Connect to love. Love is the spirit of life. Think of when you are in love — you have wings, you have tons of energy, and you feel alive! Spiritual wellness happens when you connect with all the love around you. Have you ever thought of nature as supporting you? Have you ever thought about all the systems in place that support you on your journey? Look at nature for a role model: there is a relationship of support and balance in nature that exists amongst all things, including you. We don’t often think about these things. Most of us are busy achieving big objectives. Take a moment and connect to the spirit of life, the supporting nature of relationships between you and others and between you and your environment, and your spirit will thank you!
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 interviewing Dr. Yasmine Saad.
Dr. Yasmine Saad is a multicultural, licensed clinical psychologist, whose mission is to help people achieve well-being at the body-mind-spirit level. Her holistic approach to well-being has ranked her among the top three psychologists in New York City. She is sought after nationally and internationally for her approach to wellness. She is the founder and CEO of Madison Park Psychological Services, a private group practice in NYC that helps people achieve balance in body, mind, and spirit.
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?
I was born in Lebanon during the civil war of 1975–1990. I believe that having lived the terror of war at a young age was the best preparation and training to become a psychologist. Having endured and processed intense emotions at a young age, I am very well equipped to help others move through emotions of varying intensity.
As a child, I moved to Paris with my parents, and I remember vividly what it was like adjusting to a new culture. Although I could understand and speak French, going through the process of acculturation at a young age was challenging. Ultimately, though, it helped me adjust more easily to moving to the United States when I was an adult. It helped shape my perspective on cross-cultural psychology, and it turned out to be the best training for helping my current patients navigate culture, race, and religious acculturation.
Growing up, I was drawn to helping others feel better. I found it satisfying and fulfilling. Many peers commented on my calm demeanor and sought my help with performance anxiety. I vividly remember enjoying helping them and felt very connected to each of them. I decided at age 16 to become a psychologist even though the decision was controversial at the time. I was attending a very reputable school in a track that focused on math. Most of the students graduating from this track were encouraged to apply to prestigious business schools or engineering programs. The idea of giving up that career track to engage in a pursuit that had no security and no prestige was very controversial. A lot of people thought I had lost my mind. Even my father did not understand my choice at first, and in one of our conversations, he expressed worry about how I would support myself. I remember telling him that I would just be the best at what I do … and here we are today: thirty years later, I am rated among the top three psychologists in New York City, where I now oversee a large group practice. I have trained many successful psychologists and helped numerous patients. I love what I do, and I am humbled by what life has given me.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Following my passion and what I love to do has been my inspiration. I clearly remember when I made the decision to be a psychologist. I was age 16 and while I was finishing a math test, I was contemplating what kind of work I would do in the future. As I mentioned, my track at school led to careers in business or engineering. An image came to my mind: I was sitting behind a desk managing people’s money, and I was utterly bored. I thought this work would never do it for me. I reflected on what I liked and thought of my friends’ appreciation of my calm demeanor and the help I offered them when it came to test anxiety. I understood that this is what I wanted to do: I wanted to help people! I wanted to help them feel better! When I arrived home, I told my mother my decision. She replied, “It is made for you!”
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?
A lot of help and encouragement came from various family members.
The first person was my mother. I was lucky to have a mother who thought that this career was a good fit for me and encouraged me to pursue what I loved. She believed that the only thing that is important in life is love, therefore her priority was providing love to her child. I am very close to my mother, and my relocation to the United States to pursue my PhD in clinical psychology was very difficult on her. Her only child was now many miles away. I am very grateful to her to have supported me in pivotal decisions in my life.
The second person was my father, who pushed me to be the best at what I do.
The third person is my uncle, who helped me financially so I could afford to pursue a PhD in the United States.
My husband, who is also a clinical psychologist, stimulated my thinking and believed in me all along.
And finally, GrandMaster Nan Lu, under whom I have studied principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the links between the body, the mind, and the spirit (meaning the essence of who you are), has been very influential in helping me go deeper in my understanding of psychology. Thanks to him, I have been able to ignite my body’s healing ability, sharpen my intuition, and discover numerous body-mind-spirit links that I can now share with patients.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?
The funniest mistake that I made in my career happened when I started treating patients in Spanish. I was still new to New York and in training. I was asked to treat several patients in Spanish. One of my patients was talking about his girlfriend and used a word I did not know to describe his feelings about her. He said, “Soy encojonado.” I told him that I didn’t know this expression. He explained that it was another word for angry and that it conveyed more intensity than the word I knew for anger. The next day, I saw another patient who was expressing the same emotions. Very proud of knowing the exact word for his emotion, I told him that he was “encojonado.” His reaction was shocked. He proceeded to tell me that he respected me and for this reason would not get offended as I likely did not know the word I was using. I apologized and I explained that another patient had told me that it meant angry. This second patient went on to explain to me that “encojonado” came from “cojones”, which I knew the meaning of. I quickly understood that I was using totally inappropriate language for therapy and apologized. The patient ended up laughing and it became a funny story. The word “encojonado” resonated so deeply with my first patient.
