In Joanna’s words…
My work at Dayaalu Center came about when I was gathering local wellness resources and opportunities for my clients, specifically around yoga and movement. When I arrived at Dayaalu, I saw the beauty of the space and could feel the deeper energy of what was going on. One thing led to another and I began offering my consultation services in the back cottage.
At the time, I was beginning to articulate what I call the “Five Pillars of Wellness”—mindfulness, food, relaxation, movement and joy. Dayaalu Center already offered the movement and mindfulness pillars, and with its beautiful classrooms, and the overall aesthetics, it was a natural place to practice relaxation, as well.
With food being so key to wellness, the kitchen is also a huge benefit. I could see the opportunity to not only serve healthy food on site, but also teach people how to cook and eat food that is in balance with their bodies as well as the planet. So, my involvement at Dayaalu Center naturally evolved from a need for an office space to an opportunity to work amongst like-minded people and integrate the Five Pillars of Wellness under one roof.
By training, I am a medical doctor and I have spent much of my career working in the hospital. Obviously, there is a lot of good in traditional medicine; we treat people when they have an illness and this works well for certain conditions. If you have pneumonia, for example, we give you antibiotics; if you break your arm we have a cast or a pin or a surgery, something that can facilitate the fixing of your injury. Even if you have a heart attack we have the ability to open up a vessel and re-perfuse the blood to the heart and negate some of the damage that can happen.
So, our healthcare system is a great model for when there are solutions that can be fixed. However, one of the problems we are having in the healthcare system today is that we are running up against a huge slew of health problems where there isn’t a fix. And that’s hard because everybody's looking for the fix. Oftentimes, we can provide treatments or offer “symptom management” (you'll hear the term “symptoms management” a lot in medicine), but in actuality, the population of people who can actually be fixed by modern medical treatment and restored to health is only a small percentage of those who come into the greater healthcare system.
For example, with diabetes, you get insulin or oral medications, all of which can control your blood sugars but this doesn’t fix the diabetes. Another example is autoimmune illness. In autoimmune illness, we have medications and treatments to control or block inflammation but these won't fix the underlying root cause of inflammation. Even in heart disease, which is the number one killer in the United States, most of the treatments are around trying to remove the clogging from the vessels, or controlling the blood pressure, or lowering the cholesterol. Even if you look at cancer – in some cases you can get to remission which is wonderful, but oftentimes the chemo and surgery and radiation are only a piece of the puzzle – there is so much more that we can do to support healing, wellness, and recovery in the body. And that is what I focus on with my clients and in the wellness programs that I offer.
A focus on wellness is about educating, empowering and inspiring people around what they can do – the lifestyle factors – that can help promote healing, recovery, and wellness in their bodies.
Our bodies are constantly changing and constantly healing and there are things we can do to facilitate that process. Through my work as a doctor, and through my own experience of healing from autoimmune illness, I learned that there are certain things we can do in our lives to actually cultivate greater wellness, as opposed to just waiting for someone else to come and try to fix us. In my own healing process, I learned to focus on the things in my life that allowed greater healing in my body - things like eating clean healthy whole foods, shifting my relationship with stress, and allowing my body proper relaxation, movement, and rest. These things helped to create less inflammation in my body and allowed my body to restore a great degree of wellness.
If we look carefully, we can see there are deeper root causes and contributing factors to so many chronic illnesses and these root causes have led to stress and dysfunction in the body. When we peel back the layers to uproot some of these root causes of illness and we learn how to shift at that level, then we can create the conditions in our bodies where healing can be much more effective.
Indeed, if you look at the medical literature, you will find quite a bit of evidence showing that there are remissions from things like autoimmune disease and advanced cancers, and reversals of things like type-2 diabetes and even cardiovascular disease. I have spend a great deal of time researching this data because I was interested in learning what people did to help their bodies inherent healing system work more effectively. And that's when I began to frame the Five Pillars of Wellness - mindfulness, food, relaxation, movement, and joy. These ideas are not new; they come right from the research. The Five Pillars are simply my way of bringing the information together in such a way that it becomes more assessable and empowering for my clients.
First, by using mindfulness as medicine, you can look at how you're engaging in your life and how you are engaging with health and wellness. Just this simple step of becoming mindfully aware of our beliefs, patterns, stories, and thoughts can be an incredibly powerful way to promote healing and wellness in our lives.
The second pillar is food as medicine. When you really think about it, our bodies are constantly changing! We have something like 100 trillion cells in our bodies, and they are not static. In fact, we are growing millions of new cells every single day and food provides the building blocks that help our bodies create these new cells. So eating foods that are supportive, as well as taking away those foods that inhibit proper health and renewal of the body, is key.
Then the third pillar is looking at relaxation as medicine. There are a lot of case reports in the medical literature about people who actually have dramatic improvements when they bring their nervous systems and bodies back into better balance. When we're under stress—and frankly, our world is full of stress—when our bodies are facing a lot of stress, our bodies aren't as effective at healing. Under stress, the body is not as capable of regenerating and renewing and growing those healthy cells, or even fighting things like cancer or infections. The body can generate a lot of inflammation when we are under stress. So when we can actually bring our nervous systems into better balance by practicing relaxation we actually promote more effective healing in the body. And that can have a huge effect.
And then the fourth pillar is movement as medicine. Our bodies are designed to move, so we've got to do it! It doesn't have to be traditional exercise at the gym where you're pounding it out on a treadmill, because that doesn't work for everybody. You don't have to be an athlete. You don't have to run marathons. But, our bodies do need to move and that movement is going to look different for each person. The key is moving with what we've got, and helping our bodies to feel good in that movement. Just the stimulus of movement promotes energy, improved metabolism and healing.
