Total Health: Nishah Dennison On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing
Habit one: Completion as Satisfaction — When overwhelmed by many things at once, make a list of all, rate the priority of each, and complete one thing at a time in order of priority. Notice how you feel each time something is completed: more relaxed, able to be happy, less burdened, able to laugh. Feel the relief and satisfaction as things are completed. Completion de-stresses the psyche.
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 Nishah Dennison.
Nishah is an Artist, Psychotherapist and Synchronicity ignitor. Her mission is to help people experience freedom in life and to be themselves without limitation. She teaches how to master the energy within and around us, and how we can all use Art and Creative Expression, as a highly therapeutic healing tool.
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. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was at pre-school, we were given an art project. It was to create some sort of scene within a large jar or bottle. With the help of my mum, I created an underwater scene with a beautiful clay mermaid as the central piece. It was stunning. I still have the image in my head. The mermaid was beautiful, with long dark hair, sitting on a stone.
My artistic ability was nurtured by my mother. She painted classics, to the quality of a forger, and was a ceramicist at that time also. We would do things like soap carving at the weekends. I did not know what career to pursue, so simply followed my artistic talents to see where this led me.
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 remember sending out a powerful wish to have the best teacher/guru. Teachers and gurus came and went, never impressing me in a way that I had hoped or expected. At first, I interpreted this as a rejection — it’s not meant to be, I’m not worthy, poor me. It was very disappointing.
Later, I realized that I did learn something from each person. They were not the perfect teachers I had dreamt of, but they did teach me something. People are only human and can go only so far in their own development. Only able to give from this remit. I learned what I needed to know at that time, in order to progress. I now take the ‘valuable gift’ from people I encounter, as teachers can be anyone. People can be synchronistic vehicles for you to learn something about yourself. A person can pass to you the fragment of information that you need, and this one thing can be life changing.
I also learned that simply being in the energy of highly spiritual people evoked healing, that was the single takeaway at times. But the biggest ‘aha’ from this search for a magnificent teacher, was realizing ‘we are our best teacher’. It took many years of searching at great expense. Everything pointed back to me. The more I searched, the more I was left with ‘Me’: YOU are your answer.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Years ago, I signed up for a meditation retreat, excited to learn, and thinking I knew a lot already. I expected it to be regular meditation with some form of teaching process. I arrived, prepared for the challenge of ‘dorm sharing’, communal bathrooms and vegetarian food. My only worry was coffee withdrawal, which was indeed horrific, but I was saved by ‘white flower oil’ (great for headaches).
I received the schedule. It consisted of 6am yoga each day. I hated yoga, let alone at 6am in a large group format and starved of caffeine. Secondly, the afternoons consisted of dance. I HATED dance, as was shy and inhibited.
The universe knew I would NOT have signed up, if I had any idea all of this was included. However, this ‘mistake’ assisted me to overcome a lack of connection with my body. Many people disassociate from their bodies without realizing it, being literally outside the body, and the work is to go back into the body — be in your body again.
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?
Two come to mind. A fantastic psychotherapy hack, is the early version of “The presenting past: an introduction to practical psychodynamic counselling”, 1986, by Michael Jacobs. It has to be the early version, as this describes life stages and associated issues beautifully and clearly. An eye opener for young people and adults.
Biographies of Thai forest monks inspired me, and helped me to deal with existence, life and the mind. A monk called ‘Ajaan Mun’ was my favorite. He was a: ‘no nonsense’, ‘this is a serious venture’, ‘we should use time wisely’, kind of guy. The book is full of insight via story telling: “Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera: A spiritual biography”, by Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno.
One takeaway: as soon as his eyes opened he would rise, he would not entertain additional sleep whatsoever, as this allowed the mind to get up to mischief beyond ‘waking control’. This became part of my routine to this day. One story: he knew he was going to die, so instructed the village not to make it known publicly. People would want to come from afar to pay respects, but this would incur more animals needing to be slaughtered to feed the visitors, and he did not want his death to evoke killing.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Three Albert Einstein quotes resonate because they sum me up: I believe life contains magic and miracles, that we can change our life via our perceptions, and that we don’t have to be smart but curious.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Art is always at the forefront. I’m currently working on several paintings consecutively. I am also developing a step-up course from the Synchronicity Catalyst. These courses enable people to enhance the energetic and spiritual side of life, to overcome barriers and evoke more magical miracles! I provide the toolkit. I keep these online courses low cost, so affordable to all who want to evoke change.
I believe that art is a healing mechanism for absolutely anyone. Perfect for stress, anxiety and depression, as well as bereavement, addiction, self-esteem and more. I am developing a psychotherapy framework that artists and art businesses can incorporate into their art programs, a psychotherapy layer, to deepen their core offerings.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Habit one: Completion as Satisfaction
When overwhelmed by many things at once, make a list of all, rate the priority of each, and complete one thing at a time in order of priority. Notice how you feel each time something is completed: more relaxed, able to be happy, less burdened, able to laugh. Feel the relief and satisfaction as things are completed. Completion de-stresses the psyche.