I learned the value of understanding each patient’s use of language. It helped me a lot with patients from various countries, who use the same word but with different meanings. I ended up reflecting on my own use of the English language. Should I tell a patient “it feels sad,” “you look sad,” or “I feel sad for what you went through”? What was the impact on the patient of each of these ways to express a feeling? This question led me to study how using semantics that match those of each patient determines the effectiveness of therapy, which became the subject of my dissertation.
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?
The book, Psychotherapy of Neurotic Characters, by David Shapiro was very inspiring to me. It gave me clear therapeutic principles that made therapy easier and more effective while providing sophisticated understanding of how to be helpful to patients. Shapiro’s approach reminded me of my training in France and helped me integrate all the training I had received in the United States and in France. It resonated with how I was thinking. I attribute a lot of my success in therapy to the idea that everything is filtered by an intention or by a point that one wants to make that reveals inner conflict, personality traits, and upset feelings and thoughts.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I live by “making something good of something bad.” I believe that we all have ups and downs. Challenges are part of life. You can decide to see them as bad things that happen to you or use them as an opportunity for growth, to learn something about yourself, or to discover a new way to deal with something. Whenever I am faced with challenges, I always try to turn “a bad into a good.” I do believe that your approach to life shapes your life, so why not make the best of what you are given? Your power relies on how you deal with what comes your way. A lot of my successes in life came out of the growth brought on by challenges.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am very excited about integrating Western psychology with holistic Eastern principles based on Traditional Chinese Medicine to bring a body-mind-spirit approach to well-being that focuses on health. Helping people achieve well-being at multiple levels at once — that is, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being — is my passion. I have been accomplishing it on an individual level with my patients, and my plan is to take it to the collective level by organizing affordable workshops.
I have also trained a new generation of psychologists who are interested in body-mind-spirit psychology and introduced them to the power of Qigong as a way to heal oneself holistically, so that more patients can benefit. Expanding my teaching and reaching more people is my next step.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: mental wellness, physical wellness, emotional wellness, and 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.
For clarity’s sake, I will define
- mental wellness by the quality of your thoughts
- emotional wellness by the quality of your emotions
- physical wellness by how your body feels
- spiritual wellness by how fulfilled you are in life, as “spirit” refers to the essence of who you are
Your mental health depends on the quality of your thoughts. How do you expect to be happy and healthy if you are consumed with negative thoughts, even if a negative approach might actually help solve a problem? Your life will merely be a fight to get to the good, which means starting with bad to get to the good. How about we change that? Let’s first acknowledge that there is always good in everything as well as there is always bad in everything. Connecting to good will lead you to positive thoughts, positive emotions, and being more relaxed in your body. On the contrary, connecting to the negative to resolve a problem will put your mind and body in a state of fight, where it is difficult to be happy, healthy, and at ease. And unfortunately, once this fight is over, you will move on to the next one in the same frame of mind. Problems are infinite, but so are health and positivity. We just have to change the lens through which we look at life.
Let me show you how:
- Become aware of the thoughts you are having. Are they anxious thoughts? Depressed thoughts? Thoughts that are aimed at resolving a problem?
- Remove judgments about the thoughts you are having. People commonly have negative thoughts, and often layered over them are feelings of being upset about those negative thoughts. Let’s attempt to remove the layers by removing judgment. Observe your thoughts, observe your judgment about your thoughts; for example, “it is interesting that I am having this thought” and “wow, I am really judging myself here.” Your mind is like a movie projector, and when you take a minute to observe your thoughts and remove judgments, you become a movie viewer. Without observing your thoughts and removing judgment, you become an actor overwhelmed by lots of feelings. Your body and your mind become attuned to the movie your mind is playing.
- Look at things from a different angle to change your negative view of things. For example:
- Remind yourself that it is not about what you do or did. It is about what you do next. It is your reaction to life events that can help you grow or stay stuck.
- Focus on the journey rather than the results so you are not disappointed or upset if obstacles come your way.
- Find the positive in the negative. For example, you are very stressed. The positive perspective would be that life is forcing you to make adjustments so you will not be stressed. Your employee may be thinking that you are a bad manager. Refocus by acknowledging that life is pushing you to do some constructive changes that will improve your managerial style. You will be changed for the better once you explore this path.
