Total Health: Natureza Gabriel Kram On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readMay 19, 2022


Feel your feelings. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? But most people go to extraordinary lengths not to feel what they’re actually feeling. Many of us are so good at not feeling our feelings that we don’t realize we’re doing it. Why is this?

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Natureza Gabriel Kram.

Natureza Gabriel Kram is a connection phenomenologist who studied at Yale and Stanford universities but has been shaped more by sitting in teepees than in classrooms. He’s the founder and CEO of Applied Mindfulness, Inc., co-founder of the Academy of Applied Social Medicine, and convener of the Restorative Practices Alliance, where he serves as part of a global faculty comprised of more than 50 connection and well-being experts from more than 25 disciplines and 20 cultures. His new book, Restorative Practices of Wellbeing, unites cutting-edge neurophysiology and ancestral awareness practices, sharing more than 300 practices for personal, community, and ecological thriving.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

To understand our work — and I’m saying our work rather than my work because it’s a community effort — it’s important to understand that its origin was in teaching mindfulness to incarcerated youth. We live in a society that puts children in prison because we treat some people as throwaways. Our society isn’t interested in understanding the roots of violence or why some people act in criminal ways. Society doesn’t want to be bothered with dismantling the inequities of safety, money, power, and opportunity.

Now, I might seem like an unlikely person to be working with incarcerated youth. I’m a white guy who went to Yale and Stanford universities. I grew up with a lot of privilege. But I also understood deeply — because of my own childhood trauma after being torn out of a place and community that I loved profoundly — how a person can get exiled from their own heart. When we’re exiled from our deepest selves, we’re a danger to ourselves and others.

Much of modernity is a story of exile. Sitting down with these kids stripped away my pretense and knee-jerk defenses of “education” and “class.” I quickly learned that if you aren’t absolutely authentic with these young people, your ass will get served to you. They have extraordinarily acute bullshit detectors. They have to in order to survive: they’re surrounded by people and systems that are literally seeking to entrap them, so they have deep street smarts. These kids gave me a crash course in authenticity.

Working with these kids led to other discoveries, too. As we worked with these young men and women, we believed we were teaching them mindfulness. We thought, “We’re good at this, and our program is really helping young people.” So we took the next step and began a research study to validate our curriculum as a mindfulness intervention so we could scale it nationally. We built a research advisory and went about administering questionnaires to the youth.

But then something strange happened. When we were compiling the data, we thought there was something wrong with the study: the youth’s mindfulness scores hadn’t changed one bit. But how could that be? Mindfulness was helping them!

The reality was: these kids weren’t meditating outside of class. In order for mindfulness to help you, you have to do it. And they were only doing it with us, which wasn’t a big enough dose.

Why were they doing it with us? Because we could help them feel safe enough for it to feel OK. Why weren’t they doing it on their own? Because they didn’t feel safe, and when the body feels unsafe, turning attention inward feels bad.

Years after this study, I met a woman named Dr. Darcia Narvaez, and I attended a seminar of hers. She’s a professor emerita of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and one of the most important thinkers on human well-being. What she said was alarming and simple: For 99% of human history, we lived in small-band hunter-gatherer groups comprised of 25 to 35 people. Within these tribes, our brains evolved.

When I heard this, I suddenly understood something I had intuited but not been able to put into words. It explained why what had happened to me as a child was so devastating and why the kids in our classes had gotten better. When we’re connected to a tribe, we grow the neurobiology of safety and connection.

As a child, I was ripped out of my tribe. I was taken away from the land I belonged to, the people I belonged with. The incarcerated youth weren’t healing through mindfulness. They were healing because they felt safe enough to connect with others and belong to a healthy community.

This realization set the direction of my life. I’ve spent the past 27 years studying how to build the biology of connection and how to remove what gets in the way of it.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had so many significant mentors. In a way, my root teacher was a man named Gurucharan Singh Khalsa. He took an interest in me in my early 20s, back when I was acting out and living in chaos due to my childhood trauma. He took me under his wing, which altered the course of my life and put me on a path toward healing. Without him, I wouldn’t have survived.

My experience in my working life was that I could never find all the mentors I needed nor all the subjects I wanted to study in one place, so I built a university around me. This turned into our current faculty at the Academy of Applied Social Medicine, which has roughly 50 members from more than 25 healing traditions and 20 cultures.

While I’ve learned a great deal in classrooms, most of my learning has been experiential: apprenticeships, sitting in circles, being part of ceremonies, and other ways of knowing beyond formal schooling. I’m a big proponent of experience as a mode of learning, paying deep attention to our lives, and studying the pattern languages of nature.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

There’s a Native American saying that goes something like: “The greatest distance in the world is the 18 inches from the human head to the human heart.”

This is the entire focus of our work. We marry cutting-edge neurophysiology, data science, and ancestral awareness practices to help modern people come back into their hearts. This is our mission. We want to see a world where people’s hearts tell their minds what to do, not the other way around.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

For the past 27 years, since studying neuroscience at Yale University, I’ve been working on a foundational model of well-being that integrates neurophysiology and ancestral awareness practices. I’ve worked on this with 50 mentors, who have a combined 1,500 years of experience; with crowd-sourced feedback from 5,000 wellness professionals; and through field testing involving roughly 10,000 people in 43 countries.

