The powerful secret of your breath — Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD | Romila Mushtaq | TEDxFargo
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The powerful secret of your breath — Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD | Romila Mushtaq | TEDxFargo


Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Doctor, lawyer, Jaguar. Ooh, girl, are those Manolos? (Laughter) President of the PTA. We often walk through life mindlessly, defining ourselves
by the careers we choose, the things we buy, degrees, or in my case, designer high-heel shoes. I’d click-clack these Jimmy Choos right into the hospital room
and announce myself: “Hi, I’m Doctor Mushtaq, your neurologist. I was consulted today because I understand
you’re having some physical symptoms that may be related
to your brain function.” Oh, us doctors, I know. You know, while that was the conversation
I was projecting to the external world, internally, my own mind was processing
a little bit of a different story: “Ohhhh. Get me out of here. It’s 6:49 PM and I have
22 more inpatient consults to see after a full day of clinic. Focus, Romie. Oh gosh, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Ohh.” Clearly, I wasn’t happy. So I would go home,
stuff my face full of dark chocolate, buy another pair
of high-heeled shoes online and get up and do
the exact same thing the next day. Honey, let me tell you, it is not easy
to run on that hamster wheel in stilettos. You know, I didn’t know that these feelings and physical symptoms
that I was experiencing actually had an official diagnosis: physician burnout. You see, only us physicians
are neurotic enough to make up an entirely new diagnosis for something that exists
in the entire world: career burnout. I thought my problem was
that I was a complete and total failure. According to a 2012 Medscape study, almost 50% of physicians
in the United States are feeling burnt out. But seriously, do we need another study to tell all of us how burnt out
we’re feeling from our jobs? Yeah, I know that this audience is full of teachers, accountants
and small business owners, and all other professionals
who have felt the exact same way. How did this happen? As a society, we have upgraded from
golden handcuffs to platinum shackles. How? We’ve chained ourselves
to soul-sucking jobs for the sake of a paycheck,
prestige or pride. How? And why? Career burnout occurs
when our external world is not in alignment
with our internal soul compass. Our life purpose is tied
to this internal soul compass. What is it? It’s that place deep inside of you
where all the answers reside. You know, some call it your gut instinct, your mother’s intuition, your inner soul wisdom. You know, when our life
is not in congruence with this internal soul compass, it leads to stress
in our minds and our bodies. According to the Center
for Disease Control, 80% of doctors’ office visits
are due to stress-related illnesses. And I know first-hand
that the stress can kill. None of us are immune to the negative effects
of stress from our careers. These common symptoms that occur are anxiety, depression,
ulcers, difficulty sleeping, right? While I was working 80 to 90 hours a week
helping others in a hospital, I started to develop
this disabling chest pain and this inability to swallow. You know, with my stressful lifestyle, it was no surprise
that the symptoms slowly got worse. It had to progress to the point that I was waking up
in the middle of the night choking on my own saliva and vomit
and getting frequent pneumonia. I really couldn’t breathe anymore. It took almost seven years for a diagnosis
of a rare medical disorder to be made, called achalasia. By this time, the prognosis was grim. I was going to either end up
disabled, with an inability to swallow, or even possibly had esophageal cancer. You know, while I was laying on the gurney at the University
of Washington in Seattle in pre-op holding, waiting to undergo surgery, I can honestly tell you I wasn’t focused on the possibility that I could have cancer
or become disabled. Instead, I was in this deep
pain and sorrow wondering: who am I? And how did I get here? And then, from the pain
and the sorrow, I blacked out. You see, when our lives are consumed
with mindless distractions, we sometimes have to lose
consciousness to see the light. You know, I woke up
after successful surgery, and, thank God, there was no cancer. It turns out that my internal soul compass
was so far off course that the stress was eating away
at my mental and my physical health. You know, all I could do in that moment
was muster up the courage to ask: “Oh my gosh. You mean I’m alive?” And my surgeon, Dr. Carlos Pellegrini,
just peered down at me and said, “Of course you are. So what are you going to do about it?” Ohhhh. You know, unfortunately,
it takes a life crisis like a health scare,
a divorce or a loss of a job to realize that we
are not on the right path. This is the first fork in the road. Do we go back to that same life
hoping for a change? Or do we decide to take
the other path and create change? And even if we want to create that change, how do we overcome that fear? You know, I first started
to connect to clues while I was doing yoga
and sitting in meditation. All of a sudden, that physical and emotional pain
that I was suffering from would go away, and I would feel calm
and focused and happy. As a neurologist, I wanted to know: Is there something really happening here,
or is this all just in my head? I started to do the research, and to my surprise, there is decades’ worth
of scientific and medical evidence showing us the health
and the psychological benefits of yoga and meditation. I know some of you must be wondering: “Oh, my gosh, is this doctor seriously going to tell me
to sit down and meditate?” My parents were thinking the same thing. My mother: “Oh, Romila, you are leaving
to go to yoga-teacher training? You’re a doctor.” Oh my God, please don’t tell my mom
I did this on stage. (Laughter) And so, of course, my response was, “Mom, we’re of Asian descent.
Didn’t anybody see this coming?” So I started to travel around the world and study various forms
of yoga and meditation with this one question in my mind: “How can we shut off that fear
that occurs from stress and career burnout and connect to our internal soul compass?” To connect to our internal soul compass, we must do just one thing: breathe. How many of you are aware
