TEDxBoulder – Shannon Paige – Mindfulness and Healing

TEDxBoulder – Shannon Paige – Mindfulness and Healing

Translator: Tanya Cushman
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven It’s 1994, and I’m in the barn with my first husband, and we’re putting away
our horses for the night when the barn phone rings,
and it’s my mom. And she skips over all of the niceties, and she says very clearly and urgently: “I dreamt that you are sick, alone and dying.” Well, I fell silent, but because it was true. It was a perfect mirror to the words
I’d gotten earlier in the week: “Cancer, cancer, cancer,” and hadn’t told anyone
because that was all too real, and realness was something
that I couldn’t quite deal with. So I said, “Momma,
I’m so sorry, but I have cancer. And I guess I haven’t told you
because I’m confused and I’m scared.” And my ex-husband, obviously overhearing
all of this that he had not heard, seemed unaffected. And he went through
and did the rest of his barn chores, and then he walked over quietly
to the barn doors and turned off the barn light and walked out, leaving me to finish my call
with my momma in the dark. So, I walked into the house,
a few moments later, somewhat prepared to face his reaction, and instead of turning away from the TV, he yelled over his shoulder, “This’ll be the last time
we talk about this, and you’re going to be just fine.” You have to understand, I’m 21 years old. Alone, I faced
the diagnosis of a lifetime, cervical cancer. The treatment? Radical hysterectomy. Radiation? Survival rate of 90%, but no kids. And all of this news was delivered really professionally
and seemingly thoughtfully, but with a really kind of quick,
“You’re so lucky.” Well, I did not feel lucky. In fact, I would like
to give the luck back. (Laughter) And so, refusing to accept
the unacceptable, I did battle; I battled cancer. But I also battled the doctors; I battled the recommended therapies. I battled the luck itself. I battled to save the uterus. I battled and I battled
with marginal surgeries and experimental chemotherapy, and I battled and I battled, and I got further, and further, and further, and further away from “why?” Because cancer, it’s hard. And cancer, it’s gross. And cancer, it’s mean. I actually dissolved somewhere behind these skeletorish,
really black, sunken-in eyes and protruding cheekbones. And, thank God, this hippie, Boulder,
amazing, all-powerful wizard of a doctor stepped into that wellspring
of ick and falling hair, and said to me, “You are going to live. But we have to get you
back into your body. So you are going to follow
a sound medical protocol, and you are going to volunteer
with horses and with children, most of them as unlucky as you are. Oh, and you’re going to go to yoga.” Well, I was lost, and I was exhausted,
and I had absolutely no fight left. So, I nodded meekly, and I let this kind woman
point me in the direction of future that at least she could see for me. Well, the battle with my uterus, I lost. Then the battle with the cancer, I won. Yeah. (Applause) But that’s not why I’m here. The battle with depression
I was just beginning. I had survived, right? And I had proven statistics right; I had chalked one more up for science
and sound medical protocols, and survival is
the very definition of hope. Right? Wrong. Wrong. Because all of the pressure
and the anxiety of how I should feel – lucky – was actually killing me slowly. I felt so much shame trying
to convince people that I was okay, and/or sharing with them the truth that the depth of my down was so down, regardless of survival, that I was sinking. I was sinking,
and I was given the response: “But you’re so lucky.
You’ve got so much to live for. Cheer up.” Well, I faked it for them, and I learned, as many people
in the same position, to just get through. See, that’s what they don’t tell you about cancer and other really serious
life circumstances someone might survive is that it takes
an exorbitant amount of energy to convince everyone else
that you’re okay. And when life circumstances actually rob you of your ability
to take tomorrow for granted, it might also take away from you
your ability to smile for real, your ability to connect, and your ability to hope. Why? Because depression is hard. And depression is gross. And depression is mean. So … through the battle with
that depression that was so mean, I began to follow her protocol, and I began to get back into my body. And as crazy as that volunteering
and getting to the yoga mat seemed, it worked. And I didn’t know how it worked, but I knew if I showed up
with the horses and moved with them, and chased the kids around,
and did all I was expected to do, I somehow felt better. And if I stood on my hands
and awkwardly wobbled with myself, I somehow felt better. My battle with depression was at least
as difficult as my battle with cancer. So … it took me years to figure out
why it actually worked. It took me years to actually wonder if my path on the edge
of depression and anxiety might actually help somebody else. Perhaps it’s because … what was going on
had nothing to do with cognition. Depression and anxiety
are hardwired grooves in the brain. They are so powerful, in fact, that they can create a full-system,
cognitive, embodied lock-down. Not just in the body
or in the mind, but out of your life. I was locked out of my life, and being locked out of my life, and moving and finding
some effect in movement, I began to realize … that amidst all of this, there was hope, real hope, and this hope was that … I believe – no, I want you
to understand – I believe … to the very core of my being that the body can change the mind. I believe that the body can create
