• June 2012

The Business of Healing Yourself

You know that stress can make you sick. But can being in a beautiful environment—
and connecting with the things that make you feel balanced, alive, and happy—make you well? Those are the ideas we investigate in the June 2012 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.

If this topic intrigues you, you are not alone. According to the research firm Marketdata Enterprises, sales of healing-related books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress-management programs were worth $776 million in 2011.

In this issue we have interviewed some of the top researchers in the healing field:

  • “Healing Spaces” author Dr. Esther Sternberg is our cover story. Her PBS Special, The Science of Healing, airs all month on PBS stations around the country. So we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview her about the impact that our environments have on our health. Scroll down for our Q&A with this medical researcher, physician, author, and healing activist. And to find out when “The Science of Healing” will appear on a PBS station near you, click here to view the listings.

  • Dr. Gary Beauchamp shares his research on the connection between olive oil and ibuprofen in our Research column. Don’t miss the Q&A he did with Dr. Esther Sternberg, who brought Beauchamp to the Embassy of Greece in DC last year for a lecture on his findings. Click here to read their Q&A.
  • Dr. John Sarno, author of the controversial book, “The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain,” offers his insights in our Books column regarding what has plagued the Western world for decades: pain, disability, misinformation, and fear. Click here to read more.

As Dr. Sternberg concludes in her book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, “Wherever we find ourselves in this world, at any moment in the interstices of our busy lives, we can create a place of healing—for the most powerful of healing places is in the brain, and in the mind.”

Here’s to your health, wealth, and happiness.Hope Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazineInkandescent Public Relations

Dr. Esther Sternberg on "The Science of Healing"


By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine
Photo by Steve Barrett

“There is a turning point in the course of healing when you go from the dark side to the light, when your interest in the world revives, and despair gives way to hope,” writes Dr. Esther Sternberg in “Healing Spaces,” the 2009 book that led her to create the PBS Special “The Science of Healing,” which airs this month.

Internationally recognized for her discoveries of the science of the mind-body interaction in illness and healing, Dr. Esther Sternberg has become a force in collaborative initiatives on mind-body-stress-wellness and environment inter-relationships.

Her books, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, are informative and scientifically based inspirations to doctors and laymen alike in dealing with the complexities and 21st century frontiers of stress, healing, and wellness.

Having studied, and experienced, the science of healing for decades, Dr. Sternberg has an intimate relationship with the art and science of what it means to journey from illness to wellness.

“As you lie in bed, you suddenly notice the dappled sunlight on the blinds and you no longer turn your head and shield your eyes,” she writes. “You become aware of birdsong outside the window and the soothing whir of the ventilation system down the hall. You no longer dread the effort needed to get up, but take your first cautious steps, like a child, to explore the new-found space around you. This is the point when the destructive forces of illness give way to healing. In every sense, it is a turning point—a turning of your mind’s awareness from a focus on your inner self to a focus on the outer world.”

We recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her books, her documentary, and her personal experience with healing.

Be Inkandescent: You were trained as a rheumatologist and are well-known for your ability to translate complex scientific subjects for lay audiences, and you have testified before Congress and advised the World Health Organization. How did you initially become interested in the field of healing?

Dr. Sternberg: It was a patient who first changed the course of my career. It was 1979, during the last months of my training as a rheumatologist, when he came in with an auto-immune inflammatory scarring illness. He had a severe case of epilepsy, and the neurosurgeons who were treating him were wondering if the medication they prescribed for the epilepsy was causing the inflammatory illness.

It was a dramatic case, for the patient couldn’t function with this incredibly severe form of epilepsy that he had. He was in tremendous pain and couldn’t move his arms and legs; he couldn’t even take a drink of water without having a seizure. And what was also interesting to me at the time was the realization that the drug being used to help him with the epilepsy, which was used to alter his brain chemistry, could have an unintended consequence on his immune system.

At the time, that was a shocking concept for my colleagues, that the brain could have something to do with the immune system and that the immune system could have something to do with emotional health. But for me, it was something that I had seen with my own eyes. It was then I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my career studying how the brain and the immune system communicated. And, by changing something in the brain, how you could trigger an auto-immune disease, and a healing.

Be Inkandescent: And that question led you to do research on rats to study the part of the brain that controls the stress response, which is important in susceptibility to inflammatory diseases like arthritis.

