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Mindful leadership: Navigating chaos to calm

Romie Mushtaq, M.D.

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Mindfulness-based practices such as meditation are now becoming a standard tool for achieving peak brain performance within corporations, professional sports teams and top universities. Mushtaq, a neurologist and meditation teacher, will explain the neuroscience and medical evidence behind meditation. Learn a mindfulness-based practice that you can start at home and in the office.

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I spent the first 14 years of my career as a traditionally trained neurologist. This meant I was at the mercy of a pager that would go off in the middle of the night. I was called almost nightly if there was a potentially life-threatening situation related to brain or mental health. Every time I walked through the doors of the emergency room, I remember thinking the exact same thing: Whoa, girlfriend, this ain’t nothing like the American TV shows. Shonda Rhimes, I don’t know what you were thinking. This is not Grey’s Anatomy. I hate to break it to all of you who love the American television dramas based in hospitals. There are no handsome men waiting to seduce you into the hospital supply closet. If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, I am here to break your heart—I never met Dr. Avery Jackson, McDreamy, or McSteamy. Ladies, there wasn’t even Old McDonald on the farm.

Instead, I felt myself standing there in the middle of this absolute chaos and sensory overload. Alarms, people screaming, the smells. The only way that I knew I was desired in the middle of the night was hearing that signature call for help. “Who the hell is on call for neurology, and where the hell is he?” I cowered in the corner, raising my hand. “I’m here.” “Well, hurry up. We have a potential stroke patient in room seven. He’s ruled out with cardiac enzymes; you only have 30 minutes left in the window to treat for an acute stroke.”

I rushed on over, trying to drown out all the chaos that was around me. This was the first time that I noticed my meditation practice was helping me. As I tried to drown out the noise, I remembered to take a pause, breathe, and really focus in on this one particular elderly gentleman. When I looked, I realized, Wait, look at the way his arterial blood gasses are fluctuating and the way his chest is moving. This isn’t a stroke; they missed the diagnosis. This is a clot in his lungs. I quickly paused and breathed and called for the lung doctors and the nurses to send him off for an emergency scan.

I thought, Wait a minute. You know, the one thing that these patients do as I lean over is vomit. Right as he was vomiting all over my hospital scrubs, we sent him off for an emergency X-ray, and two female nurses whom I had never met before came rushing in to help clean up the vomit off of me. Before they could even finish, I heard that signature call being yelled again: “Where the hell is neurology?” I ran out. “Room 4. Border patrol agent down. He’s not moving the left side of his body, consciousness is fluctuating, and you’ve got four minutes until the entire squad is standing here over our heads. Hurry.”

I quickly rushed off to room 4, and I stopped and thought. It was that moment, that sensory overload, that the stress response just started to kick in. It’s almost like you could see the change of expression on my face and my inability to lose focus, and that stress response kicks in. What happens when I hear that stress response? It’s like you can see it—a whole tribe of Indian aunties passing judgment on me. “Look, here you are in the emergency room in the middle of the night, and God has dropped down a handsome and noble man in front of you, and you are covered in vomit. You may as well give up right now, shave your head, go become a monk and go meditate.”

I took a deep breath, I paused, I meditated, and I rushed into the room, and I started to take a history from this border patrol agent who was having difficulty moving one side of his body and was a little bit confused. I just thought, Let me just quiet down the stress and the voices in my head that are making me doubt myself and my abilities. I started to take some deep breaths, and I heard his deep voice: “Excuse me, doctor. That deep breathing you’re doing? You sound like Darth Vader. Are you sitting here in the emergency room meditating?” Oh my God, I had been discovered.

That would be weird—right?—to be sitting in the middle of the hospital in meditation. I quickly took a breath and gathered myself, and I did what I was trained to do in those days as a doctor: I became unemotional and detached, and I told him, “I need to order an urgent brain scan. I’ll see you when we admit you to the floor.”

So a few hours later, after I’d cleaned myself up and had the results of his brain scan study, I went to the border patrol agent’s hospital room. In there was sitting his entire squad. I cowered, and he said, “Hey, wait, guys. Look, here’s that doctor who meditates.” I started to rush away, and he went, “No, no, no, no, Doc. It’s OK, come back. We meditate too.” “Oh?” I started to twirl my hair like, Hey, guess what? I’m not covered in vomit anymore. They went on to tell me this story of how, as border patrol agents on the US-Mexico border, they adopted the practice of meditation.

