“Be Creative.” with Beau Henderson & Dr. Shamini Jain

My dream is to see humanity realize and actualize its full healing potential, so that we can all live healthy, fulfilling and peaceful lives. To achieve such a lofty vision will necessitate major transformations, including within our healthcare and scientific systems, as well as within ourselves. This is what has motivated me to create the […]

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My dream is to see humanity realize and actualize its full healing potential, so that we can all live healthy, fulfilling and peaceful lives. To achieve such a lofty vision will necessitate major transformations, including within our healthcare and scientific systems, as well as within ourselves. This is what has motivated me to create the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI) — a collaborative accelerator that brings together diverse perspectives to advance the science and education of healing. It is time for us to reclaim our own power and agency in healing.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things, Anyone Can Do to Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shamini Jain, a psychologist, scientist, and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder and CEO of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, a collaboration of scientists, healthcare practitioners, innovators, and artists to help lead humanity to heal ourselves. She’s also an Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at UC San Diego.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have been fascinated with healing and human potential since childhood. I was born in South Carolina, into an East Indian Jain household, surrounded by Baptist Christian friends who I would sometimes go to church with. I read voraciously as a child and wondered why all the discussions of spirituality, consciousness, and healing were relegated to religion and not to mental and emotional health. These ancient books talked about spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation as also influencing our health and well-being. I kept wondering how those types of practices really influenced our health and healing.

As I grew older, I sought to understand healing through the lens of science. Through my undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral studies at Columbia University, UC San Diego, and UCLA, I’ve conducted clinical research in the areas of meditation, hands-on healing, and other integrative medicine practices from the scientific lens of neurophysiology and psychoneuroimmunology.

As I began to uncover from my own research how these consciousness-based healing practices actually impacted our mental and physical health, I began meeting other scientists and healers who were doing similar work — but the scientists had trouble getting funding for their healing research and the healing practitioners had trouble sharing that there was actually scientific evidence behind what they were doing. This is what has motivated me to create the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI) — a collaborative accelerator that brings together diverse perspectives to advance the science and education of healing. We have solutions to some of the world’s biggest mental and physical health crises — and those solutions start from within.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the experiences that stick in my mind was a therapy session I was conducting with a young female veteran at a VA Hospital in the US. She had been referred to me in the weight disorders clinic, even though she was seeking treatment for PTSD. The PTSD clinic wouldn’t see her because she also had bulimia, and they wanted her bulimia to be treated first. However, the eating disorders clinic wouldn’t see her because they wanted her PTSD to be treated first. She was basically getting bounced around and ended up seeing me in the weight disorders clinic.

I treated her as a person, not her disorder. My goal was to get her well and living the life she desired, not put her in a box. As we developed a relationship and began exploring her early traumatic experiences, she had an “aha!” moment where she recognized how she had formed a core belief — that the world was unsafe — when she was attacked by a stranger on the street while walking home from school at five years old. When she realized the connection between that early experience, her belief formation, and how it had shaped her life, it was like a huge light went on in her mind. She realized she didn’t have to hold on to that old belief anymore and allow it to shape her reality.

As she came to that realization, I literally felt something leave the room. It was palpable like a huge shadow exited her being. From that moment forward, her life completely changed. She stopped binging and purging, and she got insight on how to best handle difficult life situations. She got into a stable, loving relationship for the first time in her life, married that person, and had a child. I was left realizing that the best thing a therapist can do, just like a healer, is to lead the person into a state of self-realization. Our job is not to fix things or people because none of us are ever truly broken. A healer or therapist’s job is largely to hold the space so that you can have the insights you need to change your life for the better.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I remember as a graduate student, helping write a very large grant proposal to look at a healing modality for heart patients undergoing surgery. As grant proposal writing generally goes, there was a lot of excitement and stress around the lab. There were just a few days left for submission, and I was tasked with synthesizing all of the previous research to help justify why the study we were proposing was a good idea and what we would learn from it. It was extremely exciting and anxiety-provoking at the same time! A lot of trusts was being placed in me as a young graduate student.

I worked like crazy to get all of the information that we needed and to synthesize it into our background section. However, I forgot to save the document periodically while I was writing. This was back in the era of floppy disks and no backup clouds! As Murphy’s Law would have it, as I went to save the document for what I thought was the final draft, the document failed to save and I lost everything.

I just remember staring at the computer incredulously while my mentor looked over my shoulder, speechless. She looked at me and with as much kindness as she could muster, said, “Well, let’s see how good your memory is. You’ve got two hours to re-create what you just wrote over the last three days.” I did, and I still remember the crazy car ride trying to get to the post office to mail the grant in time for the deadline! The great ending to the story is, we actually got the grant! And, of course, I also learned: ALWAYS save your work!

