Tai Sophia Questions
You spoke a lot about listening to our bodies. At Tai Sophia, how do you teach patients to listen to their bodies?
We begin by listening to them . . . I want to hear about all the little symptoms you would never tell a doctor. It’s a matter of spending time, listening, knowing how to question — that’s what we teach at the Institute. Very often, at the end of their first treatment session, patients may have recognized four or five symptoms they’d forgotten about; they realize they’re really not paying attention to their body. It’s a wake-up call.
A few years back, I had a medical student in a class at U Penn Medical School, where we were doing work like this — observing symptoms and getting to know how the body works. A few weeks into the course, this man said to his classmates, “I haven’t told you, but I was about to have surgery for a lump in my throat. I’ve been seeing doctors for three or four months, and none of them could figure out this lump that was beginning to be painful. Last week after class, I was exhausted and hurting and upset. It was raining, and I got lost on the way home. I was riding my bicycle, and by the time I got home I was drenched and late. I started screaming at everyone in the house. Then I fell asleep, crying like a baby — like I haven’t done since I was a little boy. When I woke up in the morning, the lump was gone. It was then I realized that whenever I’m tense, my throat tightens.”
This young man had a wake-up call about the relationship of his tension and the lump. Breathing deeply and avoiding tension became an alternative to surgery. Here’s another example: A lot of first-graders are hyper and the question is, do you put them on Ritalin or do you teach them to breathe and so settle themselves? Breathing is a lifelong learning. We don’t teach people in our culture how to do deep breathing, one of the most basic practices for maintaining our health. Breathing is free; on the other hand, Ritalin is expensive and it can become a lifelong addiction.
In our society, we’re asking the wrong questions — we’re in a conversation about how to medicate our body. We’re trying to get doctors and acupuncturists and herbalists to get rid of our symptoms. What we’re missing in that conversation is how we use acupuncture and yoga and herbs and other resources to wake up our body so we’re more alert. This way we become aware of how we’re in charge of our symptoms and our wellness.
There’s some very powerful data from the Milken Institute about how we spend our healthcare money: One trillion dollars of healthcare costs relate to chronic conditions, not to acute pathologies. By definition, chronic conditions are things that we have some control over. Often, we can affect the intensity of those conditions by managing food, sleep, fluid intake, exercise, and a bunch of daily habits. One trillion dollars — that would give us a very fancy budget surplus.
So it’s for these reasons I think the questions we’ve been asking about healthcare are wrong. And I want to give credit to Senator Barbara Mikulski and Senator Tom Harkin for leading the work in the Senate to at least raise these issues.
Wow. So is this along the lines of what you hear when politicians talk about preventative medicine?
It’s along the lines, yet the word “prevention” doesn’t really capture what I’m pointing to. What I’m talking about is being awake to our wellness now, in the present moment, not only preventing something in the future.
Here’s an exercise I use in teaching: The next time you go to a restaurant and pick up a menu, notice what you do. You’ll probably do what most people and I do so often and say, “Wow, I haven’t had that in awhile — it sounds delicious.” (But I never order from that impulse.) Now, put the menu away and have a conversation with your friend. Ten minutes later, open the menu again and ask yourself, “What will I order that will leave my body feeling good after I’ve eaten?” I’ll bet you’ll order something different than you would on first impulse.
So if we’re talking “prevention” we’re saying, “Don’t eat that because you will get diseased sometime in the future.” “Wellness,” on the other hand, is about knowing you’ll feel better today as well as in the future because you choose to eat a certain way.
On your Web site I saw that Tai Sophia has a graduate program called “Transformative Leadership.” Was that name just changed from something else?
We used to call it “Applied Healing Arts” because business people and others said they wanted to apply what we were teaching in their workplace and in all aspects of their life. We realized that a lot of people didn’t know what “Applied Healing Arts” meant, and that they seemed more responsive to the name “Transformative Leadership and Social Change.”
Do you find that businesses and corporations are looking to you guys to make employees not only more healthy but also more efficient?
Well, if employees are happier, they are going to be more efficient. At the moment, we have a lot of hospitals coming to us with that question — how to increase satisfaction for employees. Some of our graduates are working with nursing programs, and they’re finding that when you make even small changes, nurses feel satisfied and you reduce nurse turnover. When you tend nurses in their own wellness, they feel more satisfied; you acknowledge their good work, and they stay longer. It’s a huge cost in medicine right now — dissatisfied nurses leaving work, and hiring new nurses to replace them.