They told me they were part of a squad that would often partner with the Drug Enforcement Agency and other police, both from the United States and Mexico, who were there to apprehend criminals. Their particular unit was there to rescue victims of human trafficking. But what would happen if they got a tip-off that there was potential criminal activity somewhere at the border? They would all suit up and put on their armor, and they would rush into the warehouse or the hotel room and bang on the door really loud. Knock, knock, knock. “Border Patrol, police, DEA, come out with your hands up. You’re under arrest for the illegal possession of drugs, firearms, and human trafficking victims.” With all that chaos and stress, they would often be met with gunfire, and innocent people would be injured and critical evidence destroyed.

They realized that they needed to do something different, and so this border patrol’s leader called in a martial arts master of aikido. They didn’t do this to learn physical martial arts but actually to learn the power of mindfulness and meditation. So, they brought this person in and learned the power of pause and meditation in their practice.

So now, when they’re out in the field, and there are multiple teams gathering, they take a breath and pause. They put on their tactical gear, and, as the lead squadron, instead of rushing off with chaos and loud noise, they calmly but strongly walk to the door and knock as if they were room service. Knock, knock, knock. “Hello, we’re with Border Patrol and DEA. You’re under arrest; please come out with your hands up.” In this calm manner, the alleged criminals would put their hands up, drop their weapons, and walk out of the room. After six months of this, they noticed that the incidents of negative outcomes dropped by more than 80 percent.

So how did meditation help a doctor in the emergency room and border patrol agents out in the field in the middle of critical situations? It’s this idea that when you first control your mind, you control the situation. Let me repeat myself, because when we stop to pause and breathe, we control our minds. Then we’re able to correctly respond to a critical decision. Whether we’re talking about bridging the gap between all the chaos that’s going on in your personal life, or in your work life, take a moment and pause, breathe, and respond, and realize that when you control the mind, you control your situation. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Dr. Romie, I’m like you, working night and day. What personal life are you talking about?”

I want to pause here and talk to you about why this relationship between me and my organization and the Million Dollar Round Table has been so impactful. As a neurologist specializing in integrative medicine and mindfulness, I really, truly honor Million Dollar Round Table’s Whole Person concept. The MDRT Whole Person concept teaches us to realize that when we control our minds, we control our situation in all areas of our life. The Whole Person concept encompasses our work-life purpose, physical health, personal relationships, and ongoing happiness. As a result, we become successful professionals.

In my world, in the intersect of bringing together brain science and mindfulness, it’s this idea—that your mind is strong medicine. If we had to talk about using mindful leadership to navigate from that place of chaos to calm in your personal and in your professional lives, what would that look like?

No. 1, we’re going to redefine what chaos looks like, and then I’m going to discuss mindful medicine to heal stress. And last, but not least, we’re going to do an exercise together on cultivating calm. So let’s define your chaos. You don’t need to be sitting in the middle of a life-threatening situation with a patient in the emergency room or at the border rescuing victims of human trafficking. Chaos happens in our everyday life. For financial professionals, it’s easy to tie your mood to how the financial markets are doing and whether or not you’re growing your client base. The truth of the matter is, stress has nothing to do with external circumstances. Stress can create a place where we feel like we’re a prisoner within our own minds. The truth of the matter is, stress is this idea of how we perceive the external demands that are on us versus how we cope with them. This is why I’m here today: To teach you the brain science, psychology, and using mindfulness to free yourself from the prison of stress.

What is stress? You heard the examples of me standing in the emergency room and of the Border Patrol agent standing out in the field. When stress was high, I either had negative voices in my head or judgment from my Indian aunties. Or for the Border Patrol agents, when the stress levels would go high, it would create negative outcomes in the field with people shooting back and getting rid of critical evidence. The brain responds to stress like this.

There is an area known as the amygdala. [visual] I call it the “airport traffic control center” of your brain. When that is triggered by stress, it creates something known as the stress response, or the fight-or-flight response. You have increased stress hormones, like glucocorticoids. The cells in your brain change, and all your stress hormone levels are on full alert, and what happens? We become emotionally distressed, right? We eat poorly, and we start to lose sleep. Do you crave spinach or carrots or apples when you’re stressed? For myself, I am part of the chocolate-is-medicine tribe. Do you love chocolate when you’re stressed? Yes, even to this day, everybody knows that chocolate is my power food, but what happens to the brain when we are stressed is that we crave these things. If it’s not chocolate, it’s salty foods, carbohydrates, fried foods, or the combination of cheese and carbs, like pizza, or samosa, right? What is it that we can do? We know that our mind is the key to our currency and our success, and when stress overtakes this airport traffic control center of our brain, what happens to the amygdala is that it shuts down, like an airport with all the airplanes coming into the runways.

