A Metro Detroit physician shares her top three methods for maintaining balance in this hectic world.
By Aarti Soorya
Like a lot of Indian kids my age, I was a biology major on the pre-med track in undergrad. Despite this science background, there was this part of me that was completely fascinated with the philosophy of looking at the body as a whole, a concept the Eastern traditions of healing really emphasized. I decided to research meditation and its effects on health in a Buddhism studies class. After all, the science nerd in me still wanted proof of these ancient practices even though I intuitively knew there was some truth to them. I was blown away by what the studies showed — improved blood pressure, decreased stress, decrease in inflammation, improved sleep and improved mood, just to name a few. Sounded pretty good to me!
Yet despite knowing all of this, I still didn’t incorporate a meditation practice into my life. Fast-forward through medical school and residency, I found myself constantly reacting to life. A stressful situation would happen, I would lose sleep for days, and then bounce back to some form of “normalcy.” This was my pattern. Every board exam, I was an insomniac! It still didn’t click for me that I should do something about this. I always recovered, so I figured this was just the way I was wired.
It wasn’t until my first job out of residency when I felt the repercussions of chronic unchecked stress on my health. I hated my job and this emotional turmoil threw me into “fight or flight” for a couple years where good quality sleep became elusive. This time, I could not bounce back, and the nights spent awake tossing and turning were endless. My mood tanked, and I had no energy to do anything. I was pretty much a zombie walking around, watching my life pass me by.
Though that time was dark, it was the biggest blessing in disguise. While I was working at the job that drained me, I was also attending trainings in functional medicine where treating the root cause of disease is the mantra. It would have been very easy to medicate my sleep, but I knew that was not getting to the root of the problem. This was where I learned my craft on a personal level.
I incorporated what I learned from my mentor and functional medicine training into a treatment plan for myself. I used adaptogens to help calm my nervous system down as well as nature time to help balance my elevated cortisol. Once I was able to sleep better, I knew I needed to incorporate some sort of meditative practice, which led me to yoga. I know it sounds cliché, but this was the most transformative practice of my life. No, the results were not immediate. In fact, it probably took me six months to wake up feeling happy and rested again, but I felt the subtle shifts of feeling calmer starting from the first month.
What did this period in life teach me? Everything. Human beings are not only biochemical and hormonal, we are electrical as well. The brain, heart, nerves, muscles, how cells communicate with each other is all through electricity within us. In our modern lives, we have totally disconnected the electrical from the biochemical when, in fact, this is part of the equation that keeps us in balance and in good health.
In the human body, we have the autonomic nervous system which is comprised of two components, the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. In our modern lives, most of us are spending more time in the “fight or flight” response rather than in the “rest or digest” mode. Ideally, it should be the other way around. This is why mindfulness is not just a “woo woo” concept but, in fact, an actual treatment to use for restoring health and vitality through balancing the nervous system, the electrical component of our body. Used with dietary and lifestyle interventions, this can really set people up to live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. I speak from experience!
So my top three methods of maintaining balance in this hectic world are:
1. Breathe consciously. This is another way to balance your nervous system. Try a simple box breathing technique of inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts and then holding for four counts. Repeat for five minutes, one to three times daily.
2. Spend time in nature. This helps lower your cortisol levels and helps you de-stress. Studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes outside in nature can help bring down your cortisol levels. So ditch the phone and go outside for a bit. Doctor’s orders!
3. Maintain a routine every day. Our bodies like predictability; this sets the stage for optimal energy and healing. For example, I shut off electronics by 9 p.m. and am in bed by 10 p.m. My body naturally wakes up between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. No alarm needed!
This information is for educational purposes only. Please consult with your health care practitioner before incorporating any lifestyle, dietary, supplement or medical intervention.
Dr. Aarti Soorya is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician who combines her conventional medical training with leading-edge concepts in biomedical-functional medicine. Her approaches include holistic prevention, detoxification, physical modalities, nutritional therapy, herbs, chelation and medications (when needed). Soorya believes healthy people are happy people, and happy people change the world. She loves supporting individuals in their health journeys so that they can then go on and contribute what they were meant to in the world!