- Connect to the intention or the purpose of something. For example, your partner is upset with you because you didn’t do the dishes. His intention is to have a tidier house; why get upset about that? A friend is criticizing you for the way you handled friendship conflict. She wants you to be a better friend, which means she values your friendship. In these examples, the ego usually gets in the way. We feel attacked and cannot see anything in a positive light. Let’s change that by connecting to the intention or the purpose of someone’s action.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Yoga and meditation can help you observe your mind, remove judgment, and let the thoughts go. However, in my experience, the mind prefers to be active and stimulated and sometimes rebels against the idea of “quieting the mind.” That is why I encourage changing the lens that you use rather than just letting go of your thoughts. I have found that an energy practice that increases your energy and rebalances you automatically renders your mind peaceful. I find such practices more powerful than those that use the mind to quiet the mind. I practice Wu Ming Qigong and have introduced my patients to it with a lot of success. Qigong is the foundation of tai chi, martial art, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. “Wu Ming” means no mind, and “Qigong” refers to energy exercises.
There are many types of Qigong. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of Wu Ming Qigong. I have found when I practice it, my body becomes relaxed, my mind becomes more peaceful, and my emotions are released without intention or effort. It has to be experienced to be understood. Similarly, twenty years ago I was explaining yoga by saying that when you stretch your body, your mind will calm down. With Qigong, I explain that as you do certain movements, everything in your body and mind and your emotions will feel better.
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.
I believe that to ensure physical wellness, you need the following:
- Good sleeping habits. Sleep helps your body and mind rebalance themselves. To maintain good sleeping habits, you need a peaceful mind. Your body can recharge only if your mind is peaceful. You can meditate, do yoga, or do Qigong to calm your mind and ensure good sleep.
- Good eating habits. I believe your body constantly communicates with you. Do you ever wonder why you are having a particular craving? On an energetic level, food rebalances the body. If your think about it, you know what some of these food cravings mean. For example, in the summer, people look forward to eating watermelon. You know very well that watermelon cools you down. In winter, you will likely not be craving watermelon. You might be craving foods that contain cinnamon or ginger. Energetically, cinnamon and ginger warm the body. But what if you crave greasy food? It simply means that your body needs it to rebalance. Most of the time your energy is running low or you are stressed when you crave junk food. Instead of indulging in the junk food, pay attention to your energy level and stress level, rebalance it differently, and your body will stop craving these foods. Also pay attention to what you think or feel, because thoughts and emotions affect your digestion. For example, what if when you were ready to eat you heard that someone you love has passed away. Would you still be hungry? A lot of people will experience a loss of appetite. You do not digest only food, you also digest thoughts and emotions.
- Movement. Everyone knows how important movement is for the body. At the quantum physical level, everything in our body is based on energy, so why not engage in an energy exercise rather than just a physical exercise? We live in a fast-paced society with limited time, so maximize your time. Some energy exercises such as Qigong have been shown to improve heart rate and heal the body at the deepest level in ways that physical exercise has not been able to achieve.
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?
Healthy eating should not come from the mind and should not be based on what you think you should eat. Healthy eating is something we are equipped with at birth. Our body gives us signs of what we need to rebalance our body through our cravings, likes, and dislikes. Have you ever wondered why one day you want to eat soup and the next day, pizza? Your food desires change according to your body’s need. I believe in understanding what your body needs.
Have you ever wondered why desserts are eaten at the end of a meal? Have you ever eaten a heavy meal and felt a bit better after dessert? Sweet helps stimulate digestion in the body, so if you are craving sweet, your digestive system needs support. If you prefer not to eat something sweet, that is fine, but find another way to rebalance your digestive system; for example, consider the thoughts and emotions you are digesting.
When you choose what you should eat based on general norms, you ignore your body’s own wisdom. Your body will then emit a stronger signal in the form of cravings, and the mind will have to cave in. Even when the body craves junk food and sweet foods, it is not a bad sign. It is simply the body’s way of calling your attention to something. Listen, and then you can decide how to rebalance, whether it be with food or with other actions.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Here are three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness.
- Let your emotions flow. This entails three steps:
- Become aware of your emotionsand acknowledge them
- Remove judgement
- Let them go by releasing them
Blocking or suppressing your emotions is very detrimental to emotional wellness, because emotions do not disappear; they in fact become bigger when blocked or repressed. It is like a ball that you push under water — it comes back with greater force. Most people suppress their emotions because they do not want to have them. Unfortunately, by pushing them down, they are only delaying the moment when they will feel them, and in that moment the emotions will manifest with greater intensity.
Figuring out how to express your emotions is essential to emotional flow. If you express your anger interpersonally, it might come back at you. It is like throwing a hot potato: the likelihood is high that it will be thrown back at you and burn you. Emotions should be released, but preferably, not interpersonally. People commonly confuse releasing emotions with talking about emotions.