empowered states of physical activity that actually inform emotional states of cognitive healing,
emotional healing, mental healing. But how? I want to be entirely
transparent and very clear that yoga can’t heal depression. Sorry. It can’t heal depression because
downward-facing dog can’t fix your life. And sticking your foot behind your head
can’t heal a broken heart. But getting in your skin can. So if depression isn’t busy solving – If yoga isn’t busy solving depression, then how does it work? Well, yoga works in a bunch
of different ways, arguably, but this is my theory. Yoga works by creating
the mind-body-breath connection. And a mind-body-breath connection is this: We’ll start with the breath. So, we all have breath;
we all have access to respiration. But we don’t all always breathe
fully, completely or even smoothly. And, interestingly enough, a recent Johns Hopkins’ study
came out that confirmed cancer cannot live
in a high-oxygen environment. Interestingly enough,
neither can depression or anxiety. So it goes without saying
that if we take deeper breaths – if we learn to breathe
fuller experiences of ourselves – we can actually pattern
or even repattern and heal and move towards wholeness,
wellness and fullness. And then the body: Okay, so the body has
a profound connection to the breath, but maybe in a way you haven’t yet heard. So, the body actually
interacts with the breath at a specific point in the breath to give you a place
where you learn new information, both mental and muscular. At the very emptiest point
of every breath that you have, just before the breath becomes an inhale, you have the capacity
to learn something new. Just depends on what you’re learning. Is it the same old wiring? Next, a common misconception
is that all we do in yoga is create patterns
of peace and calm, all day long. (Laughter) Funny, people think
I have the calmest life ever. In fact, what most contemporary yogas do is we create really strong tension: strength, radical integration,
shaking even – many of you have experienced that. And then we teach you to release it. And then we reintegrate you. And then you release it. We create feeling states so you become aware of
this muscle is strong, and that muscle needs to lengthen, and this muscle is tired,
and this muscle is fatiguing, and, wow, that’s different
from relaxation. So when you put these things together, when you put together
the very fact of breath, being able to create
a high-oxygen environment of healing, and when you put together the very fact that we have the capacity
within the breath to learn something new
and change an old embodied pattern, you can do it in a space of a pulse. So as you breathe in,
you can create tension. As you breathe out,
you can release the tension. And then as you breathe in,
you can safely go back to the tension. And you can teach yourself empowerment,
and structure and stability; you can teach yourself a new way. You can actually line up to change. It works. Shall we try it together? Alright, so invite your palms out. Just your palms, just up. This is yoga, but nothing
crazy will happen. (Laughter) I am a trained professional. So, I want you just to notice
your state of being as how you arrived, just right now – you’ve
been sitting for nearly four hours. I thank you for your time. And you’re probably really inspired. I mean, you might want to take
Christin’s men’s group class, or you might want to build
bridges that grant access. But you just notice, this is all layered
on top of who you are when you came in, so it’s all totally normal and natural. Just breathe all the way out. Now as you inhale, squeeze
and make thick fists, tight fists. Shake. Then as you exhale,
release and extend the fingers. Then inhale again and recreate the fists. Exhale and release … right there you have
the capacity to learn something. Inhale, squeeze. Let’s layer onto that. Exhale and release the tension
and now think of someone that you love. Inhale. Integrate that. And exhale. Just let go, physically. And once more, inhale, squeeze. Exhale. Think of someone that loves you. And then release your hands. Now … you might not feel entirely different, you might not feel saved. (Laughter) But I’m standing here
watching 2000 people, and when I said,
“Think about someone you love,” you all sat up a little taller. Which means you breathed a little deeper. Which means that together, we’re not even in
a cognitive-thinking state. Together, 2000 people, we are in an embodied healing state. So, we have the capacity to line up to something
so edge-of-experience, life-shifting and cataclysmically awesome, by the simple act of knowing
where we are in our skin. You will never hear me say,
“Open your heart,” but you will always hear me say,
“Take up more space in it.” In our lives, can we line up to change to that moment when things
change directions and breathe with it? I don’t know. But I hope we can. So, I’d like to take us back to 1994, to that 21-year-old girl, in the barn, afraid to deal with anything real. And she’s you. And she’s me. And she’s us. She’s any one at a given point
on all these paths in this auditorium. And I’d like to issue a challenge for her, for you, for me, for us. Over the next seven days, let’s attend to how we breathe and commit to taking five deeper breaths
within the course of a day. Let’s see if we can’t be aware
of taking up more space in our own hearts, and let’s see if we can’t be
bold enough and brave enough to line up to that instant
where we have the capacity to change – to respond rather than to react. Maybe your yoga, the living-in-the-world, will actually teach us
to be more “response-able” rather than reactionary. Thank you so much. (Applause)

