One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the
Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on
the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I
stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think
I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance
over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark
brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he
was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for
him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right.
(This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2
miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but
the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)
This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I
had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern
Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to
for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip
has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that
made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of
the healing arts.
Old Map of Tanager Lodge
Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages
"campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated
to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth."
This is its 90th summer in operation.
A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both)
starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from
atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake,
then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the
day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our
tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.
My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a
mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all
kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in
main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while,
we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm
us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of
teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class
here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in
which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things
like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)
Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager
If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine,
please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts
in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many
exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of
cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student
loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike
in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep
respect for the natural world.
The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12
Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students
in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual
and ethical aspects of our
Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on
the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have
learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic
OK readers, I did it! I decided. My parents were a reliable
sounding board in a conversation last week and while I trust my own
intuition and will follow it even in the face of resistance, being
reassured with parental support really sealed the deal. I plan to
start the massage program in September!
Trusting intuition is something we address in class from the
very first trimester. Mostly, we have these discussions in our
naturopathic theory classes, although this week in Homeopathy 1 we
started a topic on How To Take the Case, which is inseparable from
learning about becoming a true healer. "Taking the case" means
listening to our patients without any preconceptions; it means
forgetting ourselves, and dissolving the boundary between the self
and the world so as to note every important detail.
In discussing both homeopathic and naturopathic theory, our
professors have talked about mirror neurons, a term that defines how empathy
is evidenced in brain scans; the listener's brain lights up in
exactly the same places as the storyteller's brain does. Our goal
as doctors is to use our mirror neurons.
One of my peers asked about how, on the one hand, we dissolve
the boundary between ourselves and our patients' stories of
suffering, and on the other, maintain our own sanity and refrain
from shouldering the burdens of every sick patient that walks
through our doors.
It is a good question. How many mirror neurons can we afford to
use? Turns out, the answer is different for every doc. Of course we
knew that, everyone (every case, every patient) is different, after
One professor told us that he sits behind a desk, with the
patient opposite him; this provides a physical boundary to remind
him. Another professor spoke on how her spirituality and the
healing cannot be separated. Her spiritual practice involves
dissolving boundaries and finding compassion for every single
During several of these class discussions our professors have
sited an author named Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, a doctor known for
her work teaching other physicians how to heal from the heart. On
her blog, Remembering Your Power to Heal, Remen writes of
physicians: "Our habitual way of seeing things and even our
expertise can blind us to the meaning of even the simplest of our
daily interactions and relationships." This tendency towards
blindness is an obstacle to cultivating the healer in us, and comes
at least in part, from our training. One of Dr. Remen's tools for
learning to see through "new" eyes is to keep a "heart journal" in
which you answer three questions each day.
The Heart Journal
The first question is: "What surprised me today?"
The size of the nose ring on the
girl sitting next to us at the beach; it was huge but I figured she
probably loves it that way!
The second question is: "What moved me or touched my heart
On our way to the beach, Hanzi was
looking out the window and said, "That was cute!" I asked what, and
he told me that a little girl was leading her grandmother in an
investigation of something smooshed on the sidewalk.
And the third question is "What inspired me today?"
The camaraderie of the group of "Bears"
gathered at the beach, all bobbing together with their big bellies
in the chilly Lake Michigan water.
If this exercise is something Remen thinks we should do as
professional physicians, why not start practicing it now? In
addition to practicing things like taking blood pressure,
evaluating cervical range of motion, or taking a history from a
SIM-patient, we should probably be cultivating the healer through
exercises like this.
Hard to believe, but I did study at the beach. Here's the
Want to find a Chicago beach to visit? It's easy: CPDBeaches.com.
