Dr. Monisha Bhanote: “Nature is our great healer”

Nature is our great healer. There is a reason you often see nature art and photography in hospitals. Research shows that even a picture can significantly impact our stress, mood and vitality. As newer hospitals and healing centers are being built, nature gardens for healing are being created. Nature has a physiologic impact that makes […]

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Nature is our great healer. There is a reason you often see nature art and photography in hospitals. Research shows that even a picture can significantly impact our stress, mood and vitality. As newer hospitals and healing centers are being built, nature gardens for healing are being created. Nature has a physiologic impact that makes our cells feel alive. Personally, I live for nature. I think nature provides a different kind of connection. It is life in constant movement.

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 interviewingDr. Monisha Bhanote.

Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, CCMS®, YM®TS is a triple board certified physician with expertise in Integrative Medicine, Internal Medicine and Anatomic/Clinical Pathology. She has always been fascinated by the workings of the human body, and has spent the last two decades studying how all systems in our body affect each other both on a cellular and global level. She is an experienced writer, yoga teacher, mindset and meditation facilitator and a culinary medicine chef. Her interests include the role of stress and inflammation in disease manifestation, nutrition and the human microbiome, Ayurveda and its clinical implications, applying mindfulness as a lifestyle practice, cancer and disease prevention, and improving the health and well-being of individuals through practice, education and research.

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 part of the highest migration period from India to England in the 70s. This was a time of high economic attraction and status competition for Indian families to move to the U.K. We spent a number of years there living in a one room flat, where the kitchen and facilities were shared by multiple other families. As the story for many immigrants goes, mine was not too different. The ultimate goal was to reach America where opportunity was boundless. We did arrive in the U.S. and settled in the northeast. I was one of a handful of foreigners in my school classroom which was primarily composed of middle to upper class Caucasians. I spent the next 12 years in one school system, graduating at the top of my class. My undergraduate studies kept me busy as I was pre-med and pre-law. After school I wanted to travel, but my parents wanted me to continue my education. This ultimately led me to choose medical school in Europe. Those were some of the best times of my life. The people, the culture, the food, the architecture. Europe holds a special place in my heart. The education was completely irreplaceable. It taught me not only the skills I need to be a successful doctor, but the skills I need to communicate with individuals with different backgrounds and upbringing.

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

I cannot pinpoint just one reason or one person who influenced why I do what I do. It is a combination of multiple life experiences. Personally, I learn best from experience and exposure and my curiosity is my greatest asset. If I could do all the things, I would do all the things. I have worked with some amazing clinicians that have taught me practical skills and are true healers. I have worked with some amazing researchers who are on the cutting edge of next generation technology opening my eyes to innovation. I have worked with tennis coaches, mindfulness teachers, yoga teachers and much more. Everyone has been a contributor to my trajectory. Learning is my vitality.

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?

Not everyone is lucky enough to have the support of their parents once they turn 18 and are out of the house, but my family has always been my backbone. Small as it is, we are very close. Within my family, I believe my mom, who does not appear to be a strong woman at first, really does hold everything together. Anyone who has met my mother knows they can go over, get a home cooked meal and a handful of wise words. I often wonder where she got all her wisdom. She is a college graduate, but after that she devoted her life to raise her children. Nevertheless, this mom has wisdom that comes from a deeper place. I actually think I got my curiosity from her. She will often call me and tell me about some new thing she has learned about food, health, and disease. She was the first to introduce me to Ayurveda as well.

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?

Well in my career, we try our best not to make mistakes as they can mean life or death, but I do have one story I can share, which now seems funny, but when it happened, I was in tears. One of the things they do not tell you about going to medical school in Europe is the oral exams. Now I literally did everything from grade 1 to 12, and 4 years of undergrad in the U.S. We learn how to take multiple choice exams. It is almost a requisite for every class. So, an oral exam, how does one study for that? I mean the professor can ask you about anything on the topic he wants. The story begins with sitting for my pathology exam in my second year of medical school. The exam had two parts, a written and then an oral. You had to pass the written first to get to the oral. I passed the written exam, and then I entered the room for the oral exam. There were three professors in front of me, holding the infamous pathology textbook people still use in their hands. The test went like this, tell me what do you know about neoplasia? As I described the process of neoplasia, he then paged through the text and said, tell me about the different pathologic findings in glomerular kidney disease? The book opened and closed and the questions went on and on like this for what felt like an eternity. Then there was a question, that seemed so simple. He wanted me to describe a bovine heart. The word I will forever remember is “bovine.” At that moment, I was a total loss, I did not know what he was asking of me and then it was sadly over. I could not answer the question correctly. He said, you have one more chance, please return to take the exam again. Now for a student, this is just the end of the world. I did return and take that exam and of course pass, but it did teach me something. There are some things I can control and some that are out of my hands. My starting medical school class size was 200 people. My graduating class size was 25. Every year 50% of the students were cut. There is no way to talk your way out of an oral exam. You have to study. You have to know the subject. You have to continue to learn in order to grow.