Dr. Sternberg: Yes, that was in 1989 when I came to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At that time, the notion that the brain and the immune system were connected, and that the brain might have something to do with auto-immune disease, was still not accepted by the academic medical community. But it has been fully accepted for thousands of years by the general public that stress could make you sick, that believing could make you well, that disease can affect your emotions, and that the social world had something to do with health.

In scientific terms, until the mid to late-1990s, we didn’t really have the tools to fully explain how the brain and the immune system talk to each other, how those communications are important in maintaining health—and how, when they are broken, disease results.

Be Inkandescent: You’ve been quoted as saying that you got into healing through the back door.

Dr. Sternberg: That’s true. I was very much grounded in the conventional scientific method, and almost serendipitously discovered that the brain’s stress response is important in auto-immune diseases like arthritis. When you discover that, and can prove it on a molecular, neurobiological, and hormonal basis in animals, then it’s possible to step back and consider what it is about the brain and emotions that can help us heal.

What is also interesting about my journey into this science is that because of my initial research, I ended up doing research with the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions through the 1990s. There, I was fortunate to interact with other scientists from different fields of study—psychologists, psychophysiologists, and brain imagers—whom I wouldn’t have been likely to work with had I stayed in my own field of rheumatology. Scientists often work in silos, but now my thinking was broadened by working with others who looked at the healing process from different perspectives.

Be Inkandescent: You also have a firsthand experience with healing yourself from arthritis.

Dr. Sternberg: Yes, that’s right, and it was a fascinating turn of events. Here I was in the 1980s and 1990s doing this research, and in 1996 I went through a period of extreme stress in my own life when my mother was dying of breast cancer.

Don’t stop now! Click here for more of Dr. Sternberg’s advice, and her Healing Tips for Entrepreneurs.

How to Heal Yourself: Four Tips + Sage Advice from Esther Sternberg

Does the world make you sick?

And if the distractions and distortions around you, the jarring colors and sounds, can shake up the healing chemistry of your mind to make you sick—can other aspects of your environment, ones that are more pleasing to your senses, also have the power to heal you?

These are the questions we asked Healing Spaces author, Dr. Esther Sternberg in the June 2012 issue of Be Inkandescent. [Pictured below, photo by Steve Barrett]

Following is our interview with the medical researcher, who is credited with helping illuminate the possible underlying mechanisms for connections between stress, depression and autoimmune disease.


Be Inkandescent: Dr. Sternberg, you had a personal experience with healing when you developed arthritis shortly after caring for your mother when she was dying from breast cancer. Can you tell us more about what you learned from your own bout with illness, and how it deepened your understanding of the mind-body connection?

Dr. Sternberg: I went through a period of extreme stress when my mother was dying from breast cancer, and soon after I developed inflammatory arthritis. It involved my shoulders, elbows, and wrists, and based on my research, I attributed the illness to the emotional pain I had lived through. Suddenly, too, I understood in a very personal way—and at a level far deeper than I had when I was looking at the intellectual, scientific mind-body connection—exactly what it meant to be ill, and to try to heal yourself.

The good news is that around the time, I moved into a new house and my neighbors were Greek. They came over to introduce themselves and saw that I was writing on the computer what was to be my first book, “The Balance Within.” They told me they had always wanted a writer to stay in their cottage in Crete, and did I want to go.

I accompanied them, of course, and it was a life-altering experience to stay in their lovely cottage, located in a village along the south coast. I was there for only a little more than a week, but day-by-day, I could palpably feel myself healing.

At first I was tired and didn’t really want to do anything but sit around and sleep. I was afraid to walk very much, because my knees felt unstable. But the couple’s daughter changed all that. She was about 20, and asked me if I’d accompany her to the beach. I was hesitant at first, because that would require quite a long walk along uneven ground, and I wasn’t feeling very steady on my feet.

Then she told me that she was blind in one eye, and needed help getting to the beach. So cheesy as it sounds, we agreed that she’d be my legs and I’d be her eyes. As much as the Heidi story as it sounds, that young woman gave me the courage to walk—slowly at first, but every day we made our way to the beach together, and it was the first step in my healing process.

Another wonderful experience came soon after when I met an elderly Greek man who I learned was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer. Despite that, every single day he’d climb a steep hill to get to our little cottage, which was on his way to his ultimate destination—the chapel that was built on top of the ruins to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. And every day of my stay, on his way up to that chapel, he’d stop by to give me a grapefruit or orange.

