Ep. 63: James S. Gordon, MD – How to Turn Trauma Into Opportunity

Whatever happened to you, you shouldn’t be diminishing your own experience, or downtalking your trauma.

While I was recovering from my broken and dislocated ankle (it must have been a couple of months into the recovery) I spoke with an acquaintance who broke her ankle a year or two prior to my accident. And I still very clearly remember when she said: “Oh, yes, I broke my ankle too and in a couple of months I was running a 5K race.”

Broken ankle, broken back, a tendon tear, those are all very general descriptions of what happens to us, but as with anything, the details are what matters.

While that lady ran a 5K race a couple of months after her accident, I was using the crutches for 6 months. A talus bone is a tricky bone to heal.

So you see, comparing one injury to another and then doubting yourself if you’re healing well since someone else is progressing so fast is just not a good thing to do.

Comparison can cut your motivation, put your mind into a negative place, let you ride that nasty emotional roller-coaster for too long, and it can affect your healing as well.

But what to do if you find yourself comparing yourself with others? There are ways that pretty much any experience can be turned into a growth opportunity, and this goes double for injuries.

Dr. James Gordon is an expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma, published author, and creator of programs of mind-body healing for physicians, medical students, and other health professionals. And in this really important talk, we explore how you can always find things to be grateful for, and things that will positively affect your mental state, and in turn, your physical health.

In this amazing episode, you’ll discover:

  • Why the overwhelming feelings you are experiencing right now might not be caused by injury-related trauma.
  • How comparison can negatively affect your recovery and what to do instead.
  • What makes an attitude of gratitude one of the many small important steps you need to be taking right now.
  • Hands-on work: deep breathing calming exercise.

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Show notes & links

The show notes are written in chronological order

  • Dr. James S. Gordon’s website:  https://www.cmbm.org
  • Dr. James S. Gordon’s books:
  • Moshe Feldenkrais | Feldenkrais Federation [discover more here]
  • Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist, 60(5), 410. [read it here]
  • Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377. [read it here]
  • Neuroscience Reveals the Secrets of Meditation’s Benefits [read it here
  • Meditation and Mindfulness: What You Need To Know (overview of research) [discover more here]

00:00 – excerpt from the episode
00:49 – intro (listen to discover a little more about your host. Martin will tell you a new lesser-known fact about Dr. Maya)

Dr. Maya Novak:
While I was recovering from my broken and dislocated ankle (it must have been a couple of months into the recovery) I spoke with an acquaintance who broke her ankle a year or two prior to my accident. And I still very clearly remember when she said: “Oh, yes, I broke my ankle too and in a couple of months I was running a 5K race.” Broken ankle, broken back, a tendon tear, and so on are very general descriptions of what happens to us but as with anything, the details are what matters. While that lady ran a 5K race a couple of months after her accident, I was using the crutches for 6 months. A talus bone is a tricky bone to heal. So you see, comparing one injury to another and then doubting yourself if you’re healing well since someone else is progressing so fast is just not a good thing to do. Comparison can cut your motivation, put your mind into a negative place, let you ride that nasty emotional roller-coaster for too long, and it can affect your healing as well. But what to do if you find yourself comparing yourself with others? This is just one of the topics I covered with Dr. James Gordon. This talk that you’re tuning in is from 2020 when he joined me on my Mindful Injury Recovery World Summit. I’m proud to share it with you here and now because I know it will help you on your healing journey. Please enjoy.

Dr. Maya Novak:
In this interview, I’m joined by Dr. James Gordon, who is a Psychiatrist and world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. He is the author of the book The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. He has created groundbreaking programs of comprehensive mind-body healing for physicians, medical students, and other health professionals. Dr. Gordon is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School, and served as Chairman of the Whitehouse Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. James, thank you so much for joining me.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
I’m happy to be here with you, Maya.

