Dr. Greg Lane of Pacific College of Health and Science: “Nature is by far the best teacher”

Inner smiling is an actual ancient meditation technique that activates the pineal gland and accesses the hippocampus, the area in the brain that is associated with empathy and compassion. Outward smiling, simply put, is generally responded to with an equal or greater smile. Practice smiling and feel how that feels on your face. There are […]

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Inner smiling is an actual ancient meditation technique that activates the pineal gland and accesses the hippocampus, the area in the brain that is associated with empathy and compassion. Outward smiling, simply put, is generally responded to with an equal or greater smile. Practice smiling and feel how that feels on your face. There are many muscles, nerves, and blood vessels on your face all activated when we smile. It feels good and it’s contagious…in a good way. One way of getting clarity around how smiling affects us is to do this simple exercise when no one is looking at you and you have some quiet space.

Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Greg Lane, a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, California Licensed and nationally certified Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist. He currently serves as dean of graduate faculty for Pacific College of Health and Science San Diego. Dr. Lane has been in practice for over 25 years and enjoys working with all patients, helping them to enjoy a baseline of health and vitality that is sustained through proper maintenance, thus preventing injury and disease. Dr. Lane believes in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle and incorporates Mindfulness, Tai Chi and Qi Gong practices into his practice. Dr. Lane’s background includes a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from California Institute of the Arts and a Master of Science Degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.

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 and raised in San Diego, California. Growing up in a coastal region, nature and particularly the ocean has played a huge role in my life. I began surfing when I was 6 years old and continue to surf, time permitting, on a daily or weekly basis. My deep connection with the ocean and the personal spirituality it granted me led me to pursue a deeper meaning in life and explore ways to meaningfully express myself and connect with people.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.

Being very physically active since childhood, while also being interested in music and the arts, led me to explore dance as an artistic medium, means of self-expression, and connection with others. I wanted to express the beauty and deeper meanings in life beyond the mundane to a wide range of people. This led me to a professional career in dance. I toured internationally with the Lewitzky Dance Company for some years after studying at the California Institute of the Arts and receiving my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you frame things — I sustained a knee injury one day during rehearsal. I had a pretty severe medial meniscus tear that required surgery, which I had. During my recovery, I explored my next steps. I was very interested in using my knowledge of the body, anatomy, physiology, and rigorous training experience to help others recover from physical injury and pain similar to what I was going through during my rehabilitation. I looked at a number of different paths, including M.D., P.T., and Chiropractic. I finally landed on acupuncture and Chinese medicine, which struck a chord with me. I moved back to San Diego from Los Angeles and began studying at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (now Pacific College of Health and Science) in 1990 and never looked back.

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?

I believe that everyone needs a coach and/or a mentor (or several). I mentioned the circumstance that led me to study Chinese medicine above. The person in the picture was really my grandmother. She was always so supportive of me, no matter what I was doing. When others balked at my desire to become a dancer, she encouraged me to follow my passion. When I had injured my knee and was searching for meaning, she was there to support me. I had never asked for assistance from any of my family members. She was first in line to offer to help me get through a rigorous Master’s degree program in Chinese medicine. I lived with her almost the entire time going through my training program: nearly four years.

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

When I was a younger practitioner working in my clinic in Santa Monica, CA, I had a number of very famous patients from all sectors of the entertainment industry. One patient I had was the wife of a Rock musician. The musician would come into the treatment room with his wife and sit in the corner while I gave her acupuncture. My first mistake was to allow that, the second mistake I think is a little funnier. One day I decided I was going to play a joke on the musician, who’s music you could hear if you went to large stadium venues. As you may suspect, acupuncture treatment rooms, like spas, usually have soft meditative music playing to allow patients to relax. The day of the treatment comes and they both arrive. My assistant takes them back to the treatment room and the wife makes herself comfortable on the treatment table while the husband takes up his usual roost in the corner chair. I look at him and tell that I just got this really beautiful new relaxing CD and proceed to put in one of his live concert CDs in the CD player. I watched him intently for some acknowledgement of humor. It didn’t come. In fact, I had to explain to him that the CD we were listening to was his. The joke was on me and left me in search of my own humor. To this day, I still think it’s funny!

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

You know there are so many great quotes from extraordinary thought leaders known and anonymous, but one of my favorites of all time comes from Mickey Mantle, the professional baseball player who said, “If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” It’s interesting because he only lived to be 64 years of age, which by today’s standards is not that long of a life. It resonates with me because it strikes me that people in our culture are either obsessively attempting to extend their lives by a myriad of means or simply ignoring any remedy against self-destruction. That is a gross oversimplification of the full range of human dynamics. However, I see it a lot in clinical practice: people are either oblivious to their own contributions to their health and wellness or so consumed by it that they are paralyzed by the pursuit of longevity and perfect health, if there is such a thing. I like the examples of societies that are described as “Blue Zones,” which are located around the world in places such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. These Blue Zones contain the highest per capita centenarians on the globe. Longevity, health, and wellness are really captured nicely as multidimensional aspects when you look at the people in these regions. Very interesting.