Then the fifth pillar is using joy as medicine. It’s about connecting to joy and what it is that makes life worth living, and that which gives you energy in life. I call it joy, but you can call it love. It’s essentially about what lights you up, what sparks you in your life. I find that oftentimes people wait around for that, or they look for it in something external, but in the wellness program we practice building joy into daily life.
We live in a world that is a busy, crazy, stress-inducing world, and joy can counter the effects of stress on the body. So, when we actively cultivate joy, it becomes easier to see, feel and engage with. The potential for joy is all around. So how do we open our eyes to it, open our hearts to it and let it be more present in our lives? That's the practice of joy.
When you have an illness, stress can become magnified, in part, because you feel like you're out of control of what's happening in your body. Oftentimes people can even feel like a victim of their illness and live in a sort of survival mode. In this case, joy becomes something that's very hard to access. This is why the practice of joy is important - to bring it closer and to actually see that your illness does not define you and that your illness does not define whether or not you can have joy in your life.
What I find fascinating as a medical doctor is that the practice of joy can help to trigger a healing response in the body. When you feel something joyful, let's say laughter, for example, just the act of laughter releases a flood of endorphins in the body. Those endorphins help to reduce pain and the endorphins travel in the blood stream and communicate with other cells - like the white blood cells - and help to balance the activity of those cells.
Norman Cousins who wrote Anatomy of an Illness years ago, discovered through the pain in his own body that if he laughed, he had a reduction in his pain and improvement in his symptoms. And that is exactly what we're talking about. Even just the practice of smiling.
When you put your face in a smile it produces a biochemical change in the body that releases more of those feel good neurotransmitters-- more serotonin, more endorphins, more dopamine - just by smiling! It seems so simple - to smile, to laugh, to do things you love, to be with people you love, to practice gratitude - but the effects in the body can be profound. And the powerful thing about the body is that you can actually make more endorphins the more you use them.
So the practice of joy is a is a beautiful practice to start with when you are facing pain and discomfort in the body - just reconnecting to what helps the body feel good.
The body has the inherent ability to heal. It’s pretty incredible. And I think it's one of those things that's really hard to get your head around. Think of it this way… if you cut your arm and you have to go to the doctor to get stitches, it's not the stitches that fix you, it's actually your body. The stitches just hold everything in place.
What we need more of in our current approach to illness is the ability to focus on how we can help our own bodies to be as well as possible. My body knows how to go in and repair damaged tissue, it does this all the time. My body knows how to go in there and fight off invading organisms or bacteria or viruses, it does this every single day. My body knows how to scavenge for cells that could potentially become cancerous if left unchecked and actually gets rid of those cells. It does this every single day.
When we are overwhelmed with stress, when we don't get enough sleep, when we eat poor food—we inhibit our bodies ability to effectively do its job. Conversely, when we actually bring the body back into balance, our bodies can do a much better job at healing and recovery.
In my work, my goal is to focus on helping people access ways to support and enhance greater healing in their bodies.
When it comes to practicing joy daily, one simple thing I do with my clients is to have them write down what brought them joy that day. I recommend doing it at the end of the day because if you get through your day and there wasn't a moment where you were really connected to your joy, then the day's not over. Maybe there's something you can still connect to before you lay your head down at night. Or maybe it becomes an opportunity to look at it more closely and think about what you can do the next day to connect more deeply.
Having the intention to write it down raises your awareness so you can learn to identify moments of joy; this moment, right here, petting my dog, this is a good moment. Or this moment, I’m outside and the sun is shining and I feel it on my shoulders, oh that's a good moment. It doesn't have to be grand; it doesn't have to be bells and whistles or a huge party. It could even be as simple as "I have running water that's clean and when I fill my glass, ah, I can just drink it."
There is something very empowering about building this awareness.
What I've seen happen too often to people, especially when they have to undergo treatments or are not feeling well, is that they feel disempowered, out of control. So, even this one simple tool of saying, "what is working in my life or what is good in my life?” And then deliberately connecting to the things that help you feel good in the present moment as best as you can – this can make a significant difference.
And each time you practice this, you're releasing more of those endorphins and growing a little bit more of a connection to that recognition of what is going to bring you joy. Immersing yourself into that feeling of it produces a biochemical change in your body that facilitates a healing response. And there are no side-effects; that's what I love about it, no negative side-effects!
That's why I gravitate so much to doing this work. I feel that we lose touch with some of the simple things in life that can make a profound difference and instead we look for a solution in a pill, or a vitamin, or a powder. Not that any of those things are wrong, sometimes we need those things, of course. But we forget the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is being alive today, in this body, with whatever it looks like, not knowing what the outcome is going to be, but learning to live fully and engaged, awake and alive in this moment.
What I’ve learned from my work and from my own experience is that people who have chronic health challenges can feel overwhelmed when looking for an answer, a solution or a fix. I like to shift the narrative about illness away from the idea that you are broken and need to be fixed. Instead consider that if your body is manifesting illness at this time, how can you take the treatments you may need, but also emphasize aligning with wellness as best as you can and finding balance today? That's what this work is about. Using certain tools and what I call the Five Pillars of Wellness can really help with that focus so that you don't feel lost or overwhelmed or trapped in vicious cycles of endless seeking. It's about coming back into greater balance.
In a nutshell, my work, Nurture Healing, is about doing what we can in this moment with what we have to align with wellness. And when we align with wellness and let go of having to get to some outcome someday then we actually promote that wellness in our bodies now. And by using certain tools it becomes more accessible and we no longer feel lost, overwhelmed or trapped in vicious cycles of endless seeking that's out there. Instead, we come back into greater balance.
It’s like coming back home. When we come into greater balance we bring greater balance into our lives, and to those around us, and to our communities, and I even think we bring greater balance to this amazing planet that we're living on.