Dr. Maya Novak:
I am really excited about this conversation because this topic is so extremely needed. Now, before we go into trauma and anxiety and overwhelming feelings, can you share a bit about yourself, especially why did you decide to go into psychiatry?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Well, I’ve always been interested in people’s stories and loved to read as a kid, and I loved to read about people dealt with difficult situations, and I grew up in a kind of crazy family too. So, part of the effort was to understand what was going on and to be helpful to people in my family, plus my father was a physician and my mother’s father had been a physician. So, there was a sense of wanting to be a doctor. I wanted to be useful to other people, and I liked the idea of being with people when they were going through very difficult times and being helpful to them. And although I enjoyed other parts of medicine – I practice Chinese medicine, I work a lot with nutrition and other approaches – the focus, when I was in medical school, was really on helping people understand, and to help themselves by virtue of being able to listen to them and to create a kind of healing partnership with them. So, psychiatry seemed the logical place for me to go. At that point, when I was in medical school, psychiatry was very different from what it is now. Now, psychiatry has become in many ways very diminished, and too many psychiatrists are simply writing prescriptions for medication. And so far as I’m concerned, that is both a small part of what being also, in most instances, a last resort. I was much more interested when I began in how to help people understand and help themselves through talking with them; through helping them explore why they were troubled and what they could do about it. And then as I was working as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, I became very interested in a whole range – the world’s range of approaches and techniques that lie outside of conventional medicine, many of which anyone can learn to use to help themselves. So, with food, with different forms of meditation, with mental imagery, with movement and dance and drawings. I got very interested in those because I understood that all of us, not just people with psychological problems, but that most of the problems, physical or psychological, there’s no magic bullet. There’s no pill that we can take to make them go away. And, of course, chronic pain being one of those problems, and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and depression, and anxiety, alcoholism. A whole list where the answers, or many of the answers, I was discovering – and this was the early 1970s – lay in what we could do to understand and help ourselves. And so I became very interested in how to help this model, which was sometimes called holistic, and now is more often called integrative, how to help this model not only be a kind of interesting curiosity but how to bring it into the center of all healthcare.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Which is extremely important, and what we’re going to talk about here today is trauma because you are an expert in trauma. Now, when we’re thinking about trauma, usually we think about it as something huge or as a disaster, not like smaller things, so to say. Can you explain a bit what actually the definition of trauma in this context is?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Sure. Trauma is a word of Greek origin, and it means injury – injury to the body, to the mind, the spirit, to the social wellbeing or usually to all of those. Trauma comes to everyone sooner or later. I think this really important to understanding. It is not just something that people who live through a war or have a life-threatening illness or have the most horrible abusive family, experience. All of us will experience trauma, sometimes early in life, if we do have an abusive and neglectful family, if we grow up in a world of violence of poverty, or if we have a significant physical illness. And if it doesn’t come early in life, it is likely to come in young adulthood or midlife as we deal with losses of relationships that are meaningful to us, or significant disappointments in our work life, in our idea about who we are going to be in the world, or when we’re dealing with our parents’ illnesses and death. And if it doesn’t come then, it will surely come if we’re lucky enough to live to be old because our bodies become frail, and that’s traumatic. We lose people we love, also very traumatic. And we have to deal with our own inevitable death, perhaps for most of us, the greatest trauma of all. So, I think it’s really important that we understand that trauma is a part of life. It’s not something that just happens to those other people, and not something that is apart from life. It’s a part of life, and if we understand that, then we’re in a position to be able to deal with it much more effectively.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes. With trauma, I very often see those people who are injured, they start comparing themselves. ‘Well, my trauma was not as big as someone else’s. So why should I be here crying about it if there are people who are in worse situations’. What are your thoughts about that when we are actually making our trauma smaller?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Yes, I’ve seen that often, and I think the thing is that this is not about comparison. Comparisons are one of the great diseases of our society. It’s hard to call it even a civilization, but of our society. We’re always comparing. Who’s got more, who’s better, who’s worse. That’s not the point. One of the things that’s very interesting is that in those sorts of comparison sweepstakes if you will, that often the people who have the most traumatic problems, they’ve lost many members of a family, they don’t feel that way. They understand that other people have very significant traumas as well, even though they don’t look, perhaps, on the surface as big. So, I think that comparison is, in a way, another way of devaluing our own experience and devaluing ourselves. It’s not about comparison. It’s about each of us going through whatever comes to us in our lives and being willing to accept it, to become aware of it, to work with it, and in the case of – if you’re in a group with other people, being willing to share what you’re experiencing with other people. I know that for myself, a couple of weeks ago my brother died. To me – I mean, I loved him dearly. He was my little brother and I’m devastated by it. And my friends, including my friends who have lived through wars and they’ve lost many family members, reached out to me with total understanding. My brother was 65, he was not a young person anymore, but they understood, totally, what I was going through. And when we do groups and we have groups of people, there may be somebody with a very advanced cancer who’s in a group, and there’s somebody else who’s having a difficult time with her partner, for example. It’s actually, in a way, very healing for the person with advanced cancer to be able to tune into that other person and to feel compassion for that other person. So, I think it’s so much better for us, and for those people who relate to us, just to accept what’s going on with us and not to judge it, if we can. And if we judge it, and this is, in a way, where mindfulness comes in, if we catch ourselves judging ourselves, as so many of us do, just to relax and to just notice that you’re judging yourself, and just become aware of what’s actually going on. Doing that will help you to begin to move through your trauma, and it will also help other people. It’s very interesting that way that one of the ways – we do a lot of work with groups at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine – and one of the things that we see is that it’s very helpful for people to come together and to simply listen to one another. And that as we listen to each other, we discover amazing similarities that we have with each other. I was just thinking about the example of somebody having trouble with her partner and somebody with advanced cancer. The idea coming to that person with advanced cancer, oh, yeah, the problem for me right now is not my cancer, it’s the fact that me, and my husband, can’t talk to each other! We’ve got to focus on that. I’d totally forgotten that’s the thing that’s most on my mind right now. So, we’re all learning from each other all the time.

