The Power of the Breath
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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Today we have Robyn, who is the founder and CEO of Stress Free MD, as well as the host of the Stress Free MD podcast. So she is a life coach. She is certified in yoga and meditation. And today she’s going to talk all about breath awareness, using your physiology to live a stress free life. So Robyn, welcome.
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Thank you. Thank you, Christopher, for having me. I’m really a big fan of your podcast and of all your work. So it’s an honor to be here.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yes. And we connected through Andrew and we were talking backstage and what I found interesting was I love your energy and the vibe, and just the positivity in the column. And I was hoping that the audience could pick up on that. So we’ll talk about your journey, how you get started, and go from there. It’ll be a really interesting conversation.
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So my journey started, wanting to be a doctor when I was really young and eight years old, and seeing a skeleton for the first time and thinking it was really amazing. And wanted to study medicine beginning at age eight.
And, fast forward, I went through medical school and internship and internal medicine and residency and radiology and fellowship and body imaging and started practice in diagnostic radiology. And although medicine is truly amazing, I know that I truly believe that it’s an incredible privilege to take care of patients, and I still do. I started to develop lots of symptoms, lots of illnesses that I couldn’t put together that doctors could not put together. And it just seemed very disconnected. I became, as we know, in medicine an interesting case or a complex case, which Christopher’s, we don’t want to be a complex case ever. So, from migraines, to vertigo, to reflux to tinnitus, and bizarre paraesthesia in my hands and feet and lots of pain in my body and not sleeping and not digesting my food and actually starting to just tumble downward and having some dark thoughts. So that was that’s what happened over time.
It was several years ago before people actually were talking about what we know now to be essentially burnout. But after taking lots of pills and seeing mental health care professionals and not getting better, I just looked outside Western medicine to put my left brain into it, figure out through the medical literature, what I could do to take care of myself. And that’s what I did. I found that there were lots of articles in our own medical literature, talking about the benefits of different things like yoga, meditation, coaching and so on. And those are the things that I started participating in. And believe it or not, all of my symptoms went away. All of them.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Wow. That’s amazing. It’s really amazing when you, it’s like stress and just the hustle bustle and the daily grind, you don’t realize the toll it takes but then, it’s like, it’s you when you go back to spirituality and just just mindfulness and physiology. It’s amazing how the body can heal itself.
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: So the body responds to what you said stress so I had a whopping case of a diet of chronic stress. That’s what my diagnosis was. It was that that was it. But none of us picked up on it. I didn’t pick up on it. None of my colleagues, no gastroenterologist and our neurologist, Periodontist, you know mental health care professional, I mean, whoever I saw, they just saw the symptom of whatever they were treating and gave me a pill for it or something to do about it. And off I went. So yeah, so stress is pretty powerful. And it shows up in some pretty interesting and sometimes kind of bizarre ways. But that’s what it does in your body. But that also means that you can actually reverse that. And teach yourself how to feel better all by yourself, you just need to learn what we never learned back in med school. How to do that.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I’ve been reading a lot of books on physiology and breath and conscious awareness. And so I know you emphasize breathing and physiology, and you help clients live better lives through that. So tell us how you practice and your philosophy around your physiology and using your physiology.
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yeah, physiology because I love science. And we’re doctors, we love science. And we always like to know why. And a lot of my clients, mostly physicians, also need to know the Why. So the Why is the physiology that knows what happens when we start to work with that, what happens when we actually pay attention to what we learned back in med school, and then we and then we utilize it to help ourselves. And so you mentioned the breath, that’s one thing. Pre-breathing? Well, we learned a lot about the respiratory system. But we didn’t actually learn that there are two really important components of our breath. And it really goes back to first understanding the umbrella of the autonomic nervous system.
So the autonomic nervous system, which I like to think of as the autonomic nervous system because if things were just happening, you’re just breathing, your heart just beating, you’re not telling your body to do these things. So we have our autonomic or automatic, nervous. And that has two main components. So we have our sympathetic or fight or flight response, and our parasympathetic, or rest and digest response. And we want those two pieces of our nervous system to be friends and to be working together and to be in what we call homeostasis, or balance. But with chronic stress, they’re out of balance, they’re out of balance completely, we have way too much sympathetic nervous system going on.
