Season 1, Episode 35

Influencing your Genes and Human Potential with Cassandra Vieten

Are you in control of your emotional reactions?

Each and every person has dormant abilities locked away in their genetic codes. Traditionally, scientists believed it would take generations to activate a new evolutionary ability, but we now know that epigenetics can expedite the process.

Today on Conscious Fertility, Dr. Cassandra Vieten elaborates on the mind-body connection and how you can influence your genetic code with your environment and habits. You cannot control the world, but you can control your reaction to it. 

Dr. Vieten is the executive director of the John W. Brick Foundation and the author of Mindful Motherhood. Her groundbreaking research into mind-body medicine is changing how we understand our human potential. Dr. Vieten teaches you practical steps you can take today to change your outlook, so you can rewire your brain and become spiritually competent.

You can develop entirely new thought patterns with the help of mindfulness training. Dr. Vieten explains how mothers can unlock their latent potential for inner peace and how that skill transfers to their children. You cannot eliminate life’s obstacles, but you can bolster your ability to deal with stress by communing with nature and making time for yourself. Join us to explore how you can access your hidden potential with epigenetics and mindfulness training.

Key Topics/ Takeaways:

  • Unlocking your dormant potential [3:00]
  • The mind-body connection [7:00]
  • Epigenetics and gene expression [9:20]
  • Emotional freedom technique [16:00]
  • Virtual reality for mental health [18:30]
  • Being at peace with the present [25:00]
  • Controlling your reactions [29:00]
  • Developing new response patterns [31:00]
  • Self-compassion practices [34:00]
  • Mindful motherhood [40:00]
  • Lowering resistance [46:00]
  • Practicing detachment [51:00]

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Read This Episode Transcript

Lorne Brown:

By listening to the Conscious Fertility Podcast, you agree to not use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or others. Consult your own physician or healthcare provider for any medical issues that you may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guest or contributors to the podcast.

Welcome to Conscious Fertility, the show that listens to all of your fertility questions so that you can move from fear and suffering to peace of mind and joy. My name is Lorne Brown. I’m a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and a clinical hypnotherapist. I’m on a mission to explore all the paths to peak fertility and joyful living. It’s time to learn how to be and receive, so that you can create life on purpose.

All right, welcome to our episode today. We are with Dr. Cassandra Vieten. She’s the executive director of the John W. Brick Foundation. She’s also a scholar and resident at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego. She’s a senior fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences where she worked for 18 years in successive roles as scientist, director of research, CEO, and president from the years of 2013 to 2019.

She is a clinical psychologist, mind-body medicine researcher, and author of numerous articles in scientific journals. She’s also published several books, one that I find quite fascinating, Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year, as well as she’s co-authored Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life, as well as Spiritual Competencies in Clinical Practice: Guidelines for Psychologists and Mental Health Professionals. Dr. Cassandra Vieten, welcome to the Conscious Fertility Podcast.

Cassandra Vieten:

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Lorne Brown:

I’m glad to have you here. I want to actually read a little bit more about you just for our listeners because, just so you know, she’s a researcher and focuses on spirituality in health and transformative experiences and practices, which is what a lot of the listeners are looking for, and the development of mindful-based interventions for emotional wellbeing. Who doesn’t want to feel well? It’s worth noting that you received your PhD in clinical psychology and you completed your research training in behavioral genetics at UCSF. So, all this is why I wanted to have you as one of my expert guests, because the publications, the training, and what you do in clinic I think is going to be very interesting to our listeners today.

Cassandra Vieten:

Well, thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Lorne Brown:

Now, I had the opportunity and I encourage our listeners to check out your website because you have so many videos and podcasts there. I’ve just been going down the beautiful rabbit hole and I started to learn that big part of your work is about helping people have these transformative shifts and that if you have a change in perspective, your life can change. I wanted to talk to you about the work that you’re doing and how you’re helping people unlock their latent potentials and how this can benefit people. So, do you want to talk a little bit about that, unlocking your latent potentials and the work that you’ve been doing in that area?

