“Focus on gratitude.”With Beau Henderson & Dr. Saloni Sharma

To maintain a healthy mind and body during challenging times, and support those around us, we must develop a sense of helping and connecting with others, encourage self-care habits, focus on gratitude, practice mindfulness and create. As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I […]

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To maintain a healthy mind and body during challenging times, and support those around us, we must develop a sense of helping and connecting with others, encourage self-care habits, focus on gratitude, practice mindfulness and create.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saloni Sharma, MD, LAc, FAAPMR.

Dr. Sharma is a dual board-certified physician in physical medicine & rehabilitation and pain management, and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. She is an acupuncturist and the medical director of the Orthopaedic Integrative Medicine Center at the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. At a national level, she serves as Co-Chair for Spine & Pain Rehabilitation for the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and on a national Opioid Task Force.

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?

Growing up the daughter of a physician, I always wanted to be like my mother. We would spend Saturday mornings in the hospital followed by special lunches together. One summer, I worked as a receptionist in her office and her patients with diabetes would tell me, “If you could be half the doctor that she is, you will be great.” She saves lives with her mind. That is a true superhero.

My cultural heritage exposed me to yoga and meditation as a child. As a 19-year-old college student, I traveled to Rishikesh, India, and studied mediation and mindfulness on the banks of Ganges River. As a physician, sharing mindfulness strategies with people in pain is a natural fit and allows me to help them have the best quality of life possible.

My primary training is in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Physiatry) which is a medical field dedicated to restoring function and quality of life to people with injuries and impairments. I further trained in Pain Management and focus on helping people with low back pain and neck pain. Additionally, I am an acupuncturist and have studied integrative medicine, functional medicine, yoga, meditation and mindfulness.

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

The most interesting story is the same story that keeps repeating itself. The more I teach people how to make positive lifestyle changes in their everyday life, the more their quality of life returns. Making positive lifestyle changes in nutrition, ergonomics, exercise and mindfulness decreases pain, decreases stress and improves people’s ability to function better.

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

Genuinely know your team. Communication is key to trust-building and acknowledging the other person’s value. Take time every day to greet every person you come across in the hall, break room or at the front door with a genuine hello, use their name, and ask them about something they have been working on or discussed in the past with you. This shows people that you recognize them and opens the door for conversation. At least once a week, sit it in the break room at lunch and take part in non-work-related and work-related conversations. Small talk leads to big talk and big action. It allows the team to bond as one and develop new ideas and opportunities for improvement.

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?

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936, has been promoting workplace leadership, kindness and positive reinforcement for decades. It is an oldie but a goodie! Mr. Carnegie’s seemingly simple advice is shockingly effective and still enlightens people today. The book celebrates human connection and shares how to achieve it. One of my favorite recommendations is to give another person a great reputation to fulfill. If you plant the seed that a person can do something or be better than are now, it motivates the person to live up to the positive expectations you set for them.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Mindfulness is being present in the activity you are doing. It means being aware of what is happening in the moment and engaging your senses. Children have an intuitive knowledge of how to be present and not concerned with the future or past. Think of a child playing in a sandbox. She is completely engaged. The sand tickles her toes and she smiles at the sound of wet sand plopping into a bucket. Her attention is 100% focused on what she is doing. She is not distracted by thoughts of her homework, chores, or that she lost her favorite toy yesterday.

Many adults are mindful when they do their favorite activity like playing an instrument, exercising, or cooking. They are completely engaged in the present moment and present activity. All of their other thoughts melt into the background.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Mindfulness, the gift of being present, benefits our minds, bodies and emotions. Mindfulness reduces the stress response in your body. Think about the stress response. Your heart races, muscles tense, blood pressure spikes, eyes dilate, blood sugar rises and you cannot focus. Your flight or fight system is ready to fight or run from a threat. Everyday stress like traffic, upsetting news and difficult people activates this response. This affects your entire body and contributes to many disease processes. Mindfulness helps calm this response. Mindfulness improves concentration, reduces stress, improves health and decreases pain.

During this challenging time, it is important to recognize that stress affects your immune system. Researchers have discovered that mindfulness decreases inflammatory markers at a cellular level. It has been shown to improve your immune system function which can help your body fight infections and handle chronic diseases. Studies have shown benefits in a myriad of diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, HIV and many other conditions.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Pick an activity to engage in a mindful way each day for 10–15 minutes a day. This could be taking a walk, eating, or even listening to music. It could be sitting in stillness or listening to a friend. It is about being fully present with the experience and your senses. Don’t worry about what has to be done or what didn’t get done. Just be present. No computer, no phone or television distractions.

1) If walking mindfully,

*What sounds do you hear? (birds singing, cars chugging, people giggling)

*What do you smell? (fresh flowers, pine sap, street vendor food)

*What does your skin feel? (cool breeze, crisp air, warm wind)

*What do you see? (squirrels running, ants climbing, billboards flashing)

2) If eating mindfully,

*What does the food feel like against your teeth and tongue?

*What does it sound like?