of your own breath in this moment? Yeah. I wasn’t aware of my own breath
until I couldn’t breathe anymore. This is why I wanted to take mindfulness from the meditation mat
into a mindful way of living. You know, what is mindfulness? It’s a term we hear so often thrown out
in the media these days, right? Mindfulness is one simple action. Breathe. So, you see, when we breathe, we bring ourselves to the present moment. And in this present moment is where
all of your dreams and desires reside. To connect to your purpose,
you just have to breathe. The answers we seek lie deep inside of us, not in this external world
and these things that we buy. And what do I mean
when I say “inside of us”? This is that powerful place, again,
where all the answers reside: your intuition, that mother’s instinct, your gut instinct and wisdom. This is your internal soul compass. And so, again, how
do we connect to this place? Breathe. Yeah. As a neurologist that is now specializing
in mind-body medicine, I help clients and corporations heal from the ongoing effects
of stress and career burnout through mindful living. Mindful living will help you
connect to your internal soul compass, and I’m going to give you
three of those steps right now. Step one is self-compassion
through self-care. Self-care is not selfish; it’s just 20 minutes a day to honor
your mind, your body and your spirit. Take this time to do an activity
that makes you feel relaxed, like listening to uplifting music, taking a walk outside in nature –
even on a rainy day, yeah – or taking a long, hot bath. It is that simple to start
calming down the stress hormones in our minds and our bodies that get elevated when
we’re stressed out from our jobs. You know, it’s these stress hormones –
like adrenaline and cortisol – that get elevated and just fuel
the insomnia, anxiety and that difficulty performing
at our jobs that slows us down. You know, many of us have been programmed
to think that self-care is not allowed. But I ask you honestly, how can you give of yourself authentically
when your own gas tank is on empty? Our soul is a vessel, and if we give from a place of empty, we’re just passing on
this fear and stress, and people around us can sense that. But when we fill our own lives
with love and a sense of compassion, we not only feel peace but we share that
with everyone around us. So now that we have calmed down
our minds and our bodies from the stress response, we’re going to feel a little less angry
and try to find happiness in our lives. So, how can we be happy? This is the next step of mindful living. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. You know, clinical research shows that no matter how much material wealth
or even high-heeled shoes we accumulate, this does not lead to happiness. Happiness in people is sustained
by one thing, universally, and that’s having
an attitude of gratitude. So think: “In giving thanks,
my own blessings will multiply.” It is amazing how the brain works. When we focus on what we’re grateful for, we’re actually training our brains
to focus on what’s positive in the world. So how can we start? Tonight, when you’re going to bed, take a moment and think of the three
or five things that happened today that you’re truly grateful for. This is how we start
to dim the negativity. So now we have calmed down the stress
response in our minds and our bodies and adopted an attitude of gratitude; it’s going to feel a lot more peaceful
to sit and be still in meditation. This leads to the next step
of mindful living: Be still. How many of you have
a moment in your day to be still? If you don’t think so,
I’m going to show you how. Breathe. And if you need a reminder
to disconnect from social media: #breathe (Laughter) You know, with the advances
in neuroscience and neuroimaging, we can see, in real life, the improvement of the structure
and the function of the brain when we sit down to meditate. Meditation is as simple as consciously
connecting to your inhalations and your exhalations. This is how we modulate
the autonomic nervous system, turning off the stress response
and promoting relaxation. And when we’re sitting in relaxation,
we can connect to inspiration. And that inspiration may come
in the form of maybe a childhood dream or even the next step to take
in your own career or personal life. You know, I remember
when I was sitting in meditation, I connected to this joyful feeling
that I once experienced sitting in Mrs. Reed’s
7th-grade English class. Mrs. Reed was that teacher
who fostered my love for communication. You know, I knew as a little girl, I wanted to write and speak for a living. So breathe. And ask yourself, when you were a child,
what did you want to do when you grew up? Yeah. We’re each here
to live a purpose in this world, and our dreams and our desires will guide us on this path
to live this purpose. You don’t have to see the top
of the mountain of your dreams to start on this path. Breathe. And ask yourself,
“What is the first step?” Follow your intuition and please don’t get stuck
in analysis paralysis. You have to believe
that you are on the right path, even if you don’t know
where the path is going. You know, my initial steps did not make rational sense at all
for someone that’s a physician: Yoga teacher training? Traveling the world learning meditation? Writing a blog? And yet today, I stand here, literally almost four years to the date of waking up from life-saving surgery finally connected to the purpose that little Romie had in her heart
over 25 years ago. You will, in your life,
reach a fork in the road. When you do, don’t panic. Stop and breathe. When you reach that path of your purpose, you will look back and realize that everything good and bad
and even devastating that’s happened happened for a reason. Everything in your life connects, and you, only you, had the answers in your heart, all along. So breathe. You’re alive. What are you going to do about it? Thank you. (Applause)

About Bill McCormick

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8 thoughts on “The powerful secret of your breath — Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD | Romila Mushtaq | TEDxFargo

  1. You are amazing everything is true I will try it and I will get back to you my dear I would like to follow you on your video hopefully I get ture with you dear

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