Some of the greatest lessons we can learn come from our patients. We explore how you can create a mindful practice culture within your clinic.
Pets and people are connected. I don’t think we realize how much we affect our animals by our presence, personality, and daily routines. Or wait…maybe it’s the other way around. Do we realize how much our animals can affect and teach us? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have come from my pets. Whether it’s to slow down, be present, drink more water, or play more, the tips for creating a mindful practice culture can come from animal teachers.
Being mindful – pausing to breathe, notice, and pay attention to the present moment is perhaps the hardest thing to do. Accepting that everything happens for a reason, in the way it’s supposed to happen, is hard to accept. This is taking life in stride, which I think our pets do well. Let’s try to learn from them. I like to teach my staff the following seven steps to becoming healthier, more engaged, and present.
1. Learn to breathe
I don’t mean just your standard day-to-day breathing; learn how to completely fill your lungs, and then completely exhale. It is the most restorative free health benefit you can achieve. Close your eyes. Sit and breathe in slowly through your nose and try to completely fill your lungs. Count to ten; this helps. Hold your breath for three, then slowly release it through your lips, counting to ten again. Just one deep breathing cycle will bring you relaxation and clarity. Doing this exercise multiple times can reduce your heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. This is something you can do anytime, anywhere, and at no cost. It works wonders with relieving in-the-moment stress. Once you have mastered breathing, try meditation. I love Headspace; it’s a great meditating app for anyone who wants to learn how to be mindful.
2. Find a mantra
A mantra is a positive phrase or personal affirmation. It can be something simple like “I’m beautiful” or “I’m healthy”. Write it down and repeat it twice daily in the mirror. What you think about, you bring about. Get an index card and write down your mantra…mine sits on my mirror in the bathroom, so I remember to do it every day.
3. Drink water
Your body is made up of 60% water, and it’s vital to so many processes. It flushes wastes, rebuilds cells, transports proteins, protects the brain, cushions joints, and helps you maintain your body temperature. Drinking water is so important to feeling good.
4. Listen more than you talk
The art of listening can be mastered, but it takes a patient and thoughtful person. Be present when someone else is talking. Focus on his or her words and meaning. Ask questions but don’t interrupt. Stay curious and out of judgment. Don’t offer solutions unless you are asked. Don’t be a one-upper; when you are listening, it’s not about you. Listening skills will open your world to so much information. The more you listen, the more extraordinary coincidences you will notice.
It can be anything. Maybe you need a guided class or gym membership. Maybe try an online program like OMFIT or GAIA. Or just start walking every day. Walking outdoors gives you the double benefits of exercise and enjoying nature. Aim for one hour of some type of activity per day. Going up and down your stairs at home may count for 20 minutes. Get creative with movement; take a dance class, ride your bike to work, or try yoga.
6. Detox your body
Choose foods that are less processed, and contain less sugar and fewer additives. Try adding fresh fruit and veggies to every meal. Maybe you can adopt one plant-based meal per day. Notice how good you feel after you eat. Paying attention to your body, being present, and noticing how the food makes you feel helps you make wiser choices. Keep a food/feeling diary. Write down what you eat, then how you feel. You will quickly start making wiser choices. If you hate fruits and veggies, try smoothies; blend them all up for a great meal packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
7. Focus on others
Veterinary medicine is a service industry. Every day we are given the privilege of making someone’s life better. We are very powerful, but with power comes great responsibility. Noticing what you can do to make a difference for someone else, and then doing it, will ultimately fulfill you. Simply taking a cat carrier out to the car for an elderly client, or finding some toys for the mom with two rambunctious toddlers, can profoundly alter the client’s experience — and yours. Try focusing on serving others in meaningful ways. It will feel great, I promise. One of my employees waited outside an exam room door while a client said her final goodbyes to her deceased cat. This client lives by herself, and my staff member didn’t want her to walk to her car alone, since every other time she always walked with her cat. I thought this was such a beautiful gesture.
Implementing the steps
How do you make these steps a part of everyday life in a busy veterinary hospital? At our practices, I have added a mindfulness component to every session of hospital rounds. Practice owners — if you are not doing this, please start. Close every Wednesday (or pick the day you want) for two hours and do hospital rounds. Focus on your hospital and staff and how you can create a better practice culture for everyone.
It has been three years now since I implemented mindfulness into our hospital rounds. We start each session by meditating. For about two months, our staff thought this was crazy, and then something beautiful happened. They started asking to meditate longer. We use our Headspace app to guide us. They often ask for ten- to 20-minute meditations and it has changed our staff. They now participate in hospital rounds in a different way. They listen more, and are proactive and thoughtful with their conversations.
Along with mindfulness and meditating, we also talk about wellness tips, like those listed above. At one of our rounds, we invited a yoga therapist who took us through some poses to relax us and help us through our day. I have witnessed one of our doctors going through these yoga poses before she enters certain appointments. I asked how it has helped her, and she replied that it allows her to better handle difficult clients.
By picking a topic and incorporating it into each round session, you will empower your staff. The day after we invited a local nutritionist to talk about healthy eating, several staff members started bringing in healthy treats and cutting out sugary coffee. You can accomplish a lot by focusing on one positive change; introduce it, and see how it helps. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.
When you implement the seven steps presented above, the universe will start to show you positive energy in many ways. Pay attention. Thoughtful breathing will bring you great clarity. Your mantra will build your soul. Drinking water will replenish your vital systems and make you feel good and less tired. Listening will teach you how many connections you can make within the universe — and how many meaningful coincidences occur. Exercise moves the body to clear the mind. Healthy food gives your body the opportunity to process more efficiently, and fuels it with energy. Finally, focusing on others will fill you up with kindness and love.