*What do you smell?

*What flavors do you taste?

*What colors do you see on your plate?

3) If listening to music mindfully,

*What instruments or notes do you hear?

*How does the music make you feel?

*If you close your eyes, what do you see?

*Are you nodding, tapping, humming, singing or swaying to the music?

4) If sitting in stillness mindfully,

*Sit in a comfortable position with your back upright, either cross-legged on the floor or on supportive chair with your feet planted on the ground.

*Close your eyes or lower your gaze to the ground.

*Feel the chair or ground support your body so you do not have to hold so much.

*Take three slow, deep breaths. Feel the refreshing air enter through your nose and exit through your mouth.

*Follow your breath in and out.

*If may be easier to focus with your hands on your belly, feeling it rise with each inhale and sink with each exhale.

*Ride the waves of your breath.

5) If listening to a friend mindfully,

*What does their voice sound like?

*What are they telling you with their facial expressions and body language?

*Try not to think of a response but just absorb what they are saying.

*Use non-verbal gestures like eye contact, nodding or smiling to show you are engaged without talking or interrupting.

*Do not say anything until they pause for a response or ask.

As with any new skill, you will find it easier with practice. The last two may feel odd at first but have great rewards. Choose whichever mindfulness practice works best for you.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

To maintain a healthy mind and body during challenging times, and support those around us, we must develop a sense of helping and connecting with others, encourage self-care habits, focus on gratitude, practice mindfulness and create.

1) Connect.

*Make time for daily connections with others.

*During challenging times, empathy is part of coping and developing resiliency.

*In fact, helping others not only improves the other person’s well-being but your well-being too. It fosters a feeling of kindness and accomplishment.

*A simple check-in with family and friends can be supportive. This could be a scheduled daily or weekly connection, or a spontaneous contact.

*This could be a phone call, Facetime call, Zoom meeting or text.

*You may consider writing and mailing cards to loved ones or friends.

*Consider mailing cards or artwork to people who are more isolated or alone in an institution like a nursing home or hospital.

2) Self-care Habits

*Establish a weekday schedule. It gives us a sense of control and predictability amid a time that can feel like complete chaos. Furthermore, it creates a distinction between weekdays and weekends

-This should be written or typed out.

-While trying to adhere closely to the schedule, allowing and accepting that there may be slight variations.

*Carve out time for daily movement.

-This could be a walk, bike ride, yoga or exercise video.

*Feed your body.

-Focus on natural, unprocessed foods that don’t further stress your body.

-These could include fresh produce or frozen vegetables and fruits.


-Try to follow a regular sleep schedule.

-Some people are night owls and routine is key but most people do well following natural rhythms and sleeping by 10 pm.

-Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep for optimal functioning.

-Establish a bedtime routine to transition your body to rest.

-This includes little to no electronics, no caffeine close to bedtime.

-Avoiding news articles or stressful television before lights out.

-Consider incorporating a daily meditation or prayer before bedtime.

3) Gratitude.

*Acknowledge and appreciate positive things in your life. *This profoundly helps your mental and physical health.

-This can be as simple as writing three things you are thankful in a notepad section of your phone and dating it or writing it on a journal or calendar at the end of the day.

*This allows for reflection and ending the day on positive notes.

-It can be part of your bedtime routine.

-Another way is to go around the dinner table or zoom screen and have each person say one thing.

-Examples are: sunlight bathing your cheeks, your loved one’s smile after a joke or loud burp, a deep breath of fresh air on a hike, listening to your favorite song.

*Consider making thank you signs for healthcare workers, police officers, EMTs, grocery workers, delivery people, postal workers, custodians and other people providing services to keep us safe and functioning as community.

4) Create.

*A poem, a meal, a doodle, a song, a new exercise — whatever inspires you and makes you feel productive and proud of your accomplishment.

5) Daily Mediation or Mindfulness

*This calms the mind and body.

*It builds resilience in difficult times.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

There are many free websites and applications including Calm and Headspace. There are many resources on “The Greater Good” website: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Deepak Chopra are excellent resources and have published several books on the topic. Another excellent book is the Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams.

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

This is from the book mentioned above, “Think about it this way. If your health is strong, when viruses come they will not make you sick. If your overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for you. Similarly, if your mental health is sound, then the disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover. If your mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause you much pain and suffering. You will have much fear and worry, much sadness and despair, much anger and aggravation.” — Dalai Lama, Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Once I made time for daily mindfulness and mediation in my life, I noticed small changes in my response to daily stressors that added up to big changes in my life. Now, I take time to pause before responding to a difficult person or whining child. I do not just react or become defensive (as much). More often, I try to consider their perspective and reason for behaving that way. This allows me to have a positive feeling of empathy rather than being defensive, disgusted or annoyed.

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. 🙂

Do one kind thing for another person every day and write it down each day. You will improve your community and develop a sense of accomplishment.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

The best way is at rothmanortho.com. We will have a series of blog posts that is live and will have a dedicated site to Orthopaedic Integrative Medicine in the near future.

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

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