Almost everyone has experienced a form of “mental illness” just like almost everyone has had a physical problem at some time in their life. Let’s start by understanding that one is not separate from the other and that both are equally important. And even more importantly, we must address people with an integrative approach.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Laura Di Franco, MPT. Laura is the owner of Brave Healer Productions and a powerhouse who writes to Feng Shui her soul. She’s a 6-time published poet and author, inspirational speaker, holistic physical therapist and a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do with over two decades of experience in healing. She was born to build a revolution of brave healers who are getting their badass, authentic voices published in order to heal the world with their words. Her new book, Brave Healing, a Guide for Your Journey, is on Amazon! www.BraveHealer.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
My love of soccer as a teen and twenty-something and passion for all things sports and athletics-related led me to pursue a career in holistic physical therapy. I was fascinated by the body and what created peak performance. During my education and training, I quickly realized that if we weren’t addressing the whole mind, body, and soul of a person we weren’t going to experience authentic healing. And so I began to add somato-emotional training and other alternative education into the mix of my experiences. The intimate links between our thoughts and emotions and our physical health became the foundation I’d create my business mission around eventually.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Stigma is created from a lack of awareness and understanding. As the awareness of mental illness has increased, so has a deeper understanding and acceptance. And it’s from that place we can really begin to communicate about it and start helping people. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t felt the effects of depression for one reason or another at some point in their life. What if we could back off the labels and begin to understand that they don’t define us? And then go after the knowledge we need to really address the cause of the illness or dis-ease in those suffering?
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
Every human being is a complex, interconnected mind, body and soul system. I’m interested in helping people be more aware of those connections and realize that the integration of our whole selves will be the way to understanding and alleviating all illnesses. Physical wellness is not separate from mental/emotional wellness, and vice versa. Every emotion we experience has a physiological effect on the physical body. When we’re stuck in complex, chronic negative thoughts and emotions, the solution has to be both a psychological and physical one. The problem is that most of our healthcare practitioners have been trained to look for and address only one of those areas. When we help people realize that holistic healing (mind, body, soul integration) is a more effective and authentic way to address all illness, the stigma of mental illness will start to dissolve. When we stop looking at mental illness as any different from physical illness, or possibly the cause of some physical illnesses, there will be a much stronger movement toward de-stigmatizing it.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
My business, Brave Healer Productions, was born out of the idea that whole, authentic healing embraces the mind, body, and soul of a human. When I started learning physical therapy I was blessed to have mentors who were already practicing alternative and holistic kinds of therapies. I learned early on to pay attention to clients’ mental/emotional needs, as well as their physical ones, and that proper dialogue was not only appropriate but necessary when it came to helping them. The “brave” part came in when I realized it was going to take some courage to step out of the norm and start to educate people about this; something they hadn’t been taught. And it was going to take some courage to follow a more non-traditional path and keep encouraging my clients to look at mental/emotional reasons for their pain.
My martial arts instructor has a quote: “Discipline the mind, the body will follow.” As I moved on in my career and my martial arts training I experienced the power of this in my own mind-body. I realized that with an awareness of my thoughts and beliefs, I had a choice to behave and act in ways that served my own health and joy. That was a pivot point for me in my own health and wellness and in my passion for teaching others about peak health.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals, society and the government can practice more awareness by asking questions, understanding labels and having more conscious conversations about mental illness. It all starts with a foundation of awareness and the intention of learning. We have to realize that there might be a few things we haven’t learned yet that could change everything and then be motivated and open to learning those things. Almost everyone has experienced a form of “mental illness” just like almost everyone has had a physical problem at some time in their life. Let’s start by understanding that one is not separate from the other and that both are equally important. And even more importantly, we must address people with an integrative approach.
What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. I practice body awareness and mindful presence. This means that I slow down long enough to feel the sensations about what’s showing up at any given moment. This is the basic foundation of my daily wellness practice.
2. I use journaling to Feng Shui, my soul. When I use writing as an awareness tool what happens is I’m able to move the feelings, sensations, and emotions from the inside of me to the outside, where I can read and reflect on them. With that awareness, I get to choose the thoughts that serve my purpose.
3. I practice daily gratitude. The power of the energy of gratitude is palpable. I practice looking for things to appreciate and be grateful for during the day. This keeps my mind positive and joy flowing through me on a regular basis.
4. I exercise. When we have pain, mental or physical, the energy flow is stuck in one way or another. Moving our bodies shifts the energy. So I use exercise, not only to keep me fit and healthy but to shift my energy when I’m feeling low. Exercise is best practiced in the form of something you enjoy. And therapeutic movement can be anything from deep breathing to running, to dance, to martial arts, to yoga.
5. I breathe. I use breathwork to connect to my body and sensations on a regular basis. It’s the fastest gateway to the body, which connects me to my intuition and creative flow. When I’m connected like that the messages that move through are aligned with my soul and purpose, vs. inner critic messages that are self-sabotaging.
6. I notice the inner critic. And lastly, moving off of number five…I must recognize when those messages are critical, unhealthy or unhelpful and flip my switch to something better. I’ve learned to use body awareness as a powerful tool for this.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
There are so many awesome authors who write and talk about awareness, and that is where I start when I want to shift my perspective and feel healthier. Some of my favorite authors/speakers are Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Esther Hicks, Kyle Cease, Elizabeth Gilbert, Anne Lamott, Laura Munson, Albert Flynn DeSilver, Anthony DeMello, Gay Hendricks, Joe Dispenza, Bruce Lipton, and John F. Barnes. The trick is to start the journey toward thoughts, beliefs and actions that align with joy. It’s about knowing what feels good to you and going for that, unapologetically.