Dr. Maya Novak:
What you just mentioned, this example, I see this very often also with women and men who are injured. It’s about that injury, but it’s so much more because of what is happening internally with us. Overwhelming feelings or stress, it’s going to sooner or later affect our physical bodies as well. So, I love that you shared this example.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Yes, and I think now it’s really important to in this time of the coronavirus. A friend of mine, a very close friend of mine, likely has the virus and I visit her, keeping a safe distance. Her major issue right now, yes, she’s having some trouble breathing, she has some fever, and she doesn’t feel strong, but the major issue is her loneliness. So, I think we really have to become aware of yes, there are physical things that are maybe distressing, and there may be things we can do about those. But then there are also issues that we all have because we’re all humans and we have all these different dimensions of our lives.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Since you mentioned right now the loneliness, I think that so many people can now understand what those who are injured and not able to move around, what they are experiencing. That fear, that loneliness, that insulation, that overwhelming feeling. So, can we talk a bit about that? What I would love to talk about is when someone is experiencing all of this, so either fear or anxiety or depression, and so on, and is injured, so let’s say that we are really taking an injured person here. Do you think that the injury is the cause for those feelings or perhaps this could be something that is just coming to the surface from the past, perhaps something that wasn’t…?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Well, the injury compels us to pay attention, and the injury also limits the range of our responses. So, that’s number one. But relating more to your question as well, any time we’ve been traumatized in the past when we experience an injury it does bring up those past problems. So, that’s something and it’s painful, but it also gives us an opportunity to deal with the past trauma as well. As we deal with the past trauma, where more able to deal able with the present challenge, with the challenge of the injury. So, my friend, for example, who has had many physical injuries before she developed what’s likely the coronavirus. As she’s dealing with the loneliness that came originally from the physical injuries and physical limitation, she had to deal with some of the loneliness of childhood, and feelings of being – when she was totally mobile, but the feelings of having been abandoned and neglected by her family. So, sometimes those feelings would come up with her. Or having lost friends or earlier in her life. Or having lost her first marriage early on. So, I think that those come up and we need to recognize that the injury is a catalyst for bringing up those past experiences. Now, one of the things is that within the scope of the injury, and within the limitations, there are also things that we can do to help ourselves. So, we may not be able to move the way we did previously. I’m almost 80. I can’t move the way I did when I was a 20-year-old, or even a 40 or 50-year-old athlete. I can’t move the way I did, so I’m having to learn to move in different ways. And what we do is we work a lot with people who are – we’ve worked a lot in warzones and post-war situations. So, we’ve worked a lot with people with amputations and people who’ve suffered other kinds of terrible injuries, and we kind of teach them how to move freely within the limitations that they have. And I think this is always something that’s really important, and one can enjoy within the limitations that freedom of movement. So, I can’t do Kung-Fu right now, but I can do a little very gentle Tai Chi, and I kind of recover that Tai Chi form. Similarly, we teach many active techniques at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and one of the ones that we teach that’s very, very useful for people who’ve been traumatized, we work with expressive meditations. There are many kinds of meditations. Expressive meditations are the oldest ones on our planet. They’re the ones that use physical movement or shouting – expressive. Expressing with voice, with the body, movement, and one of the first ones that we do is shaking and dancing. The idea of expressive meditations is they break up those fixed physical and psychological patterns that come to us not only when we’ve been injured, but also when we’ve been seriously traumatized. When we’re traumatized, they are basically – as you probably know – but perhaps all of our viewers don’t, there are two physiological reactions. One is the fight or flight reaction, the heart rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, muscles get tense, the center for fear and anger in the brain is firing like crazy, the frontal cortex areas of judgment and awareness and compassion is decreased. It’s hard to relate to other people. That kind of fight or flight response, which is there, and many people who are injured, they’re in fight or flight all the time. They’re tense, they’re anxious, they’re worried, they’re