WWB Wellness Wisdom Book Selection: BodyWise
Wise Guru & Author: Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD
Author Profile: Rachel Carlton Abrams graduated PHI BETA KAPPA from Stanford University and received her MD from UC San Francisco. She also has a Master’s Degree in Holistic Health from UC Berkley, and is Board Certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine.
In 2008 she opened the award-winning Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic. Dr. Abrams treats many of the world’s most influential people, from CEOs to billionaire entrepreneurs to Nobel Peace laureates. She has been voted “Best Doctor” in Santa Cruz County every year, from 2009–2016.
Lauroly Opening: I will admit I am generally excited to introduce experts and authors here at World Wise Beauty, but this book in particular really resonates with me big time! I think my readers can guess why, by looking at the title of the book ‘BodyWise’ Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing. Anyone that follows World Wise Beauty or even WWB’s Facebook page knows my mission is to encourage inner-wisdom and wellness. Most importantly, I am always reinforcing the idea of being your own guru. This doesn’t mean to reject knowledge or expertise, but to recognize that your own bio-individuality is truly unique. What is good for someone else may not be good for you. Knowing and understanding yourself (mind, body and spirit) is key to a life of fulfillment, happiness and wellness. This featured book shows you how to truly live with yourself in harmony. When you read more about her work below, you will understand why I have selected Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams as the 2017 WWB Icon. It was an easy selection because she truly represents a World Wise Beauty who is comfortable in her own skin, and she educates all women to do the same.
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams
Integrative and holistic health practitioners offer alternative options to treat conditions and disease differently than main-stream doctors, but my role is not to recommend one over the other. I only seek to encourage people to explore and discover what works best for them. I happen to prefer integrative doctors and DO’s personally because I believe in addressing the underlying cause of dis-ease. I also believe in the resounding message of this featured book. ‘Know thyself’.
We can all be ‘Body Wise’ and we all know our own bodies better than anyone, if we only take time to listen to it. I have a unique personal story that makes me particularly passionate about this subject of this book. I grew up with two sick parents, and this life experience really challenged me to look within. My mother through living with her own auto-immune disease experience taught me to listen to myself and body. As a young teen I didn’t always listen, but her constant reminders eventually clicked, and I learned to develop a healthy relationship with myself and my body. I hope everyone reading this buys Dr. Abrams book and no matter where you are in your wellness journey, you become comfortable in your own skin and BodyWise…
Lauroly Welcome: Thank you so much for joining me Dr. Abrams! I am honored to chat with you and so excited to share some of the ideas in your new book ‘BodyWise’! As said, I am particularly excited about sharing your book with others and especially women, because we generally have so much extra stress added to our lives in the roles of mother and caretaker. To compound this, we now have full time careers in addition to our roles in family, as you share in your own personal story. I think a good place to start is to help us understand the overall trajectory of body wisdom. I love how what you said in the book, “think of it as gathering information about our well-being from the outside in.” I always talk about inside out wellness, but when we live complicated lives, we have to start with what is going on right now in our lives and work our way back in. Tell us more about the four levels of body intelligence. This is a blog so we can only touch on ideas, but I am positive almost everyone will be rushing to read your book for the full comprehensive read.
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams:
Thanks so much for inviting me, Lauroly! And for your excitement about the book—I so appreciate it! In response to your question, I think that the most powerful diagnostic tool I have in the treatment room is my patient’s own body intelligence. I often say that we will order tests, but that the best test I have is your insight about your own body—what you feel and why, when you are likely to feel that way, what makes your symptoms better or worse. Listening to what you knows about your experience is the key to unlocking the puzzle that causes you pain or suffering. When my patients pay attention to this natural intuition, the results can be quite extraordinary. No expert lives in you, other than YOU! Which is why it is so vital to learn to speak the language of your body, and begin to follow the guidance that you receive from within, in regard to diet, diagnosis, treatment and even selection of health care providers or even friends.
In BodyWise, I teach women (though this process is completely applicable to men!) to begin to listen to the signals that their bodies are giving them. This happens in four steps.
MEASURE: Gather measured observations of health (such as blood pressure, weight or labs)
SENSE: Attend to body sensations (become aware of what you sense inside)
FEEL: Note feelings or intuitions about your body (what feelings might those sensations be connected to?)
DISCERN: Look for patterns of experience that are trying to tell you something, including those influenced by the unconscious mind (dreams, visions, symbols)
I think of these four steps as learning the language of the body. Sensing is the basic vocabulary, feeling is metaphoric expression, and discerning involves telling the story of the experience.
Lauroly Q- Your four steps are so important, because when we pay attention to all parts of ourselves, we begin to see the interdependency of mind, body and spirit. This is not only a very insightful and wise book, it is also very practical and grounded. I love all the charts and mini-test you offer throughout the book. I also appreciate everything you explore is approached with medical expertise, and the humble recognition that every patient is different. You demonstrate this, by acknowledging both natural and pharma supplements have their own dangers and each individual responds to different substances differently. You share stories about how many patients walk through your door who are on several drugs and supplements and have no idea how they interact with each other is incredible. What is one wise takeaway you can share about taking natural or pharma drugs and supplements? Is one truly better than the other, and what should we explore before taking anything?
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams:
Great question. 🙂 It is always my preference as an integrative physician
that my patients feel well putting as few pills or concoctions into their mouths (other than food!) as possible. This said, there is much to fear about pharmaceutical medications which are, catch this, the third leading cause of death in the United States. No joke. And, as a physician, I still love medication when we truly need it. We just need to optimize self-healing and minimize medications for optimal health. Many supplements and herbs can be safer than medications, but not all! Which is why I think it is important to listen to your body and either be very well informed or have trustworthy guidance about what to take. And is it possible to take too many supplements? Absolutely.