This model has taken the form of a deep learning software platform. We’ve launched it with wellness professionals in mental health to improve client outcomes, and we’re preparing to move it into healthcare systems.

Our model is incredibly effective at treating stress-related “dis-ease,” which allopathic medicine is structurally unable to treat effectively because it compartmentalizes the treatment of the mind to one set of practitioners (psychiatrists and mental health practitioners) and the treatment of the body to an increasingly siloed group of specialists (cardiologists, gastroenterologists, etc.).

The problem that allopathic medicine faces is that any stress-related disorder is a mind-body issue because the axis of stress is the autonomic physiology, and the autonomic physiology is the neural architecture of the mind-body connection. We’ve found a way to treat this individually by combining things that are new (Polyvagal Theory and data science) with techniques that are ancient (an enormous library of ancestral and Indigenous awareness technologies).

We feel this will help many people, and this excites me.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I’m not qualified to speak about nutrition, so I’m going to stay in my lane and simply make an observation. A lot of what drives what we put into our bodies — food, drink, substances, or what we consume with our attention — has to do with our underlying autonomic physiology and stress responses.

Most people have very little awareness of their own nervous systems, but these systems drive many of our behaviors. We are constantly self-medicating — and I’m not simply speaking about the obvious ways people do this with alcohol or drugs. Have you ever found yourself reaching for a piece of chocolate after a stressful interaction? Have you noticed you want to have a quick smoke when you’re feeling sad? When we’re stressed, a nervous system state arises in our bodies beneath the threshold of conscious awareness, and we go about trying to fix it without even realizing it.

So why am I saying this?

When your body goes into a defensive response, a fight or flight response, for example, the physiological parameters of the body change. You’re burning more fuel because your body is on alert. Blood chemistry changes. And what the blood requires to maintain this kind of burn is basically salt, fat, and sugar. So, what do we do? We eat potato chips, fatty foods, and sugary desserts. We are, without realizing it, trying to self-medicate the stress state. Most of what we think of as comfort food fits this description.

So, if we want the body not to crave things that aren’t good for us, perhaps the most direct route is to shift our nervous systems out of the defensive responses that want these things. To turn on and activate the biology of safety and connection.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Feel your feelings. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? But most people go to extraordinary lengths not to feel what they’re actually feeling. Many of us are so good at not feeling our feelings that we don’t realize we’re doing it. Why is this?

We could spend a lot of time talking about this question, but if we distill it down, many modern people are exiled from their own bodies and hearts as a result of social trauma: sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, audism, and more. We live in a society that distributes safety in highly inequitable ways. There are many oppressions in our society, and they’re upheld by the fact that we afford safety to certain groups and remove it from others. Tremendous violence has been directed against certain communities since the founding of this country. We don’t feel safe with one another because there are so many harms perpetrated by and upon so many people.

Then there’s another level to this, which is that modernity has become deviantly disconnected from the living world. We’ve forgotten that we are nature. We are never not in nature. The idea that nature is something “over there” that we visit and “go into” is misguided. Yet the way we are living, as modern people, is so alienated from the living world that we have to go out into pristine places to remind ourselves of what is real.

This dissociation is what permits us to undermine the integrity of our biosphere with the same alacrity that we eat breakfast cereal. I don’t think anyone goes out and gets in their car and thinks, “Today, I’m going to really f*ck the atmosphere so that my kids can’t breathe fresh air.” But that’s what we’re all doing. So how did this come to be?

Part of the reason we embrace dissociation is that if we didn’t, we’d have to change our lives profoundly. We couldn’t just ignore the cries of Mother Earth or the wails of our brothers and sisters who are being harmed by violence and cruelty. We’d have to do something.

But there’s a fix to all of this: we can turn back toward feeling, turn back toward our own hearts, turn back toward one another, and turn back toward the living world. This might be the second most difficult thing in the world. But if we don’t do it, we’ll experience the most difficult thing in the world: suffering increasing mental illness, witnessing more violence, and watching the biosphere collapse around us.

Here’s the secret: if you want to be emotionally well, you need to reconnect with the act of feeling. You need to be able to feel yourself. We heal to the extent that we can feel ourselves. And to open this door, we need a felt experience of safety.

As you reconnect with feeling, you’re going to experience what feels really good and nourishes you, and you’re going to feel what feels really bad. But if you understand that pain is not arbitrary, that it is, in fact, information, this pain will orient you in the direction of how to change your life so you suffer less.

We call this “coming back into the heart.” The science of this is what our work has been focused on for many, many years.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

This is really what we’re working to do through the vehicle of the Restorative Practices Alliance, which is essentially an ancestral neurotechnology cooperative.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

What we’re looking for are courageous leaders in behavioral health and healthcare who recognize how profoundly ineffective and reactive our models of care have become and are interested in partnering with us to approach well-being in a different way — one that focuses on centering autonomic physiology to activate the root drivers of well-being, downshift distress, and heal trauma.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can visit My new book is called Restorative Practices of Wellbeing. It details our approach and explores 300 practices of well-being informed by this framework. You can find it where books are sold.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

Thank you for the opportunity.



Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine

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