I know everybody in this audience has flown in from all over the world. Do you know the busiest airport in the world? Yes, it’s the busiest airport here in the United States, and it is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. On a clear day, in one hour, approximately 125 flights land or take off during that period. What happens when there is a stress on the system, like bad weather or a problem? The airport traffic control center shuts down all the runways. That’s exactly what happens in our brain when we get stressed. Our airport traffic control center now shuts down emotional regulation, or the ability to comprehend memory and pay attention, word finding, and our nutrition, and all of that goes to waste to keep critical things going. This is the control known as the autonomic nervous system in our airport traffic control center, and the vagus nerve is like the airport runways to all the different organs in our body.

How quickly does it shut down? Think about this. For those of you who know where Atlanta is in the United States, if that airport traffic control tower is down and flights are suspended there, in Atlanta, how long do you think it will be before flights are affected on the West Coast, in Los Angeles? In less than 10 minutes. And how about Hong Kong or London or Dubai? Within 30 minutes. It takes less than 30 seconds for the airport traffic control center in our brain to affect our stomach, affect our memory, affect our mood, and affect our blood pressure. This is the concept known as inflammation. As a doctor, I find it very interesting that we’re seeing, both around the world and here in the United States, people rethinking how this disease happens in our bodies. It’s that inflammation that is at the cause of so many of critical diseases, like heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and diabetes. How do you know if your airport traffic control center is working properly or not?

These are the three questions that I typically ask patients when they first come to the clinic to see me. When patients are stressed out, and they come to see us in the clinic, we do an entire panel of labs, looking at hormone levels, markers of inflammation, but it’s these questions I ask that are the first things affected by your airport traffic control center: Are you having difficulty falling asleep? Maybe you took a sleeping pill or drank alcohol to help you fall asleep, no problem, but then you wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re wide awake. You’re like, “I may as well answer work emails or do the laundry right now because I’m not falling back asleep.” That’s problem No. 2. Or problem No. 3, the most serious, is that you did whatever you needed to do to fall asleep, medicine, no medicine, and you stayed asleep. In fact, you’re going to be like, “Dr. Romie, I get eight to nine hours of sleep, but I still wake up feeling so tired.” This is how we know that your airport traffic control center is off.

It’s known in clinical terms, and the subject of the first book that I’m currently working on, as the Busy Brain Syndrome. What happens when the stress responses trigger? How do you know? Not only do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep. You have abnormal food cravings. Maybe you’re having difficulty losing that last 5 or 10 pounds. Your body is aching. You have joint pain, heartburn, gas, or bloating whenever you eat; you have irritable bowel syndrome; or you just have difficulty focusing, anxiety, or ADHD. These are all symptoms of inflammation that I call the “busy brain symptoms,” and there is an answer, because the whole idea is that if we don’t get ahold of how we’re managing our stress, the stress could kill. Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 80 percent of all outpatient doctor office visits are due to stress-related illnesses. What’s the No. 1 cause of stress here in the United States, and likely these patterns are true around the world? It’s our jobs, and I’m here to tell you this not just as a doctor but also as a patient.

As I continued as a neurologist, getting up in the middle of the night almost every night to work, and being sleep deprived, working 80- to 90-hour workweeks, I started to feel very physically sick and emotionally sick myself. It wasn’t until I started to wake up in the middle of the night having difficulty breathing that I realized something was wrong. I was choking on my vomit or my saliva, and we went through years of workup when we finally figured out that I have a rare medical condition known as achalasia. It creates this inability to swallow, and by the time it was diagnosed, I had precancerous changes.

I was so ashamed. I’m a doctor, and there I was—I couldn’t manage my stress, and I got sick. As I was undergoing life-saving surgery, my worry wasn’t, Gosh, do I have cancer? I was sitting there thinking, How did I get to this place? Why didn’t I learn to manage my stress better, and if I get to the other side, what would I do differently?