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?

Most of my career has been spent reading medical texts and journals, but there are a few books which have opened my mind to a new way of thinking. One of these books is “You can heal your life” by Louise Hay. I came across this book from one of my patients. When you come from a very scientific background like me, yet there are some things that we cannot explain, exploration is worth the trip. At first, I found the writing to be quite spiritual and almost lofty in nature. Then, as I read it over, I realized this woman was way ahead of her time. The book was written in 1984 and she was talking about the mind-body connection. Something that has taken almost thirty years to become part of regular conversation that many are taking notice to now. In her book she says “your mind is tool for you to use in any way you wish, the way you now use your mind is only a habit, and any habit can change be changed if we want to do so.” Powerful words! Ultimately, we are in control of our own lives and it is up to us to choose what we want to do.

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

Two quotes, both by the same individual, Mahatma Gandhi and the third quote by me.

Quote 1: “The future depends on what you do today”

Quote 2: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”

Quote 3: “Your well-being is non-negotiable”

The words are so simple, yet extremely influential. The first two quotes resonate with me in a compelling way. If the future depends on what we do today, then if we do nothing, nothing will change. That is why every day, I am learning, growing and evolving. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago; I am not the same person I was yesterday. Every day, I am evolving by doing what I do. Secondly, there is some grace in the approach one takes. You definitely don’t need to create a rumble. You can still shake the world in your own unique gentle way.

I included my quote in here as a reminder to myself. At the end of the day, we are all trying to achieve some level of health, happiness and success so we should never negotiate on our dreams and goals.

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

I have a number of projects I am working on that will help people to be empowered in taking control of their own well-being. As the Well-being Doctor™ my mission is to provide as many people I can with a roadmap to apply health habits and rituals into their busy lives that will enhance their health, happiness and success. Through my platform, I share my recommendations from a cellular perspective, helping them understand and apply wellness as a whole so they can live a calm, happy, balanced lifestyle, once and for all. In the fall, my latest book release will be a culmination of over 20 years of experience in health and wellness and how individuals can apply this knowledge for themselves.

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, & 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 brain is a complicated organ with numerous pathways and connections to our entire body. It can be the source of great strength and great weakness, therefore, understanding your own brain and how it functions best is fundamental. For me, the word habit has always had a negative association. A habit is an unconscious urge to do something that is triggered by a cue. It can be as simple as picking up your next Starbucks every time you walk by the coffee shop even when you are not thirsty. On the other hand, when you make something your routine, it becomes a deliberate practice that you do because you plan to do it. This is a great first step, but for optimal mental wellness, I highly suggest the power of ritual. In a ritual you are putting an intention behind your action. You are using your conscious awareness and being mindful of what you do. Research has shown that mindfulness can improve focus, boost memory, decrease emotional reactivity and decrease stress.

The next thing I would like individuals to look at to optimize the mental wellness is their sleep. Anyone that tells you they can function on 4 hours of sleep and be productive, may not be doing it naturally, and at the end of the day is not helping their body. We have stages of sleep that are categorized as non-REM (rapid eye movement) and REM sleep and required in order for our body to heal. During the night, our body cycles through these stages 3 to 4 times, each cycle lasting anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours. When our body is in the deepest stage of sleep, our cell regeneration occurs, our tissues repair and grow and our immune system strengthens. When you deprive your body from the sleep it needs, you are opening yourself up to irritability and mental distress, even compromising decision making and creativity.