The skill set of a healer includes knowing how to find the
beauty in the midst of the suffering we are exposed to daily for
the duration of our professional lives. So, to my fellow students,
don't write in a journal every day if the time commitment freaks
you out, but at the very least, have these conversations with each
other. Try to talk about the heart-full things, rather than the
test you're dreading or the professor you can't stand. Look for the
things that inspire you, the things that touch your heart, and the
things that surprise you. Forgetting to cultivate our eye for these
things will, I suspect, prove a grave mistake whose consequences we
will learn when we go out into the real world and try to heal
So, I encourage you to notice the things that make you smile
more than the things that make you groan. You may even find less to
I'm deciding whether or not to study Massage Therapy while I'm here at
National in addition to getting my ND. Many of my peers get dual
degrees, whether it be ND/DC or ND/AOM because the modalities and
philosophies run in parallel and allow us to expand our scope to
meet our interests and passions, especially in unlicensed states.
Part of the adventure of studying naturopathic medicine is learning
what aspects of our vast toolbox suit you best, and then exploring
ways to pursue those interests.
I struggled for a few weeks last fall with whether or not to
enroll in the AOM program, because Chinese medicine
is so wise and its application is so broad and increasingly
accepted by mainstream medicine. It serves as an excellent adjunct
to naturopathic medicine. Many of our professors use it. Ultimately
though, I realized I do not absolutely, definitely, no question,
want to be a master of Chinese medicine in the kind of way I know I want to be a
naturopathic doctor. And, I am not willing to invest all the
time and money in something that doesn't feel quite right for
In E&M Extremities class, Meg demonstrates a gait anomaly
as the rest of us analyze it.
Over the past few trimesters, I have gravitated towards physical
medicine in application with naturopathic medicine. I was totally
surprised when I enjoyed E&M
class and found that I was actually pretty good at adjusting. I
realized that I know my body and its relationship to weight-bearing
and careful maneuvering through my experience of being a
competitive athlete. It's been years since I gave up competitive
sports in college, but I still have that knack for acquiring muscle
memory and fluidity in movement, and it pays off in understanding
how the body should, or wants to, move.
Cranial Sacral Massage elective class with our
Patricia Coe and Dr. Heather Wisniewski
Also, having never taken any kinesiology classes, I figured I
was doomed when it came to grasping biomechanics. As it turns out,
knowing my body and its movements has made learning biomechanics
and adjusting a lot easier. Inspired by my propensity for
understanding and applying physical medicine, I asked for a
recommendation of who to talk to or what other avenues to explore
beyond the classroom. Dr. Pearson, one of the family practice
interns, directed me to Dr. Coe, massage program supervisor and
instructor (and totally awesome
ND/DC/MT/photographer/character/mentor). I signed up for her massage
elective class on Cranial Sacral technique and discovered this
awesome new dimension to add to my ND toolbox. By using what I
learned in Dr. Coe's class, I continue to study through experience
on my friends and fellow classmates. I am learning how to listen
with my hands, follow what I find, and make people feel better.
"Inside/Outside: Muscle/Hand" San Francisco, 1994.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Katherine Du
Tiel (b. 1961) [artist]
So, in an effort to distract myself from the stress of 3 exams
and 2 assignments due in the upcoming days, I've tracked down Dr.
Coe and picked her brain on my options for adding the Massage
I also reached out to a recent NUHS grad who tutored me through
Phase 1 and studied in the massage, chiropractic and naturopathic
programs during her time here at National. She offered some solid
advice. (Even after they're gone from campus, NUHS folks are still
accessible and willing to help you!) Now I have to make some
decisions. It's probably time to make a pros and cons list and a
phone call to Mom and Dad, who always offer pretty good advice.
Part of what makes naturopathic medicine so strong is this great
big toolbox we're given. It also presents a fun challenge to us
students: to discover our strengths and trust the process!
OK, it finally feels like summer in Chicago! The weather is warm
and I am officially finding it harder and harder to buckle down to
study. Ideally, I would study outdoors, but there is some material
that really just requires a white board for drawing and some "rain
sounds" in my headphones in order to get it to stick (there's an
app called "Rain, Rain" that I swear by).
My first midterms begin this week and I'll admit, they snuck up
on me! As per my last post, spending a little time away from the
books is important, but allocating that time wisely is also vital.