in pain. So, that is easy to work with, with simple slow deep breathing. And that’s what I teach right at the beginning of The Transformation. That’s what we teach at the beginning of all our groups and workshops at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Just simply sitting and breathing slowly and deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth with our belly soft and relaxed, focusing on the breath, on the word soft as we breathe in, and belly as we breathe out, and on the feeling of our belly being soft and relaxed. We can do this just for another minute or two, knowing that as we do this, we’re activating the vagus nerve, vagus means wandering in Latin. This big nerve wanders up from our belly, through our chest, through the central nervous system to the brain. It’s the antidote to the fight or flight response. It slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, relaxes big muscles, quiets fear and anxiety. It makes it easier to be thoughtful and self-aware, and easier to connect with other people. Simply doing this for a few minutes, we start to come back into balance. This is a basic way of working with that anxiety, that tension, that pain that we have. Anyone can do this. Closing the eyes is usually helpful because it removes external stimulation. There’s a long discussion of the physiology and all aspects of this in my book The Transformation, on the website cmbm.org. I teach it and people can do it with me, and I teach all the physiology as well. Sometimes though, when we’re so overwhelmed – and this happens with people with significant injuries – when we feel that the trauma is overwhelming and inescapable, then in addition to the body being agitated and tense, sometimes it just shuts down totally. That’s known as the freeze response, and that’s a very old biological response and the origins are deep in our midbrain, deep in vertebrae biology. Animals that are in a confrontation, they deal with it by when the confrontation is over – if you have a dog that gets in a fight with another dog - they shake themselves off and they get rid of that tension. We can do the same thing. It’s very simple. You can do this. If you can stand, you can do it standing with your feet shoulder-width. If you need to, if your balance isn’t good, you can hold onto something. You can do it in a chair, in a wheelchair. And you can do it lying in a hospital bed. We’ve done this with thousands and thousands of people who have suffered serious injuries. The first part is shaking for five or six-minute or more, and what it does is it begins to break up those fixed patterns of tension and fear and anger. The body starts to open up and emotions that have been buried start to emerge. And then we suggest being quiet for a couple of minutes and just relaxing and being aware of the breath and the body. And then letting your body move to music. Music that’s inspiring and energizing for you. Anybody can do this, and the results are quite remarkable. I’m smiling, I’m thinking of a group of women in Gaza, who were in wheelchairs. They were all amputees and the prostheses, unfortunately, aren’t very good. So, they spend much of their time in wheelchairs. And working with them and doing the shaking and dancing and having this group of women just shaking in those wheelchairs and then moving to music. In this case, it was traditional Arabic music that they all liked, and it was just so beautiful. Afterwards, you could see the smiles on their faces because they released some of that tension and some of that pain and some of that distress. They began to get some pleasure from their bodies. I think one of the terrible things, as you know I’m sure, and as our viewers know, but just a reminder, one of the terrible things that happens when we’ve been injured is we come to feel like our body is not our friend anymore, it’s our enemy. And so we really need to do everything we can to make friends with our bodies again. This shaking and dancing, for many, many people, is the first step to befriending our bodies again. And there’s a whole chapter in The Transformation, actually, a couple of chapters on befriending and learning from our bodies.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Wow, this is amazing. Thank you so much, James, for guiding us through this process because this is something that we can actually implement right now, today, and start seeing results in the body. So, thank you for that. You were explaining a bit earlier, yes, when you are injured your body starts changing, especially if you are not allowed to move around. You are losing muscle tone, so things are changing. But sometimes it’s also people have a feeling or vision that their lives are over, so it’s never going to be like it was before. This is very hard on them. Do you think that this is because we are losing a part of identity or that we have to leave something behind, or maybe I can ask it in a way that would that help us just to decide that this is a part from the past, and we now moving into the future with other possibilities?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think that’s the crucial thing. And it’s hard to give up these ideas of ourselves, the self that we once were.

