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.
Boise, Idaho has become a busy resettlement community for refugees from all over the world. To thrive in our country is a significant challenge for these new arrivals. Two colleagues and I designed and implemented a mind-body skills program as part of the International Rescue Committee Life Skills Class for refugee women, with a focus on language acquisition for basic daily activities such as shopping, cooking, and going to the doctor.
At the center of the program are self-care practices that strengthen an individual’s ability to care for themselves, based on the model established by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. We hoped the shared experience of the women would also contribute to a sense of community support.
I was recently at dinner with friends — all of us acupuncturists with various backgrounds — and we were deep in discussion about how to describe what it is that we do. One said, “I call myself a Chinese Medicine Practitioner because that’s what I studied — all aspects of it (needles, herbs, movement & philosophy).” I wondered aloud, “Do you think that right now, there is a group of healers in China having dinner together saying, ‘I call myself a Western Medicine Practitioner because that’s what I studied – love those MRI’s and cortisone injections!’ ”
We tossed around the use of the term “Chinese Medicine.” What we are really pointing to when we use this term is ancient wisdom — not wisdom that is only exclusive to China, either but threaded through all the ancient world religions and traditions. It is the wisdom of observing the natural movements of life and the power of nature to heal the body, mind, and spirit.
Over the past two years I have had the privilege of working with adults living with Sickle Cell Disease in the Philadelphia area. This journey has brought many gifts with it, not the least of which has been conducting Mind Body Skills Groups.
Today we live in a fast-paced world, inundated by an abundance of activity and general craziness. This mantra meditation reminds us to breathe some peace into our lives. Beautifully narrated by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s Clinical Director, Amy Shinal, this 4 minute audio walks you through a deep-breathing exercise using the words “breathe” and “peace” spoken quietly to yourself. Take a moment and quiet the noise of demands, stress, sadness, or whatever else is weighing on your mind. A great mantra to maintain throughout the holiday season and always. We could all use a little more peace in this world – Wouldn’t you agree?