Ep 414 – The Science of Life with Dr. Sheila Patel and Angie Parris-Raney

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Ayurveda is translated as the “Science of Life;” Ayus = Life, and Veda = knowledge/science. These principles and treatment modalities have endured over time. In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Angie speaks with Dr. Sheila Patel, chief medical officer for Chopra Global, about exploring each person’s Dosha type, the difference (and similarities) between yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda, how to clean up habits in the new year, and where listeners can learn their own unique Dosha type.


Learn more about Dr. Sheila Patel and any of the Chopra curriculums through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, visit Chopra.com.

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You can also read more about her in the episode show notes or follow Dr. Patel on the Chopra app. Download here.

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Author Bio: 


Sheila Patel, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer for Chopra Global and a board-certified family physician who is passionate about bringing holistic healing practices into the Western medical system. For more than a decade, she practiced full-spectrum family medicine, from prenatal care and deliveries, to ER coverage and primary care for all ages. She currently maintains a primary care practice in Southern California where she combines the wisdom of ancient healing traditions with the tools of modern medicine. Her special interests include preventive medicine and mind-body medicine, with an emphasis on Ayurveda. She is certified as an instructor of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation. Her experience in treating a full range of medical conditions gives her the ability to effectively incorporate lifestyle practices into any patient’s treatment plan.

She served as Chief Medical Officer at Chopra Global and is currently a lead educator for the Chopra meditation and Ayurvedic lifestyle certification programs offered through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She also leads the medical and health training at Chopra's partner properties in Arizona and Florida. She maintains a voluntary clinical position at the University of San Diego School of Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and also serves as the clinical director for the Chopra Foundation's research team. She has spoken nationally and internationally on various mind-body health topics and how to shift the paradigm of healing to help people thrive and reach their full potential.


Angie Parris-Raney is a licensed massage therapist and is the advertising director for ABMP. She is Chopra Center Certified in meditation and ayurvedic lifestyle. Her training explores physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Angie is also the founder of the nonprofit, Project Inti, an organization that provides aid to low-income Peruvian families and communities. For more information, visit www.projectinti.org.



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Full Transcript: 

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0:02:01.8 Angie Parris-Raney: Hi there ABMP listeners, I'm Angie Parris-Raney, a licensed massage therapist and Chopra certified in meditation, Ayurveda and lifestyle coaching. I'm also the advertising director for ABMP, and you're listening to The ABMP podcast, a podcast that speaks to the massage and body work community. As a fellow massage therapist who's had a part-time practice for more than 20 years, I wanted to bring to you conversations about self-care. Like you, I've experienced the highs and lows of being a professional caregiver. I know from personal experience how easy it is to lose your way and forget about your own self-care. The world needs healing now more than ever, and it's vital that we look to ourselves first to care for our own bodies, hearts and minds so that we can show up and be our best selves for others. 


0:02:49.2 AP: Today I'm being joined by one of my heroes, and although she may not know it, someone who's been instrumental in my own self-care journey, Dr. Sheila Patel. She's the Chief Medical Officer for Chopra Global and a board-certified family physician who's passionate about bringing holistic healing practices into the Western medical system. She is also currently a lead educator for the Chopra Meditation and Ayurvedic Lifestyle Certification Programs offered through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and leads the medical and health training at Chopra's partner properties in Arizona in Florida. Dr. Patel, what an honor it is to have you with us today. 


0:03:28.3 Dr. Sheila Patel: Thank you. It's really an honor to be here and share. 


0:03:32.8 AP: Thank you. And it's a funny thing. We never know who you might influence just by sharing your knowledge and your passions with people, and how that has the potential to fundamentally shift somebody's life. I remember hearing you for the first time on stage at a weekend retreat in 2018, and you made Ayurveda so approachable. You broke it down, you made it so easy to absorb and to connect with, and it got me just as excited about learning it as I did when I was learning massage therapy. And so for me, it just really opened up doors, I was so excited about the potentiality of how many people I could help and the kind of impact that I could make. So just such an honor to finally actually be able to sit here and have a conversation with you today. 


