Give yourself that space by doing something right brain dominant — like coloring or just sitting in nature. This gives you more access to feeling and is a gentle way to integrate unprocessed emotions. Notice how you may be using the busyness of life to distract yourself from what you are feeling. Consciously give yourself permission to feel and be . Excess doing covers up creativity, insight, inner knowing and time to simply feel our emotions rather than avoiding or suppressing them.
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 interviewingKamini Desai PhD.
Kamini Desai PhD is the daughter of one of the original yoga masters to pioneer yoga practice in the west in the 1960’s. She is the Executive Director of the Amrit Yoga Institute and author of: Yoga Nidra The Art of Transformational Sleep, Life Lessons Love Lessons and developer of the I AM Yoga Nidra app. For the past 30 years Kamini has taught worldwide, helping people master the inner dimension of their lives uniquely combining ancient wisdom with science and psychology. Her corporate clients have included SONY, Mars candy company, and The Netherlands Department of Revenue. She is one of three founding Directors of the International University of Yoga and Ayurveda.
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 grew up as the daughter of a Yoga Master as part of a yoga community. Instead of afterschool parties or getting together with friends, I came home to yoga practice and meditation. From a very early age, I learned a life philosophy based on the premise that how we experience life is our own choice and within our power to change. I learned how to understand the mind and emotions, and how to master the inner journey life puts us on. But even though I had learned all these things, I had not lived them. It was knowledge, but not wisdom, which to me, can only be gained through experience.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In my early twenties, I decided I “knew” better. Marginalizing my early upbringing, I decided to make my mark on the world, confident in my ability to achieve my ideals and become a diplomat. While studying in Switzerland, I found myself becoming disillusioned by the peace process and tipping towards depression. It was then that I intuitively, without even consciously realizing it, began drawing on all I had learned as a child.
As I began to practice, word got around my apartment building. Others started asking me to help them learn how to sleep better, manage their anxiety and perform better on their exams. It was then that I began on the path I am today, realizing that outer peace can begin with inner peace. In a way I did become a diplomat — but a diplomat of inner peace.
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?
Early in my career I had a colleague who became one of my dearest and closest friends. Even though we were teaching in the same field, he came from a military background — very different from mine. We were often called the “Yin” and the “Yang,” or “good cop” (me) and “bad cop” (him).
After leading a lecture, my colleague would privately challenge me to rebut any holes he could find in my lecture. It forced me to develop self-trust and to think on my feet — something I now rely on every day.
Once, when hiking up a mountain, I told him I was out of breath and exhausted. He said to me, “so what?” “It is uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid of the pain. Be willing to face the discomfort and fight for what you want.”
He helped me see that “tough love” — demanding the best from people — can draw out the best in them. I was good at empowering people through love, acceptance and understanding. But people also need someone who is not always easy on them, who calls them to step up, dig deep inside themselves and be remarkable. I don’t believe anyone truly feels good doing just enough to get by — even though we tell ourselves it is enough. We’re are only truly fulfilled by something when we have put our heart and soul into it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When living in the yoga community as a teen, I would assist in summer programs that were offered. I would lead the stretch breaks and noontime jazzercise-type exercises. At the end of the program there was a wellness portion included in part of the “taking it home” segment, where the instructor would cover suggestions for healthy eating. I had heard it done many times and asked the lead instructor to let me do it. I thought I had done a great job, but when the program reviews came back, a couple of participants said my teaching was weak and that I should “stick to dancing.” At the time I was deeply hurt, but somehow, that was the moment that made me decide to master the art of teaching. I have to smile when I think that the one thing I was told I should never do has become the cornerstone of my lifetime career!
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?
Quantum Healing by Deepak Chopra is one of my favorite books. To me it was one of the first books to cross “the great divide,” showing us how much science and spirituality are saying are actually pointing to the same essential truths — in this case, that the body is listening in on every conversation that we have. Thoughts have a profound impact on our health, and by learning to manage our relationship with them, we can literally improve the state of our health.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
This is a passage from the person whom I consider my grandfather. I have it hanging above my desk. It reminds me that even though we may not see it, the challenges we face are shaping us in a way that we may only fully appreciate in hindsight:
“Struggle is a skillful sculptor. It transforms the ordinary human being.
The external form of struggle appears cruel. Yet, without regard for respect or insult, struggle continues to do what it pleases. It is all right if we can’t welcome struggle, but struggle should never be discarded.