Dr. Maya Novak:
We'll continue in just a moment. I wanted to quickly jump in for two things. First, thank you for tuning in. And second, I’m sure you have at least one friend, colleague, or family member who would very much appreciate this episode. So share it with them and help us spread the word. Now let’s continue…

Dr. James S. Gordon:
I want to put it in the larger context first. I don’t think it’s easy for anybody. I mean I have a bunch of old athletic injuries, which make my knees very whiney and complaining, but I don’t have a serious physical injury. But I think for me, and for everyone I know, this change that comes about where we lose our capacity is really very difficult because we are different. And if there’s a serious injury, and we can’t do what we used to do, if we can’t run, we can’t even walk anymore, for example, or we can only walk a few steps. It’s really quite devastating to our sense of who we are. And so we have to somehow allow ourselves to mourn what we’ve lost. It may come back in dreams. You may be that young boy or girl running across the fields in your dream. It’s not going to happen in that way, and yet you can feel some – and I think you have to mourn what you don’t have, but also enjoy what you do have. So, I’m sitting here moving and it’s like as I’m sitting in the chair and I’m moving my body the way I’m moving, with really just my arms at this point, I’m just feeling the kind of pleasure of that movement. And actually, with that movement, there does come memories of running, and that comes to me, and that also gives me pleasure. Because my knees are so banged-up I can’t run anymore. But sitting here, and I’m just realizing this now as I’m moving my arms, I’m just feeling some of that same pleasure as when I was actually able to move my whole body and run. So, I think everybody’s got to discover what they can do. My friend, for example, who used to be incredibly active. She used to run fast, and ride horses, and fight and do all kinds of things. Now, what she’s doing is some very slow, very easy yoga postures. Very, very slow, and she’s getting satisfaction out of that. I think here again the comparison is really a problem. If we’re constantly comparing ourselves now to what we were, we’re always going to be unhappy. We need to start enjoying what we have. One of my first teachers when I was at Harvard Medical School – I had a lot of very good teachers, people who won Nobel prizes and people who were very good teachers, who were great with patients – not as many of those as I would have liked, but there were some. But my greatest teacher was a friend of mine who was a girlfriend of one of my medical school classmates. They had a horrible accident. He was driving and she was in the passenger seat, and she became quadriplegic. She was this wonderful girl. She was a kindergarten teacher, and she was just so active and so joyful and she was quadriplegic. Somehow, she managed to find – just speaking about movement – she managed to find some joy. She was amazing. She was a miracle. She managed to find some joy. She’d have something in her mouth, sometimes it would be a pencil, sometimes it would be a straw, and she’d point things. She’d move her head a little, and she could point things to me. She could point at the drawings that her little students had done and that she had on the wall and the room of the hospital, and she could smile. Now, she was a miracle. But she taught me what is possible, and I was just a kid myself. She showed me what was possible. She showed me the joy that she could have. I couldn’t imagine, how could I survive that? I didn’t think I’d ever possibly. But she could, and she did. So, perhaps we don’t know what we’re capable of, and we don’t know how we are capable of enjoying what we do have. She was quite remarkable because I watched over time, I used to visit her regularly, and I watched everybody – she was in a rehab hospital after a while – everybody would come and gather around Jenny’s bed. All the doctors, they wanted to talk to her, not to help her – they wanted to help her, but they wanted her to hear their troubles. So, she became – it was like she was the therapist, the listener for the entire ward because she understood what was going on. And within the limitations and the very severe limitations, she was able to enjoy what she could. She was able to enjoy eating. She was able to enjoy the pointing. She was able to enjoy what she could see and hear and smell. So, I don’t know, people are amazing. And I think that our job is to create – and my job, I suppose, is to help create the conditions where people can discover what’s possible for them, and what has meaning for them, and what gives them life.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Oh my goodness, I got teary eyes when you were telling this story because it’s true. I mean, something so tragic, in a way can teach us who we are and how to actually find those little joys that make us happy. We always think when I’m going to – somewhere in the future – have that or that or that, I’m going to be happy, and then that happiness never comes. So, finding what you just described, finding those small joys every single day can actually create a really beautiful bath to become happy no matter what kind of situation is within our body.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Yes, I’m with you completely. The other thing is this doesn’t mean you don’t try your best to do whatever you can to get better. Whether it’s surgical interventions – Jenny was having tendon transplants to help her somehow use her hands. And there are all kinds of – I don’t know if you know Moshe Feldenkrais’s work?

