Dr. Natalie Geary of vedaHEALTH: “Make sure to move”

Make sure to move: Even if you are too busy to maintain a rigorous exercise program, do not beat yourself up. Start with simple, attainable action steps that you can sustain and then build on that. Start with 10–15 minutes a day committed to moving as vigorously as is safe for your body. Take a […]

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Make sure to move: Even if you are too busy to maintain a rigorous exercise program, do not beat yourself up. Start with simple, attainable action steps that you can sustain and then build on that. Start with 10–15 minutes a day committed to moving as vigorously as is safe for your body. Take a brisk walk and focus only on the sounds you hear. Spend the time doing sun salutations. Calisthenics before you get ready for work. Dancing to the music as you make breakfast. Anything that is fun and promotes your circulation.


As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Natalie Geary.

Dr. Geary is a licensed pediatric and family doctor based in Miami and New York, and is also the founder and owner of vedaHEALTH and vedaPURE. She received her ​bachelor’s degree in Medical Anthropology at Harvard University, her medical degree from John Hopkins School of Medicine and completed her residency at New York University. Dr. Geary has also studied Ayurveda since Harvard and has trained at the Ayurvedic Institute, the California College of Ayurveda and Kerala Ayurveda Academy. Her work is based on a commitment to the integration of these two medical systems since health and wellness are best served by the wisdom of Ayurveda and the science and the technology of Allopathic research.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was fortunate enough to travel all over the world starting at a very young age, and to see and experience different cultures. I observed different diets, healing rituals, family, community and spiritual practices. As a medical anthropology major at Harvard, I took a year off to work in Mumbai, India to study Ayurveda and conduct research at Tata Cancer hospital. I documented patients’ explanatory models of illness and the impact of cultural beliefs on their health seeking behaviors. I had wonderful mentors, MDs and anthropologists. At Johns Hopkins Medical School, where I later earned my MD, I noticed the conflict between western and “alternative” medicine — at the time, before NCAM, ancient healing traditions such as Ayurveda were labeled “alternative” and usually dismissed as marginal at best.

Fortunately, thinking about healing and wellness has evolved, times have changed, and those fortunate enough to have access to healthcare have become more empowered to advocate for their own health and wellbeing. My integration of “western” and ayurvedic healing traditions allows me, I believe, to bring the teachings of both traditions to bear when working with my patients to attain sustainable wellness.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

​I am grateful for the many patients who trusted me, who were willing to believe that first and foremost I would do no harm, and were willing to explore different pathways to healing. When I wrote my book with Oz Garcia, The Food Cure for Kids, parents called me to share their success stories, alleviating their childrens’ recurrent ailments with simple changes in the diet: attainable change for sustainable wellness. But I am always reminded of when I was working in Mumbai at the cancer hospital, a woman in her early 30s with stage four breast cancer. Unlike the many patients I had worked with at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, her explanatory model of her illness was based on a multi-modal causality, meaning that she believed she had cancer for many reasons: diet, lifestyle, internal imbalances in her emotional health, and external sources of imbalance such as prior life events, spiritual upheavals, and the phases of the moon and nature. She shared all these reasons with me, without any cognitive dissonance, meaning that she did not feel that one explanation of cause conflicted with another. As a result, she was able to embrace a multitude of healing modalities to support her both physically and mentally. She accepted the chemotherapy from the western oncologists, the herbal treatments from her ayurvedic practitioner, the spiritual guidance from her Guru, the family remedies from her elders, etc. And, significantly, all the involved practitioners and healers worked in concert, without disdain, accepting each healer’s role in the fabric of her care. Was her outcome better than that of a patient in NY? Perhaps not if measured by longevity. But if measured by quality of life, internal peace, and familial acceptance, certainly.

Wellness and healing must take place in the context of culture: expansive and inclusive, not reductive and judgmental. The process of healing requires a partnership of patient and healers, based on cooperative respect.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I would say two things: I was timid and I did not set boundaries. I was timid to introduce my non-traditional healing training, the Ayurveda, into my practice of medicine because at the time, most of the medical profession considered it “alternative “ (translate fringe or quackery). Despite the fact that Ayurveda is a 6,000 year old medical tradition!

To this day, very recently actually, I had a cardiologist literally berating me for suggesting to one of her patients that her blood pressure medicine may become unnecessary if she was able to attain changes that were sustainable in her diet and lifestyle. And a pediatrician who was angry that I had not prescribed antibiotics over the phone to one of his patients who may have had an ear infection (85% of which are viral in an immunized child). It took many years of working, and a slow introduction of Ayurveda into my practice, before I felt fully comfortable presenting my practice as and treating patients with an integrated, or as I prefer, collective approach.

