Here is the full transcript of neurologist Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq’s TEDx Talk Presentation on The Powerful Secret of Your Breath at TEDxFargo conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq – Neurologist
Doctor, lawyer, Jaguar, whoo girl, are those Manolos? President of the PTA. We often walk through life mindlessly, defining ourselves by the careers we choose, the things we buy, degrees — or in my case, designer high-heeled shoes. I click clack these Jimmy Choos right into the hospital room and announce myself: “Hi, I’m Dr. Mushtaq, your neurologist. I was consulted today, because I understand you’re having some physical symptoms that may be related to your brain function.” Oh us doctors, I know! You know, well that was the conversation I was projecting to the external world, internally my own mind was processing a little bit of a different story: “Oh oh oh, get me out of here! It’s 6:49 PM, and I had 22 more in-patient consults to see after a full day of clinic. Focus Romie! Oh gosh, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe! Huh, clearly, I wasn’t happy.
So I would go home, stuff my face full of dark chocolate, buy another pair of high-heeled shoes online, and get up and do the exact same thing the next day. Honey, let me tell you it is not easy running on that hamster wheel and stilettos. You know, I didn’t know that these feelings and physical symptoms that I was experiencing actually had an official diagnosis: physician burnout.
You see, only us physicians are neurotic enough to make up an entirely new diagnosis for something that exists in the entire world: career burnout. I thought my problem was that I was a complete and total failure.
According to a 2012 Medscape study, almost 50% of physicians in the United States are feeling burnt out. But seriously, do we need another study to tell all of us how burned out we’re feeling from our jobs? Yeah, I know that this audience is full of teachers, accountants, and small business owners and all other professionals who have felt the exact same way. How did this happen?
You know, as a society we have upgraded from golden handcuffs to platinum shackles. How? We’ve chained ourselves to soul-sucking jobs for the sake of a paycheck, prestige, or pride. How and why? Career burnout occurs when our external world is not in alignment with our internal soul compass. Our life purpose is tied to this internal soul compass. What is it? It’s that place deep with inside of you where all the answers reside. You know, some call it your gut instinct, your mother’s intuition, your inner soul wisdom.
You know, when our life is not in congruence with this internal soul compass, it leads to stress in our minds and our bodies. According to the Center for Disease Control, 80% of doctors’ office visits are due to stress-related illnesses. And I know firsthand that the stress can kill. None of us are immune to the negative effects of stress from our careers. These common symptoms that occur are anxiety, depression, ulcers, difficulty sleeping, right?
While I was working 80 to 90 hours a week helping others in a hospital, I started to develop this disabling chest pain and this inability to swallow. You know, with my stressful lifestyle it was no surprise that the symptoms slowly got worse. It had to progress to the point that I was waking up in the middle of the night choking on my own saliva and vomit and getting frequent pneumonia. I really couldn’t breathe anymore.
It took almost seven years for a diagnosis of a rare medical disorder to be made called achalasia. By this time, the prognosis was grim. I was going to either end up disabled with an inability to swallow or even possibly had esophageal cancer. And while I was laying on the gurney at the University of Washington in Seattle in pre-op holding, waiting to undergo surgery, I can honestly tell you I wasn’t focused on the possibility that I could have cancer or become disabled. Instead I was in this deep pain and sorrow wondering who am I and how did I get here? And then from the pain and the sorrow, I blacked out.
You see, when our lives are consumed with mindless distractions, we sometimes have to lose consciousness to see the light. You know, I woke up after successful surgery and thank God there was no cancer. It turns out that my internal soul compass was so far off course that the stress was eating away at my mental and my physical health. You know, all I could do in that moment was muster up the courage to ask: “Oh my gosh! You mean I’m alive!”
And my surgeon Dr. Carlos Pellegrini just peered down at me and said, “Of course, you are. So what are you going to do about it?”
You know, unfortunately it takes a life crisis like a hell-scare, a divorce, or a loss of a job to realize that we are not on the right path. This is the first fork in the road. Do we go back to that same life hoping for a change or do we decide to take the other path and create change?
And even if we want to create that change, how do we overcome that fear? You know, I first started to connect the clues while I was doing yoga and sitting in meditation. All of a sudden, that physical and emotional pain that I was suffering from would go away. And I would feel calm and focused and happy. As a neurologist, I wanted to know oh my gosh: is there something really happening here, or is this all just in my head?
I started to do the research and to my surprise there is decade’s worth of scientifical — scientific and medical evidence showing us the health and the psychological benefits of yoga and meditation. I know some of you must be wondering oh my gosh is this doctor seriously going to tell me to sit down and meditate? My parents were thinking the same thing. My mother — “Oh Romila, you are leaving to go to yoga teacher today? You’re a doctor1” Oh my god please don’t tell my mom I did this on stage. I know and so of course my response was, “Mom, we’re of Asian descent; didn’t anybody see this coming?”
So I started to travel around the world and study various forms of yoga and meditation with this one question in my mind: how can we shut off that fear that occurs from one of stress and career burnout and connect to our internal soul compass? To connect to our internal soul compass, we must do just one thing: breathe.
How many of you are aware of your own breath in this moment? Yeah, I wasn’t aware of my own breath until I couldn’t breathe anymore. This is why I wanted to take mindfulness from the meditation mat into a mindful way of living. You know, what is mindfulness? It’s a term we hear so often thrown out in the media these days, right?
Mindfulness is one simple action: breathe. So you see when we breathe, we bring ourselves to the present moment. And in this present moment is where all of your dreams and desires reside. To connect to your purpose, you just have to breathe.