The third thing I would like people to consider is how much do you actually move. More than 50 million Americans are living sedentary lives, which is putting them at risk for chronic illnesses and affecting their mental health. Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity and 2 muscle strengthening activities a week. That is 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week and a majority of the country is not doing that. Studies even demonstrate that lack of physical exercise can lead to depression and dementia. We do have to be realistic with what our bodies can physically do and how much time we have, but doing nothing is not helping your mental state. Physical activity, even walking, can improve your mood, sleep quality, and reduce stress, anxiety and fatigue. It all goes back to that very complex connection between our brain and our other organs I mentioned earlier. Our body produces the feel good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine that we need, but we have to provide it with both the blood flow and the nutrients.

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 have a specific yoga practice I follow, in fact, I became so fascinated with the mind-body connection that I decided to do a deep dive into the science and have become a Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist with over 500 hours of training and I am also a Yoga for Cancer Recovery teacher. The yoga practice that works best for me is a flow practice such as Hatha or Vinyasa that gets me out of my head and on to my mat. The practice allows the connection between breath and movement. Now I will tell you, it took me time to develop a taste for yoga. My first yoga class was actually at a Bikram yoga studio that was heated about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. After that class, I was so physically sick, I did not enter another studio for years. So, the lesson here is, there are many different practices of yoga, and you just have to find the one that fits. Also, yoga is a practice and you can start at any level and continue to practice for the rest of your life. As for meditation, I use a variety depending on my needs. Some of my favorites include body scan meditation, loving-kindness mediation, and breath awareness meditation. Consistency is key, so I tend to do a daily 10-minute mediation every day.

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.

Movement is essential for our body. In fact, when we don’t move our muscle atrophies and our joints have no way of getting lubricated, so we actually feel worse. There is often a trend to go for the latest workout and push our body in a way that is not sustainable. I have worked with a number of clients that go to high intensity trainings, 3–4 times a week, drink the recommended protein shakes from those facilities and are metabolically unhealthy. So, I favor to find a full body exercise (walking, biking, swimming, tennis, dancing) that uses all the muscles and that you can do every day for at least 30 minutes minimum. This exercise should also be enjoyable. If you don’t enjoy it, your body will not respond the way you want it to.

The second habit for optimal physical wellness is to have a form of myofascial release. The fascia is such an interesting connective tissue network that basically encases our entire body and we simply do not give it the attention it deserves. Since the fascia can become stiff and be a source of pain due to its numerous nerve endings and pressure receptors, incorporating a 5–10 minute daily self-myofascial release technique will assist in releasing some tension.

The third habit is to fuel your physical body appropriately. When I mean appropriately, I mean incorporating a well balance meal. The focus is often on high protein to reduce muscle soreness and promote muscle repair is important, but high protein can lead to excess stress on some of our organs. There is a difference, if you are a full-time athlete, versus, someone who works out to stay healthy. Protein and nutrient needs will vary. Working closely with your health care provider and getting a personalized plan can be beneficial to optimizing performance.

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 is definitely one of the items I see my clients struggle with on a daily basis. I have found much success with them when I can break it down to eating food that will make your cells function optimally. I delve deep into the antioxidant, vitamin, phytonutrient, etc. content with them. We talk hormones, neurotransmitters, and everything in between to make our cells function optimally. Based on that understanding, then we apply the foods that will give them the building blocks to make this happen. Ultimately it comes down to eating a predominantly whole foods plant-based diet a majority of the time, with flexibility for occasions. Of course, limiting the major offenders such as processed foods, poor quality oil, pesticides and sugar are key. Once, individuals have that understanding, the blockage appears to be time in the day. As a formally trained culinary medicine specialist, eating healthy does not need to take long and can actually save your money. Some of my best and most nutritious meals are made in under 15 minutes.

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

So often when people think of emotional wellness, they may not consider that many things are within their control. With some good “brain hygiene” you can definitely optimize your emotions. The brain houses our perception to the world and how we handle our response to it. The intricate circuitry can either help you or hinder you. Here are my top three habits to give your brain the care it needs.