It turns out I’m not alone. The Global Benefit Attitudes Survey done by Towers Watson in 2014, looked at what happens when employees are highly stressed. They’re more likely to utilize sick days, and productivity falls through the floor, so I’m not the only one. If you’re not managing your stress, it’s affecting your productivity. And how about your team members? More importantly, in the financial industry and banking, we look at the importance of employee engagement. What we found in this same survey was that employees who are highly stressed are 50 percent more likely to be disengaged, whereas if their stress levels are low, they’re excited to be working. That is the problem, so stressed-out employees are using more sick days. They’re absent. They’re less productive, and they don’t want to be at their job. There is a solution, and if you are listening to this story and thinking, Oh my gosh, Dr. Romie, that’s me, I’m here to just say this one thing: You are not alone, and you are not crazy. Let me repeat that. You are not alone, and you are not crazy, because there’s nothing worse in the world than knowing that you can’t manage your stress and feeling like your highly successful selves in the finance industry have done something wrong. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone, and you are not crazy.

Instead, I come today bringing the intersect of neurology, psychology, and mindfulness, to teach you how to understand that your mind is strong medicine. In fact, you are actually in control. Let’s see. Your personal airport traffic control center in the brain? Is it a busy brain, or are you functioning at peak performance? Let’s do a little psychological test here. I’m going to give you 30 seconds, and I want you to remember this list of words in English: thread, pin, sharp, point, sewing, eye, thimble, prick, thorn, hurt, haystack, injection, syringe, cloth, knitting. Here’s a second list of words to memorize: bed, tired, rest, awake, wake, dream, snooze, blanket, slumber, doze, snore, nap, drowsy, peace, yawn. You’re the best of the best of Million Dollar Round Table. Certainly, you’re not going to have any problems remembering this.

Do you know which of these words were listed previously: awake, door, candy, needle, sewing, sleep? I wouldn’t want you to panic if you didn’t get them right. It just may be that you were up late at the party last night, right? The answer is awake and sewing.

This is what happens when our airport traffic control center is off. You don’t have early dementia. It is a symptom of a busy brain, and I’m here to give you the mindful medicine to heal the stress.

What does it mean to bring mindful medicine in to heal stress, especially as it relates to the workplace? I start specifically with your role as a leader. If you’re questioning, “What? What do you mean, Dr. Romie? I don’t think I’m a leader.” Well, think about the different roles you play in your life. Any time there are two or more people in a situation, there’s an opportunity to lead, so whether you’re leading in your business, leading your family, leading your spiritual community in your church, in your temple, in the synagogue, in the mosque, that is leadership. Bringing mindfulness into this leadership is cultivating this sense of present-centered awareness, that I am present with you as a leader.

Why is it important to heal stress in the workplace? We are trying to avoid working in a chaotic situation where everything feels out of control. Instead, you show up when you pause, and you breathe and you respond, saying, “I am present.” This is not only about your present-centered awareness but also your leadership of your team. As a mindful leader, you help your team members cultivate focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion, all while thinking about how you can be of service to others. This is the quality of mindful leadership. How can you be of service to others? This is in alignment with who you are as MDRT members serving your community.

This may sound esoteric, but this is no longer even considered rare or a trend. Here in the United States, business literature has been talking about mindful leadership for almost a decade. Now, we see that mindfulness-based techniques are not only for patients who arrive feeling stressed out, depressed, anxious, and have difficulty sleeping. Actually, many leaders are saying, “I know I can perform better. I’m not quite at my peak.”

I think of some of the clients I’ve served, both individuals and in speaking and doing corporate workshops. There is this idea of C-suite level executives coming to me saying, “How can you help me use the concepts of mindfulness and leadership to lead a team through a corporate merger or an acquisition?”

Professional athletes, such as basketball players, say, “I want to come and improve my free-throw percentage range.” Or golfers say, “I want to earn my golf tour card for the PGA.” How many lawyers come saying that they want to be at the top of their game when they’re in court, in litigation? These are several of the profound examples of people who are already considered, like you, at the top of their industry and are saying, “I want to perform at my peak and stay there.” That is how mindfulness helps.

Well, what has the neuropsychology literature shown us? When we’re looking at meditation and how it affects our peak performance, not only does that stress response turn off so that our airport traffic control center is fully open, but now we’re engaging our centers of creativity, and we’re able to focus on tasks, be productive, and improve our performance. Who does not want to be that person, where we’re productive and performing at our best?