0:04:20.4 DP: Oh, thanks for sharing that. That's amazing. And I love sharing about Ayurveda and I love that's one of my passions is to make it simple and easy to understand because Ayurveda was really for the people. The meaning of Ayurveda is the science of life and it is a very sophisticated healing system, but it was also developed for people to understand how to take care of themselves on a daily basis and create health on a daily basis as opposed to creating imbalances and disease. So simple. And it was taught in a way that people could use things in their home, their spice cabinet, their food, refrigerator, the pantry, their own body and how it moves, their own senses, and then of course, their own internal healing system, which is modulated by our own nervous system. And teaching all of those practices and learning about Ayurveda from my mentors, Deepak Chopra and David Simon and Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar and so many others, but I really started understanding what it truly is, and it's just such a beautiful system. 


0:05:34.2 AP: So I wanted to ask you if you can help kinda clarify for our listeners, what is the difference with yoga versus meditation versus Ayurveda, and how does that interplay together?  


0:05:48.8 DP: Yeah. Great question. We always taught meditation, Ayurveda and yoga as the three legs to a stool, and they all are very complementary because they come... At least the type of meditation that we teach, which is a mantra-based meditation, but many different types of meditations, they all come from a similar philosophy. They come from the Vedic teachings, which is a kind of metaphysical understanding of the universe as well as ourselves and how we heal. And so they're very complimentary to each other and developed really simultaneously. What's similar about all of them is the really, truly, if I might get spiritual about it, is self-realization. All in these systems are helping us have daily practices for our own self-realization, really connecting to however people wanna think about it, highest self, divine self, God, consciousness, and live to our fullest potential. That's what it's about, living to our full potential and living out our purpose. 


0:07:00.8 DP: And all of these things that really were driven toward maybe without knowing it. And so Ayurveda is this science of life. It developed as a medical system, a healing system to help people make lifestyle choices. I call it the original lifestyle medicine, using all of their senses, using sound, touch, sight, taste, smell. Touch, very important. I learned as I learned about Ayurveda, and now in science confirming how touch interacts with our nervous system, but all of our senses immediately impact our nervous system. So Ayurveda teaches us daily practices, how to live a lifestyle that keeps the body in balance, keeps the mind in balance so that we can live our full potential. We feel health, we feel happy, we feel clear in the mind, again, these things we're looking for as far as what we consider health. 


0:07:53.6 AP: I's beautiful. It's very complex. You learn... Once you start tip toeing into this a little bit, you start realizing how multiple layers it is, how complex it is, but also how, to your point, it's very complementary and it's integrated. There is no separation of it, it's the wholeness of our existence, our whole experience of being. 


0:08:18.9 DP: Exactly. And I think as I've delved into each of those legs of the stool, I've realized, again, it's trying to get us to the same place, but I learn new things, I learn new practices, I learn new ways of thinking about things that each of those systems really dove deeper into because there's so much to understanding who we really are that you can focus on what resonates initially. And so some people start out, I see people that their body is very outta balance, they can't sit to meditate, they can't move, they're in pain, their digestion's off, their mind is just all over the place. So we might start with food. Let's start with getting your nutrition in alignment with one of the key. As you know, one of the key principles in Ayurveda is understanding your mind-body type, this concept that no two individuals are exactly alike, and how do we try to understand ourselves so that we can make the best choices for ourselves every day? The world is very confusing when you dive into health recommendations. And I have a 25-year-old daughter who's constantly saying, mum, I saw this on TikTok. My friends are all saying this X, Y, Z fact that they heard somewhere, and the answer... She'll ask me, is that true?  


0:09:39.4 DP: And my answering usually, and a good Ayurvedic practitioner will always say it depends, [laughter] because there's truth in everything. You can't say, no, that's not true, which is the problem we have in Western medicine. We say, no, that's not true. No, that doesn't work. But if it works for even one person, then it works. And so we have to kind of redefine what we mean by, is that true or does that work? Because everyone is an individual and there may be things that are true and work for one person that don't work for someone else. And one of the things I love about Ayurveda is that there's always something else to try, there's always something to reconsider. Okay, what aren't we thinking about here? What other practices can we bring in that we haven't yet? And in Western medicine, I appreciate Western medicine and I still practice it, but there were often times I got stuck. I don't know what to do now for you, and that was not acceptable to me. So that's why I went on my own journey to get more answers for my patients. And what came out of that is my own healing. Speaking of self-care, I started... 