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

Of course, Chinese medicine is always going to remain a passion of mine and I continue to see the miracles of applying the ancient traditional medicine to modern day health issues. Also, as I mentioned above, I believe everyone needs a coach, a mentor, or a guide. We see sports coaches as a prime example of an industry committed to breaking boundaries through expanding the limits of human performance. For the past several years I have been working closely with a team of thought leaders at our college to create a program focusing on health and human performance that trains people to become coaches in this extraordinary field. We initially began this work attracted to the concept of using “peak performance” to enhance our own lives, and then created a program that would simply help people excel at whatever they were interested in. This started off mainly focused on the notion of what would help us do what we loved to do better and longer. For example, me as a surfer, I was interested in how I could hold my breath longer after a wipeout on a big wave. That led me down a research path that illuminated an entire industry built around modern scientific breathwork and traditional ancient breathwork from India and China. Fast forward nearly four years and we have created an evidenced-based, comprehensive accredited Master’s degree and shorter certificate program that offers students a path to become a Health and Human Performance coach. This has opened professional opportunities for these coaches to work with individuals and groups that were simply not possible only a few years ago. This is extremely exciting to me.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant, and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Optimal mental well-being is not something that should be considered static. Let’s consider for a moment the black and white diagram of Yin and Yang. Most people have seen this diagram before and I would like us to think about this concept of mutually dependent opposites as we discuss optimal states of anything: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. Quite simply put, Yin (black area of diagram) cannot exist without Yang (white area of diagram) and Yang cannot exist without Yin. In the innermost Yin there exists Yang (the white dot in the big black area) and in the innermost reaches of Yang there exists Yin (the black dot in the big white area). Mental wellbeing is a dynamic expression of the relative harmony of Yin and Yang from a Chinese medical perspective. If one is too tired, one needs to rest (more Yin). If we do not get enough sleep and have overactive Yang energy, one needs more Yin (such as sleep) to restore physical and mental function. In Chinese medicine, much like the ancient Greeks, there really is no separation between mind and body. A healthy body supports a healthy mind (mental function) and likewise a healthy mind supports a healthy body. Appropriate nutrition, physical activity and rest, including sleep, are the bedrocks of a state of optimal mental wellbeing.

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

I tend to like sitting still in the first part of the day when the world is relatively quiet and simply breathe. I like to focus on the physical feeling of my breath moving from lower abdomen (dantien) up through my diaphragm into my chest and feel the full expanse of my lungs. I like to focus on the relaxation of my entire body from head to feet and practice a few rounds of breath holds of 3–4 minutes each depending on my level of relaxation. Then I simply breathe easy, relaxed and aware. This feels quite nice and sets me up for a productive, relaxed, and creative day. Some days I like to do more of a moving meditation practice of Qi Gong or Tai Chi while other days, I’ll just go surfing, which is my ultimate meditation. There is simply nothing more profound for me than stepping into a liquid environment and becoming one with the ocean.

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

If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. It’s a good time to discuss all of these things as people are getting out the pencil sharpener to write down their resolutions for the coming year. And we all know how that works. Gym memberships go up and after a few weeks or months attendance goes down while gyms still collect their auto payments. One way of creating good habits for physical wellbeing is to schedule your activity. That’s number 1. Schedule it. Not everyone is going to scale the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. In fact, I went there with my family before the pandemic because I was so moved by the professional rock climber Tommy Coldwell. We hiked from the parking area to the base of El Cap and attempted to climb just a little of it. That was all I needed to know that I will never set a goal of climbing the Dawn Wall. That’s point number 2. Have realistic goals. Setting goals that are beyond our reach may impede our movement in the direction of achieving anything. I’ll often call a buddy before a surf, especially if it’s a big swell and I need a little extra push to get my wetsuit on. In the winter with winds around 48 degrees F and water in the 50s it’s nice to suffer with a friend. That’s number 3 and 3.5: do it with a friend and recognize that a little suffering is worth the reward to come.

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 some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?

