Dr. Nadia, the Mindful MD Mom, is, as her awesome title suggests, a mom, a board-certified and practicing pediatrician, plus a yogi and writer.
She runs the inspiring blog themindfulmdmom.com where she candidly explores topics around motherhood, meditation, medicine, mindfulness, yoga, and healthy living.
Open, honest and wonderfully real, The Mindful MD Mom Blog, though still very young is already drawing tons of attention and acclaim.
It was named number seven of the top 30 Millennial Mom Blogs and number 34 of the Top 100 Mindfulness Blogs in 2018. It has also been featured on dozens of other blogs and magazines, such as MomMD, The Baby Spot and Fempower Magazine UK.
Here, Dr. Nadia answers our questions about balancing modern medicine with meditation and yoga, the role of mindfulness in physical health and parenting and the importance of work-life balance!
This is part of Nutrishatives’ Ask an Expert Series, where we chat with movers and shakers in health, wellness, nutrition, and medicine about their careers, their current work and their expert opinions on… well… their area of expertise!
Pediatrician, yogi, and writer! That’s not a professional combo that you see all that often! Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to pursue these three diverse passions?
Thank you so much for having me here. I’d love to share more about myself and my journey.
Though diverse, my passions ultimately come from a commonplace: to help others and empower them to take charge of their health, wellbeing, and life.
I chose to be a pediatrician to take of children and advocate for their health and happiness; a yogi for balance and peace in my health and life; and to write as my creative outlet.
I am grateful to be able to do that both professionally and personally and share my knowledge and experience as a physician, yogi, and writer.
Your blog focuses much and more on mindfulness (hence the name!) Did this focus on mindfulness grow out of your yoga practice? Out of your medical studies? Out of something else entirely?
All of the above actually!
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to the present moment in a gentle and non-judgmental way and has been a big part of my life. Over the last few years especially, I have been deepening my practice while learning more about how to use it in the various aspects of my life, personally and professionally.
When I became a parent, making conscious and mindful decisions became even more important because it impacts not only ourselves but our children and families.
(Read more on how my perspective as a pediatrician changed when I became a parent.)
So, how to balance our numerous responsibilities, make good choices as a parent, how to live a healthy and authentic life, raise kind and successful children, how to keep our sanity while being sleep deprived as new parents?
These are great questions.
Add in that each child (and parent) is unique and there’s no “one size fits all” strategy. It has to be tailored and customized. We have to take a mindful approach.
With that in mind, and to discuss topics pertinent to the modern millennial parent, I created The Mindful MD Mom and share my experiences as a doctor/mom/yogi to empower others to live their best lives: mindful living, conscious parenting, and holistic wellness.
While we’re on the subject, as a doctor and a yogi, what role do you think mindfulness/meditation play (or should play) in maintaining physical health or treating physical diseases?
Mindful living is incredibly important in all aspects of life. We are so busy in our lives and multitask so many parts of our lives.
Instead of increasing efficiency, excess multitasking can lead to distraction, dissatisfaction, depression, overeating, sleep issues, and so on. Mindfulness and meditation is the practice of bringing back awareness to the present in a gentle and non-judgmental way without critiques or negative self-talk.
Many of us have perfectionistic qualities or try to do too much and then we are very harsh with ourselves. Maybe we set unrealistic goals or don’t prioritize tasks and then get frustrated if we don’t achieve everything perfectly. We start negative thought patterns or even berate ourselves.
Over time, this has a very negative effect. It actually rewires our brains for negativity and many of us get stuck in a loop.
(Read more on meditation to let go of perfection.)
When it comes to health or treatment of physical symptoms, sometimes there may not be a quick solution — chronic issues, stress, migraines, anxiety, chronic pain, postpartum body changes, diabetes, or even recovery from an injury or surgery, to name a few.
Maybe it is taking longer than expected and our body and health is not as it used to be. This loss of familiarity, control, and ability can be very frustrating and disheartening. How to deal? Will we ever get back to the way we used to be?
Mindfulness and meditation are great tools to help us realize that it is ok to be human, to have emotions and reactions, and allow ourselves grace and self-compassion.
With those who are going to anything like what is mentioned earlier, I can empathize with you.
I recently had thyroid surgery to remove a suspicious mass that turned out to be a thyroid tumor. The wait to find out if it could be the “C” word (cancer) was agonizing. When the final pathology came back that the tumor was benign, my family and I were elated.
However, recovery was longer and harder than I expected. When I was finally cleared to resume normal activities, I was discouraged to find that I was no longer at the level of physical strength I was at previously.
I felt very fatigued. I noticed I was having to go slower in my workout and yoga practice. It was as if my body had forgotten what it knew previously.
Mindful meditation helped me to acknowledge and accept that things were going to be different. I am recovering from a surgery and it takes time to heal.
This will be a new chapter in my personal journey and maybe, for now, it will be my “new normal”. I may have to adjust my practice and learn along the way. And that’s ok.
Yoga and modern medicine have totally different takes on health, in general. Modern medicine focuses on a lack of disease and normal physiological markers. Yoga focuses on a sense of well-being and peace. Do you find these concepts difficult to integrate for yourself, personally? How about professionally?
Health and well-being are often interchanged with each other but are actually quite different. A person can be in a state of health (free of illness or disease) but still not in a state of well-being.
More than just fixing a symptom or curing an illness, my job as a pediatrician includes keeping children and their caregivers healthy. This means encouraging a healthy lifestyle, nutritious and healthy food choices, adequate exercise, stress reduction, anxiety management, parenting strategies, preventive health and protecting children from getting an illness, etc.
In our medical training as physicians, we are taught to treat the whole person and not just their symptoms. Also, that the effect the mind has on the body and vice versa is very beautifully connected.