Dr. Maya Novak:

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Very interesting. You ought to look at it. It’s very interesting for people with serious injuries. He was an Israeli physicist and soccer player. He created a method of movement, kind of re-moving arms, legs, etc., peripheral movement to reeducate the brain. I saw him work with children with cerebral palsy and teaching them exercises, just kind of funny movement exercises that somewhere were reprogramming their brains. This was maybe 40 years ago that I knew him, he’s no longer here on the planet. But that’s an example of some of the things that, for example, most physicians don’t know about, but yet can be very helpful in rehabilitation. So, I think we have to use whatever we can to help us become as functional as possible, and at the same time, do our best to enjoy wherever we are. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Yes. Absolutely. Now, here’s the question, when we are in a difficult situation, so either being injured and being stuck at home. Or with what is happening right now in the world, so many people being isolated. How do we find gratitude even those challenging times? Because gratitude, I think it’s one most powerful healing states. So, do you agree with that? And how do we find gratitude in that?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
I agree with you completely, and there is a whole chapter in The Transformation about gratitude, but let me briefly say I think the first piece of it is relaxing in the moment – which is what meditation is all about. So, we did little soft-belly breathing, I mentioned shaking and dancing, there are mindfulness exercises, but just any kind of meditation that will help you develop a little bit more relaxed moment to moment awareness. That is the beginning of appreciation. It’s the doorway to appreciation. And appreciation is a very close cousin of gratitude. For example, what I find is I sit pretty much every day really, and I do some soft-belly breathing, is that after a couple of minutes, I find I’m enjoying, and my shoulders are relaxing. I’m slowing down a little, I’m watching my thoughts come and go. I’m less troubled by them, they’re just coming more slowly and they’re not these big monsters anymore, they’re just these little floating thoughts. I find after doing this for about five minutes, a smile’s coming to my face. I’m kind of enjoying myself and I’m just sitting here. I’m not doing anything, just sitting and breathing, and I’m enjoying myself and I’m – oh yeah, I’m here in a body, I’m alive! Oh, that’s a miracle, I’m alive. And that opens me as I bring that meditative attitude – that meditative mind into the rest of my day. Because meditation is not primarily about x technique or y technique, it’s bringing who we become through meditation into every aspect of our lives. So, as I become a little bit more meditative, I’m enjoying talking with you. I’m grateful to be able to talk to you and I’m looking at you, and you look great, and you’re enjoying yourself and so I’m enjoying myself here. So, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be with you and to kind of have a moment of communication in a day that’s very busy with tasks that I have to do. So, I think it’s a matter of bringing that attitude into more and of our life. I have a little iced coffee here. I’m grateful I can have a sip of iced coffee. One of the things that people have found very useful is to keep a gratitude journal.