And so what we want to do, for example, with our breath, is to go back to these two points of our physiology. The first point, Christopher, is that our exhale breath decreases our heart rate and our blood pressure. And our inhale breath, increases our heart rate and our blood pressure. So when we go back to basic physiology of breath, we focus on the exhale breath, and allowing that to be nice and long, that actually naturally brings our heart rate down, our blood pressure down and we can feel calmer. So that’s the first piece of physiology with our breath.
The second piece is where your breath is in your body, where your breath is in your body. So the vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve that we have, starts in our brain and it goes all the way through our body into our abdomen. That nerve, Latin for Wanderer, is the nerve that’s responsible for our parasympathetic response, our calm feeling, our rest and digestion, our relaxation. And so when we breathe into our abdomen, into our belly, we activate that nerve, and we activate our parasympathetic nervous system and can feel calmer.
So stressful breathing is a sympathetic nervous system that’s up in our chest. Calming breathing is parasympathetic nervous system, and that’s in our abdomen.
So the two key points of physiology for breathing are focusing on your exhale, that long, calm exhale, which will decrease your heart rate, blood pressure, and the location of your breath breathing into your abdomen to increase vagal tone to allow that rest and digest response to come on board and allow you to feel calmer.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: I didn’t know where the breath was in your body. So that’s very interesting. And how do you combine it with meditation as well as yoga and then how does that incorporate into your practice?
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yeah, so I like to think of there being three main components to as you say, living life on your own terms. You can live life on your own terms with your financial freedom. You can live life on your own terms with how you feel in your body and your mind. And so the three main goals components, we talked about the breath, that’s one. Meditation is another one. So taking care of your breath is one, taking care of your mind is another, there’s two components to that. Meditation being one.
And a lot of people think meditation is, oh, I have to sit uncomfortably for long periods of time, dealing with all my crazy thoughts in my brain, 60,000 of them a day, most of them not so nice, I can’t do that. And so, I can’t do that either. So there are lots of flavors, lots of flavors of meditation. And as doctors, we’re busy, people in life are just generally busy. It could be seconds, it could be minutes, it could be hours, it’s whatever amount of time you have. But there are many flavors of meditation.
And, mindfulness is probably the underlying piece to all flavors just about and what that means is paying attention on purpose. And you can think of mindful as one word, or mind full as two words. So mind full as two words, is just imagine a thought bubble above your head when you’re having those 60,000 thoughts there’s no room for anything else. Whereas when you are mindful, one word, you’re actually aware of what’s in front of you. You’re aware of what’s surrounding you, you’re aware of how you’re feeling. And the quickest way to do that is actually just to bring your attention to your senses. Right?
So our five senses are always available to us. If I said to you, Christopher, how does it feel right now with your body sitting in that chair, because you’re probably sitting right now. But you may not have noticed that parts of your body are touching the chair, bring your attention to that. Bring your attention to the sensation of the air on your skin that’s not covered? Does that feel cool? Does it feel warm? Do you have any taste in your mouth? Do you smell anything? Do you hear anything besides my voice? If your eyes are open or closed, what do you see?
So one of the quickest things we can do with meditation, since most people say I don’t have time, and I can’t do that, is actually just bringing your attention to your senses, you come out of busy thinking mind, which is where we spend most of our lives and back into your body. So that’s just a real quick way that you can weave meditation into your life. And then there’s more structured meditation.
So I’m certified in what’s called iRest. And it’s ready because who doesn’t want to rest, right? It doesn’t want to rest. So it was originally created for Walter Reed Army Hospital several decades ago, because our military was in need. And they still are relieved from their suffering from PTSD. And if it was called meditation, or yoga or anything like that, they wouldn’t do it. Because they would have all these preconceived notions. So Dr. Miller, who came up with this type of meditation, weaved in traditional meditation, and some psychotherapy, took out things that were potentially triggering, and created a very safe 10 step process to meditation which is guided, which means you don’t have to think about it, you just listen.
And it’s been found to be so effective for processing experiences, and relieving suffering from trauma and everyday life. That has also been found to be incredibly beneficial for relieving chronic pain in the body. And the Department of Defense, the Department of Defense declared this meditation a tier one treatment for chronic pain in 2010, which means it’s equivalent to taking pain pills, it’s equivalent to actually taking an opioid. Because so much of the pain in our body that we feel is from tension, from all that tension, because our stress response tension is on muscles up, and then we get stuck with these tense muscles. So meditation comes in many flavors. I just gave you two.
