May is national ALS month. We’ve usually heard of this because of the well-publicized “ice bucket challenge”, where one can donate to the ALS foundation to watch a friend or celebrity be doused with a bucket of ice. That was fun, and for a great cause, but let’s also talk about other ways you can help your ALS friends. Start by giving them the present of breath. ALS is known for its neuromuscular deficits, which eventually affect the diaphragm. After all, the diaphragm is a muscle. Diaphragmatic weakness is the core mechanism behind respiratory difficulties in those with ALS. So, the best gift would be to remind them to take deep breaths. Always. The more you exercise any muscle, the stronger it becomes. Remind them to take in a big, diaphragmatic breath, filling up the lungs. Try the instruction of asking them to sip the air in slowly, and thus deliberately and steadily depressing the diaphragm on the inhale (which contracts the diaphragm). You can even think about how contracting the diaphragm is like contracting a bicep; the slower you contract and more resistance you give it, the more you will feel the strength building. Try doing this by counting with the breath and increase the count with each subsequent breath cycle. Conditioning the diaphragm is no small feat; but with time and training, breathing will become easier and more spacious. Do you know someone that has ALS? Remind them to breathe, and give them the greatest gift you can offer.
Almost all human cells reproduce on a cycle. Up to 10% of your heart is replaced each year. Red blood cells are replaced every three months. Skin cells, every two weeks.
But it has traditionally been accepted that neurons, the cells that make up the brain and spinal cord, do not regenerate. Based on recent discoveries, it turns out that, under the right conditions, neurons can indeed recover. They just need a break. That’s why, in modern medicine, we will sometimes induce comas and hypothermia in patients with brain injury; so that their brains can rest. It’s pretty incredible that if you can break your neurons from normal operations and focus on healing, they have a chance at regrowth.
So that just begs the question, how can we give our neurons a break, with less extreme measures such as induced hypothermia or coma state? How can we take a deep breath, in this moment, and stop all the bustling chaos in our brains and give our neurons the break they need in our muddled daily lives? It’s human nature to want to fix what’s broken. And we have the tools to fix it. Take a moment right now to close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out. Try it again. And one more time. We may not be able to replicate exactly what we lost. But in its place we can grow something new. And slowly, but surely, we can grow until we have everything we need.
During these last few weeks and months, dozens of opportunities have been proposed to me for future endeavors; from medicine, to yoga, to business, to real estate (yes I’m trying to buy a home, a whole new level of stress). It’s been a little overwhelming. And interesting. For the last 10 years, I have been waiting for this moment. This moment when my schedule would no longer be monopolized by impossibly long hours in the hospital, only to then go home and attempt to keep my eyes, swollen with exhaustion, open to study. All in the pursuit of being the kind of doctor that deserved to be of service to my fellow human.
For the last 10 years, I have sacrificed every free moment in my life in the pursuit of my medical education; declined social engagements, turned down romantic advances, missed important family functions, and sacrificed countless hours of sleep and self-care. And now my time has come. As I near the end of my formal medical training, the opportunities have started to reveal themselves. I sometimes ask myself if this will be my defining moment. In what direction will my life go from here? What kind of doctor/person/yogi/healer will I be? What am I capable of. The opportunities will come and go, but how will I stand steady within my values, yet allow myself to bend, but not break with the changing winds?
I am listening to it all; and opening myself up to whatever the universe has in store for me. I am trusting my instincts and following the path that reveals itself. I’m choosing to lean in. What comes next universe? Bring it