- Laugh every day. Laughter connects you to the joy of life and the essence in all things. It helps your mind prioritize positive thoughts and helps your body relax. It connects you to the source of life, and thus connects you with your spirit. As such, laughing promotes emotional wellness.
- Connect to love by doing three things:
- Do one thing you love every day. Have you ever felt tired and drained yet totally reenergized just by thinking of going on vacation, for example? Doing what we love reenergizes us, and we automatically feel good. That is why choosing what you love as a profession is crucial.
- Cultivate a compassionate attitude toward yourself by treating yourself the way you would approach a lovely child. Most of us try to improve ourselves by looking at what we are missing, and we end up upset with ourselves. How are we supposed to manifest our talents, blossom, and achieve emotional well-being if we are upset with ourselves? By being kind toward yourself, you will achieve not only emotional well-being, but you will have the success and confidence to achieve more in life.
- Have a gratitude practice. This will connect you to the good in your life and will foster positive emotions and emotional well-being.
When you do what you love and foster a loving and grateful attitude toward yourself, your body relaxes and is energized, your mind becomes quieter, and you feel happy. Love heals you at the body-mind-spirit level.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Smiling from the heart promotes positive emotions and thoughts. It is almost impossible to smile from the heart and at the same time have negative thoughts or emotions. Now, if you have a fake smile or a forced smile, the effect is not as powerful. I recommend connecting to memories about times when you were smiling from the heart. Just thinking about those moments makes me happy!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Your spirit is connected to the invisible energy that is behind all things. Cultivating your energy is key to spiritual well-being.
Here are three ways to do it:
- Connect to your spirit. Your spirit is the essence of who you are, what makes you, you, and different from others. From a spiritual perspective, what you enjoy, what you like, and your talents are meant to help you on your journey and show you who you are. Look at what you like; what it says about you will help you create a life of happiness and purpose. For example, I love what I do and I feel energized and in my element after each therapy session. I also love music and dancing and I feel happy when I participate in these activities. Because I love connecting with people at a deep level, I am more prone to negative emotions when I am isolated or am experiencing a superficial connection. What about you? What makes you, you?
- Connect to love. Love is the spirit of life. Think of when you are in love — you have wings, you have tons of energy, and you feel alive! Spiritual wellness happens when you connect with all the love around you. Have you ever thought of nature as supporting you? Have you ever thought about all the systems in place that support you on your journey? Look at nature for a role model: there is a relationship of support and balance in nature that exists amongst all things, including you. We don’t often think about these things. Most of us are busy achieving big objectives. Take a moment and connect to the spirit of life, the supporting nature of relationships between you and others and between you and your environment, and your spirit will thank you!
- Have a spiritual practice. Your spirit is connected to the invisible energy that is behind all things. Certain types of yoga connect to this invisible energy and help you heal at the body-mind-spirit level. Qigong is another form of energy practice. Find the energy practice that you feel a connection with and stick with it. Healing starts at the spiritual level. All physical, emotional, and mental ailments are just manifestations of imbalance meant to attract your attention, help you get in touch with who you are, and realign yourself. For example, it is very common for people to get depressed when they are not satisfied in life. This depression is just meant to say you are missing something important to your well-being. Identify it to reconnect with the joy of life.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Energy is behind everything, including nature. Nature is the manifestation of energy flow. It took exquisite collaboration between innumerable elements to create the nature that you see. When we are in nature, the energy in our being naturally connects to the energy in nature. Our own being becomes rebalanced. It is all based on quantum physics. If you are intuitive, you feel it. A lot of people naturally know where to go on vacation. Their desire is their body’s way of saying, “I need this element to rebalance myself.” Some love the sea, others the mountains, others the forest. In Japan, studies have shown the healing effect of forest on depression. The benefits of “forest bathing” are a known phenomenon. This is why living in cities is a bit harder if one seeks a peaceful mind. I always say it is easier to become peaceful in beautiful nature and much more difficult in my apartment in New York City. But I see it as my next growth opportunity: if I can be peaceful in NYC, I can be peaceful anywhere!
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.
I believe the more deeply you connect to the good of you, the more you will connect to the good of others, and this will start a chain of love, cooperation, respect, and mutual enrichment. I would love for people to focus on the best of themselves, and just themselves, in a loving way. Once you reach a place of love toward yourself and gratitude for who you are, you will approach others differently, and your own unique contribution, energy, and humanity will create an energy field of love. If we all do that, we will achieve mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We need everyone on board, and that starts with me and you!
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 🙂
I would love to meet the Dalai Lama. He has invaluable wisdom passed down from generation to generation about happiness and well-being.
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