A registered nurse at Vanderbilt, Janice Gilford’s journey to heal her body, mind and spirit began about a year ago, after reading an email message advertising the center’s services to all university employees. Curious to learn more and ready for a new approach after years of struggling with weight management, subsequent related health issues and chronic pain, Janice made her initial appointment at the center.
Janice met with Dr. Tobi Fishel, the center’s psychologist, for an in-depth conversation and whole evaluation of her health: vital statistics plus a dialogue about her feelings and life experiences. Janice recalls saying yes when Dr. Fishel asked if she wanted to try something new, though she felt somewhat doubtful about the potential for improvement. “My primary goal was to figure out what kind of impact my thought processes and spiritual life might be having on my body. To be honest, I don’t think I really believed there would be tangible, physical results.”
Through a series of one-on-one sessions with Dr. Fishel, a monthly meditation called “The Sangha,” and various workshops such as Grace and Beauty led by Dr. Fishel and Hope and Healing (formerly known as Making Contact) led by Kenneth Robinson, as well as bi-monthly massage therapy sessions, Janice has changed the way she thinks about food and the way she views herself. “Techniques I’ve learned in the Grace and Beauty workshop are helping me ignore that nagging, negative voice in my head.”
The women’s workshop is a day-long program designed to help women experience being in loving community and teaches them to embrace who they are. Dr. Fishel says that she knows women who are longing to feel differently about themselves, and these workshops offer a safe community to begin this process. Apparently many women are looking for this, given that her classes fill up to capacity for each session. “We teach basic meditation through breathing techniques and gentle movement, and we have small group sharing sessions designed to help us connect with our bodies and hearts with loving kindness. We become more aware of our critical voice, and through this awareness we replace harshness with tenderness and feel more empowered.”
As she shares, “The old me was opposed to anything out of my ordinary routine. I was closed to the idea of exercise or meditation. I didn’t see the benefit. Now, I practice Qigong [an ancient practice and type of exercise involving slow movement and focused breathing] at home and enjoy walking daily. And I feel better.”
And not only have her spirits lifted, but Janice’s physical health has improved, as well:
“At my annual physical exam with my primary care physician, I steeled myself for another round of negative ‘news’ as the nurse asked me step onto the scale. But, wait, was that scale broken? Could that number be right? Yep, I was down 14 pounds! Next up, vital signs. My blood pressure was what? 114 over 80, and it hasn’t been that low in two years! And more good news, my cholesterol was also down from 186 to 178 from last year. Changes in my vital signs and lab results convinced me that the integrative health strategies I’m learning and practicing really must be improving my overall health.”
Clearly, as the old saying goes, numbers don’t lie. And because the center’s problem-solving approach involves body, mind and spirit, patients like Janice are learning to engage in life in a different way and are changing, from the inside out: “Opening my mind to embrace a combination of traditional and nontraditional methods has been transformative. Rather than endlessly pondering ways to improve my personal health and regretting past failures, I experience health. Truly, this must be what Drs. Elam and Fishel had in mind as they developed the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health. I’m so glad they did!”