Heidi Bright of ‘Bright Concepts’: “Exhale slowly through your right nostril”

When I feel good, I find it much easier to eat nutritious foods. When I feel like crap, I am drawn to crappy food to self-soothe, but it always backfires and I end up feeling worse. One way to circumvent this tendency is to allow myself a small amount of the junk food — like a small handful […]

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When I feel good, I find it much easier to eat nutritious foods. When I feel like crap, I am drawn to crappy food to self-soothe, but it always backfires and I end up feeling worse.

One way to circumvent this tendency is to allow myself a small amount of the junk food — like a small handful of corn chips or a piece of chocolate. Then I sit down and do nothing — no talking, no reading, no listening — and instead only focus on each morsel. I extract as much pleasure as I can from it. This way I don’t feel deprived. Then I get up and refocus my attention.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingHeidi Bright, an aggressive end-stage cancer survivor, knows the terror and powerlessness of a difficult diagnosis — and how to thrive beyond it by cultivating wellbeing.

After two years of cancer treatment, starting in 2009, Heidi was told to get her affairs in order, yet has been free of evidence of cancer and free of cancer treatment since 2011.

A national speaker, traditionally published author, guest on the radio and television, and personal coach, Heidi’s passion is to assist others with optimizing their total health.

You can learn more about Heidi at https://thriversoup.com/

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Three threads that started during my childhood have braided themselves together throughout my life. The first strand to emerge was my love for horses, especially Arabians. As a child, I loved Walter Farley’s “Black Stallion” series. That love soon merged with my second passion, writing. When I was 8 years old, I asked for a blank book. I have since filled about eighty of them with my musings, and did end up on staff for four horse magazines. A third theme that became the most important to me is spirituality. It started in junior high while I was singing in a choir. I was granted a brief awareness of something incredible that defied explanation, and I have spent much of my life exploring ways to reconnect with that awareness.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

That spiritual experience drove me to look for a career in the Christian church. However, during the 1970s, I was not exposed to women of the cloth and did not see any other viable vocational options. Sighing heavily, I set that longing aside to study journalism and write for horse magazines. Eventually, it dawned on me that I could write about spirituality. My sites turned to seminary, and I earned a master’s in theology and communication. My studies inspired my first book, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage (Smyth & Helwys, 1998), which resolved my distress about the dearth of careers for women in the church. Later I wrote Keeping Sabbath: Daily Life (Circle Books/John Hunt Publishing, Ltd., 2010).

By this time I was married and had two pre-teen sons. Unfortunately, during 2009 I was diagnosed with highly aggressive end-stage uterine sarcoma, which had already metastasized to my lungs. I spent two years in medical treatment while doing everything I could to heal my life. During 2011, after my second and final lung surgery, I was out of chemotherapy options and was told to get my affairs in order. Yet the cancer has stayed away ever since, and I have remained free of cancer treatment.

Several friends urged me to write a book about what I learned so I could help save others’ lives. That book is Thriver Soup: A Feast for Living Consciously During the Cancer Journey (Sunstone Press, 2015).

Now my passion is to share all I learned to assist others with coping, surviving, and even thriving beyond devastating circumstances.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Right after being diagnosed with cancer, my sister Roselie urged me to get psychotherapy. I found a wonderful clinical psychologist, Sheryl Cohen, Ph.D. She taught me how to manage my emotions in healthy ways by allowing the physical sensations of my feelings to be what they are without thinking about them.

I believe this practice, which she calls the Map of Emotions, saved my life. It provided a moment-by-moment practice of awareness that helped me transform and heal my life, which I believe set the stage for my radical remission.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was writing for a horse magazine during the 1980s, I was asked to interview a young man who was working in the industry. I spent a couple of hours talking with him on the phone, and he told me some stories about his health that sounded a little too amazing. Instead of following my instincts and doing some fact-checking, I thought, “It’s probably true because the editor wanted me to interview him.”

I turned in my story. A few days later, my editor told me the young man had called her and admitted that much of what he told me was lies.

Lesson: Follow my intuition and check facts.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

While I was in seminary during the 1980s, a friend introduced me to Jung and the Christian Way by Christopher Bryant (Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco, 1983). I learned that night-time dreams are a powerful gateway to self-knowledge, healing, and an experience of the Divine. The first night after finishing the book, I set an intention of remembering and writing down any dreams. My first dream was a nightmare about being attacked by, instead of protected by, the U.S. cavalry. It visually portrayed a deep betrayal that had left me broken, along with the beginnings of a pathway toward healing. I turned the episode into a lifelong process of writing down my dreams and seeking understanding. This has opened up a huge world to me — my dreams have guided many of my decisions, helped during my healing journeys, and have gotten me in better touch with the ineffable.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I love “To thine own self be true,” from the play HamletbyWilliam Shakespeare. The most important lesson I learned from the cancer experience is to be authentic with myself and with others. It’s not always easy for me; it is a continuing practice and a goal.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

When I came out of cancer treatment, my firstborn son Brennan was fifteen years old and had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, combined with severe insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Without my knowledge, he found ways to self-medicate, starting with my leftover, unused pain pills from my surgeries.