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’ve been blessed to be trained by some incredible mentors, including healers and scientists. My graduate student mentor, Dr. Paul Mills, who is now a dear colleague and friend, taught me much about how to be both diplomatic and persistent in pursuing my passion for the science of healing. I had received an NIH grant to conduct a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of a hands-on-healing modality for fatigued breast cancer survivors. However, we still needed permission from the UCSD General Clinical Research Center to conduct the study. This was the first time a study on healing had been conducted at UC San Diego and as one can imagine, the skepticism was high. Paul, as my mentor, had to go to bat for me and for the study. He listened to several faculty who scoffed at the “nonsense” of the study because “there is no such thing as healing.” Paul did not react. He simply listened to what they said, and after they were done, asked very politely, “Well, if there is no such thing as healing and patients are still using these healing approaches, don’t we owe it to the patients to study whether or not it works?” That got us permission to do the study — which, by the way, did find positive effects of healing for reducing fatigue and improving cortisol rhythms in breast cancer.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Because the mind and body are so connected — they are in fact, one — taking care of your body helps take care of your mind, and taking care of your emotions helps take care of your mind and your body. To prevent burnout, it’s especially important that we allow ourselves to “rest and digest.” That literally means giving our bodies time to sleep, eat well, and digest the day. Engaging in some kind of relaxing and reflective ritual every day — whether it’s meditation, journaling, or sitting down with a loved one to unpack the day — will help us get the rest we need and prevent an accumulation of stress which leads to burnout.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

First of all, vibrate your mission. That is, ensure that before you engage with any member of your workforce, or a potential customer or funder, you are embodying the values of your organization first and foremost. When engaging with your workforce, be sure that you are able to both feel and convey a deep appreciation for their contribution to the company, and engage with them on the company’s mission. Once you have established a positive “meeting ground” like this, you’re ready to get more into problem-solving if necessary.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Ground. That is, give yourself even five minutes a day to simply feel your feet as they connect with the earth, and recognize your energetic connection with nature. Current research suggests that grounding and connecting with the earth can lessen anxiety, improve sleep, and evenimprove our immune function. Grounding helps us to feel better in our bodies and notice how our mental and emotional states affect our health.
  2. Connect. The research is very clear that loneliness kills — but the flip side of that is that connection heals. Healthwise, it’s not about how many connections we have — it’s about the quality of those connections. Don’t keep emotions bottled in. Instead, find a trusted person that you can air things out with, and with whom you can enjoy having a conversation or doing things together. If humans annoy you these days, spending time with a pet can really increase mental wellness as well.
  3. Sleep. When we don’t allow ourselves to sleep, we lose out on the restorative aspects of our parasympathetic “rest and digest” system. Sleep literally restores our mind and body. To get the best sleep, don’t have any caffeine after noon, and go to bed before 10 p.m. if possible. The mind becomes more active from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and our first sleep cycle is often the strongest — so going to bed before 10 allows you to hit that sweet spot that makes sleep an even more efficient way to promote your mental wellness.
  4. Be Creative. Creativity is our birthright and is in all of us. \Creativity opens us up to the flow of our true nature, as well as allows for emotions that may be welled deep inside of us to express themselves in a safe and often beautiful way. You can get creative in many ways — you don’t have to be a famous painter or singer to be creative. Consider cooking a new meal, dancing around the house for fun, or doing some freestyle writing to see what comes out. Allow yourself some time and space for creativity to come through you, and notice how it lifts your mood.
  5. Breathe. This is such a simple one, but so important. Research now shows how simply taking long exhales increases the activity of our vagus nerve, which slows our heart rate down. It can also dampen inflammation and generally increase parasympathetic “rest and digest” activity. From an indigenous perspective, breath is considered life itself. When we allow ourselves to simply breathe deeply, we are nourishing every cell of our body. By allowing ourselves to notice our breathing coming in and out of the body, we release ourselves from the mental chatter and give ourselves some space to simply be, and not do.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Follow your joy and passions. That goes for everyone but is very important during retirement.

I have met many people who started new companies after “retirement,” and many who were happy to let the whole idea of companies fall by the side and pursue other passions. In general, the people I’ve met who seem happiest after retirement are the ones who realized that just because they have ended their previous job, their life didn’t end. Far from it. As a retiree, you have so much to give in terms of wisdom and time, and you also have the luxury of doing it “your way.” As you engage with causes and communities that you care about, you’ll find that those connections and passions will serve you well in terms of keeping you mentally engaged, socially engaged, and emotionally fulfilled.

How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?

In my view, kids don’t get enough sleep. They are bogged down with too many commitments, including homework and extracurriculars, and don’t get enough sleep to stay mentally and physically healthy. Being on electronic devices for much of the day will not help either, and causes other types of social and emotional pressure. My biggest advice to teens and pre-teens is to unplug, get into nature, and try to sleep properly as much as possible.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

One of my favorite books is “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda, who brought yoga to the West in the early 1900s. Some of the stories in that book are quite unbelievable but tell us much about the depths and varieties of human experience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My dream is to see humanity realize and actualize its full healing potential, so that we can all live healthy, fulfilling and peaceful lives. To achieve such a lofty vision will necessitate major transformations, including within our healthcare and scientific systems, as well as within ourselves. This is what has motivated me to create the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI) — a collaborative accelerator that brings together diverse perspectives to advance the science and education of healing. It is time for us to reclaim our own power and agency in healing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite quotes actually comes from the title of a book on acceptance and commitment therapy — “Get out of Your Mind and Into Your Life,” and of course as a complement, there is the famous Nike quote: “Just Do It.”

Too often we are plagued by thoughts that keep us thinking in a circular way so we can’t take action — or worse, our thoughts of being incapable, undeserving, or some other story, prevent us from doing what we really want to do. Once we realize that those are simply thoughts of the conditioned mind — they are not really real, and our thoughts are not who we really are — we free ourselves to become who we want to be and do what we want to do.

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

Website: www.shaminijain.com and www.chi.is

Facebook and Instagram: @drshaminijain

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaminijain/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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