Dr. Swathi Varanasi: “How To Develop Mindfulness During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”
Having a set schedule and routine in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. Right now there are so many websites that state the exact number of things you should do every single morning without fail for success. I, however, do not subscribe to that philosophy. I think a morning routine should be what works for the person. Studies support certain techniques and practices that can help improve the trajectory of your day; these include but are not limited to daily affirmations, goal-setting, mindfulness, stretching, journaling, physical activity, fresh air and hydrotherapy.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Swathi Varanasi.
Dr. Swathi Varanasi, or Dr. Swathi for short, is a bilingual pharmacist specializing in integrative health and cannabis. She is a natural medicines educator, a clinical researcher, a TV show host, and a multimedia content contributor. She is dedicated to leading the charge in medical education by creating innovative programs about the range of healing modalities and their impact on the overall health and wellbeing of patients around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Even before I started on my path to becoming a pharmacist, I had always been interested in holistic health and healing. I found myself in pharmacy school where there was little to no discussion about nutrition and preventative health, but I knew there was a way they both could work in synergy. When I graduated, there was no formal training for pharmacists interested in pursuing integrative health, so I partnered with one of my brilliant mentors to co-found and was the first-ever resident of the PGY1 Integrative Health Pharmacy Residency program. During this postdoctoral specialized residency program, I trained at an independent natural pharmacy and HIV clinic in Los Angeles, California. Emphasizing an evidence-based approach and working with the patient as a team, I was able to provide natural medicines education and guidance to help each patient achieve their own treatment goals; these conversations involved a number of methodologies and modalities of healing, like eastern & western herbs, homeopathy, cannabis, therapeutic aromatherapy, dietary supplementation and everything in between. Since my training, I have moved on to a variety of educational ventures, including but not limited to creating online courses, guest lecturing, college and postgraduate course curricula consulting, and textbook and reference guide writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
As the only integrative health postdoctoral resident, one of my duties (and favorite parts) of my postdoctoral training was the opportunity to mentor Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students during their clinical rotations at an independent natural pharmacy. In a multifaceted six-week syllabus that provided an introduction to integrative medicine, one of the modalities we discussed was mindfulness and meditation. To do this, the students attended a free weekly meditation led by an incredible local expert. Hearing the students’ reactions and reflections on their experiences were nothing short of eye-opening. Students who had never experienced anything like it before have since followed up with me months later with gratitude for the impact meditation has made on their lives. One in particular told me about how he uses mindful strategies while sitting in Los Angeles traffic (aka everyday) to deal with the undesirable driving conditions. Interacting with students in these contexts as well as through lecturing at colleges of pharmacy and colleges of traditional Chinese medicine allows me the opportunity to provide information like this to not only better the lives of the students, but also the lives of their families, friends, and patients.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
When it comes to work culture, the most important aspects are community and camaraderie. Being in an environment in which varied and diverse opinions are valued and encouraged improves morale and productivity. In my opinion, much of the company atmosphere starts at the top with the executives; their attitudes and actions set an example for and explain their employees’ behavior.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero is without a doubt one of my favorite books. Having listened to the audiobook, I found myself either writing profusely so as to not miss one of her takeaways or laughing at her bold, irreverent sense of humor. In particular, she has one section called, ‘How to Tap Into the Motherlode,’ which focuses on the method to harness the abundant energy of the universe and understand the wants and needs of the subconscious mind. According to Sincero, the best way to do this is through meditation, and I agree with her. This was one of the first ways I saw the relationship between meditation and connecting with source energy to achieve goals explained so simply and straight-forward. Highly recommend this book as well as other others in the series!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
I define a state of being mindful as one in which the person is living in the present. Being mindful takes into account what and how the best version of yourself would do and act at that moment. Sometimes it is the most beneficial for a person to take a second to remember that this specific moment is only a part of life, and therefore only a part of the journey. Sometimes certain moments seem like the world is collapsing, but using mindfulness provides the person a shift in perspective.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, this is one of my favorite questions. Many of my western practitioner colleagues are hesitant about mindfulness because it seems like a bit of a ‘woo woo’ concept. But, once I have introduced the value of incorporating wellness into a daily routine, they ask for more information. Besides this aspect, I think much of that change in opinion also stems from the experience of them actually implementing it and seeing the impact of a mindfulness practice on their life. Through using various research methods such as functional MRIs (fMRI), studies have demonstrated the benefit of meditation on a biological level. More recent studies support its use for patients diagnosed with depression and anxiety, as well as potentially those diagnosed with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
Step #1: Your Morning Routine
Having a set schedule and routine in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. Right now there are so many websites that state the exact number of things you should do every single morning without fail for success. I, however, do not subscribe to that philosophy. I think a morning routine should be what works for the person. Studies support certain techniques and practices that can help improve the trajectory of your day; these include but are not limited to daily affirmations, goal-setting, mindfulness, stretching, journaling, physical activity, fresh air and hydrotherapy. Apart from the inclusion of mindfulness, I think the rest of your routine comes down to personal preference. Some people have morning routines that are two minutes long and that is all they need, whereas there are others who prefer two hours or more. By being open-minded to try items from the above list, you will find what works for you… Then see how it can change your entire day.