0:10:50.9 DP: Because I consider myself a scientist, I do like to critically think about things and analyze things, and especially being in medicine, I like to look at the science and the validation behind certain things that I talk about. But when I came to Chopra, I started realizing, yes, we need that intellectual analysis and we need a direct experience. And so I started practicing all of these things that I was talking about in teaching and came to that experiential truth of what is right for me. How do I feel when I do these practices? And that was slowly creating my own healing. And so now, part of my self-care is to do a lot... I don't do all of the practices every day, but I choose the ones that are best for me, and I try my best to do all of that every day. 


0:11:42.2 AP: One of the things that really resonated with me when I listened to you for the first time, just, if it's possible, could you just maybe lay a little bit of a foundation behind Ayurveda? I know we only have a half an hour here together, and that's a lot to ask for in a tiny little seed. But just the basic idea of what this mind-body constitution is for each individual, and how are we constantly working that in every moment where we're not just labeling ourselves. I love how Deepak says that our body is a verb and not a noun. Like it's something that we're always working towards. So if you can maybe just lay a little bit of a foundation and even setting up maybe some of the nutrition stuff 'cause here we are at the beginning of a year, and what's one of those big goals that we all have for ourselves is, okay, I wanna clean up all my habits, I'm gonna let go of the things that don't serve me. All of that. So if you can maybe in a very brief way, lay that foundation for us. 


0:12:44.3 DP: Yeah, absolutely, I have all my elevator pitches, so I can be two minutes or it can be 90 minutes or more. And that's something I love about Ayurveda, you can make it really simple or you can dive deep in this infinite pool of knowledge. And again, I'm still a student, I consider myself a student of Ayurveda. Anyone who goes on this path, likely consider themselves always a student because this is the knowledge of the universe and who can understand all of that. [laughter] But to simplify it, especially with the mind-body types because it's such a foundational principle in Ayurveda, how you make choices, 100% depends on these mind-body principles or doshas. So dosha is a word that now we're starting to hear a lot of that if you're in the wellness world, Ayurveda is really becoming more mainstream in that realm. But the term dosha really means or refers to these mind-body principles or mind-body constitution, we can call. 


0:13:42.4 DP: So when it comes to our constitution, there are two things, there's our nature, how we come into the world, kind of like our DNA. It's set at conception and Ayurveda, that's our nature, and that's going to predict our tendencies for our whole life. That doesn't change. It's like how we talk about DNA, our genes don't change, but what can change is how it looks on a day-to-day basis, how the genes express themselves. In Ayurveda, we call that prakriti, which is nature, vikruti, which is our current state of balance or imbalance, typically. 


0:14:18.0 DP: There's always something that's out of balance. And vikruti is like that nurture, nature, nurture. We've heard these concepts over time because people have observed this to be true. And in Ayurveda, they go in a sophisticated way describing all these things. So we have our nature and then we have every experience and choice that we have in every moment affects that nature, and so we can get out of balance. And what gets out of balance are these three mind-body types or constitutions or principles, vata, pitta, kapha. So those are the three primary doshas, vata, pitta, kapha, but where they come from are these descriptions of the qualities of the universe, the building blocks of the universe. We say the five elements. So everything in our universe can be described in their function, their qualities by five elements, space, air, fire, water, Earth. So we hear these terms thrown around in Ayurveda and in the Vedic philosophy that this comes from, those terms actually represent principles of nature. So space represents potential, this openness, space. Within a space, anything can happen, and body and mind are one thing, body is just the sensory experience that we have of a body. 


0:15:39.3 DP: Mind is just the experience we have as thought, emotions, the thinking, the mind, but they are just reflections of each other. And so in the mind, space is the space between our thoughts where the potential for any new thought to occur is there. And in our body, there's so much space, there is space between all of the subatomic particles and matter in which anything can happen. So space represents potential. Air represents movement. Anywhere you see movement, that's air, that's what that means. Fire represents transformation, chemical reaction, something transforming into some other form. For example, when we eat, the food literally becomes our body, but it needs that fire, that transformation, chemical reactions, detoxification also we're transforming things. So fire, light, heat, those things are all incorporated in that concept of fire. 


