Oct. 31, 2014
Vol. 12, Issue 19
Slow down. Pay attention. Be in the moment. What a great idea — if only I could remember to do it. Mindfulness and meditation seem to be in the headlines everywhere — they even made the cover of Time Magazine earlier this year. I got a little primer a couple of weeks ago when my husband and I attended Providence SW Washington’s fall heart health symposium, “The Secret to Heart Health: Your Mind is Strong Medicine.”
I give lots of credit to Providence for being willing to approach the topic of heart health from many different angles, and this one in particular. They are pioneers. Mystery, and even skepticism, come up in medical circles around topics like mindfulness and meditation, so I was very happy that I had recently been introduced to Romila Mushtaq, MD, who is both a medical doctor — a neurologist, no less — and a certified yoga/meditation teacher, as well. Her credentials were impressive, and her story intriguing, so I was glad to recommend her and get to hear her speak in person.
You get to read lots of speaker reviews from me, so I thought it would be fun, this time, to let my husband, give this review. He’s not easily impressed (well, I’m pretty picky, too), but he’s a good writer, too, so this time we get to turn the tables, and I get to edit his article!
Dr. Romila Mushtaq:
Your Mind is Strong Medicine
by Jim Newcomer, PhD
Dr. Romie, as she prefers to be called, appeared in front of the crowd looking like the successful, chic, neurologist that she is. She was radiant in addition to everything she had promised to be — enthusiastic, informed, articulate, clear, and entertaining. She was dressed in a stylish suit and fabulous high heels – her personal extravagance. Looking at her, you might have thought everything had come easily for her.
Until she spoke. And even then, at the beginning she seemed to have had it easy. She began with a little humor, a little gracious allusion to her favorite high-heeled shoes, and a little story about her childhood in Illinois. Then as she glided into telling us about her professional career — the grueling journey through medical school, and the extraordinary demands of her work — her story grew more urgent. Working 16 to 18 hours days, she had begun feeling chest pains and eventually lost the ability to swallow and even at times to take a full breath.
It took persistence (almost 7 years!) but she finally got a diagnosis of achalasia, a condition in which the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus closes down, preventing swallowing and causing vomiting — which Wikipedia describes as ‘having no known cause.’ As the best surgeon for that condition was in Seattle, she went there for surgery, fearing that she might actually have esophageal cancer.
When she came out of the surgery okay, she faced a life-defining decision: to go back to 80 hour weeks and the same rounds and high stakes diagnoses and treatments, or to do something else. Facing a future as uncertain as her knowledge of what to do next, she asked herself what the first step would be.
She had noticed that the one place she felt like herself — and relaxed — was in her yoga class. She decided that feeling good might just be the key to surviving; she chose to take the uncertain road and to begin by studying to be a yoga teacher. For the audience’s enjoyment, she recreated her mother, wailing in her Indian accent, “A yoga teacher? You trained to be a neurosurgeon, and instead you’re studying to be a yoga teacher?” And we in the audience responded in laughter. But train she did.
And then she got serious. She began meditating daily. She went to Cambodia to study meditation with a master. And she returned healthy, happy, and calm. Personally, I was completely mesmerized. You can’t be that calm, nor can you discuss these changes unless you’ve done the work, as the spiritual masters say. And it is clear she has done the work.
This story about her background and how she arrived at the place that brings her to the stage to talk to large audiences about mindfulness and meditation, was actually a very small part of her program. The presentation was beautifully orchestrated with examples, meaningful slides, and for this event, was tailored to the topic of heart health.
Always mindful of both the need to present the scientific basis of the benefits of meditation as well as her general audience’s need for an entertaining and meaningful experience, she went back and forth, first describing the experience as an ordinary person would live it and then presenting the science that backs up the experiential evidence. When she led the audience through an exercise in breathing, everyone felt uplifted and convinced that she is really on to something.
The audience – did I mention that the auditorium was full – was captivated. She was in turn descriptive, scientific, funny, flirtatious, meditative, calm, excited, and informative. But always grounded. She has the ability, which is normally achieved through the spiritual journey she described, to be all those things and still hold her center, to maintain the thread of her message.
And the power of her message lies in its promise to her audience that each of us can achieve a balance in life between overwork and satisfaction, that reduction of stress is critical to our well-being. She bridged the gap between the medical literature, the accepted approaches to healing found in most hospitals, and the wider world of healing — and maintaining health — that can be found in traditional health practices. For the medical professionals in the audience, she also provided the scientific backing for her conclusions.
For example, after a few weeks of meditation, her blood pressure dropped precipitously. That’s her personal experience. But she quoted peer-reviewed medical studies as well. She has statistical evidence that blood pressure drops after a few weeks of meditation. So do heart attack rates – and many other manifestations of ill health. Her own radiant appearance was, for most of us, evidence enough.
Dr. Romie’s talks have several health and wellness applications. For more information, visit her page on our website, where there is video from her TedX talk, or give me a call at 503-699-5031.
Stale Snickers, Anyone?
I’m not one who eats the Halloween candy before the kids arrive. In fact, when we moved, I found two small ziplock bags of Snickers Fun Size Bars in the freezer. Those would be the Halloween leftovers from 2012 and 2013. Although we didn’t get many trick-or-treaters on our old street, we had to be prepared for the few neighbor kids who did drop by. And we probably will need to be ready with some goodies in our new house. Some people love their milk chocoloate, but not I. On the other hand, an 88% cocoa Endangered Species chocolate bar does not stand a chance to survive in my cupboard. But this fake chocolate? — not interested.
Whatever your pleasure, I hope your Halloween delivers some fun as well as all the treats that bring you satisfaction and happiness. Happy Halloween!
Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
For Your Well Being is published bi-weekly. We bring you insider speaker reports, exclusive stories about special events around the country, meeting planner tips, and fun stuff from the worlds of health and well being. Be well and be in the know!
The Speak Well Being Group is a specialized speakers bureau, focusing on speakers for hospital-sponsored community events, healthcare organizations, nurses, conferences and women’s groups. Our speakers are hand-selected. They are not only experts in their fields, they connect with their audiences while bringing them life-changing information, smiles of recognition and ultimately a sense of well being and hope.
Finding the perfect keynote speaker for your special event or conference is my personal passion, not just once, but year after year. It brings me great joy to know that your audience was delighted and moved by the speaker we selected together. I’m committed to making the process easy, pleasant and fun.