Cassandra Vieten:

Sure, yeah. My work in transformation in consciousness or fundamental shifts in worldview really took hold at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where, as you mentioned, I was working for 18 years. It was just such a pleasure to work there. The institute was actually founded by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who was the sixth person to walk on the moon. On his way back from his moonwalk, he viewed the earth from space and hadn’t slept in 36 hours. The space capsule is churning, every 10 minutes it’s rotating, and he’s seeing the earth and the sun and the stars and the moon, and he just was overcome with this profound epiphany where he felt himself as interconnected with everything that is. It’s like the boundaries of his body and his ego dissolved and he felt one with everything.

He also, when he was viewing the earth and getting closer to it, was like, “Oh my gosh, we are crazy.” There are no boundaries between countries, when you look at the earth from space, and yet we’ve been fighting over these imaginary lines for millennia. So much pain and suffering and war and inequity and destruction of the environment. When you look at the earth from space, it’s this little blue and green jewel in an infinite sea of blackness. He had this thing that we now call the overview effect that many astronauts have had, but at the time, he was one of the first to describe it. And so, that transformation in consciousness led him to want to be of service to the world and help people understand this essential nature of reality as interconnected, that we in some ways are separate, you and I, but we’re also completely connected in a very real way, there is no them, there is no other, we’re all in this together, and also to help people develop a social consciousness.

At the institute, we were really curious about this, and that’s a big, dramatic one. I mean, that’s in space and global in nature, but what we also were interested in is people’s individual transformations in consciousness, changing their story about who they are or how things work, how reality is. In particular, we were looking at what we might call positive transformations in consciousness or people moving from a life of feeling stressed and pressed and fearful or maybe very ambitious and craving and accumulating to one that’s really centered in love, kindness, compassion, service, meaning, purpose. When people make that fundamental shift, it ripples out into all the areas of their lives and even into their bodies.

Lorne Brown:

That’s the part I’m fascinated about and I would love to hear you talk more about it, because sometimes we need a little bit of inspiration or motivation to want to do this kind of conscious work. It sounds lovely, to feel connected and have this loving feeling or this feeling of connection. Trust me, we want to have peace of mind. We want joy. There are people struggling with fear and shame and guilt, and so that is motivation enough, for me anyhow, if I can have that peace of mind. There are some people looking for biological upgrades or physical healing, and I’m curious how this has been seen in your clinical practice and in the research that you have observed on a physical level. Is there evidence now to show what the sages have said a long time ago about this mind-body connection?

Cassandra Vieten:

Absolutely, and I’d like to say it’s a little bit more complex than people think. It’s a mind-body connection and it’s a body-mind connection. We know that whatever happens in our body affects our mental state, our subjective experience. What we eat, how we exercise, what our hormones are doing, what our brain is doing is reflected in how we feel and how we think, how we talk and relate. How we think and how we feel and how we talk and relate affects our brains and our bodies. And so, it really is a two-way street and there is something helpful about sometimes separating those two, thinking about the body by itself or thinking about the mind by itself.

But now that we’ve moved beyond simple diseases I guess I would call it, where it was a really good thing actually to say, “Let’s just forget the mind and focus only on the body in trying to figure out how to fix this thing,” like a mechanic, that works for simple things, but it doesn’t really work for complex things. When we’re looking at things that are complex, we have to take into account both the body and the mind, and it’s really a false dichotomy. They’re completely, inextricably intertwined. Now, some things are definitely physical, like certain genetic diseases, or there are things that there’s no way out of it if you have the gene or if you’ve got an injury. There are some things that might feel only subjective that it really doesn’t depend on the body, but those are very rare. Everything else is both body and mind together.