People have started to bring concepts of mindfulness and meditation into their companies. One example is Intel. It has a program known as Awake. This was in the published literature back in 2014, and it showed that when employees were put through a program where twice a week during lunch they were offered either a meditation or yoga class, on average, they showed a 33 percent increase in reporting how well they felt in just eight short weeks. They had a 20 percent reduction in their stress levels and a 20 percent improvement in productivity. Eight weeks of meditation or yoga and employees were saying that they were feeling better, stress was reduced, and they were more productive and creative. Simple concept.

What about Aetna Insurance? It put 15,000 employees through yoga and meditation programs. Not only did productivity improve, but there were reduced medical claims and, more importantly, improved sleep. On average, each employee had a reduction of $3,000 in medical claims. This was reported in the New York Times, in its business section, in 2014. Now you’re thinking, Well, OK, if companies have done this and proven that it is strategic for individuals, for leaders, and for their teams, how can I start with myself? The whole idea is that, to become a mindful leader, we must first cultivate calm in ourselves, because you cannot get to know others until you first get to know yourself. The first step in mindful leadership is not about who you’re leading; it’s about mastering the psychology of your own mind—that you cannot get to know others until you first get to know yourself. This is mindfulness.

There are a lot of questions about what mindfulness means. It’s not a religious term or spirituality. I know that many of you, like myself as a doctor, are highly analytical, and you’re thinking, What is mindfulness, and what does it have to do with my performance and me? Mindfulness, in psychological terms, is this idea that we train our brains to be present and pay attention in this current moment without judgment. Now, that may seem a little bit difficult. Say your job is to analyze financial numbers, forecast trends, and help your clients. My job is to analyze medical patients and their medical diagnoses, but that’s analysis. That’s our rational thinking. That’s our brain at peak performance. When we add emotions such as stress and negativity into it, that is judgment. Mindfulness is learning to train your brain to be present and to pay attention without judgment.

What do mindfulness and meditation do? When we look at our airport traffic control center, we want to shut off that stress response, and the opposite of that is known as the relaxation response, coined by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School in the 1970s. He was one of the first researchers to look at the effects of meditation on human health, human behavior, and the brain. What he found was that not only did meditation and controlled breathing techniques turn off the stress response, but they helped to control your airport traffic control center in the brain, and that a system called the parasympathetic nervous system was stimulated. Well, what happens when that area of the brain is stimulated? The relaxation response kicks in, and your blood pressure drops. It helps muscle intention and improves your ability to focus and sleep. Your immune system is boosted, and, all of a sudden, you’re feeling well. This is all from 20 minutes of meditation a day. Clinical studies are showing this.

How can we bring this idea into a mindful prescription for ourselves as leaders? This is what it means to cultivate calm. I’m going to ask you to practice digital detox and cultivate self-awareness, which is the key foundation in mindfulness. We’re going to talk about the role of meditation and then setting a positive intention.

We start with this idea of protecting your sleep. Our sleep at night is set to help restore not only our mind and our memory but also our body. The body needs a chance to rest. When we’re chronically stressed and sleep deprived, those inflammation markers are going up, and we don’t give the body and the brain a chance to heal. In Eastern spirituality, sleep is considered sacred. Why is that? There’s this idea that, when we sleep, the spirit ascends to heaven, and so that, when we wake up, we need to be thankful because our spirit returned to our bodies and we’re alive. They say that with that first breath, we should give gratitude for breath in our lives. If you’ve ever woken up and you are just lying there quietly, you’ll often find that that’s the time when your most creative and innovative ideas or intuition are strongest. That is why sleep is sacred for the mind, the body, and the spirit.

I’m asking you, for 30 minutes before bedtime, to turn your phone and all your digital devices to airplane mode, walk away from all the stimulation, and put the electronic devices in another room. If you need to do this in the middle of the day, put away all of your electronic devices or walk away from your desk, and then find a comfortable, seated position. I ask you to do this for just 30 minutes before bedtime.

The second thing is, for those of you who said, “I can’t fall asleep because my airport traffic control center in the brain is running a marathon,” I want you to do something I call “performing a brain dump.” Take a good, old-fashioned pen and paper and create a list of everything that’s in your mind, your to-do list, your emotions, the stories—whatever it may be, write it all down. Why is that important? Because, when our eyes are seeing the paper and our hands are touching the pen and paper, it’s triggering our airport traffic control center to say, “Hey, calm down. You don’t have to worry about that thing or remember it anymore.” It stops that marathon of thoughts from running in our mind.