Feed your brain the food it needs. Our brain is actually 60 percent fat, so it is no wonder that eating a low fat no fat diet makes us irritable. What does benefit our brain is eating the right kind of fat. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acid foods such as avocados, olive oils and nuts can fuel our brain and protect us from a number of diseases. It also helps increase the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is important in memory and learning. I have found that this is a hurdle for some of my female clients who are concerned about putting on weight if they eat fat, yet they are also dealing with emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. When they start incorporating the nutrition they need for their brain, overtime, they do start feeling better. It is not just the fat; it is a well-balanced approach with foods that contain the precursors to all our neurotransmitters.

The next tool for brain hygiene is a way to process your emotions. One of favorite ways is to journal. It may seem childlike, as if we were hiding a diary under our bed, but journaling provides a safe outlet to process any stressful experience. Numerous studies have shown that it can mitigate mental distress, improve mood, decrease anxiety, and increase overall well-being. My experience has been the individuals who find journaling as a difficult task have higher levels of distress. For them, using journaling prompts can be just as beneficial. Just like anything in life, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

Lastly, although sleep is in my top 10 of brain hygiene, since we already talked about that, I want to discuss having strong boundaries. Boundaries between friends, family, and colleagues can be a form of self-care. You can only show up as your best self for others, when you have taken the time to be true to yourself, your thoughts, your feelings and your own decisions. I have a client who spent the last decade taking care of her family and her job, and putting herself last. She left her job because she was so burned out and her family still suffered. She avoided taking care of herself and felt great guilt when she did. Only after taking the time, to start her own healing, did she also find improvement in her families healing. The family unit is one very interconnected system that needs both a central hub and a boundary bubble.

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

There is no doubt that smiling improves your mood and overall well-being. The release of feel-good endorphins when you smile is like a free pharmacy. I even saw some research that showed that smiling can increase your life span.

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

I often ask this the question to my clients: Do you have a have a spiritual practice? The responses really do vary as people interpret spiritual wellness in many ways. There is no right or wrong answer here. It is more of how we socially connect with our emotions. The Sanskrit word “samskaras” are essentially imprints created in our mind by our habits. These samskaras play a role in our thoughts and actions. When we can develop a practice of awareness to step out of this samskara, we can then create new neural circuits that may increase our well-being. The habits I would like to share may allow one to break our negative patterns and create new ones.

Spending time alone is not for everyone, but it can help us cultivate better relationships, create stronger memories and make us more innovative. Our brain can reboot in solitude. This is creating self-spiritual wellness.

Many of us have heard of having an attitude of gratitude, and while it can be easier to do on the yoga mat, as soon as we step of into the real world, it becomes challenging. There is another word in Sanskrit which means gratitude: kritajna. This word when translated further means cultivated consciousness. Taking our practice off that mat creates space for awareness without judgement or expectation. This gratitude allows us to connect deeper with every moment and in a way increase our spiritual well-being.

When one is faced with a health dilemma, they can often feel as if they have lost their purpose in life. I see this often with my cancer patients. Even after they have completed treatment, they have lost their identity of who they were before and created a new identity which they don’t recognize in the mirror. Taking time to connect and give to others can provide a sense of purpose and be a healthy spiritual practice. It is a mood booster and the sense of community created can increase your own self-esteem and well-being.

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

Nature is our great healer. There is a reason you often see nature art and photography in hospitals. Research shows that even a picture can significantly impact our stress, mood and vitality. As newer hospitals and healing centers are being built, nature gardens for healing are being created. Nature has a physiologic impact that makes our cells feel alive. Personally, I live for nature. I think nature provides a different kind of connection. It is life in constant movement.

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 would really like to see an evolution that well-being is attainable. I think prevention of disease and a focus on increasing awareness, not only for people, but for our entire planet is necessary. Every individual has a choice and our health span should be a top priority. I would like to see more people take an approached to plant based nutrition, not only for their health but for the well-being of animals, water and land.

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 🙂

If given the chance, I would really enjoy a private lunch with Roger Federer. I have been watching his tennis game for a long time. He appears like a gazelle to me most of the time with his captivating backhand. When he is in flow, he really is unstoppable. Then there are some rare moments, when it is almost as if his brain is processing something else, and well, those shots are not necessarily what he intended. I would love to sit down and talk to him about what is going on in his brain and any well-being rituals he uses to optimize his performance.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can certainly keep up to date with me and my Integrative Well-being newsletter at www.drbhanote.com

And you can follow me on social media at:


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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