Dr. Maya Novak:

Dr. James S. Gordon:
It’s very simple, and a lot of research has been done on this showing its benefits. So, all you do is at the beginning or the end of a day – most people like to do it at the end of a day, but some people at the beginning. Or you do it at any time. You write down three or five things for which you’re grateful. It sort of reminds us of what we’re grateful for. Doing that, simply doing that over a period of weeks or months decreases blood pressure, it decreases pain, improves mood, it decreases anxiety. People have done this research. So, some of us are more, I suppose, congenitally grateful. For whatever reason, we come into this world grateful, others, not so much. But a gratitude journal seems to be like a little mini school to help us learn to discover what we’re grateful for. It’s open to all of us and it’s beautiful. You’ll see – just do it. Nothing I’m saying really is a matter of belief. This is all a matter of science, a matter of experiment, and a matter of experience. You do it and decide for yourself does it make sense to change my attitude this way. To do this soft-belly breathing, to do shaking and dancing, whatever is, to keep a gratitude journal. Everybody is going to decide for themselves what’s most helpful to you. What’s most helpful to you may be different from what’s most helpful for me.

Dr. Maya Novak:
This is amazing advice. I love that just being open-minded and just try. I mean, you have nothing to lose if you try to be grateful for a few things per day. It can only be very beneficial. I love how empowering this conversation is. And everything that you are sharing so that people can take something, and really implement it in their lives. I also know that there are maybe some people who are listening and they’re in a situation where they’re losing about their future and about their healing. So, what would you say to someone who is losing hope about their recovery?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
What about the recovery? Just tell me a little more specifically. What do you think people are looking for?

Dr. Maya Novak:
So, sometimes it’s my body is not healing the way it should be. Or I don’t know if this is going to actually – if I’m ever going to be okay. I don’t know if I’m going to heal the way I want to. I’m not sure if there is actually the light at the end of the tunnel. Right now I’m here really sad, really overwhelmed, and I’m just in this blackness. So, what would you say to someone who is right now in that hopelessness? Do you know what I mean?

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Yes, I do. And I think what I would say is try some – one or another or several of these self-care techniques and see what happens. That’s what’s going to give you hope. If you can, note it. So, if you do soft-belly breathing, for example. Normally when I teach this, whether I’m teaching it in The Transformation or I’m teaching it in a workshop or to a patient in my office, I’ll take 10 or 12 minutes and I’ll be teaching, we’ll be doing it together. I’ll be teaching the physiology as I do it. What I’ve seen with every population that I’ve worked with including people with very serious injuries, people who are paraplegic, amputees, people with Stage 4 cancer, all kinds of people, is that 80 percent of people notice a change. So, if you notice a change – maybe their shoulders are a little more relaxed. Maybe they’re a little calmer, or they feel their heart rate slowing down. Maybe the room is a little bit brighter. What that says is that you are capable of making a change. You are not helpless. And if you’re capable of making one change, our mind understands that we’re capable of making another. So, we’re not hopeless. This has to come out of one’s experience, number one. That’s the major place. The second place, and this is why in The Transformation I write about so many different people who’ve been in so many different kinds of hopeless situations, is seeing that other people have been able to make major changes. Other people in situations just like yours, or situations that may even seem to some of us much worse, like my friend Jenny’s situation. So, other people’s experience gives us hope. And then there’s the scientific evidence, just the way I was quoting about the studies on gratitude. There are thousands of studies on meditation showing the difference that it makes. So, all three of those will give you hope. Not me saying – I mean, I can if I know you and I’m your doctor and I know your condition and I’ve worked with a bunch of people. I can say x number of people I’ve worked with this condition have improved this much. That’s fine, but I think we’re talking about people who are really in a state of – the doctor has said whatever they’re going to say – but they’re still in a state of I don’t know if it’s ever going to change. Well, what I would say, is begin this process, and you don’t know where it’s going to wind up. None of us does. And I think that’s really important to point out that I don’t know when I start for myself on any kind of program to help myself. The theory is there. I can read some scientific studies. I’ve seen somebody else that’s told me something. I need to experience it myself. And step by step, I can see the difference it’s making. For example, I’m now – I haven’t really done Tai Chi seriously in 30 years, and now I’m going back and not just doing the little part that I remember, but I’m learning the whole form very, very slowly – very slowly, but I’m seeing a little difference. I have a little better balance. A posture that I’d totally forgotten, I mangled the first 20 times I did, now it’s a little bit better. So, this is the kind of thing that we can notice, this change. That’s what we’re looking for, and it takes time. The other thing, I’m not a very patient person! I don’t know about you or our viewers, patience is not my virtue! So, I’m learning it. I’m having to learn it. But it’s very useful, not only because in general, I can stick with something, but also because I’m more sensitive to small changes and appreciate them more. So, I think this is a journey. This is not about if a miracle comes, fantastic, and everything shifts in a fell swoop great. That’s not the way it’s going to be most of the time with any significant injury. It’s going to be step-by-step. I think it’s important for people to focus on those steps rather than be preoccupied with where it’s ultimately going because you’re not there yet. Why are you worried about it? Why not see what you can do, and what that experience is like, and that will encourage you to take the next step.