Once we’ve completed the digital detox and the brain dump, what is that next step? In the core of mindfulness is this idea that meditation is medicine for the mind. Are you ready to try? Start with a controlled breathing exercise for three minutes. If you have that pen and paper or your phones in your lap, go ahead and put those down. What you’re going to do is practice digital detox. The whole idea is that, for three minutes, you take a breath break, the same one you heard me say I was using in the emergency room or the border patrol agents used in dangerous situations, to control your brain. It’s that simple.

Go ahead and find a comfortable position in your seat. If you want, you can close your eyes. If not, just find a point on the floor to focus your gaze. I want you to take a nice, deep breath in through your nose, hold the breath, open your mouth, and exhale deeply. Inhale, two, three, hold the breath. Exhale, two, three, four. Do this for three minutes, inhaling to the count of one, two, three, hold the breath, and exhale, two, three, four. Now, what happens when thoughts start to invade your mind? Continue keeping your eyes closed and stay in that comfortable position. If your mind is filling with thoughts and ideas, that’s OK. Be present with the flow and the thoughts. This is known as the “waterfall moment” in meditation. I want you to continue focusing on your breath. Now, as you breathe, bring your awareness to your head and your body and now your feet. Deeply inhale. As you exhale, imagine sending the breath out through the bottom of your feet.

Now, what happens with all these thoughts? Do they feel like they’re a waterfall overflowing and you can’t sit and meditate? That’s OK. That’s normal. I’m going to ask you to create a thought bubble. Is there one particular idea or story or something that’s stuck in your mind, a to-do list? I want you to imagine that there is a large, clear bubble right in front of your head. Every time a thought, an image, a picture, a story, or an emotion comes to you, just imagine taking that out of your brain and putting it into the bubble one at a time. There’s no judgment. For every thought, emotion, idea that you put in that bubble, it just rises away. Take a nice, deep breath in, and exhale out. With every time that the thought or image comes to you, put it in the bubble. As you fill the bubble, imagine that it’s slowly rising above your head. Use the concept of detaching from your thoughts, and fill the bubble. As you do that, imagine the bubble rising above your head and going through the ceiling and in the sky, all of your thoughts going along with it.

Then, we come to silent meditation. In this place, if you find your mind getting distracted, I just want you to inhale, focusing on the word calm, and as you exhale, focusing on the word peace.

As you close out this meditation, I want you to set an intention for the rest of your day. Do you want to be successful? Do you want to be calm? Are you strong? Then say it. As you breathe in, say, “I am,” and as you exhale, exhale the word: “I am strong” and “I am calm.”

Whenever you’re ready, open up your eyes and bring your awareness back. You can wiggle your toes in your shoes, wiggle your fingers, and take a look around. Welcome back.

I leave you with this idea. Could you give yourself 30 minutes to come to a place of a strong mind? That takes 30 minutes before bedtime to turn off all your devices, do the brain dump, meditate, and set a positive intention. If you would like an eBook guiding you through all these steps and free guided meditation, you can text the word “STRESS” to 72000. Please keep in mind that your text messaging rates and international rates, for those of you who are from abroad, will apply. Text the word “STRESS” to 72000. We will send you a free eBook and a guided meditation.

People often ask me, “Dr. Romie, do you still meditate every day, or do you just talk about this?” My team will tell you that my entire schedule, no matter where I’m traveling in the world and speaking, starts every day with my prayer and meditation practice. Why do I meditate? I meditate because eight years ago, they weren’t sure that I was going to survive life-saving surgery, and, if I did, I was probably going to end up with a lot more surgeries and potentially disabled. I knew I had to find a different way to live. My mind has become strong medicine because meditation and my mindfulness practice have not only helped me to stay healthy but to fulfill this mission that’s larger than me, helping individuals and companies here in the United States and around the world understand what it’s like to be that MDRT Whole Person.

I challenge you to meditate. Why? Because, if you take that moment to pause, you realize that, when you control your mind, you can control any situation that comes in front of you. This is what it means to be an MDRT Whole Person. I ask you to meditate because your mind is strong medicine.

Romie Mushtaq, M.D., is a traditionally trained neurologist with additional board certification in integrative medicine. Mushtaq brings together Western medicine and Eastern wisdom to help change the conversation on brain and mental health. Her programs bring together her unique wisdom in neuroscience, integrative medicine and mindfulness. She is a regular expert contributor in national media in outlets such as NBC, the Huffington Post, Fox News and NPR.


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