After a few days of watching him do this, I figured that if he could make the climb, surely I could do it, too. And that got me going. I’d climb to the steps of that chapel where I’d sit and contemplate. I listened to the sound of the sheep and goats and the wind, and the scritch-scratch of the gardener tending the grounds. I didn’t realize I was meditating, but rather felt a deep state of calm as I was present in the moment, aware of nature, and the places and beautiful sites around me.

The love and kindness I experienced there is also an example of the power of being surrounded by altruistic friends, and how that is so connected to our healing. That, plus the walking every day, swimming in the ocean, listening to music, and eating the healthy Mediterranean diet, are activities that can really help you heal.

Be Inkandescent: Making those healthy changes in your life did help you heal, yes?

Dr. Sternberg: They did! My ah-ha moment came at the end of my stay, when it was clear that if I continued on the road I was on at home—working 24-7 and eating cheeseburgers and fries, and not exercising, I’d never get well. I knew I had to make a change, and since my return from Greece all those years ago, I have made dramatic changes and am much, much better for them.

Be Inkandescent: What does your day look like today?

Dr. Sternberg: I start off quietly, sitting in the sunroom I built on my back patio so I can have plants around me year-round. I take time to contemplate my day, and my life, as I did sitting at the chapel in Crete. I also swim almost every day, and if I can’t, I make an effort to walk every day for about 30 minutes—which has been shown to reduce the effects of chronic stress on the body, and improves one’s mood.

I also eat a healthy Mediterranean diet, which I wasn’t doing when I got sick. These include foods high in Omega-3, such as salmon, shrimp, scallops, tuna, and halibut, sardines, soybeans, tofu, flaxseed, and walnuts. I also eat Greek yogurt, lots of salads, and fresh vegetables and fruit.

Plus, pretty much the only fat I really eat is olive oil, for researchers — including my colleague and friend Dr. Gary Beauchamp — are discovering that its link to an ibuprofen-like chemical may be one of the reasons that the Mediterranean diet is so good for you. Click here for my Q&A with Gary on that topic.

Be Inkandescent: In your PBS documentary, “The Science of Healing,” you examine the role the brain plays in healing, and address some critical questions, such as: What is healing? Is there a mind/body connection? What happens in the brain when healing occurs? What role does emotion play? Tell us the most shocking, or enlightening, thing that you discovered in your research.

Dr. Sternberg: One of the biggest misconceptions is that most people equate healing with curing. In truth, curing an illness or ailment is something that is very different than healing.

That said, it’s clear that healing means different things to different people. In fact, the experts in the healing community say you can die healed. So to me, healing really is a state of mind. It’s being at peace with yourself and your illness, and accepting it for what it is.

Once you find this emotional completeness of being healed, it’s all the more possible to be cured. But that also depends on the illness. If you have terminal cancer, odds are good a cure is not possible. Nonetheless, people who are dying will often say they feel healed.

I had a healing myself, when finally I understood in a personal, palpable way the difference between going on with my day-to-day routine of taking anti-inflammatory pills, and dragging myself around, versus actually healing myself and making changes in my life. What I have come to know is that healing is an emotional connection to yourself, your loved ones, and the world around you. It gives you a sense of peace that’s very Buddhist. It’s an acceptance—but not a giving up.

Be Inkandescent: Your first book, “The Balance Within,” examines the science connecting health and emotions. In the final chapter, entitled “Prometheus Unbound,” you note that this connection “may sound like utopia, and perhaps be too much to expect from science. But if this new science accomplishes one single thing, it will help physicians speak the language of their patients, and listen to them.” Clearly, this was a problem when you published the book in 2001. But in the last decade, have you found that doctors are more open to the idea of the mind-body connection? If so, how?

Dr. Sternberg: The hard biological scientists are still coming around to this now, but other “green” industries—landscape architects, environmentalists, green building designers, urban planners—have long known about the importance of creating beautiful spaces to enhance our well-being.

Scientists, however, have been looking for evidence to prove that your surroundings are essential for good physical health. Although the notions have been around for a long time, there wasn’t one central place to go to prove it. In my books, I have tried to bridge the gap by gathering the evidence from the fields of neuroscience, sensory neuroscience, and immunology, to show how different environmental features are extremely important in providing a positive—or negative—environment for healing.

Be Inkandescent: What are the ideal settings for healing?

Dr. Sternberg: Places with lots of noise, too much light, too little light, and so forth, can harm an ill patient by triggering the stress response. While the data was out there, the studies in say, 2000, weren’t designed to investigate how the environmental heals.