0:16:32.3 DP: Water is the cohesive and lubricating principle. Anywhere where things are held together, where there's coolness, now we're to get some coolness and lubrication, liquidity in our body, of course, it's all the fluid components and the blood and the lymph between all the organs, the linings. In our mind, it's the cohesion of our thoughts, how we can start to bring thoughts together, they're not all scattered. And then ultimately Earth represents matter. Earth is things, things we can touch, things we can interact with, structure, support, so in our body, it's bones, muscles, organs, inner thoughts, its Earth represents structure, a structure to our thoughts. So when you think about these terms space, air, fire, water, Earth as just representing principles of nature, with the doshas, vata means the principles and qualities of space and air, primarily space and air. Pitta represents fire and water, and kapha represents water and Earth. So all those terms, vata, pitta, kapha mean, again, they're just terms to describe the qualities of space and air, the qualities of what fire and water, meaning those principles look like together and the qualities of water and Earth. 


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0:19:10.4 DP: How does this relate to people? Vata people, vata types have a lot of the qualities of space and air. And as you know, I always teach people we have to have all five elements. So we have to all have all five doshas within us. We have to, to exist. All of them provide different functions, but we come into the world with more of certain dosha or doshas than others. So we have a proportion of those three doshas. So whatever our primary dominant dosha is, we're gonna see more of those qualities in our physiology. So again, vata, space and air, lightness, dryness, cold. So as a person, this describes someone who's naturally light and thin. Their bones are light, they're thinner by nature. They move a lot because of air, so they can't keep their bodies still. Often their minds are very, very active and their skin can be dry. 


0:20:07.8 DP: They're a little irregular. If you think about space and air, there's no boundaries and there's no structure to it. So they can be very sensitive. They can be sensitive to foods, they can be sensitive to energy. And I find actually a lot of the therapists, the bodywork, the Ayurvedic bodywork at the center, many of them were vata types because they really connected energetically to people. Pittas are fiery. They're the intense kind of what we call type As. They are very... If you think about fire and light, when you focus it, it's like a laser. So they're the ones who have laser precision thinking. They are very focused and efficient in their speech. They can be a little intense. They're very goal-oriented. In the body, they're a little medium built, so they're more muscular. 


0:20:53.4 DP: They do a little bit of workout or it's pretty easy for them to have muscle tone and maintain muscle tone. Whereas those vatas are like, oh, I can't maintain this muscle tone 'cause it's not their tendencies, their genetic tendencies, their nature. So pittas are very direct, precise, they're very goal-oriented, their digestion's really good so they can eat more and digest well than anyone else. When they get out of balance, again, too much fire can lead to inflammation in the body. So even what you can get ill with, we can predict those tendencies based on your nature. Pittas get inflammatory conditions, they get angry, irritable, critical, we all know that sort of angry person that out of balance pitta who is pounding at the desk when their plane gets changed. I can't believe this is happening. Get me on another plane right now. 


0:21:47.9 DP: And now that's out of balance 'cause everybody has their expression in balance, out of balance. In balance, they're very focused solution finders, very goal-oriented, they can be great leaders 'cause they're very confident. So again, they're just the in balance expression and the out of balance expression of your nature. So for kapha, the last mind-body type, this is water and Earth. So if we think about water and Earth, they're heavier, cool, moist. If you think about Earth and water mixed together, it's like mud. So there's movement there, but it's slow. So slow, steady structure, stamina, those are all things associated with qualities of water and Earth, if you think about that. So as a kapha type, kaphas usually have thicker muscles, thicker bones, they're a little bit heavier in good health. Their weight is always going to be a little bit more than a tiny vata person. 