Lorne Brown:

It’s this bidirectional. We can give great examples. You talked about the physical, and we know now with the gut microbiome, you can have physical symptoms, but that can also affect your mental health and wellbeing, and also your thoughts and your feelings can impact your biology. I don’t remember which of your videos I was listening to, but you were talking a bit about gene expression. Is this what you’re alluding to, this epigenetic effect of your environment? Can you elaborate a bit about your external and internal environment that are going to change how your genes are expressed and how this can affect you?

Cassandra Vieten:

Oh yeah, that’s only one of the ways that the mind affects the body. But if we take gene expression for a moment, there are very real ways. Let’s say, we’ve looked at things like fruit flies, drosophila, which is a model for science that’s a really helpful model because they reproduce every 14 days. So, you can look at generational changes in a relatively short amount of time to see how does it work when, let’s say, these little fruit flies are exposed to an extremely cold environment. What we see is that natural selection would say, “Well, it’ll take hundreds of matings and generations to have adaptive genes be selected for, so that the little fruit flies that have more hair on their bodies eventually will start to be selected in a very cold environment. But this will take hundreds of generations.”

What we learned though was that when you put fruit flies into a very cold environment, it takes not that many generations for them to sprout hair to adapt to the environment because they have this latent potential. What I mean by latent is it’s dormant. It’s sitting there, waiting for an environmental trigger to turn it on. And so, it’s different than natural selection. The idea is that we all have a lot of latent potentials that are waiting to be turned on or turned off inside of our genes. Really, it’s less about the blueprint that some of us learned about, that is, our DNA dictating everything that happens to us, and more about how that DNA is translated or expressed into our physiology.

It turns out that not only our external environment like extreme cold or, let’s say, extreme stress or food insecurity or things like that affect it, but also our internal environment. Again, if I live worried, stressful, looking at the negative all the time, suspicious, thinking that everybody’s out to get me internal world, then that will affect my genes expressing in a certain way. Whereas, if I do something as simple as mindfulness training, let’s say 20 minutes a day for even as short as eight weeks, or some of you may have heard of the Emotional Freedom Technique where people tap on certain parts of their body and they repeat phrases, or I could probably mention 10 other kinds of practices, that now there’s promising evidence that it actually alters our gene expression. It changes how our physiology works.

Lorne Brown:

This gives us that sense of some control back into the future we’re creating physically and emotionally.

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah, and I’d probably say control is not a word I would use. I would say it gives us a sense of being able to collaborate with our body and our environment. What we don’t want to fall into is thinking, “Oh, I can think my way out of anything,” or, “If my attitude were just right, I would be able to fix my disease or my problems or a condition I have.” That’s too simple, but I really can have a huge influence on collaborating with my body and with my environment.

Lorne Brown:

Do you see this shift? Because I would think of having this mindset that it can shift you out of feeling hopeless and despair knowing that, rather than being a full victim, you have the opportunity to partake and help with the shift.

Cassandra Vieten:

Absolutely. One of my positions is with the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation, where we are promoting and studying integrative approaches to mental health and wellbeing. Our founder, Victor Brick, lost his brother to complications from schizophrenia and throughout his brother John’s whole life, he received medication, hospitalization, psychoanalysis, but he never really received a whole person plan that included exercise, nutrition, mind-body practices. It was all about this receiving healthcare from professionals, which is very important, but what we don’t want to forget is that for most conditions, there’s a combination, Victor says, of healthcare and self-care. Yes, some conditions require healthcare, which is absolutely important and should be accessible to everyone and we really need to do a better job having everything be covered by insurance and all that stuff, but we also need to do a better job at empowering individuals and families to understand that they can do something to collaborate with the recovery process or with the healthcare process.

Right now, we have a model where to a large extent, we do think of it like taking our car into the automotive mechanic. We take our body in and say, “Doc, what’s wrong with my body?” They try to fix it for you. I remember I had a friend a while ago, who had a liver disease, not based on behavior, but just as a genetic or environmental problem. She went to her doctor, he gave her some medication and said, “Come back in six months.” She said, “Is there anything I can do in the meantime?” He said, “No, not really.” I was just like-

Lorne Brown:

Right.