And boundaries — I still have a hard time limiting my patients’ access to me for support. I have three children, two of which are now adults, one now a teenager; but when they were younger at home, my work often spilled over into my family time. They are, and were amazing — they came with me to work in Malawi at a children’s orphanage, they came with me to Indonesia to review a maternal-fetal health program, and they came to my office many weekends if there was an emergency when I was a single parent. But it can take its toll. Now it is one of the first things I discuss with residents in training: finding ways to be both a compassionate caregiver and be available for your family, friends and self.

It’s hard for people who are committed to healing to find the right balance between caring for self and caring for others. And as a parent, that boundary is already challenging. I think the lesson to share is an old one: you cannot care fully for others if you have not established a way to reliably care for self. Sounds good right? But its a challenge.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful to so many, that is hard to answer. Professionally there are two, first Dr. Jimmie Holland, who was the Chief of Psychiatry at Memorial Sloan Kettering, who gave me my first job in the hospital working with children who were suffering from leukemia, and their parents. She was the one who believed that, even though I had not chosen the typical “pre-med” route, had chosen medical anthropology, that I could be accepted in and thrive at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. No one in my family is/was a doctor, so this was uncertain territory for me and she pushed me forward, gently but firmly. The second was Dr. Arthur Kleinman, one of the founders of medical anthropology, who was my thesis advisor at Harvard. He taught about the healthcare within the context of culture, and taught me how to bring that perspective to the practice of medicine.

Personally, like so many of us, I am grateful for the unending support of my mother, who believes that the world is the classroom, often more valuable than any textbook or lesson plan, and my children, who taught me what it means to care for the whole person. I was in Indonesia with my two older daughters and their father. We went to a small village because I had been called to see a gravely ill young woman with a massive abdominal tumor. Inside her very tiny hut, filled with town elders and neighbors, she lay on a bare bed while I examined her. Afterwards, my daughters asked me so many questions, but the two questions that resonate to this day are — what does she feel like right now? Does she want your help?

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

A bigger impact on the world is a tall order, my hope is to help people understand that the goal is to make small, attainable change for sustainable wellness. Unlike the earlier “self-help” books in the 80s, which were “shed the old, begin a new” or the many promises of “ten days to a better you” that continue to attract vulnerable people seeking wellness, my focus is on understanding and embracing what is the self, supporting self, not rejecting or rehauling self. I work to help people take small steps: consistent, and sustainable adjustments that improve the daily sense of equanimity. I hope my work encourages people to look past instant fixes and roller-coaster diets and find a way to embrace what they have and simply tweak it slowly, gently with acceptance.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Establish a daily routine: ​This may seem impossible for many of us because life/work/family can seem so chaotic and ever-changing. But very simple daily routines, especially in the morning to start the day, can have a profound impact not only on our mental balance but also our physical wellbeing: blood pressure, cortisol levels etc. Try simply waking up ten minutes earlier than you must. Take those ten minutes to self-massage (abhayngha).

Make sure to move: Even if you are too busy to maintain a rigorous exercise program, do not beat yourself up. Start with simple, attainable action steps that you can sustain and then build on that. Start with 10–15 minutes a day committed to moving as vigorously as is safe for your body. Take a brisk walk and focus only on the sounds you hear. Spend the time doing sun salutations. Calisthenics before you get ready for work. Dancing to the music as you make breakfast. Anything that is fun and promotes your circulation.

Examine your nutrition​: The easiest lesson from Ayurveda is that all wellness, balance, and equanimity begins in the digestive tract. Each meal should try to consist of many colors, this is an easy way to ensure you are getting a variety of nutrients.

Food as medicine: ​It is always better to eat your nutrients than to take supplements but it is important to understand what your body needs. There is nothing more important for your sense of wellness than to have your nutrition in balance.

Listen to your body​: Our body is an extraordinary and sophisticated organism, that’s designed to maintain homeostasis. Everything we do to our bodies is autocorrected as best as possible by our cellular intelligence. So when things feel “off” its our body telling us what we need. Please try to listen and respond.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Chopra says that his goal is to have the world meditate, that this would improve the global health and minimize conflict. I believe him. But if I could start a movement, it would be to irradicate hunger. Food as medicine, food as nourishment, food as sustainable wellness — food creates possibilities, opportunities, attainable changes.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Your work will require a lot of patience and a sense of humor

Learn to cook

Pay attention to your sleep

Start slowly

Delegate

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Sustainability: I feel very strongly that our culture does not support simple steps towards attaining wellness. Certainly with the environment, but also with our own wellbeing. I work with new patients that are so hard on themselves; they want instant and dramatic changes, and then get discouraged when they “fail”. Sustainability in human behavior, like sustainability in business practices, is about making choices that are attainable, realistic. Choices that enable you to feel proud, supported, and free of self judgement. Choices that you can then build on. The goal is to establish a life pattern; enabling each person to find a daily existence, daily routine, that is healthy, filled with joy, satisfying, and filled with certainty. Living in the present moment. It is a challenge in our modern chaotic world, but it is accessible.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

www.vedahealth.com, www.vedapure.net

Instagram: @veda.health, @drnataliegeary, @vedapure

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