Dr. Maya Novak:
It’s really about the journey. So, it’s not the end result so much, but it’s the journey and what you are doing on a daily basis. I love that you mentioned theory is one thing, but practice is everything. We need to practice and start doing. Not just reading or understanding mentally, we really have to start practicing and implementing and doing those small steps. So, thank you so much for sharing this.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Thank you.

Dr. Maya Novak:
We covered a lot here in this last 45-50 minutes. What I would like to ask you is what is your number one advice that you would give someone who is recovering? So, perhaps something that we already covered, or perhaps something completely different.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
You know, one thing that I would suggest our viewers consider is joining one of our mind-body skills groups. We now have them online. So, these are groups that we’ve been doing where we teach many of the self-care techniques that I write about in The Transformation. They are groups of about 10 people, and they are led by our Center for Mind-Body Medicine faculty. These are about 130-140 people who have worked me, some of them for as long as 20 or more years, others for five or 10 years, and who are using these techniques. We teach them in a small group and it’s a way of being able to learn at your own pace because we have them online. You can learn them in your own home. We do them on Zoom, the way we’re talking here. Learning with a small group of other people – all different kinds of people from all over the world with all different kinds of issues that they have or things they want to learn about. It’s a beautiful way to learn and learn with other people, share our experience with other people, and learn from them as well as with them. For most people, it turns out to be so much easier to learn and do self-care, if you’re doing it with a group of other people. The groups are not to fix you! Nobody needs fixing! We’re here to help you make discoveries and help you learn to use these tools and techniques for yourself and to share your experience with other people. So, on our website, cmbm.org. You can get on there and find the mind-body skills groups. And if you can afford it, there’s a reasonable fee, but we never turn anyone away because they can’t pay. So, we want anyone who needs to join these groups and wants to join these groups. We have about 17 or 18 going now. We’re starting 10 more soon, and we’ll be doing many more. Because, right now, pretty much everybody’s got to stay at home! So, we’re doing more and more of these groups at home. And for people who want to look at the research, I describe some of the research on The Transformation. You can look at it on our website. Eighty percent of the people in war or post-war situations who’ve participated in these groups, who began with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, no longer have those symptoms after 10 or 11 of these groups. It’s a very powerful intervention. It sort of works on the basic physiology and psychology of stress and trauma, and rebalances us, brings us back into balance, helps us mobilize our imagination to solve problems that come up. There are many imaginative techniques and expressive techniques that we teach but I think this could be a great resource for our viewers.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Solutions are available. Thank you so much for sharing that. So, where people can find more about you is on your website and the book.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
They can find it on the website, cmbm.org, jamesgordonmd.com, you can find it there. Or the best way to find it is to read The Transformation. There’s so much of me there in The Transformation, plus all these techniques and all of these approaches, and stories about them and the science that says that they work. So, that would be my invitation. It’s easy to buy. Right now, it’s quite inexpensive on Amazon, and you’ll meet me there. Also, if you look on the website, I’m doing webinars now every week. Tune into those, and come and join our community. And thank you very much for allowing me to a part of your community.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Well, James, I’m extremely grateful for this conversation, and for everything that we’ve covered here because I know that it’s helping so many people around the world. So, thank you so much for being here, and for sharing your knowledge.

Dr. James S. Gordon:
Thank you, Maya. It’s a pleasure.

Dr. Maya Novak:
Thank you for tuning into today’s episode with Dr. James Gordon. If you haven’t done it yet, subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you’re using to tune in, and share this episode with your loved ones – it really can change someone’s life. To access show notes, links, and transcript of today’s talk go to mayanovak.com/podcast. To learn more about The Mindful Injury Recovery Method visit my website mayanovak.com and find my book Heal Beyond Expectations on Amazon. Until next time – keep evolving, blooming, and healing.

Love and gratitude xx
Dr. Maya

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