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams
Lauroly Q- There is a really interesting story in your book about intuitive body wisdom and how one women had a dream that was really guiding her about her illness. I don’t want to give away the story, as I think it is worth reading in the book. You really do a wonderful job of covering the sensitive subject of how much we are responsible for when it comes to our own health. Immediately people think “Oh you are going to blame me for my illness? I made this happen to myself?”
I always think our bodies often are trying to communicate something we are struggling with. When I was taking care of my dying mother, I literally came down with a frozen shoulder. I felt like I had the world on my shoulders and my shoulder just stopped working! Of course there were other external factors, but I got the message! I knew I was struggling. Just going to Physical Therapy was remedy for me. I had to stop and think of myself if only for that time in treatment. I passed on the pain drugs and committed time to Physical Therapy. I healed and magically the pain is gone. My body forced me to face my feeling of overwhelm. My body (and in this case my spirit) has cried out before in my life and because of my Mom’s early influence, I usually can connect life’s circumstances with my body ailments. Tell us more about the fine distinctions of this very sensitive subject. How does our mind, body and spirit work in tandem?
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams:
After decades in clinical practice, I do believe that the body can speak to us metaphorically and manifest physical illness, discomfort, and pain. Your ‘frozen shoulder’ is a perfect example of this. I also firmly believe that not all illness or pain has emotional or psychological roots. It is true that how we think and feel, our responsiveness to our bodies’ clues, and the behaviors that we choose absolutely affect our health. And ignoring the obvious cues from your body that something is wrong can manifest in more serious illness. But it is not true that we are personally responsible for the illnesses that we have.
What I mean is, some- times “shit happens.” This was my not-so-eloquent response at a public talk to a very spiritual, healthy young woman who was diagnosed with leukemia. The panel I was sitting on included experts on the mind-body connection and its impact on illness. The young woman at this talk was very upset by the implication that if you are ill, it’s your fault, and she wanted to know if we believed that she had caused her own cancer by her thoughts or behaviors. This is a subtle distinction, but the fact that we can influence pain and illness with our thoughts and behaviors does not mean that we cause all of our pain and illness. My vegan meditation and yoga teacher patient got cancer last year. Sometimes, shit happens. Blaming illness on the person suffering (especially if that person is you) is never helpful. If someone, including you, wants to make meaning of the illness—I need to take more time to rest or be with those that I love or eat more healthfully—that is perfectly legitimate. That is not the same as “I caused my illness by not doing those things.” We should listen to our bodies and discern the meaning of pain and illness. We must not get bogged down in the cycle of self-blame or shame about having the illness.
Lauroly Q- Thanks so much for addressing that sensitive subject Dr. Abrams. Another great line in your book is “Everything you put into your mouth has complex biochemical messages for the body.” This is a pretty intense idea, but falls in line with ‘You are what you eat’. It must be such a hard idea to get across to patients. Food is such a complicated topic for us humans. Our family and culture shape our eating habits and we are all so different. Science is already confirming that a plant-based diet is generally better for everyone, yet many experts will tell you protein is necessary and each person has different nutritional needs. It gets confusing. Unpack this just a little bit for us…
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: No matter who you talk to in the health and wellness field, they will agree that more fruits and vegetables (and the more brightly colored the better), are good for you. And no one would argue that you need a healthy source of protein. I would argue that it is ideal if that source is organic (if plant sourced, such as nuts and beans) and also “grass-fed” or “free-range” if animal sourced (eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt and meat). I do think that most vegetable sources of protein are good for most of us. And some of us do better with more animal derived protein. Those are individual decisions to be made based on your personal experience, your body intelligence, and your values. And I really don’t think anyone would argue that you should avoid fast food and fried food, and limit refined grains (white flour and white rice). Many people feel well eating whole grains, which are rich in nutrition. And some people react to gluten or other grains—again, it’s a place to use your body intelligence to see what works best for you.
Lauroly Q- The burgeoning trend of yoga and meditation has connected mind, body and spirit and has put the practices at the center of wellness. You state in the book, that from a health point of view, the particularities of meditation and spirituality don’t matter. This is another fine example of how you recognize our diversity and difference while also finding the common. Ultimately finding time for silence and reflection is a healthy ritual, and we all have our own practices. What matters is how these rituals help our individual health and well-being. Why are things like prayer or meditation so important to our overall health? What is happening in our bodies when we do? I always feel nature is my church and I can feel the positive changes in my body when I take time to be quiet in nature.
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: You are very much in line with the latest research, which shows abundant health advantages from being exposed to nature, from lower stress and cortisol levels to lower blood pressure to less anxiety and depression. I think that the purpose of meditation, prayer or simple reflection is to reduce stress and cortisol levels, in a world that is far more stimulating than our bodies are built for. Manifold studies show the impact of meditation and prayer on reduced cortisol levels, reduced depression and anxiety, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, etc. And these simple moments of reflection allow us to gain perspective on our lives. To extend the beneficial effect of slowing down to contemplate, to the rest of our life, as we take the insights gained and apply them—honking less at other drivers, yelling less at the kids, berating ourselves less.
Lauroly Closing: Thanks so much again Dr. Abrams for writing this much needed book, and for joining me for this Q&A. ‘BodyWise‘ is a ‘wellness bible’ and one I would recommend for everyone’s wellness library. I’ve only touched on a few topics covered in your book. It is truly comprehensive, and you show us just how ‘doable’ living healthy can be, when we tap into our body intelligence. Once we start listening to the wisdom of our bodies, we can begin to take care of our mind, body and spirit holistically. While all of us have different lifestyles and challenges, we all retain the gift of being able to tap into our inner-wisdom. How lucky we humans are!
Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams Closing: Thank you so much for this opportunity Lauroly, and blessings to all of you reading this!