0:22:40.8 DP: They're a little more slow by nature. In their mind too, they're more calm, they're more nurturing, they're more slow in their movements. And in the body, again, they might have a tendency toward fluid accumulation, congestion, water, Earth, weight gain is easier for kaphas. In balance, they can be very stable, steady, loving. Again, that rock in your life, the person you go to who's always gonna be there, they're very loyal. Out of balance, they can be a little down, depressed, unmotivated, not wanting to change. I don't care about anything. And their body, typically, it's weight gain, fluid accumulation. Yeah, when they're out of balance. And in Ayurveda, when we say out of balance, we mean you've accumulated too much of those qualities or those elements. And as you know what we do, simple, we balance with opposites. So if you have too much Earth and water, you wanna figure out what's going on in your life that's adding those qualities. 


0:23:43.4 DP: What's creating slow, heavy, cool qualities in your life and reduce those a little bit and bring in the opposite. So we bring in movement, we bring in lightness, we clear the clutter around our space, and then that we clear the energy. We smell invigorating smells. We listen to upbeat music. We eat, so getting back to food, we eat light, dry, warm foods. So for kapha, if there's too much kapha... And again, because we have all the doshas in us, any of them can get out of balance. It tends to be your primary nature. But for anybody, if you're eating very heavy, cold, sticky, soft, heavy foods, those are the qualities that are increasing in your physiology. Heavy, soft, squishy, cool. So what you wanna do is the opposite. You bring in dry, light and a little warmed food. So like lightly sauteed vegetables. 


0:24:42.4 DP: You wanna eat less of the heavy and hard to digest foods like heavy meats, heavy dairy, sweets that are heavy, and savor vegetables, lighter greens, more of the drier or more astringent fruits, spice it up a little bit with a little spice to get that fire going in the digestion. So think light, dry and a little warm. For pitta types, because they're hot, we wanna think cooling. And they're again in Ayurveda, there's a whole sophisticated system of food. Many foods have that element of fire in them, and those are typically the acidic foods, soury foods, spicy foods. So for pittas, you wanna reduce those and bring in more, we say cooling foods. So that includes a lot of vegetables, greens, fruits are very balancing, for pittas are very cooling. And you can eat a little bit more of those heavier foods because that pitta fire needs that fuel. 


0:25:41.1 DP: Vata types, vata is dry, cold and light. Too much movement, too much travel, too much dry, even if it's the season, a dry season, then we get dry, light and cold, say in the fall and winter. So we wanna bring in the opposite, warm, moist and oily. Cooked. So cooked food, heavy. So that warm soupy stews that with lots of root vegetables in them, the oatmeal, warm drinks like warm teas, so warm, heavy and oily. You can add a little extra oil on top of your sauteed vegetables or in your soup, add an extra teaspoon or tablespoon, we say. What you don't wanna eat is more of the dry, light cold. So lots of salads. Those salads are really good for me, so I'm gonna eat salads. So all you vatas out there, if you kinda resonated with that description of vata, favor more sauteed or steamed or roasted veggies instead of those dry cold salads. 


0:26:39.6 AP: So for our listeners that they wanted to learn more about what their dosha is and what their prakruti and their vikruti, where might they go to get that information?  


0:26:49.8 DP: We do have a dosha quiz at chopra.com/doshaquiz that speaks to your prakruti, your nature. So again, with a lot of the quizzes and the one that we have on the website, you wanna answer it like, what are your tendencies most of your life? Not necessarily what's happening in this moment, but think about most of your life, what are your normal tendencies? And if you answer it properly, it will give you a score of the proportion of your doshas. Remember, we have all three of them. So you will see one may be dominant or two that are fairly close and equal, and then the third one might be less, but we have all of them in us, and that's your nature. And then we don't have a vikruti quiz online, but there are books like Deepak's Perfect Health Book. Nowadays, there are so many Ayurveda books. 


0:27:39.9 DP: There are a lot of online resources. One of my favorites is Banyan Botanicals, B-A-N-Y-A-N. Banyan, like the Banyan tree, Botanicals. They have other nice prakruti and a vikruti quiz. And then what they do is depending on what your current imbalance is, they make recommendations on some of their products and stuff, which are quite good. But also what practices you can do in your day-to-day life. So when I talk about doshas, I like to, again, reiterate, we have our nature, but based on our choices and experiences, anything, any of those doshas can get out of balance. So I'm a kapha type, but even though I'm a kapha, I've had a pitta imbalances. And when I learned Ayurveda, I realized what are the things in my life that will create that pitta imbalance? And on point, if I'm doing those things too much or eating too many acidic food, da da da, then I will get certain signals in my body. 