Despite several rehabs and programs, in June 2015 he overdosed for his third and final time and died. He was only 19.

To manage my grief in as healthy a way as possible, I immediately began using the methods I had learned from my psychotherapist and used during my cancer treatment. I dove deeply into my anguish, a process I believe helped protect me from the return of the cancer.

Many people told me the second year of bereavement would be the worst. I did not find this to be true, and I credit this to my fully embracing all of my pain from the start. For six months after Brennan’s passing, I lived in pure hell. But then, bit by tiny bit, the grief began to lift.

I first shared this method in a chapter I contributed to a book by Meryl Hershey Beck titled “Loss, Survive, Thrive: Bereaved Parents Share Their Stories of Healing and Hope” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019) and on my Grieving and Addict website. I have also shared it in “Grieving and Addict,” a book I’ve authored that is in the final editing stages.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In our work, we talk a lot about cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The most important mental habit I learned during psychotherapy is the practice of awareness. This involves paying attention to what I’m thinking from one moment to the next. Often I discovered my mind reviewing the same script over and over, like a bad newsreel.

My psychotherapist taught me that the minute I recognize I’m falling into an old mental rut I can divert my attention toward feeling my feet in my shoes or focusing on my breath. The more I practiced, the easier it became. I began to identify less with the mental gyrations and more with the part of me able to witness what I was thinking.

Another habit I formed during cancer treatment is being authentic with myself and others. After my cancer diagnosis, I began catching myself smiling and nodding too often instead of being true to my feelings. I realized this habit was rooted in a childhood-invoked fear of abandonment.

To counter this pattern, my psychotherapist urged me to pay attention to my needs first. Tai chi grandmaster Vince Lasorso also encouraged me to be self-full by honoring who I truly am.

Gradually I began to understand that my authentic self is the greatest gift I can give to myself and others.

A third important mental habit is practicing forgiveness. I realized that when I harbored resentments, played victim or martyr, or felt disgust, I was damaging my immune system. In addition, I was replaying mental stories from the past instead of experiencing my life in the now.

My dis-ease became an invitation to practice forgiveness. First I recognized that by not forgiving others, I was insisting they become who I wanted or expected them to be, not who they are. I had the choice of remaining enslaved to my pain and self-defensive ego, or becoming free within myself. Sometimes it took several attempts to forgive, and I also had to practice forgiving myself for not fully forgiving.

When I forgave myself, I let go of guilt and self-criticism and became more whole. This freed up energy for physical healing.

Now I know when I have successfully forgiven because I physically feel a weight lift off me. I am the one who benefits, and I feel so much better.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I frequently do a “bone marrow healing” meditation taught to me by tai chi grandmaster Vince Lasorso. It involves sitting with a straight spine and quieting my thoughts. Then I focus on my feet and feel those bones lighting up to strengthen, balance, and heal. Then I do the same with my ankles. I continue this practice all the way up my body, and finish by centering my attention in my heart. By this time my whole body is tingling, and I rest in the sensations for a while.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Our bodies enjoy the innate ability to heal themselves, always seeking health rather than suffering — when we give them the opportunity. The 5,000-year-old Asian Indian health care system called Ayurveda provides guidance on how to bring our bodies back into balance for optimum physical wellness. Hari Sharma, MD, a retired pathologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, suggested the following breathing exercise each morning before eating. The purpose is to help balance and calm the body.

With a straight spine, use your right thumb to gently close off your right nostril.

Exhale through your left nostril, slowly and gently.

Inhale through your left nostril, slowly and deeply.

Close off your left nostril with your right index finger.

Release your thumb to clear your right nostril.

Exhale slowly through your right nostril.

Breathe back in through your right nostril.

Repeat this process for five to ten minutes.

A second way to optimize physical wellness is to reduce inflammation in the body. One-sixth of all cancers are directly linked to chronic inflammation. Fortunately, inflammation can be smothered through diet and supplements, such as phytochemical-rich spices, vegetables, and fruit. I have largely freed myself from processed foods, and found my organic, produce-rich diet helped reduce my discomfort during cancer treatment.

A third key to wellness is drinking plenty of fresh, clean water. I began to realize the necessity of keeping hydrated during cancer treatment. One morning, after starting chemotherapy, I woke up feeling pressure in my chest and an irregular heartbeat. With trepidation, I called the oncology nurse. She, however, thought the problems stemmed from dehydration. I spent the day drinking as much water as I could stand, and my chest soon felt better.

I suggest obtaining a good source of pure, clean, filtered water. Some water pitchers with filters are inexpensive and portable. I use glass water bottles when I leave home and drink often to keep hydrated.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

When I feel good, I find it much easier to eat nutritious foods. When I feel like crap, I am drawn to crappy food to self-soothe, but it always backfires and I end up feeling worse.