Everything in moderation including moderation. In our house, we cook most of our own meals. I should say my wife cooks most of our meals. I do share in the cooking, but I’ll happily admit she’s by far a better cook than I am. One of the things that I appreciate in our house is that the ingredients are fresh and seasonal. We limit processed foods, however with two young children, there’s no shame in admitting we’re not perfect. There’s some very interesting research that really shatters a lot of the myths of fad diets. There’s some good research suggesting what we already instinctively know that fresh whole fruits and vegetables are good for us and in fact reduce the risk of major chronic disease. Having said that, one rule does not fit all. For example some people may not be able to handle the high sugar in fruit and some may have digestive issues that are adversely affected by eating raw, while others like a raw diet solely. What I am getting at here is that if we can become sensitive to our own responses to foods, that may help us make better food choices. We often apply an “elimination and reintroduction” approach to food selection, looking for sensitivities and working to correct them with therapeutic interventions, such as herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion and supplements.

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

We are for the most part social beings. Some of us may have more of a tendency to be solitary, shy or reclusive, while others enjoy engaging social interactions and everything in between. I think that during this pandemic we have seen a lot of the social isolation and distancing really have a detrimental effect on the emotional (and physical) wellbeing of our society. We need social interaction. Studies going back to 1979 confirm that the risk of death among isolated men and women was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most social ties. Reaching out to friends and family in whatever way we can to connect is perhaps more important now that it has ever been with social isolation. Pick up the phone and Facetime someone you care about. Write an actual letter with your own hand, with an actual pen and paper, and put into an actual envelope that you can lick (if you’re daring) with your own tongue and send it off. Cards and letters are always welcome!

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

Inner smiling is an actual ancient meditation technique that activates the pineal gland and accesses the hippocampus, the area in the brain that is associated with empathy and compassion. Outward smiling, simply put, is generally responded to with an equal or greater smile. Practice smiling and feel how that feels on your face. There are many muscles, nerves, and blood vessels on your face all activated when we smile. It feels good and it’s contagious…in a good way. One way of getting clarity around how smiling affects us is to do this simple exercise when no one is looking at you and you have some quiet space. First, deliberately put a big old frown on your face. That’s right, really drop the corners of your mouth down to the ground. I’m talking about Grinch-worthy frowning. Feel what it feels like. Everything goes down. Your chest sinks and compresses your diaphragm, the main breathing apparatus, and compresses the chest. This is otherwise known as deep pressing, or depression. Now, let’s reverse the corners of the mouth and bring everything up. The face lights up, the chest raises, there’s more blood circulation and the diaphragm unbinds. This is otherwise known as inspired. Wonderful and easy to practice.

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

Spirit moves through each of us individually in personal ways. Whether tied to an organized religion or connection with mother nature, I believe there is more to us than the carbon that settles into the earth when our number is called. Connecting to spirit has existed within humanity since we have inhabited the planet and perhaps even before. My personal connection to spirit is through being in nature. As I mentioned above, I am conditioned by growing up in and around the Pacific Ocean so that is my temple, the place where I find the deepest connection to spirit and that which animates me. I also find, through my meditation practice and breathwork, the connection to the Qi, the Prana, and the Elan Vital that moves through me is apparent with each breath. Should that cease, by definition so would my life. Having an awareness of something larger than myself, some greater force, some perspective, is at once humbling and empowering.

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

Nature is by far the best teacher (and I have had some extraordinary human teachers). When we are in nature, whether in the forest, sea, desert, plain, mountain, or river, we are instantly faced with the stark realization that we are both insignificant and majestic. Insignificant because we are faced with the immensity and extraordinary beauty of nature, something far beyond our own capability to conceive and create. It’s majestic because we are like the dolphin and the squirrel, an integral part of the great design. That is profound. Being in nature is a gift and one that we should seek frequently with utmost respect and care. If we do not have nature, we do not exist.

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.

We tend to be so focused on how to make ourselves better. I think that is wonderful, but what is even more amazing is what happens when we help others be better. In whatever way we can, I believe we should endeavor to serve. I always thought that everyone should work in the service industry at some point, whether as a waiter, a driver, delivery service, cleaner, cook, or the like. I have always worked in some form of service. I had a paper route when I was a boy. I woke up at 4:00am when I was 12 years old, folded papers, loaded them onto the back of my Schwinn bike, and rode around throwing papers on the porches of the houses in my neighborhood. I grew up bussing tables, waiting tables, and bartending. That all helped me gain some work ethic, but also instilled in me that working to serve others was something meaningful to me. Working as a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, and an educator, has given me so much, because it is mainly about giving to others.

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 🙂

There are so many great humanitarians and people that inspire me. I think that Bill and Melinda Gates would be someone I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with. They are very inspiring to me. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing such fantastic work around the globe to help solve some of the gravest situations, from toilets in Africa to work on the COVID-19 vaccination distribution, they really are committed to service of the greater good.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I can be reached through the Pacific College of Health and Science at www.pacificcollege.edu

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

It’s been a pleasure!

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