0:28:37.5 DP: And when you listen to them, you know what not to do and then what to add in. So we don't always know just by looking at someone what their nature is because those imbalances are covering up their true nature. And then as you slowly make choices each day, that snow kind of melts away and your true nature is revealed to you. So sometimes people get a little confused, I don't know if I'm a vata or a pitta or am I a pitta-kapha? And then you step back and you say, you know what? Just figure out what's out balance right now. Start to reverse that imbalance and what will be revealed to you is your natural state. It's a beautiful thing. 


0:29:14.4 AP: I believe there's a Chopra New Year community cleanse being led by you, and the kickoff begins January 15th, which... 


0:29:22.3 DP: Yes. 


0:29:22.6 AP: Is gonna be before this episode airs. So if one of our listeners wants to learn more about that, what could they do?  


0:29:31.0 DP: So yes, I'm kicking off a community cleanse using our Chopra detox kit. And it's a really wise combination of different products and practices that people do for a week. We also have a webpage that's part of the detox kit. So when you purchase the detox kit, you have access to this webpage. We have ENE recipe book. There's a little guided meditation, there's a little asana or yoga practice you can do for 15 minutes, I believe it is every day because you wanna do meditation, yoga during a cleanse as well. And journaling prompts. We also have an associated app program that people get access to where I'm talking about different tips each day, things that might be happening during the detox, breathing techniques, things like that. So there's a lot of supportive material that comes with the detox kit. It's not just about, here take this product, people can start it any time. 


0:30:31.3 DP: So even if listeners, it's after January 15th, you can still purchase a kit and get all of the supportive material that goes with it and just start it when it's right for you. In Ayurveda, it was typical to recommend cleansing at the change of seasons. And many cultures did some sort of fasting or some sort of, you do some practice during those solstice and equinoxes. But even just once or twice a year, just stepping back for a week doing a cleanse, what happens is you're rebooting your system. You're taking out all of the things that are interfering with your mental and physical health and you're nourishing yourself so that that self-healing can just be active. So the self-healing can take place. It can't do what it's supposed to do, the body or the mind when there's all this interference, toxins, we call that Ama, emotional toxins, physical toxins, imbalanced digestion. 


0:31:28.0 DP: So with our detox kit, it comes with a couple of different ingredients. There's an oil that you ingest and a fiber that you take twice a day. And then there's some capsules you take in the morning, all herbal that are traditionally used to help support all of the body's organs to help them detoxify. And then an evening herb that you take or capsule that has some other supportive plant-based ingredients, aloe vera, slippery elm, things that support the gut, but also help you eliminate. So gentle laxatives. It's nothing like aggressive. And because all of that toxicity that we're bringing to the GI tract, we wanna eliminate that. So gentle encouragement there and a few things to help people through the process. Peppermint, fennel, because it's common to feel a little uncomfortable during a detox, you're getting rid of the garbage. So you feel a little bumpy before you're clear. And so yeah, so you can sign up for the detox kit and start at any time and even another time during the year or whenever you feel that there's some major imbalances going on, it's a good idea to cleanse. And yeah, it's really amazing. It's a wonderful process when you support what your body-mind already wants to do and you eliminate what gets in the way of that. That's really all it is. And people experience a lot of transformation. 


0:32:55.4 AP: Beautiful. Thank you so much Dr. Patel. Listeners, if you'd like to learn more about Dr. Sheila Patel and any of the Chopra curriculums through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, visit chopra.com. You can save 20% off by accessing a special URL in the episode show notes. And you can also read more about Dr. Patel in the episode show notes or follow her on the Chopra app, which is available for download in the Apple Store. Dr. Patel, thank you so much for your time with us today. It's truly been a pleasure and an honor to spend this time with you. 


0:33:29.2 AP: Thank you so much. And I hope the listeners learned a little bit of something. It inspired them to learn more about Ayurveda, maybe, inspired them to do some self-care and to help rebalance in the new year. And especially as healers and practitioners, we give and give and give and sometimes we need to receive and do our self-care so that we can do our work in the world. So thank you for allowing me to share. 




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