And then how else do we work with our mind? Well, life coaching. So working with your mind, getting a personal trainer for your brain? Now, what do we do with those 60,000 thoughts? How do we work with them? You mentioned earlier, when you’re introducing me that, you can really focus on determining how you feel and your emotions and in life coaching, we learn that our thoughts actually determine how we feel, determine our emotions, that determines how we show up. And that determines the results that we create in our lives. So we start to work with our minds or our thoughts, we can actually create the feelings and the emotions that we want to have, therefore, show up how we want to and we can get the results that we want in our life.
So taking care of your mind comes in those two components, that meditation piece as well as the life coaching piece. And then the third piece is taking care of your body. And I’m trained in somatics, which is a very specific way, although a very simple way of movement, that releases chronic tension in your body. So you can actually increase the resting length of those chronically tense muscles and feel better. So those are the three main components that I work with, that I educate others on.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Well, that’s fascinating. Just the way you describe your physiology, and then you describe the thoughts and then how you process chronic tension. And where, trauma and chronic stress gets stored in certain parts of the body, and it’s relieved by movement. It’s very fascinating. Wow.
So now you’ve taken that and you, you went from traditional medicine, you, you got a lot of training, and now you’re helping clients. I know you’ve done a lot of retreats and coaching. So describe some of your successes. And a lot of stressed out professionals can start becoming more aware of this field?
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yes, so I transitioned into this area, stress management, education, self care education about 10 years ago, really wanting to help other people learn what I learned. I felt almost selfish not sharing, because all of my symptoms went away. So that means other people must be out there feeling the way that I was feeling, right? So what I do is I really meet people where they are, and I educate them in the way that they learn best.
So whether that’s my online programs, I have a program called RX centerpiece of physicians guide for self care, which is CME accredited, and that combines online self paced learning in very short videos, because physicians are really busy people so 15 minutes or less, just like my podcast very short, in general, 15 minutes or less, and also the group and private coaching with me so we get to learn how to work with the physiology, and you get to learn how to work with your mind, really combining that.
And I don’t know any other individual that’s licensed and certified in the combination of things that I am that combined both of those disciplines in education. So that’s one way. I also have a lot of shorter programs that are open to healthcare professionals and non healthcare professionals that focus on a specific topic. So maybe you want to learn about meditation, maybe you want to release chronic tension in your body, maybe you want to work with your breath, and so on. Maybe you want a combination of those. So there are lots of courses that are four hours each, that you can learn that way. And I do private coaching one on one, some people just say, I just want to work with you. Just you, so let’s do that. So that’s available to and everything if you’re a healthcare professional, a CME accredited that I offer. You mentioned retreats, yeah, you want to retreat, I create retreats. I also go to retreats and present, workshops and conferences, and you mentioned my podcast. So that’s a really easy way to learn from me as well.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, that’s so many available resources. And I encourage all the listeners to really check out Robyn’s material. I know she has a lot of wealth of information. So what is the best way for people to get in contact with you?
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yeah, so through my website, it’s StressFreeMD.net. If you want to hop on a call, I’m happy to talk with you on a free call. See how I can get you started on living the stress free life. I also have three free videos. So you just want to check out a common breathing tool, a way to relieve tension in your neck and shoulders. Even a guided meditation. You can find those three free videos on my website. And I’m on social media. I’m all over so, what’s your favorite social media platform? You’ll find me. I am on LinkedIn at Robyn Tiger MD. On Instagram @StressFreeMD on Facebook at Robyn Tiger MD. And let’s see Twitter StressFreeMD. Yeah, Robyn Tiger MD so you can find me on your favorite social media platforms and I’m happy to help you in any way I can.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Excellent. Yeah, for all the listeners will include all of Robyn’s resources, links in the show notes and before we call it a day, any parting words of wisdom and advice?
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Yeah, I would say that if you’re listening to this and you’re connecting with me and saying, Wow, I feel that way now. I really hope you understand now that you’re not alone. Right? That, that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. And I want you to also know that you have the innate ability to make yourself feel better in any given moment, you have the innate ability to live life on your terms, as Christopher says. So you just need to learn how. So there’s nothing wrong with you. You just weren’t provided that education. So just reach out, reach out, know that you can do it. And I’m here to help you get started so you can feel calmer and more grounded and live a more joyful life.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Wonderful words of advice. So thanks so much, and we look forward to having you as a guest on future podcast episodes.
Dr. Robyn Tiger, MD: Thank you, Christopher. Thank you so much for having me.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.