Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Don't Wait Till New Year’s to Make a Positive Change in Your Life

Read our interview with alumna Dr. Mimi Guarneri (WSC ’81) and see how you can improve your life starting today, by practicing integrative health.
1. What did you study at NYU?
I had a large interest in literature at NYU, and I actually majored in English, but I also did all my pre-med classes. I was one of those hybrid majors that majored in literature instead of science, and I really loved the English literature foundational work I did at NYU, which was helpful when I wrote my first book, The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing. I always knew I would go to medical school, but I didn’t want my humanities background to be left out, and I feel very rounded as a result of taking those classes. And medical schools today like students to be well-rounded and are understanding of different educational backgrounds.

2. Do you have an experience from your time at NYU you are most fond of?
My favorite place at NYU was Bobst Library. I think NYU has a fantastic library, and I spent countless hours there—writing papers and other assignments that you do as an English major. I enjoyed the smaller classes that were in the English department, and got into feminist literature and heroic poetry. I liked when the classes got smaller and more intimate with the different English classes, and the discussions became life discussions about the big picture. That really broadened my perspective on life and [taught me to] look at people in a more holistic way—through the body, mind and spirit. This is the focus of my work now. For example, I learned to read Hamlet by discussing his psyche perspective. Those courses shaped me to look at medicine differently—to not only look at the physical body, but also one’s mental and emotional body. That foundation served me in the work I do at the Guarneri Integrative Health Center.
3. Speaking of the Guarneri Integrative Health Center, you have founded or have been a part of many organizations centered on the importance of integrated health and medicine. Can you explain a little about what integrative health is?
In western medicine we are trained to treat illness scientifically and with medicine. We are very good at quickly making a diagnosis, proscribing medication, and doing surgery. But we are not very good at preventing diseases and treating chronic illness. We like to do the “ill for the pill” prescription. I’m not against medication, but there is a time and place for that. What is missing is the question, why? Why is someone diabetic? Why is someone overweight? Why is someone depressed? The “why” helps get us to integrative health. Think about a sick tree. You think you are going to help it by cutting off the bad parts, the sick fruit. But you are not doing anything to help the tree. Instead you have to treat the soil, give the plant sunlight, clean air, and clean water. This is the same with our health: are we getting enough sleep, enough nutrients, enough exercise, how do you feel spiritually and emotionally, are you stressed, are you depressed? All of these things are determinates of health. Integrative medicine asks the underlining questions—it asks: what is going on in your life? How can we guide you on a path that is good for you and your health? Instead of being active in our health, we have tried to suppress it, not getting to the underlying cause of it. We need to do a creation of health that starts in ones own body, then to our family, then to the community, then to the nation, and then finally to the world. Proper food, safe places to exercise, clean water—all of these things have to go into it. Planetary health is related to human health.
As a cardiovascular surgeon in the 1990’s, I was doing 750 surgeries a year, and thought: we are doing all this surgery, but not looking at how to prevent this disease. When we look at the big picture, we say most of this is preventable, but in our country we are behind in health care. We put nothing in prevention or end of life care. We wait for people to get sick and then give people drugs or surgery instead of doing preventative education. My interest in cardiovascular disease started early. I had a lot of family members who had cardiovascular disease. In the early parts of my career, I started to see that cardiovascular disease could be preventable, and started to ask what we could do to prevent other illnesses in the first place. You can also visit the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine's website to understand our mission and what this is about.
4. You have written articles and a few books centered on healthcare. Can you tell us what your new book, 108 Steps to Healing and Longevity: A Cardiologist Reveals Your Road Map to Health is about?
It’s a book to guide people and to empower them to transform their health in the body, mind and spirit. It’s the type of book that someone can open up and, for example, learn about nutrition, or learn to control their stress response. My first book, The Heart Speaks, is a book of true stories from my heart patients—experiences of people who had heart problems, or experienced grief, or depression—[it’s about] how people can turn their lives around through integrative medicine. It has real stories. I wanted people to see that they could do it too, like the people in the book. And I wanted it to help those people who had family members with heart problems and heart disease, and how they can relate to that.
5. Is writing a component of integrative health for yourself?
Yes, journaling is. The Heart Speaks was never intended to be a book, it was my journal, but I thought other people needed to hear these stories to empower them. Journaling is an important part of integrative health because you can get insights into your problems or concerns. I also meditate. I recommend that to all my patients. It leads to transformation. You have to put all of the information you gather into practice. How do you respond when life throws you a curve ball? Do you practice gratefulness? Forgiveness? Are you physically active? Who’s your tribe, [and do you have] a place where you feel connected and safe? When we get sick it’s too late.

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