By and large, we in the scientific medical community have embraced the idea of the mind-body connection. Our challenge now is to bring that understanding to our patients in more profound ways, and initiate what we now call integrative medicine in all of our offices, clinics, hospice centers, and hospitals.

It’s not an alternative, but how medicine should be done—by taking into account people’s emotions, and finding ways to enhance their senses. It’s a very exciting time in medicine. Image above, of the Anne Arundel Medical Center, of the calming healing wall by artist Sally Wern Comport; courtesy of her company, Art At Large, Inc.

Be Inkandescent: In your 2009 book, “Healing Spaces,” you tackle another aspect of the mind-body connection when you talk about how your surroundings impact wellness and health. You write: “Does the world make you sick? If the distractions and distortions around you, the jarring colors and sounds, could shake up the healing chemistry of your mind, might your surroundings also have the power to heal you?” Please tell us more about this premise, and how yoga and sitting by the sea, and living and working in a beautiful bright room, can affect how quickly we heal.

Dr. Sternberg: The bottom line about healing yourself is that we all have the wonderful opportunity to find our own healing spaces everywhere in the world. I have recreated a little piece of Greece in my sunroom. But your healing space might be in a garden at your church, at a special spot near where you work, or under a tree in your backyard.

The result is great for all of us because, increasingly, healing gardens and artful spaces are being built in public places—in parks and hospitals, schools, hotels, and office complexes. Healing wall by, pictured above, by Sally Wern Comport, Art At Large, Inc.

The magic of a healing space is that it makes you feel at peace. It’s a place where you can sit, relax, and get in touch with the natural world that surrounds you. This is how you heal yourself.

Be Inkandescent: It sounds as if, from your own experience in researching this topic, and having an illness yourself, there’s a balance that must be struck in our lives.

Dr. Sternberg: Most definitely. And I can tell you that I am fortunate in that when I got sick, I plugged myself into an NIH program that tested my genes. I also had a knee biopsy to tell me more, and now I know scientifically that I have a gene that predisposes me to mild to moderate inflammatory arthritis.

From that point of view, I am very fortunate to realize that I don’t have a lot of genes that predispose me to severe autoimmune disease.

That said, I also know from experience that lifestyle can change the balance in terms of whether you get sick or not—and how sick you get depending on the illness you develop.

In my case, the load of genes that I have is manageable—so long as I take care of myself. When I feel myself overdoing it, stretching it, and getting really stressed, I know to pull back. About a decade into it, I know what will trigger me into a relapse, and I can pull myself back from the brink.

But I’m only human. I lapse into not swimming every day, but one thing I want to make clear to everyone is that if you can’t do it—if you can’t heal yourself—don’t feel guilty. It could be that you carry too large of a load of bad genes, and that you simply can’t heal without medication.

Indeed, that’s why we have medication—and that’s why we call it integrative medicine. There are various approaches that couple healing strategies with advances in pharmacological care, and the combination of those two essential tools is the key to healing more people.

Be Inkandescent: Last, but not least, can you share with our readers a few of the most effective things they can do to heal what ails them?

Dr. Sternberg: Absolutely. Here are four of my favorite ways to heal myself, and I think these tips are universal.

1. Stimulate your five senses.

What gives your senses pleasure? Is it a bouquet of flowers? Is it a beautiful view? Is it pictures of your family? There is a physician in Ireland, professor Shaunn McCann at Trinity College in Dublin, who brought bone marrow transplants to his country. In treating his patients, he realized that to truly heal, they need to be comfortable and calm. So he created a project called Open Window. He set up webcams and worked with artists, art curators, and art historians to develop a menu of images that patients would like to look at. In addition to modern and ancient art, they’d tell him they wanted to see images of their family, or nature—of animals grazing, like cows and horses. They also liked pictures of canoes going down the water with the landscape going by. These are hypnotic and relaxing, and he made it possible. So do your own self-interview, and ask yourself: what would you like to look at, taste, touch, smell, and hear? Then surround yourself with all of those beautiful things.

2. Go offline, literally and figuratively, to escape from your daily grind.

Go snorkeling or hiking, or take a walk in your favorite park. Or, like me, just go sit in your sunroom each morning. Start with a simple mindfulness meditation three days a week. Sit in a beautiful place, calm yourself down, and breathe. Do it for five minutes for a week, then add additional minutes in week two. Believe it or not, it’ll become a great way to spend a bit of time each day.

