We tend to see a doctor at the last possible moment – when we feel we’re too sick to brave the morning commute, or when we have to be rushed to the ER. If we’re feeling depressed, we usually just hope we can feel better soon…or may not give it any thought at all. Yet, our physical and mental health are much more closely intertwined than we think. What if we embraced this knowledge and took steps to stay healthy, to prevent sickness and despair before they happened?
IBREA FOUNDATION’s seminar “OWN YOUR HEALTH: Making Mindful Choices At Any Age,” is a good place to start. Held last Tuesday, February 27 at the Alfred Lerner Hall of Columbia University from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., with a panel of speakers in the fields of mental health and neuroscience, the conference demonstrated how important good mental health is to our overall well-being. Featured speakers included the World Health Organization’s New York office Executive Director, Dr. Nata Menabde; trauma expert and NYU Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Glenn Saxe; the Medical Director of the Harlem Hospital and Associate Dean of Columbia University, Dr. Maurice Wright; Director of the Developmental Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Columbia University, Dr. Nim Tottenham; and as the keynote speaker, IBREA’s founder, expert in mind-body training methods, and New York Times best-selling author, Mr. Ilchi Lee.
The afternoon presentation, held amid unseasonably warm weather, shed some light on some of the more intriguing discoveries in neuroscience, and left its participatory audience an encouraging message on improving not only their lives but their communities as well. It provided insight and direct experience related to taking responsibility of our health and mental well-being from a young age to our elderly years. It’s never too soon, or too late, to take care of your entire well-being. That was the conference’s main take-away.
Dr. Nata Menabde opened the panel with some eye-opening remarks, citing some of the mental health statistics such as depression being a prominent mental disorder that is growing and in 2030 can become the leading cause of disability, and other severe mental health disorders such as schizopfrenia and bipolar disorder affecting almost 40% of the adult population. Most strikingly, she highlighted a steep correlation between mental disorders and premature death in developing nations, roughly 10-20 years less on average, though often due to other things like cardiovascular diseases, and more likely to die of unnatural causes such as suicide or homicide. “The linkage is clear,” she warns: “Without mental health, there is no other health”. However, only a a striking 3% of government budgets in average is dedicated to mental health. These findings were used in 2015 when the UN developed its current global agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals – not only Goal #3, which directly focuses on health and mental wellbeing, but all other goals focusing on other issues such as poverty, economy or environment – as they all find a link with health. The WHO, she emphasized, is prioritizing mental health, and has developed a wide variety of action plans. The year 2018 will feature “depression” as the main topic of discussion, against which WHO promotes not only pharmacological strategies but more importantly, socio-emotional, de-stigmatizing, and grassroots interventions.
Dr. Maurice Wright, MD, spoke of the importance that evidence-based medicine has on creating public policy. The director of Harlem Hospital Center, he has worked with city administrators to renovate and develop patient-centered methods and educational programs that address city health and hospital standards – a move he hopes will foster a family-like atmosphere where people take the incentive of taking care of each other and showing concern for each other’s health, encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more.
Ilchi Lee, IBREA’s founder, whose latest book is titled “I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years”, delivered his presentation wearing a ball cap with the prominent numbers 120 on the brim. It’s how many happy, healthy years he plans to live and he urged his audience to do the same: think of an exact number of years you plan to live, and let that direct how you live your life and the choices you make. With a goal like that it mind, you’re most likely to wake up your brain and get it together, health being the primary focus. Mr. Lee emphasized how we can’t leave our health in the hands of the medical system, supporting Dr. Wright’s patient-centered approach. We have to take charge of our own bodies and minds. Exhibiting the “map of consciousness” developed by Dr. Hawkins, Mr. Lee explained how in a normal mental state, we would be level 200, and that the mental states which we consider to be problematic (mental disorders) probably lie around 100 or below, with emotions such as shame, guilt, apathy. He questioned how our current educational methods might actually be feeding those kinds of emotions, by administering constant tests and keep evaluating the students when many of them might not be ready for it emotionally. But since systems take time to change, what we can do, rather than focusing on changing the systems, is focus on individuals and their own protection from mental and physical distress. He emphasized how the key for us as individuals to stay awake and be protected from disease, is focus. In order to focus, we need to activate our energy and increase our body temperature by at least half a degree, and do this often – every one hour or so. He gave this “gift” or “magic recipe” for health to the audience and had them experience it by rubbing their hands fast and strong for a minute.
Dr. Nim Tottenham, PhD, who works at the developmental neuroscience lab at Columbia University, has long been fascinated by the development of the amygdala in prefrontal cortex as it alters throughout one’s childhood and adolescence. Using fMRI technology, she found a strong linkage between the development of these parts of the brain and early experiences – if her patients had a stressful childhood or if they were well-cared for. She has also studied the brains of parents as they developed – finding that limbic systems were healthier in the brains of caregivers.
Dr. Glenn Saxe, NYU professor of child and adolescent psychiatry found his calling when he worked with adult patients and imagined what it would be like if he were able to treat them for trauma they suffered in their childhood. As a result, he has studied post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition in which the brain feels it is constantly under attack, making it hard to live a happy and productive life. At the conference he discussed his method of treatment called trauma systems therapy, which focuses not only on the patient but the community in which they live and work – seeking to improve life for not only the individual, but for everyone they regularly interact with.
The event’s host, IBREA FOUNDATION, will be opening a Holistic Training Center in Harlem in Spring 2018, with an approach that will focus on natural, preventive and proactive ways so that members of the community can take ownership of their physical and mental health. At the event, IBREA also exhibited the results of the implementation of its brain based holistic education in a high school in Harlem, and the kids from the program confidently led the +300 crowd in the audience through some of the exercises. Their energy said it all: Stay woke, y’all! Own your health!