Habit two: Self Compassion
When things are bad, we often berate ourselves even more. What is lacking is compassion for oneself, also called empathy or loving kindness. I often advise clients to try Mindful Self-Compassion via Positive Self-Talk: speak to yourself in a loving way, as if talking to a frightened animal in pain. What would you say? How would you say it?
Habit three: Managing Negative Experiences
One moment things are fine, the next its bad, and people often allow the negatives to consume everything. Finding a way to manage negative experiences is key: know it will change and ride it out — distract yourself until then; notice the good things as they occur, deliberately focusing on any positives; if desperate for answers, wait until you are in a calmer state and then re-visit solutions; when unsolvable negatives reappear, take some kind of action elsewhere.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I mentioned earlier, that I arise as soon as I awaken, to bypass useless mind chatter before it tries to take control!
Another practice, is to have a full day of intermittent 5-minute meditations: choose a day with menial chores/activity and go about your day as usual. Whenever you remember (or you can schedule it), stop and sit for around 5 mins of meditation — no fixed time. It is about stopping and interrupting the day with bouts of meditation. You could see this as a ‘retreat’ day, having a retreat in your own home. I see it as medicine for the soul.
Sit relaxed with your back straight, eyes closed, watch thoughts come and go (or whatever you normally practice) and keep returning to this during the day. I do it automatically, stop what I’m doing as soon as I remember, without thought, detached action. No need to think about how much or how long. The fact that you did it is amazing enough.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Habit 1: Massage
Massage releases tension and issues that accumulate in the body and assists the lymph nodes to work more efficiently in fighting infection and disease. Skin brushing is fantastic for lymph nodes and circulation. My favorite massages are Tui Na (Chinese), Ayurvedic (Indian) and Self massage with oil.
Habit 2: Eating
I eat in a way that is right for me. I use ayurvedic recipes as ‘fall backs’ when needing to re-balance, but I always increase the protein element in order to function well, personal to me. I have explored eating for blood type, alkaline diets and cortisol lowering. I am 95% dairy and gluten free, but ultimately it must suit you, and can be flexible.
I’m a fan of Mindful Eating: notice when you have no appetite — where you satisfied in other ways and therefore fulfilled? Notice when you felt full quicker — what was occurring in your life that day? When eating generally — what are your habits and thought process; how do you eat? — fast/slow/distracted; is the place where you eat good for you?
Habit 3: Being Active
I exercise in a way that suits me. I tried the gym and gained results, but because I didn’t enjoy it, it ended. I find ways to be active without feeling like its exercising: stretching and Sun Salutation (covers the whole body), going for a walk — brisk or slow, taking the stairs instead of lifts — using my core and buttocks, a vigorous house cleaning session.
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?
It is important to address the psychological side of eating if there are any associated patterns:
- Hoarding food: food may have been scarce in childhood.
- Keeping food beyond ‘sell-by’ date or only buying reduced food: lack of self-care/self-worth, money obsession/scarcity fears.
- Over eating: to fill a void, desensitize from feelings/emotions, comfort/reward instead of dealing with the core issue.
- Under eating: as a way of feeling in control when in reality, are feeling out of control in life and relationships.
- Minimal eating: can be a form of self-punishment, maintaining a history of deprivation. Feeling sick if eating a bit more, overwhelmed by food in general, can only allow themselves a miniscule amount.
When I work with eating problems, I believe it is useful to consider eating as an addiction for some: learn what the triggers are and adjust life accordingly, understand it as compulsive and perhaps even life threatening. A form of abstinence may be a long-term consideration, requiring ongoing awareness, self-compassion and support structures.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Habit 1: Creative Expression
I was in a job I hated, it was real tangible pain, and the more I resisted it, i.e. allowed myself to dwell on the negativity, the worse the job became. I started drawing self-portraits, which revealed the pain in my face, and also released the pain via tears and emotion. This moved to an awareness of what I needed to draw next, it was tormented faces. Doing this revealed and released the internal agony, which then led to a need for balance, so I painted a mandala of joyful faces. Self-Expression via art is a therapeutic healing process for anyone.
Habit 2: Laughter
I am a serious and existentially challenged person, but I love to laugh and laugh at the smallest things. Each time I laugh, I fully experience it and see it is an antidote to negativity in life. I truly believe that we are infinitely happy beings within. Notice when you are simply happy for no particular reason — I believe this is the real you. When you are not stressed, are you naturally happy? When I am in a good spiritual state I laugh a lot, it is spontaneous joy, also called Bliss. Cultivate what makes you laugh, and when you laugh, expand it, stay with it: mindful enjoyment.