Struggle bestows true knowledge. When one has persevered and conquered their problems, struggle lays attainment at their feet and walks away silently. Only when an individual has triumphed over their struggle and looks at their attainment, do they then understand its true meaning.” — Bapuji
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’ve developed a worldwide online course that gives people all the basics they need to better navigate their mental and emotional life. The teachings and practices are based on yoga nidra (sleep meditation), science and psychology. In these times it has been particularly helpful and the response has been so great, I’m now working on having it translated into a number of different languages.
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.
1.) Enter the Alpha Brainwave State. Study after study has shown that the prolonged presence of stress hormones in your system promote cognitive decline, increase the chances of developing depression and anxiety and can even set the stage later in life for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Prolonged stress strips mood-regulating hormones and neurotransmitters from your system. On the other hand, inducing a relaxation response will provide your brain and nervous system with the best possible environment for mental and emotional stability.
You can induce a relaxation response with anything that takes you to the alpha brainwave state or deeper (from restful wakefulness to that twilight zone between waking and sleeping). That could include getting a massage, taking a sauna, hot bath, or meditating. Exercise is also a powerful tool for removing excess stress hormones from the body. But keep in mind that exercise for this purpose should be felt as non-stressful to your body. Otherwise it will be counterproductive.
2.) Change Your Relationship to Your Thoughts. Your body hears everything you say. Science shows that our thoughts and feelings have a real and measurable impact on our health and in fact can be as toxic as smoking!
What to do: Don’t try to fight the thoughts and emotions. Instead, learn to change your relationship to them with practices like meditation and yoga nidra (sleep meditation).
Thousands of thoughts are moving through our mind every day. When we engage the thought, believe it and react to it as if it is true, that thought has a significant impact on the way the cells of our body and our immune system behave. If however, we can learn to allow the thoughts to pass rather than obsessing about them, they actually have less negative effect on the body. This is one of the basic principles of meditation and one of the main reasons it is so effective.
3.) Get morning light: Your brain and body were meant to operate in rhythm with the rising and setting of the sun. After sleeping through the night, try to look out your window or go outside to allow your eyes to be exposed to natural light first thing in the morning. (Don’t look directly into the sun). This wakes up what is called your circadian clock and tells your brain it is time to be awake and alert. This will also signal the brain to know when to fall into restful sleep 12 to 15 hours later. Doing this will promote your mental clarity and ability to focus as your body will have gotten a clear message that it is time to be awake and alert.
Build on this by taking a break for your eyes. Periodically shift from detailed viewing and concentration to an unfocused, panoramic gaze (stare at the ceiling or look out the window). This helps the brain and they eyes (an extension of the brain) get a rest. Better yet — close your eyes! People who are best at this have more ability to concentrate and focus through their day.
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 am a fan of Yoga Nidra, a sleep-based meditation technique that is done lying down. I think of it as meditation made easy. Many of us find it hard to meditate, but this style takes struggle out of the equation. If you can lie down and not fall asleep you can practice Yoga Nidra! It is composed of a guided series of body, breath and awareness techniques that progressively take your attention inward to a place where meditation naturally happens. Instead of struggling to observe your thoughts you enter a space between waking and sleeping — a space of gentle awareness — where meditation happens naturally.
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.
1.) Use the power of thought to your benefit! Studies have repeatedly shown that sports injuries heal faster with visualization. People who are bedridden and imagine themselves exercising retain more cardiovascular fitness than those who don’t.
You can use visualization to create any kind of positive physical mental and emotional changes you want to make. If there’s an area in your body that needs healing, close your eyes and just let your attention go there. Breath into the area and with each breath imagine that area being surrounded by a healing force. Do this for a few minutes each day. You will be amazed.
I had a very bad back injury when I was in my early 30’s. I could not stand up straight for more than 20 seconds at a time. I could not walk or sit and was told I would not be able to walk upright without surgery. Being so young, I wanted to put off surgery as long as possible. The only thing I could do was to imagine myself walking, swimming, dancing until I could actually feel that feeling. I told my body every day, “this is what I want you to do.” Against all odds and to the surprise of my doctors, I recovered without any surgery or injections. I did eventually have a non-invasive out-patient surgery, but it was very small compared to the original diagnosis and only necessary 16 years later! I truly believe that visualization was the key to my healing.
2.) Get a good night of sleep. Multiple studies present compelling evidence that sleep disturbances are related to depression, physical and mental health problems. A simple way to care for your health is to make sure you get a deep restful sleep. Not getting enough sleep can increase inflammation, weight, cause blood sugar problems that can lead to Type II Diabetes and increase risk of coronary artery calcification. Investing in sleep is investing in your health. It is simple and it feels good!
