. It’s been difficult to hold on to the trust and acceptance that got me through past challenges. I see fear peeking out of every corner, tugging at me, knocking on the door, enticing me to believe that the world is full of anger, resentment, greed and struggles. Fear is ready to haunt me, settle into my stomach and my bones. In fact, I can already feel it in my body, aching and throbbing.
Shame is an inevitable component of binge eating disorder, so although it’s the most common of eating disorders, it’s rarely discussed.
Binging was a carefully hidden secret for me since my early teen years. I remember getting upset over a running injury and devouring a chocolate cake. Not a piece of cake — a whole chocolate cake — and it was still mostly frozen. Binging was my normal; I didn’t believe change was possible. So even as I got degrees in nutrition and ate more nourishing foods, there were still nights where I’d polish off a can of frosting, and suffer through the inevitable self-loathing hangover.
I am facilitating my second Mind-Body Skills Group since completing both the Advanced Mind-Body Medicine and Food As Medicine courses. The first group started with eight members and ended with a core of four, who have since held two reunions with a third on the horizon. During the time between reunions these individuals have no contact except through me and yet they want to keep in touch, so every few months we get together for lunch.
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In June of 2012 I attended the Center’s Food As Medicine conference in Bethesda, MD. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the Center, so I was not sure what to expect. This conference started unlike so many other conferences I have attended. Instead of jumping right in because there would be lots of ground to cover in a short period of time, Dr. Jim Gordon began with a relaxation breathing exercise called “soft belly,” a slow, deep breathing meditation that allows the belly to rise when breathing in and fall when breathing out.The sole focus should be on the image of a soft, relaxed belly. He instructed us to say to ourselves “soft” as we inhaled and “belly” as we exhaled. We started every day of the conference in this fashion. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, as I wondered what breathing had to do with food and when were we going to get to the good stuff. But by day three of the conference I found myself ready to start the day relaxed; I was looking forward to “soft belly!”
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When I was growing up, my Dad always told me that I could do anything, be anything. You just had to work hard enough for it. Although that put a great deal of pressure on me to strive for excellence (and probably accounted for years of therapy), it also gave me great confidence. For me, there were absolutely no limits in life.
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Several years ago, the Universe forced me to examine the “scar tissue” surrounding my heart, the direct result of a chronic American illness– racism. The multiple re-injuries to this wound affected every aspect of my existence, from family interactions, to childhood friendships, to personal and professional goals. Tragically, it also affected my own self-image.
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Sometimes we talk about how the Center’s work at a very broad level is really peace and conflict resolution work: healing trauma in individuals, families and communities, to bring about forgiveness, revitalization, growth, and hope. Perhaps, if you are an alum of our programs, you have experienced this?
Sometimes healing means understanding, sometimes it means letting go. It might mean leaving, or staying; it might mean developing gratitude, awareness, self-compassion, or self-expression. Mind-body medicine allows us to be human, and our group model creates the holding container in which what needs to happen can finally happen, instead of being held in or held back. Again and again, we witness the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.
In the season of light, as the new year approaches, we look forward to continuing this remarkable healing work, bringing comfort to people who are suffering, and doing our part to bring peace on earth.
Sending love and our very best wishes to you and yours!
The Staff of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine
Author: Jo Cooper, Online Communications Editor
It was a tense moment. The phlebotomist had tried drawing blood from both of my arms without success, and had left the room in search of a colleague to take over. I sat, band aids and bruises in the crooks of my arms, curious about how this next attempt would go… when I had a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious). It wasn’t all down to the technician — I could help! I just had to riffle through the rolodex in my brain to find the right resources.
I learned to meditate over 20 years ago. It opened the doors to a lifelong practice of meditation techniques, including Vipassana and yoga, and spiritual exploration with wonderful teachers. As I practiced and practiced, I noticed that I was able to listen more deeply to both my patients and myself, and felt less stressed in my daily work as a medical doctor.
It wasn’t until 15 years ago when I began to work with The Center for Mind-Body Medicine that I learned the importance of teaching my patients these skills, too. Stress is a contributing factor for 80% of all chronic illness in our country, and numerous studies have shown the power of meditation and mind-body skills to reduce the effects of stress and even reverse illness. I talk at length about this in my book, The Immune System Recovery Plan, A Doctors 4-Step Program for Treating Autoimmune Disease. At Blum Center for Health we teach these skills in Mind-Body Groups, following the model developed by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.