43 thoughts on “TEDxBoulder – Shannon Paige – Mindfulness and Healing

  1. As this was one of only two talks I got to see live that night, I'm thanking you for changing the way I breathe 🙂

  2. Actually, it was disappointing that she spread this misinformation on a TED talk which is meant to be scientific. She would have got the information from an email/facebook hoax, because it was not posted on the John Hopkins website. In fact, the John Hopkins Medicine website says:

    "The Hoax: Oxygen Kills Cancer Cells
    The Truth: Platz recommends regular exercise as a part of any healthy lifestyle, but says there is no evidence that breathing deeply or receiving oxygen therapy prevents cancer.

  3. There are numerous studies linking stress with cancer and numerous studies saying yoga helps with stress/anxiety.
    Breathing any deeper that you are already breathing doesn't give you any more oxygen; everyone's blood is already maximally saturated with O2, even if you breathe shallowly.
    Yoga and mindfulness do help you manage stress though and that makes you less likely to get sick, as stress hormones suppress your immune system (and that's important for cancer too).

  4. Does anyone know of a similar talk from a man – this is a superb TEDtalk but I find that such stories are most often told by women and I'd like to share some to men by men. Shannon is pretty amazing.

  5. Very inspiring, thank you Shannon. I think I have also come to the conclusion that a person can't use their brain to cure depression when it is the brain that is the problem in the first place. In other words, you can't use a faulty brain to  'think' your way out of depression! It makes total sense to me that the body must be used to heal the mind.

  6. I love what yoga practice has done for my anger and aggression. It calmed me to be in touch with my body and brings out the compassion.

  7. This is excellent! She's an amazing speaker. So much truth in this and so inspiring. Will be sharing.

  8. I disagree that depression is hardwired to the brain. The mind which is not the brain, by the way, is made up with thoughts. Look at the thought deeply and do not resist that thought or feeling and then you will understand you are not the thought, the mind or indeed the body. then it can be left go.