Habit 3: Practical Meditation
Meditation is hard for some people. They need a focus other than the breath or a mantra. For me it started with meditating to particular kinds of spiritually healing music. For others Yoga and Tai Chi is meditative, the slow movements provide the object of focus for the mind to latch onto and not wander. Repetitive movements can assist with falling into a meditative state, such as swimming, knitting, or gardening. Once trance-like thoughtlessness is achieved, sitting meditation is easier. Initially use whatever provides enough focus for the mind not to wander.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I started to explore smiling during meditation. I had become aware of my mouth being tense and having a rather miserable grimace! So, I sometimes smile as an experiment. When out and about, and a genuine smile is exchanged with someone, it is rather like ‘blessing one other’.
Returning to the ashram yoga experience mentioned earlier. Whilst we were in Warrior Pose, one leg lunged forward, arms pointing front and back (it felt like I was holding a spear), our instructor Guru Singh said: ‘Now SMILE’. This shocked me as I had deemed myself as suffering and the last thing I wanted to do was smile, but when I smiled, it all changed. It was a transformation moment. Try it!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Habit 1: Gratitude Deep Dive
I was once going through a tough time, and remembered that gratitude was a magnet for goodness, changing a person’s vibration and therefore life, so I decided to test this out by having a full day of constant gratitude. I was curious about the effects scientifically, and it worked. I tested on a weekend and the following week was terrifically harmonious in many ways. I highly recommend this as a fast track anti-dote to blocks, obstacles and stagnation occurring in your life.
Pick a day, and during that day, intermittently express gratitude whenever you remember (which could be just a minute later!), say thank you internally or out loud. This can be for anything that warrant thanks during the day. It can be for simple things like thirst-quenching water, eating food you like, feeling free, having shelter, having your own toilet etc. Say ‘thank you’ regularly, even if just as a mantra — expressed and sent out with love.
I once asked the Universe how I could repay, give back, and the Universe replied: just thank me. A huge gift/blessing.
Habit 2: Chakra Bath Clearing
I don’t often have time for long energy clearing processes, and am a fan of kundalini meditation, in particular the clearing of the chakras by breath or sound. Chakras need a little help now and again — the vortices need to spin at a nice smooth pace. I refer to the main seven chakras. Each chakra has a vibrational sound, called a ‘Bija’ mantra, and there are many guided meditations on these.
I was in the bath one day, singing and listening to how amazing the sound vibration was, so I decided to sing the sounds of the chakras. This wasn’t to evoke the kundalini to rise, as one should sit straight for that, but to simply encourage and stir the chakras. The sound is intensified, vibrating throughout body, water and room, the chakras seemed to take note. When you try it, notice the quality of your sounds, as this reveals the health of that chakra.
Habit 3: Creating Positives
Sometimes life can be dire, and this is coming from a psychotherapist! If we stay with the dire, it becomes direr, not just in the present, but for your later experiences. You can read about this concept in Law of Attraction and Quantum Physics literature: Your current thoughts and feelings influence your experiences yet to come.
I was having a fantastic week, and when I looked back, I remembered I had been diligently re-focusing on positive feelings in the weeks prior. When I allowed myself to focus on negativity, the following period was full of problems. I am simplifying somewhat, because we can at times feel negatives and not affect things. But for the sake of this article: if the current experience is bad, it is the result of previous negative thinking and thoughts.
It is important to focus on your positive, happy, light hearted, pleasurable moments and experiences whenever they arise. You watch an animal on TV that makes you smile, or a memory makes you laugh, really indulge in these moments when you feel them, despite what is going on in life. See this as creating good experiences to come.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I remember craving nature (I live in the city). I noticed myself frequently standing at the window, staring at green trees, wind and birds. I craved oxygen. When on holiday, I made sure ‘being in nature’ was included. Early morning Chi walks, feeding birds etc. I now have Connection Walks. These are not just for exercise, oxygen and greenery, but an opportunity to ‘tune in’ to universal energy (whatever you call this). I connect and converse, and watch for responses and messages via symbols and archetypes. I am in a state of detached awareness and observation. Universal intelligence is far wiser, so Connection Walks enable access to ‘wise magical assistance’.
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.
As the wellbeing of society continues to struggle and decline, I see Artistic Expression as a cure. More and more people are expressing themselves on social media as a form of healing. Expressing oneself creatively gets you out of your head and the organic ‘healthy you’ can be in motion, the part of you that is spontaneous and true to self.
I would like to see a rise in Art as a priority option for people who need psychological help, so that everybody can create art for their wellbeing. I am seeing a rise in art being created for therapeutic purposes, and group ‘paint a long’ sessions can be facilitated by heart centered practitioners whose experience and personality outshines any outdated view of who ‘should’ or ‘can’ facilitate therapeutic art.
I am developing a framework for such people, to support them with all the psychotherapy elements they need, so that they don’t have to embark on psychotherapy training, and can work with art psychologically.
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 :-)
The Dalia Lama sees the cure for humanity as being able to deepen their vibration of love, care, and compassion. Just to be in his energy and presence would be awesome.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.