One way to circumvent this tendency is to allow myself a small amount of the junk food — like a small handful of corn chips or a piece of chocolate. Then I sit down and do nothing — no talking, no reading, no listening — and instead only focus on each morsel. I extract as much pleasure as I can from it. This way I don’t feel deprived. Then I get up and refocus my attention.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

To lead an abundant life, we need full access to our internal emotional energies. When we ignore or repress our emotions, we get sucked dry, thrown out of balance, and made vulnerable to illness.

After my cancer diagnosis, I wanted to experience the free, healthy flow of my emotions and energy. I began seeing Dr. Sheryl Cohen, a clinical psychologist, who taught me how to do this through what she calls the Map of Emotions.

She explained that when we have emotional responses, our brains dump chemicals into our bloodstreams to create the fight-flight-freeze response. We can manage these dumps by letting go of thinking and instead focusing on the sensations of our emotions as they move through our bodies and then dissipate. The feelings usually lift within 90 seconds. When I practice this process, I find I sometimes have to repeat the 90-second cycle several times before I feel better. I believe it helped save my life because it kept my emotions from getting stuck in my tissues.

Another way to let go of stuck emotions is to sit or lie down alone and start sighing. Keep sighing for several minutes. This can help the body let go of blocked energy. When I have done this, I soon found myself groaning, moaning, and crying. Ultimately I felt better.

A third method is through scattered, irregular, or unpredictable bodily activities, such as spontaneous laughter. When my boys were teenagers, I hung up a “comedy board” and posted something new and funny every day. It always lifted our moods.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

After I was diagnosed with cancer, writer Charley Sky authored a lovely column for a local magazine, asking the community to support me with prayer, visualizations, and positive intentions. He intuitively knew the symbol for my journey was the bright yellow smiley face. He encouraged others to place smiley faces where they could see them as reminders to pray for me.

Images of bright yellow smiley faces started arriving on notes and cards, lifting my spirits. I purchased 100 smiley-face buttons and gave them away while requesting support. I began visualizing my body as a big, happy face, filled with individual cells that beamed their bright smiles.

Many people would later tell me they kept their buttons in visible locations and would pray for me whenever they noticed them. Yellow smiley faces kept showing up as gifts from friends and family — tangible expressions of others’ love in action. This bolstered my confidence in my outcome.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I learned that when I’m in my thinking/judging mode, I’m not being present with others or even with myself. One way I found of letting go of my ego for a moment and deepening into spiritual awareness is to focus on my breath. Not changing it, just noticing it. Then I become more quiet and attentive.

A second way to move toward spiritual wellness is to take in one’s outer surroundings. I began doing this, while undergoing chemotherapy, by sitting outside during the spring and summer. I became fully present to trees as their leaves unfurled, hickory buds as they sprouted, and sunlight as it speckled the trunks and ground. By setting my intention and attention, I transformed the mundane into the sacred. This helped me during the rest of my day with stepping back mentally, observing what I was thinking, and moving outside of my ego to be more fully present.

A third good habit is to pay attention to how you set and achieve goals. Sometimes our objectives can create barriers to true living. For example, if I had reached my goal of a clean scan early in my cancer treatment, I would have missed some valuable healing opportunities and beautiful experiences later during the process. If we let go of determinedly reaching specific objectives, we might find more internal freedom and can entertain more possibilities. This allows the mystery of life to unfold, moving us into a state of awe and wonder. By doing this, I learned that I can influence my life by living in the moment, making wise choices, and letting go of excessive striving. As a result, I grow in awareness and deepen into life itself.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

When I walk in the woods, I feel bathed in peace. I’ve learned it’s not just my imagination. It’s real. The Japanese have a phrase for taking in the healing properties of the woods: shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.”

Studies show that forest environments calm us and help our bodies heal. While enjoying time in the woods, we are literally being showered with essential oils that prevent the growth of attacking organisms.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

An estimated 9.6 million people died of cancer during 2018. During 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer was estimated at US 1.16 trillion dollars.

Because I have personally done the nearly impossible by entering into radical remission from highly aggressive end-stage cancer, I know the value of complementary medicine. I would have died without access to a multitude of integrative therapies. To help meet the widespread needs of cancer patients, I would love to see the growth of integrative healing centers where every aspect of health is addressed — physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social. I believe that ultimately, these centers could be economical and cost-effective game-changers because they will greatly reduce the terrible cost to society of disease and lost lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

My son, Jason, was only 11 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer and expected to die. Two years later his dad and I decided to divorce, which is really hard on kids. And then, when he was 17, he lost his brother Brennan. When Jason’s favorite fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, gave a book signing in Chicago a few years ago, we made a trip up there from Cincinnati just to attend the signing. I would love to enjoy a private breakfast or lunch with Brandon and bring Jason along to meet him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can find me on my “Thriver Soup” website for blog posts, media appearances, social media links, and more. For my upcoming book for those who have lost a loved one to addiction, you can find helpful blog posts on my “Grieving an Addict” website.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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