  9. Good speaker, but a bit misleading in the fact that one doesn't have depression. There aren't clear biological markers for it. In some sense, people with depression  "do" depression rather than have it as an biological illness. Also if she "believes", believes with her entire core being. Its not a truth , a 100%. A belief can always be changed. You need to know. Thats 100%.

  10. Hey there! Have you ever tried Depzap Total Depression Domination (just google it)? Ive heard some amazing things about it and my mate used it to cure depression quickly.

  11. Holla! Have you ever tried Depzap Total Depression Domination (Have a quick look on google, cant remember the place now)? Ive heard some awesome things about it and my BF was able to eliminate depression once and for all.

  12. What Mindfulness Research Neglects

    Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental or choice-less awareness. Choices in turn may be divided into non-perseverative choices (what to have for breakfast, what route to take to go home, or choices with no dilemmas) and perseverative choices (worries, distractions, and rumination, or mental dilemmas wherein every alternative is bad). All meditative procedures, including mindfulness, avoid both.

    The consistent avoidance of perseverative choice alone represents resting protocols, wherein the neuro-muscular activity is sharply reduced. In other words, when we want to be relaxed we isolate ourselves from distractive and worrisome events and thoughts. These states in turn correlate with increased levels of endogenous opioids or ‘endorphins’ in the brain. The benefits of this are manifest, as the sustained increase of endogenous opioids down regulates opioid receptors, and thus inhibits the salience or reward value of other substances (food, alcohol, drugs) that otherwise increase opioid levels, and therefore reduces cravings, as well as mitigating our sensitivity to pain. Profound relaxation also inhibits muscular tension and its concomitant discomfort. In this way, relaxation causes pleasure, enhances self-control, counteracts and inhibits stress, reduces pain, and provides for a feeling of satisfaction and equanimity that is the hallmark of the so-called meditative state.

    It may be deduced therefore that meditative states are primarily resting states, and that meditative procedures over-prescribe the cognitive operations that may be altered to provide its salutary benefits (that is, you just need to avoid perseverative choices, not all choices), and that meditation as a concept must be redefined.

    Finally, the objective measurement of neuro-muscular activity and its neuro-chemical correlates (long established in the academic literature on resting states) is in general ignored by the academic literature on mindfulness, which is primarily based upon self-reports and neurological measures (fMRI) that cannot account for these facts. The problem with mindfulness research is therefore not theoretical, but empirical, and until it clearly accounts for all relevant observables for brain and body, the concept will never be fully explained.

    More of this argument, including references, below including a link to the first study (published last year) that has discovered the presence of opioid activity due to mindfulness practice, as well as the 1988 Holmes paper which provided the most extensive argument to date that meditation was rest.




  13. She's a yoga teacher but has somehow forgotten that what she is speaking of is just Hatha yoga, which is only one aspect of an entire system that is yoga. From the most basic needs like food to more complicated things like what is our purpose. Yoga isn't just a class you take and practice on a mat. It is literally a lifestyle. In my world, Yoga can cure depression. It has most definitely helped me with mine and then some. Yoga saved my life.

  14. When she started with "It's 1994..", had I been in the audience, I would have been very tempted to shout out, "My time machine!…IT WORKS!".

  15. 1991, Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma and my story of healing, given a sentence of a 40% chance of living 10 years, is remarkably similar.  Horses, working with children, being the change I want to see in the world, and yoga…. 26 years later, 16 years past my highest expiration date and healthier than ever.  There is something to this and it needs to be shared.

  16. Most of these stubs people talking about on Tedx are old stubs taking from eastern traditions. Nothing new. Most of these speakers I noticed are here to advertised themselves and it’s their career. I don’t know what they went through or experiences are real. It’s hard to verify what they said. But I don’t doubt that the mind can cure the body of diseases. I would preferred those people that actually cured themselves giving testimony. Like I said most these speakers are on Tedx to enhance their career.

  17. Mindfulness is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone! This women is a living proof of that!

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