This week will be one of those where I must tactfully ask my
boyfriend to cook me dinner every night as I play some catch-up and
prepare for exams.
One of the perks of studying at National alongside chiropractic
students is that we get to hear stories from the field from our
chiropractor professors. This week, Dr. Humphreys (who teaches
Neurology) shared with us his experience of testifying in a court
case for the defendant, a chiropractor and graduate of NUHS. The
whole process was time consuming and ultimately successful. It is
hard to face this reality, but our medicine is sometimes
misunderstood. Luckily, our medicine is wise, with research to
support it, and proper education and communication with the public
and the conventional medical world pays off. I am thankful that we
have access to the workings of the clinical world through our
professors' stories, and that they are willing to share their
experiences, both positive and challenging.
On a lighter note, I visited the garden again on Friday and this
time got to reap the benefits of being a regular! Here is a picture
of me in the midst of digging up some mint (Mentha piperita, I
think) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to plant at home. I
also contributed a little time to pulling weeds before I headed
home for the weekend.
This past weekend was busy -- full of studying for Monday's
cardio exam and some playing, too. My friend Allison (a yoga
teacher and fellow student in the ND program) and I met downtown at
Grant Park for Wanderlust in the City, a free yoga festival that
happens once a year in Chicago. We both loved doing yoga outside
with hundreds of other Chicago yogis! One phrase I habitually use
at the end of my yoga practice is "Kind thoughts, kind words, kind
So, in the spirit of this phrase, I aim to tackle the start of
midterms and this busy week by thinking, speaking, and intending
positivity and grace in the midst of heightened stress. Being kind
to ourselves during our most stressful times is so very
I told you all about me last week, which is good for foundation,
but now I have to catch you up on what actually took place during
my first week of the summer tri!
My first week of classes in the Clinical Sciences phase was
awesome. We are at the point now where we get to apply the
information we've learned about how the body works to clinical
situations; how a patient would present in clinic. So far I think
GI & GU & Reproductive Systems is my favorite class. We
talked about fascinating stuff like where the problem comes from if
a patient in pain vomits or has black stool. I suppose only doctors
and future doctors can be so enthralled with the color of poop and
whether or not someone's going to vomit so as to make it their
favorite discussion of the week. I must be in the right place!
Digging around the NUHS botanical
I ended my first week of the trimester at the garden party on
Friday evening. Those of us who love to dig in the dirt or
who want to learn more about medicinal plants meet at our modest
botanical garden where we gather to pull weeds, laugh, review, and
learn about the plants from our professor, Dr. Lorinda Sorensen.
Thumbs up from my friend John who is as happy as I am to spend his
Friday evenings diggin' in the dirt!
In contrast to our first week, this past week it rained. A lot.
The lacrosse practice I usually coach was cancelled due to the
chilly, wet weather. Despite this, I did manage to commute to
school by train/bike on Thursday, and the rain held off just long
Lilacia Park in full bloom! It's
located next to the train station in downtown
Lombard. I wandered through while
waiting for the train to arrive.
Mostly, I spent this rainy week struggling over whether or not
to take the NPLEX Part I boards this August. I am eligible to sit
for the exam now that I have completed the Basic Sciences phase.
All the other
ND schools have the summer off from classes (as far as I know),
and many of their students study all summer long. Here at National,
I am taking a full course load of 28 credits and the board exam
falls during the week right before final exams. While I don't doubt
that I COULD do it if I HAD to, the prospect of studying every free
moment all summer long is unpleasant and intimidating.
It's decisions like these that make me realize the importance of
walking the walk. As NDs we will advise our patients to optimize
the determinants of health -- adequate sleep, hydration, community
support, and healthy food -- to name a few. It is a true challenge
to live the life of a student and embody naturopathy at the same
time. My conclusion has been to take the board exam in February.
This decision comes after listening to the advice of upper tri
students, and also by listening to my own heart. In doing so, I'm
embracing the reality of what it takes for me to stay happy and
healthy, all the while keeping my eyes on the prize: McKenzie
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
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