Cassandra Vieten:

That’s insane. That’s crazy. Of course, there’s many things she can do to create a more optimal healing environment in her outer world and in her inner world.

Lorne Brown:

You talked about one of those tools that I want to just bring up, EFT. It sounds like you’re familiar with it. Emotional Freedom Technique.

Cassandra Vieten:

I’m definitely not an expert, but I was sold on EFT. In fact, I will admit I was quite a skeptic at the beginning, because I was like, “This is weird, this tapping and repeating things.” I’m one to talk. I mean, I love all kinds of weird things, but for some reason, I was like, “That’s weird.” But I was doing a transformational program at a facility for shelter-less folks. These were folks who had tons of trauma, tons of pain, I mean, just really mental illness, really difficult time, and we were bringing in meditation, yoga, all of these things. Someone volunteered to bring an EFT, and I was like, “Sure, let’s give it a shot.” I’m telling you, these people were like, “I slept for the first time in 20 years. I slept through the night. My pain is reduced.” They liked it better than yoga or meditation. So, it was really an eyeopener for me.

Lorne Brown:

I’m bringing it up because so many of the guests we’ve had on here talk of it as one of their tools. I use this in my practice, but we’ve had Dawson Church, Dr. Peta Stapleton, Dr. Larry Burk, they’re talking about it. The reason I like it, because you talked about healthcare, self-care and again, just to put into the radar of our listeners, is when I’m doing my treatment in my clinic, it’s one of the tools I use in the clinic for them to go home and continue to use it. They have a shift, like you witnessed.

There’s this experience, where they’re having this stressful experience to a situation or a thought or experience, and right there, while they’re doing the tapping, they feel that sense of relief. They feel different. Now, the data is showing that there is changes on biomarkers of cortisol [inaudible 00:17:01] expression. So, it’s one of those things I want to let my listeners know there’s other episodes on EFT, because it’s a really good self-care tool that you can bring into your life to help have that perception shift. It’s another tool to help you have a shift in perception. That’s how I interpret it. Is that what you’re seeing as well?

Cassandra Vieten:

Absolutely, yeah. One of the things I like to talk about, and I did a recent TEDx talk on the mental health renaissance, that we really are in a very exciting time right now. We talk a lot about the mental health crisis, which is absolutely true, but we’re also in a very exciting mental health revolution right now where dozens of self-administered or peer-administered practices are beginning to gain quite a lot of evidence for their effectiveness. I do think that the way we view mental health and the way we approach mental health will be completely different 3, 4, 5, 10 years from now.

Lorne Brown:

Now, I want to get specific with some of the work I believe you’re involved in. We’re going to possibly talk about virtual reality. We may talk about psychedelics. The reason I want to bring this up is in my practice, I’m trained as a clinical hypnotherapist, and just for personal, I love to use my imagination to elicit certain feelings in my body. Some people use goal setting. I use that to help me create my future.

When I was listening to some of your talks on this, it sounds like you’re using virtual reality and it really amps up that experience. I think you talk about how maybe, or maybe you’ve seen this, it can help you unlock some of these latent potentials. Can you go into this? We have our imagination. It sounds like science and psychology is taking some of our digital technology and some of this ancient sage stuff of using your thought process, your feelings, and you’re really putting signs to it and you’re taking it to another level to probably get even more benefit. And so, I’d love to hear what you’re doing and what you see maybe the future is with this kind of interventions.

Cassandra Vieten:

Sure. Well, for me, guided imagery, visualization, active imagination has always been a really big part of my personal journey. I’ve found it very helpful, very transformative to use those techniques, hypnotherapy, to number one, enter an altered state of consciousness. When we enter into non-ordinary states of consciousness, or like I mentioned with the astronaut Edgar Mitchell, he felt one with everything, he felt the boundaries of his body and his ego dissolve, that’s one thing that can happen with these altered states of consciousness.

