As you might have read in the last two posts, hospital physician Nathalie Minami has found supports to be healthy, clear and balanced, both in her own life and especially under the challenging conditions of her work.
When I asked her about her patients’ biggest challenges, she said, “To be happy with what is and to find contentment.” Here in the third and final part of this interview, I’d like to focus on how she tries to help her patients find contentment.
Many of the patients who come with health issues and pain primarily want a pill that will solve their problem. But when Nathalie asks about lifestyle and diet, she typically finds that they are unhealthy and likely are contributing to their symptoms. The fact is that people have trouble finding a way of life that promotes simple ease and happiness. Many spend hours in front of the TV or other numbing media. They don’t move their body much, don’t go into nature, don’t enjoy breathing the fresh air. Simple, natural enjoyments don’t seem to come easy for them; instead they are accustomed to stimulants and entertainments that they take for happiness.
Similarly, they prefer processed foods that are fast and easily available, and often whole foods like raw vegetables and fruit don’t satisfy their palate. They prefer artificial tastes that they have become used to their whole lives. Cycling between stimulating chemicals and the natural crashes that follow, they easily feel depressed and craving for something.
Nathalie feels that many times the reason for discomfort and loss of energy is a disconnection from the natural environment. Often she suggests going outside for a little walk each day, breathing the air, listening to the birds, walking along the beach. For the body she suggests a diet similar to her own food choices, because fresh, natural and relatively unprocessed foods are healthy long-term. However, she has found that healthy diet suggestions are usually not very welcome, as those flavors are not preferred.
When Nathalie tries to feel into what a specific patient might actually be looking for, she often finds that they themselves don’t know it. Many don’t appear to have the means and ideas to look closely in the right places. They know they want to be free of pain and believe they should take some kind of substance that will make them feel good. At the same time, some really benefit from their connection to their family, their church and their belief in God, but they don’t necessarily connect that with freeing their pain. And some might really feel hopeless. When Nathalie finds that she doesn’t know how to help, she hopes not to be an unhelpful physician, but trusts that together with the patient she will find a path forward.
When I asked her what she personally does to find balance, Nathalie responded that good health requires three pillars: good sleep, a healthy and balanced diet, and enough and sufficient movement of the body. To develop those requires a good base of self-awareness to be able to notice and then address imbalance. Nathalie’s yoga and meditation practice are her good base, and from that she notices when she does not feel good, when there are negative voices in her mind, when she feels self-critical and impatient. If those states predominate, then little things can throw her off balance and she knows that something is not right. This is how she balances herself:
1. She notices the imbalance, feels into it and immediately tells herself: Take it easy. This immediate self-care calms the trouble a bit, and is an indicator to herself that she did not care well for her own needs.
2. She might call family members or friends, sharing and connecting with them to feel more nourished right away.
3. She pays renewed attention to what she’s eating. She always makes sure that she has a variety of fresh and healthy foods at home, including: various greens, vegetables, spinach, whole milk and yogurt, fish, occasional meat, tofu, beans, nuts, avocados, coconut oil, butter, rice, squash, sweet potatoes, dates, figs, soy- and coconut-milk, good teas, and…nachos! She avoids fried, processed and fast foods, sugar, and white bread and pasta.
4. She engages in healthy movement and activity. She originally chose yoga over working out in the gym because yoga does not spike the fight/flight system (sympathetic nervous system) in an unbalanced way. In her high-stress job she feels she has to deal with that imbalance enough. Yoga tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in combination with the sympathetic, helping to balance and cleanse the stress chemicals in the bloodstream, so that she breaks a sweat but also remains relaxed. Before she chose yoga she often suffered from exhausted adrenals and a feeling of fatigue. With this change that stopped. Though she still “works out hard” in her yoga practice, she’s using another circuit.
On the mental level, Nathalie reflects on what happens to her, feels into her own needs, and does her best to care for them. This self awareness is one of the benefits of her yoga and meditation practice. Sometimes everything seems to be difficult and her life situation is not easy. She notices it and knows that everything changes anyway all the time. This helps her to stay aware and open and help herself within the challenges. For herself personally, it’s a relief to know that the world as she is currently experiencing it is not all there is—both according to the physicists and also to Buddhist teachings. Impermanence is painful on the one hand, because nice things change, but liberating on the other, because problems and stress change constantly. Nathalie says that somehow she believes very deeply that everything will be okay. She says, “Actually, we never know if things will turn out good or bad.” She trusts that somehow there will be a way through whatever is happening.
Especially in the US, our modern lifestyle is driven by the wish for quick and easy gratification and unlimited choice. This makes it more difficult to be satisfied with what is. There is always a looking for something better in the background. The same can happen in medicine. However, sometimes the simple and already well-known methods can help best, though they might be easily overlooked. Good sleep, food, activity, love, community, belonging.
I love Nathalie’s focus on a natural orientation and her rootedness in integrative and functional medicine. Many physicians don’t offer an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments, but she tries to inspire and educate. Some of her patients have not had this experience before and are very grateful for it. Currently Nathalie Minami and some colleagues plan to start a health coop where they’ll bring together different modalities including functional medicine, acupuncture, massage and psychology.
Have a good week,