Integrating care of these various components can have a very positive effect on a person’s overall well-being. Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation are great tools to use to have a healthy lifestyle and positive health and mental health benefits are well documented in medical literature.
Both yoga and meditation can be daunting for some people. Many people think yoga is for people who are flexible and meditation practices are a bit hippy-dippy. What would you say to people who would kind of like to start a yoga or meditation practice, but struggle with these reservations? Are your answers different if you approach the question with your doctor brain or your yogi brain?
For those wondering if yoga and/or meditation is for them, I’d recommend that they try it and see what works for them. Yoga is much more than just the poses (asanas) and meditation so much more than just breathing.
For me, yoga and meditation provide a space to be in the present moment and center myself, physically and mentally. Mediation helps to provide stillness, focus, and mindful reflection of oneself in a non-judgmental way.
As both a physician and yogi, I strongly recommend yoga and meditation as an adjunct to any lifestyle. Yoga can help with flexibility, strength, chronic pain, and more. Meditation has many positive benefits including stress reduction, improve outlook and well-being.
(Read here for more on finding balance with yoga and meditation.)
We’re such a fan of work-life balance discussions! And it’s amazing that this is something you take so much time to write about on your blog, too. Especially since you’re a doctor, a career famous for tons of long hours and perfectionistic overworking! Why do you think work-life balance is so important that you’ve dedicated a section of your blog to it?
Work-life balance is so important! Everyone knows it but it is pretty challenging to apply it to real life. We are pulled in so many directions and have a lot of responsibilities. How to balance it all is a question many of us face daily. As the saying goes, we can’t fill from an empty cup. To help others, we must also ensure that we are taking care of ourselves.
In the medical community, rates of physician suicide have been steadily increasing. This is quite alarming for so many reasons. It makes the importance of wellness even more poignant.
(Read more on physician resilience: a cause or symptom.)
I like to approach work-life balance with an emphasis on wellness and mindfulness. In my blog, I discuss various topics related to wellbeing: self-care ideas, signs of parental burnout, living with intention — among others.
As a doctor, how do you, personally, create a healthy work-life balance for yourself?
Making time for self-care, pursuing hobbies, spending time with family and friends, traveling. When I am with family or friends, I try to be there fully, minimize distractions, and enjoy the present.
(Read more on how to be mindful when feeling distracted.)
My expert tip: find pockets of time during the day to dedicate to self-care. Ideally, it would be great to have hours for ourselves every day. But how often does that happen?
Finding 5-30 mins each day is much easier. During this time, you can do a quick yoga flow, meditate, journal, garden, have tea or coffee, call someone you care about, take a nap, read, etc.
(Here are some work-life balance tips that physicians need to know and the truths and challenges of being a doctor mom.)
Do you have any tips for our readers who might be at the very, very beginning of their self-care journey? Say they’ve been powering away full steam since high school and have never even considered creating a healthier work-life balance before. What would you suggest they tackle as their very first step on their path to a more balanced lifestyle?
The first step on any path is deciding where you want to go.
Self-care is making time to reconnect, reflect, and recharge. It can be anything from going for a run, getting a massage, playing an instrument, yoga, journaling, cooking, etc.
I’d recommend spending a little time figuring out what brings you joy and prioritize those activities or hobbies. For example, if you want to incorporate meditation and journaling, try for 1-3 minutes a few times a week. Then, increase the length of time and/or frequency if you want.
Remember, this is supposed to bring you relaxation and rejuvenation. So, start simple and go from there. Be gentle with yourself.
As a pediatrician and a mom, you are undoubtedly bombarded with questions about the best way to raise healthy children. What do you say to such inquiries? How do you think we should best approach raising healthy children? Is there anything we definitely shouldn’t do?
I encourage parents to lead by example and aim for a balanced healthy lifestyle. Kids learn about the complexities of the world through the eyes, words, attitudes, and lifestyle of their caregivers.
When they grow older, children do start making their own decisions but so much of how they deal with life comes from lessons learned at home. This includes responses to food, health, sleep, relationships, emotions, etc.
As far as what not to do, don’t believe everything you hear/read. There is a lot of information out there and not all of it is good.
Things to take with a grain of salt and some amount of skepticism in any of the following cases: a random journal article by a relatively unknown university, claims from people whose medical license or medical community memberships have been taken from them, anecdotal stories, scare tactics, medical claims or advice from non-medically trained people, any diet or fad too restrictive or extreme, etc.
If you are concerned about a topic, discuss with a pediatrician you trust and work together to make a good health plan for your family.
Doctor, yogi, mindfulness advocate, artist. You clearly approach life, health and healthy living from multiple angles and, undoubtedly, have a unique perspective on what living a healthy life really means. Would you mind sharing your take on what living a truly healthy life — from childhood on — looks like?
A healthy lifestyle is the first start of wellness and it starts with healthy habits at home. As parents, we must lead by example. How can we get our children to be healthy if we are living otherwise?
Along with this, give the children lots of opportunities to practice life skills, from cooking to mindful eating at home or a restaurant to traveling.
Remember that kids are not mini-adults. Kids learn through play. So, encourage them to experiment, laugh, play, learn, and grow in a loving and nonjudgmental environment.
If you could get the whole world to make a single, positive lifestyle change, what would it be?
Seek balance in the various aspects of your life and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.
That may mean a more balancing your sweet tooth with other healthy options in your diet. Or it could mean working less so you have more time to dedicate to your family. Or it could mean being gentle to yourself and practicing self-compassion.
There are many ways to seek balance in one’s life.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
One of my favorite quotes is by Robert Ingersoll, “[w]e rise by lifting others”. Another is by Gandhi, “[b]e the change you wish to see in the world”.
I hope to make a positive impact in the lives of others, be a good role model for my children, be a voice for those who may not have one, and to empower others to live their best lives.