The typical conventions and categories and assumptions and rules, our ordinary reality, disappear for a while. When that happens, it allows for new possibilities to emerge in our consciousness. That means that we might be able to tell a new story about who we are, about what’s possible. To me, that is just so fascinating. There are some people who have difficulty visualizing. It’s really hard for them. In fact, some people can’t visualize at all, it’s called aphantasia, whereas, I’m hyperphantasia. If somebody tells me a story that’s gross, I’ll be like, “Oh my God, stop. I can’t stop picturing it.” It’s…

Lorne Brown:

Right.

Cassandra Vieten:

There’s this big range of ability to visualize, and we think not only for people who have difficulty visualizing, but especially for those people, or for people who just may not have the complexity of ability to imagine, putting them into virtual reality is one way that we can help them break down these boundaries, these conventions, these rules because they can go in virtual reality and fly. They can go in and swim with dolphins. They can go in and sit in an ice cave and have a conversation with a Yeti. I mean, it’s endless what can happen in these environments.

We’ve been creating these environments to see, just like I mentioned with the fruit flies and the cold environment, if we can provide an environment for the brain that seems like it’s a different environment, it’s possible that that could unlock the same kinds of dormant potentials as we mentioned with the fruit flies growing hair. I want to be clear, I don’t think we know this yet. We’re not sure. We’re just investigating what happens in the brain and the bodies of people who are going through virtual reality experiences. Right now, it’s a hypothesis and theoretical.

But we do know, like I said, that people who meditate a pretty short period of time every day for about eight weeks do show changes in gene expression, do show changes in brain function. Even brain structure changes. There’s some good evidence emerging that not only gene expression, but the actual telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes, which are essentially the time clock that as they shorten over time tell our cells when they’re supposed to shut down or die, those are affected by stress and they’re also affected by stress-reducing activities.

There’s just a whole new world out there that may allow us to accelerate healing and expand healing by exposing ourselves to environments even though they’re virtual. Sometimes, we like to call it digital reality. Sometimes, people say, “Well, virtual reality is fake. Do we want people running around in fake worlds all the time?” Well, it’s a digital world. It’s not fake. It actually is real. It’s a world that we’re creating, and it’s okay to spend some time in this new digital world and see how we can apply it to healing. Whereas, right now, 99% of it is being applied to shooter games and stuff like that.

Lorne Brown:

Right, yes.

Cassandra Vieten:

There’s lots of things we can do with it that we haven’t even tried yet.

Lorne Brown:

Although they say, “Should we be in it?” Or, “It’s imagination,” this is what we’re doing on our own. We’re constantly imagining oftentimes worst-case scenarios, and then the body… Because you were talking earlier, it’s this bidirectional, the body and the mind. They’re impacting each other. So, if you’re sitting in your home or in your office, but you’re worried about something and you’re thinking about it, your body can’t tell the difference, as in, those stress hormones are being activated, but there’s no survival benefit because you’re safe in your office. And so this sounds like a proactive way of, I’m releasing those feel-good hormones and turning on those longevity genes. Like you said, keep those telomeres from excessively shrinking, so you’re not having this accelerated biological aging basically and increase in disease. This is a proactive way to feel good and influence your physical body. Am I understanding that correctly?

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah, I hope so. I feel like it’s also important to say that it’s helpful to get guidance on how we can change our way of thinking. It’s not that helpful, let’s say, to listen to this podcast and then say, “Okay, I’m not going to think negatively anymore. I’m going to control that. I’m going to stop it.”

Lorne Brown:

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Cassandra Vieten:

“I’m going to eliminate it.”

Lorne Brown:

Wouldn’t that be nice?