Step #2: Setting Aside Time for Your Mind
Developing mindfulness is like going to the gym. Realistically going to the gym and working out only once is not going to produce a dramatic physical change. Like ‘Arm Day,’ there are many types of mindfulness muscles that need time and effort to perfect, much like your dream body. It requires consistent ‘trips to the gym’ and practice. It is important not to be discouraged when one workout does not go as well, or you miss it; it happens, life happens, but just like a consistent exercise routine, the next day is a new day to get back on track. Whether it is sitting on the family room floor for five minutes before the kids come home from school, or spending an hour in a dedicated meditation room, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths could work wonders to reset and revamp your brain for the rest of your day.
Step #3: Setting Aside Time for Your Body
The most common complaint I hear is that people ‘do not have time’ to work out. I firmly believe that people make time for what they want to do, exercise included. Studies support that self-care practices are beneficial and recommended for our mental health and wellness. One of the best parts about this step is the versatility; everyone defines physical activity and/or caring for their physical body in a different way. For some it could like taking a short walk, while for others it could like a high-intensity workout or a yin yoga session.
Step #4: Resetting Your Mindset
I can be the first to admit that I never anticipated the impact Step 4 has had on my life. As a western-trained pharmacist, I nor my physician or nursing colleagues were not taught anything regarding mindfulness or meditation practices in school. A healthy mindset has played the most pivotal role in my maturation as a person and professional. If you are new to it, I would suggest beginning with a seemingly simple ‘I am’ statement to remind yourself how ‘awesome’ or ‘successful’ you are. I think it is easy, especially in these times, to fall into a negative mindset around the future, but changing your mindset to a positive one does wonders. Your subconscious does not know the difference between what is real and what is not; if you tell it ‘I am amazing’, it will believe it without a doubt. With repeated affirmations, your conscious will align with your subconscious to realize how amazing you really are.
Step #5: Your Night Routine
Now that you have made it through your fantastic day, it is important to not forget about your night routine. What you think about before falling asleep impacts sleep quality and subconscious processing. Sleep hygiene is vital and often overlooked when it comes to getting rejuvenating sleep; this includes but is not limited to creating a cozy environment, eliminating all sources of light (especially blue light — no screen time at least one hour before bed), practicing mindfulness, limiting alcohol and food consumption close to bedtime, completing an evening personal hygiene routine, exercising more than a few hours before bed, and spending quality time with those who matter.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Rather than provide five concrete steps, I think it comes down to simply about ‘being there.’ Lending an ear or shoulder to your family member, co-worker or stranger in passing could be more impactful than you know. One of my mentors shared this incredible acronym — HOPE: Help One Person Everyday. This year has given us a sense of clarity on who and what are most important to us. Especially in these uncertain times, the act of reaching out could mean the world to someone.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
The silver lining of the current pandemic is the accessibility to an unlimited amount of information; through online courses, instructional videos, coaching programs, podcasts and apps, there is something for everyone’s learning style and preferred media platform.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” -Steve Jobs
I was introduced to this quote by two of my mentors (shoutout to Chris Winfield and Jen Gottlieb!). I think Steve sums it up so beautifully that surrendering to the universe and having confidence that it will happen has been the key to his unbelievable success. This powerful quote reminds me of having clear goals, a positive mindset and inspired actions to move forward. As an extension of this quote, I would add something about the importance of celebrating the small wins along the way just as much as the big wins.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In an effort not to sound redundant, natural medicines education is one of my absolute favorite things. I feel honored that I have the chance to share my expertise on integrative health solutions to enhance others’ personal and professional growth. My goal is to reach as many people as I possibly can! I really admire women who have broken barriers by pursuing their passions to make an everlasting impact on the world. I would be honored to have the opportunity to share any and all of this information on national television programs and digital/print magazines. If you are reading this, Elaine Welteroth, Chioma Nnadi, and Samira Nsar, I would love nothing more than to have lunch in New York the next time I am back east. :)
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Connect with me on LinkedIn! If you have any questions, DM me on Instagram and let’s chat (@doctorswathi). Looking forward to e-meeting you!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!