3. Begin a healthy diet and exercise program.

Eat all the things you know you should—fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, a little meat, and use olive oil. It’s easier than you think. And once a day, swim, walk, run, or ride a bike (even if it’s an exercise bike indoors.) Just move your body, and you’ll see the benefits of a calmer mind, and healthier body, in a very short period of time.

4. Surround yourself with people you love—and people who love you.

Friends and family members are great healers, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Odds are good that even if you don’t ask, those who love you will show up when you need them to. This is especially important if you are a chronic caregiver; surround yourself with others who can help take the burden off of you. Remember, you don’t want to run yourself into the ground, or you won’t be there to help your loved ones.

For more information about Dr. Esther Sternberg, visit www.esthersternberg.com.

Be sure to tune into the her PBS special this month, The Science of Healing. To own a copy for your home library, buy the video here.

If you wish success in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counselor, caution your elder brother, and hope your guardian genius.”

– Joseph Addison

That which grows fast withers as rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.”

– J.G. Holland, novelist

An entrepreneur tends to bite off a little more than he can chew hoping he’ll quickly learn how to chew it.“

– Roy Ash, co-founder of Litton Industries

I was taught at a very young age that you can do whatever you want to, but you have to make it happen — not just talk about it.”

– Kathleen Jo Ryan

Success is the necessary misfortune of life, but it is only to the very unfortunate that it comes early.”

– Anthony Trollope

Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.”

– Noela Evans

The journey is the reward.”

– Greg Norman

Success is about finding a livelihood that brings joy, self-sufficiency, and a sense of contributing.”

– Anita Roddick

Women once had the goal of being Superwoman; I think most of us now simply strive to have a super day.”

– Author, Activist Lee Woodruff

Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”

– Abraham Lincoln

If you were independently wealthy and never had to work a day in your life, would you still choose to spend your time attempting to become a successful entrepreneur?”

– Steven Schussler

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

– Groucho Marx

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

– Seneca

Who cares if my glass is half empty or half full; I still have something to drink.”

– Optimism rules

A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges.”

– Carlos Castaneda

We are not meant to resolve all contradictions, but to live with them and rise above them.”

– William Blake

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it”

– Andrew Carnegie

Destiny is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

– William Jennings Bryan

The awakening to the mystery of life is a revolutionary event; in it an old world is destroyed so that a new and better one may take its place.”

– J.J. Van Der Leeuw, The Conquest of Illusion

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”

– Lao Tzu

I don’t do very well without fear. There needs to be a part of me saying, ‘That’s going to fail,’ so I can prove myself wrong.”

– Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe

Remove those ‘I want you to like me’ stickers from your forehead
and, instead, place them where they truly will do the most good—on your mirror.”

– Susan Jeffers

Persist and persevere, and you will find most things that are attainable, possible.”

– Lord Chesterfield

You’ve got to be willing to crash and burn. If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

– Steve Jobs

Letting go of expectations is a ticket to peace. It allows us to ride over every crisis—small or large—like a beach ball on water.”

– Martha Beck

A truly forgiving person is someone who experiences all the anger merited by injustice and still acts with fairness and compassion.”

– Martha Beck

Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”

– Andrew Carnegie

Whosoever knows how to fight well is not angry. Whosoever knows how to conquer enemies does not fight them.”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I may not be able to change what takes place, but I can always choose to change my thinking.”

– Michelle Sedas

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

– Leonard Cohen

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The gem cannot be polished without friction; nor man perfected without trials.”

– Chinese proverb

If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.”

– Jesse Jackson

You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.”

– Goldie Hawn

Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

– Mary Kay Ash

Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength.”

– The Dalai Lama

Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”

– Albert Einstein

When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

– Audre Lorde

Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”

– Thomas Wolfe

We are perfectionists. We are hungry to work all the time. We are entertained by every aspect of business and we never want to stop working.”

– Suzy Welch

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

– Mark Twain

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

– John Quincy Adams

By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

– Sri Aurobindo

The only dream worth having is to live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.”

– Arundhati Roy

The best reason to start an organization is to create a product or service to make the world a better place.”

– Guy Kawasaki

Entrepreneurs are willing to roll the dice with their money or reputation on the line in support of an idea or enterprise.”

– Victor Kiam

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver

It is to no purpose to turn away from the real nature of the affair because the honor of its elements excites repugnance.

– Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Passion makes perfect.”

– Eugene Biro

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