Well-Being, Immunity & Resilience: Tips for Thriving in the New Normal

Shamini Jain, PhD, is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), a collaborative accelerator of scientists, healers, artists, and educators to help lead humanity to heal themselves. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego and has received numerous awards for her published studies in biofield healing practices and meditation. Shamini integrates her background in clinical psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, healing arts, vocal performance and East Indian spiritual practice to share with others how they can best heal themselves and live joyful, meaningful lives. Shamini speaks and teaches in diverse venues including TEDx, universities, conferences, hospitals and retreat centers. Her online courses can be found at Shift Network. She also contributes as an author on the science and practice of healing. Her public writing can be found in online blogs including Huffington Post, Thrive Global and the Times of India. Her first public book, Healing Ourselves, will be published with SoundsTrue in 2021.

 

 

Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (ATHM): To begin, tell me about your background and how you’re related to immunity and resilience.

 

Dr. Jain: My field is Psychoneuroimmunology. That sounds like a big word, but honestly all it is is examining how our emotions, immune system and hormone system link together. We call it PNI for short. PNI helps us not only understand how our emotional states affect our immune system and our hormone system, but also helps us understand how healing approaches can affect our mind, body and our health. PNI has been around for about 40 years and it really helps us understand a lot of what people didn’t even believe was true at that time. For example, 40 years ago we hardly believed that emotions could affect our health. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t even think the brain was connected to the immune system. The field of that really helped us uncover that our brain and our spinal cord, what we call our central nervous system, is actually connected to our immune system. And once we started figuring that out, we also started realizing that the brain and the immune system are connected to our hormone system. With those discoveries, we started to uncover the biological pathways by which our emotional state can affect our health.

 

ATHM: How does it relate to nutritional support?

 

Dr. Jain: Our nutrition is going to affect how well we function, including how well our immune system works and how well our brain works, as well as how resilient we are even emotionally. If we don’t have the right nutrients in our body it will even affect our mood. For example, we’re learning more and more that changes in the microbiome in the gut can actually influence levels of neurotransmitters in our brain that relate to mental disorders. There’s actually this deepening interest in psychiatry to look at the links between the brain gut axis and mental function or lack of mental function.

 

ATHM: Do you think that people who have been isolated, working from home and practicing social distancing have had an impact on the brain? Has that impacted immunity?

 

Dr. Jain: I really think a lot of it depends on their mental and emotional state as well as how much they have been able to connect with others during the pandemic. It could go both ways. or people who have had the opportunities to take COVID as a way of slowing down and taking care of their body and doing self-care practices, whether those are meditation, prayer, exercise, or yoga they’re strengthening their ability to fight germs and feel more in control of their health. And on the flip side, I think for people that aren’t as aware of the power of their mind and body connection, they may feel anxiety overtaking them. Much of it has to do with whether we understand the power that we have over our own health, and whether we have the tools to harness that power of our mind-body connection.

What psychoneuroimmunology teaches us is that we do have tremendous power over our minds and bodies. So we can foster resilience, even if we’re around a virus of any kind, not just COVID. By keeping our mind and bodies in a more optimal state where our parasympathetic nervous system is cooperating with our body, we’re not in sympathetic nervous system overdrive where we’re super anxious and tense.

 

ATHM: Are you seeing cases where people are being less stressed during COVID?

 

Dr. Jain: Some people would call this time the great pause. For some of us, we’ve had the opportunity to take a pause and think “what do I want my life to be like now?” In my case, and in the case of some of my colleagues, we have questioned whether we want to fly across the country to give a half hour talk. Do we really need to do that anymore? Can we just do that virtually; is it worth all that stress? And, do we need to take on so much? And for those of us who have families, it’s been a wonderful opportunity to have more time with your children.

I think a lot of young parents really struggled at the beginning of the pandemic, trying to figure out how they will keep working and take care of their kids and make sure they’re getting homeschooled. And so that was really stressful. But I think many parents got into a flow with their children, being able to work from home and, go in the kitchen and see your kid and have a conversation with them during the day and not just at six o’clock at night, when you all got back from work and school. In many ways, the pandemic has given us an opportunity to re-prioritize our health, our relationships and our work-life balance. But we have to hold the line, the boundary, to maintain our optimal health. So there are pros and cons for different people during the time of pandemic, depending on our resources and our outlook.

 

ATHM: In our conversation here, I don’t want to get to a fork in the road here, but really you’re talking to an audience of practitioners, but really with two messages there. One is the message that they share with their patients, but really probably the more important one for them is how they can support themselves through this whole process.

 

Dr. Jain:Absolutely. Reducing burnout in our community of healthcare providers is first and foremost. And one of the things that our nonprofit, The Consciousness and Healing Initiative focuses on and, AIHM is a partner with us,is the biofield, which are the fields of energy and information that guide our health. Exploring the science behind the biofield includes things like bioelectromagnetics, where we’re looking at things like bio photons that are emitted off of the body and their potential relationship with health. That reasoning behind that part of biofield science isn’t really new – for example, we can use an EKG or EEG which tells us about the electric potentials of the heart and its relationship with health. But the other part is what we call, subtle energy things that have been described as prana and chi. Much of my research has looked at these kinds of subtle energy healing approaches for health including for cancer patients and PTSD and anxiety.

Through our randomized controlled trials, we found that things like healing touch are helpful for specifically reducing PTSD and depression. I’ve also conducted a randomized placebo controlled trial, looking at hands on energy healing and found that independent of placebo factors, energy healing can significantly reduce fatigue and improve hormonal function in fatigued breast cancer survivors.

So one of the things that we do with this group of practitioners who have known me over the years as I’ve presented with AIHM many times, is biofield work.It is just another level of being able to empower your own health by practicing what we might call subtle awareness to notice the flow of energy in your body and replenish it naturally.

It may sound very abstract, but it actually really isn’t and it’s been around for thousands of years as part of traditional medicine practices. Examples include Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Chi gong, Tai chi, Yoga and many different forms of meditation. They all claim to work with the subtle energy system in the body. And what we’re uncovering from research is that there really is something to it. These approaches really seem to help boost our health. And there’s several studies that are looking at shifts in immunity related to these kinds of practices.

 

ATHM: To wrap up, what do you hope that the people watching your presentation you’re going to take away from it?

 

Dr. Jain: I want them to feel empowered with the knowledge of how people’s mental well-being can actually affect their immune system. And I want them to come away with key practices that they can do and that they can teach their patients to do that will keep their mental well-being in a positive frame of mind.

 

ATHM: And do you think that they can make that kind of analysis or are you going to provide some resources?

 

Dr. Jain: I’m going to provide them with some research that actually shows the effects of what we know about the different facets of wellbeing that we’ve looked at and how those relate to changes in immunity and changes in hormone function, in different kinds of patients. I’m also going to share with them some practices, meditation and subtle awareness based practices, that they can do by themselves, and that they can also teach to their patients.

 

ATHM: Okay. Good. All right. Well, thank you very much for taking time today to discuss your presentation.

Learn more about this event: www.aihm.org/conference/

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