3.) Chew your food at least 30 times! (I have to constantly remind myself about this one). We have become such a fast-paced society that we tend to gulp down our food rather than taking our time to chew and swallow. Chewing increases your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients you are eating, increases satiation and reduces overall food intake. The more you chew, the less hard the rest of your digestive system has to work. Chewing properly can reduce all kinds of digestive issues such as gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea and even malnutrition! It is also an easy way to increase the feeling of fullness for those who want to lose weight.
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?
I think food is not just about food. When we are stressed, the amount of serotonin in our system is depleted. Serotonin is what gives us a feeling of satisfaction and satiation. The less we have of it, the more we will crave sweets and other carbs.
On top of that, many of us use food to medicate or reward ourselves for a hard day. Instead of resting when we need to rest — we eat to give ourselves energy. When we are emotional or bored, we eat too.
I believe that finding new and more supportive ways to manage the tensions of our day and to reward ourselves is key.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Give yourself permission. One of the biggest things I see is that we have become a culture that is uncomfortable with pain, sadness or grief. We get the message that we, “should be over it by now.” So we tend to bottle it away, which then sets the stage for later problems. When left unresolved, these emotions come out in unhealthy ways such as disturbed sleep, explosive outbursts, numbing out or withdrawing. Eventually, these can lay the foundation for deeper conditions.
Know that it is normal to feel sad. There is no timetable for processing emotions. We just need to give it the time and space it needs to be felt and to move through.
- Give yourself that space by doing something right brain dominant — like coloring or just sitting in nature. This gives you more access to feeling and is a gentle way to integrate unprocessed emotions. Notice how you may be using the busyness of life to distract yourself from what you are feeling. Consciously give yourself permission to feel and be . Excess doing covers up creativity, insight, inner knowing and time to simply feel our emotions rather than avoiding or suppressing them.
- Reach out versus isolating. Often when we feel bad, we pull back. Instead, see if there is a friend or someone who you can simply be with. You can talk about what you are going through, but it is not always necessary. Just companionship without judgment is tremendously healing and can actually short circuit the brain’s response to the emotional pain — replacing it with a sense of trust and connection.
- Breathe. Unfelt emotions sit in the breath. When we breathe deeply, these emotions can begin to flow out of the system. Take a relaxed walk in nature and take full breaths, but without strain. Just sit and be with yourself.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I believe it works! Your body responds to what you say internally or externally — with words, gestures, body language or expression. The mind responds to our bodily posture. If we slouch and walk with a closed/shut down position, our mind tends to follow. When we walk upright, straight and strong, our state of mind tends to follow. I believe the same is true of smiling. We can “posture” ourselves in certain ways to help support certain mental and emotional states. Smiling is a great example of this.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Be grateful. What you put your attention on creates your experience of life. If you focus on what is not working, that will be your experience of life. If you focus on what you have, that will tend to grow — along with your contentment in life.
- Choose to grow. Though we may not always see it in the moment, we can choose to take life as an opportunity to learn and grow. If we take life as a punishment, it will be. We are the ones who decide how we will take what life gives us. One person may get ill and ask “why me?” Another person with the same illness (after their first reaction, which is natural), will use this as an opportunity to live a life that is in alignment with what is really important to them. The circumstances are the same — the difference is that one is able to find meaning — even in the midst of difficulty.
- Do your best and let go. With family, work or society, we try to change things to be different than they are. Do what you can. But when you have done all that you can do, learn to let go and trust that whatever needs to happen will happen. At some point it is out of your control to determine the outcome, and that is when it is time to let go.
The older we get, the more we realize that life is progressively about letting go — until the final letting go is when we die. The more we have learned to do this while we are alive, the easier it will be to let go at the time of death.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
According to yoga each of our minds carry a vibrational frequency according to our character and personality. This vibrational frequency of the mind can be affected, positively or negatively, by the environment we are in. Nature carries a profoundly calming frequency and is an excellent place to regain peace in the mind.
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.
It would be the message that we are all part of one great big human family. We have more in common than what separates us. By focusing on our common humanity, we can unite where we are divided.
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 🙂
Barack and Michelle Obama to me epitomize what it means to be fully self-actualized while being in service to the world. Bill Gates also strikes me as someone who understands that we are a human family and seeks to be of help to everyone the world over.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.