Cassandra Vieten:

So then, you’re sitting at home struggling to not think negatively. For those of you who have done mindfulness training, you know that that is a futile attempt. You could try that forever and it’s not going to work. But what you can do, and one of the things that I’m developing in virtual reality, is imagine that your train of thought is an actual train. Let’s say that you put each one of your worried thoughts onto a train car. “What’s going to happen with my kid?” “Oh my God, am I going to have enough money?” “Why won’t so-and-so talk to me?” “I wonder if I said something stupid at work today?” Put those all on a train. Have the train start to chug by you, big, loud, right in your face, and then you can move away from the train. You’re still having the thoughts, but they’re getting smaller and quieter, smaller and quieter, until you’re looking out over a vista and you’re seeing this little tiny train chugging in the distance. Through practice, we can learn how to zoom into our thinking patterns and then zoom out of our thinking patterns.

As you were mentioning, a lot of our thinking is either about the past, which we can’t do anything about and half the stories that we tell ourselves about the past aren’t even really accurate anyway, or thinking about the future, what might happen, what could happen, what should happen. Little of our attention is in the present moment. A lot of these practices like tapping or mindfulness or yoga or all of Tai Chi, Qigong, so many, part of what they’re doing is bringing us into the present moment because that is actually the only place that we have any power at all. The only time I can ever do anything is right now. I can’t do anything in the future and I can’t do anything in the past. So, these practices in part are meant to bring us here, now, have most of our attention be right here and right now. It’s actually pretty unusual that whatever’s happening right now is this giant threat. Most of the threat, as you were mentioning, is imagined or it’s being ruminated about in the past.

Lorne Brown:

You’re training your brain, it sounds like, to be able to make conscious choices. It reminds me of Victor Frankl’s quote, which I’m paraphrasing here where he says, “In every moment, in every situation, there’s this space where you either unconsciously, habitually react,” so these are unconscious programs, “or in that moment, you can consciously choose to respond,” which would be this mindfulness approach. I often think of EFT as a tool to help you get into present moment.

Cassandra Vieten:

Yes.

Lorne Brown:

You stop and you start to just actually lean into your uncomfortable feelings. By tapping and being present, this is what I think, I speculate is happening, rather than trying to disassociate, ignore it, run away from it, you actually come alongside it consciously. You’re not fully at the effect of it, but you are feeling it and that puts you into presence. Now, you have that ability, to quote Eckhart Tolle, “When you’re present, you can either consciously remove yourself from the situation, consciously change or improve the situation, and if you can’t do either of those two, if you continue to surrender what is, you can be at peace in an unhappy situation.”

Cassandra Vieten:

That’s so well said. Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a great way to put it. A lot of the practices that we’re talking about also are focused on creating just a little bit of space between stimulus and response. What I mean by stimulus is something happens in the outside world or something happens in the inside world, one of these imagined things, and we react to it immediately, automatically. That leaves us like pinballs in a pinball machine, that we’re just being knocked around by whatever random thoughts enter our heads or whatever things happen outside of us.

What we want to do instead is when something happens, we’re able to take just a few seconds or sometimes a few minutes or sometimes a few days and say, “Okay, I am having a reaction right now. I’m going to hold on that for a minute. How do I want to respond to this?” That response can be skillful action that is in alignment with my values and goals for myself, how I want to be, who I want to be. The more often we do that, the more often we get to become the authors of our lives instead of the pinballs.

Lorne Brown:

Right. I heard, and I wish I remember who said this, but they talk often about this free will. What I’m about to say sounds really simple. I haven’t found it easy, but they say that the free will that you have is how you respond, how you choose to feel to the situation. You don’t get to control somebody’s reaction to what you do, but you get to choose how you react to the reaction. Is this what you’re thinking then? Through practices and these tools that you are able to consciously come alongside yourself and skillfully, consciously, how am I going to deal with this?

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah. When we talk about this, that sounds like a lot of work all day, every day, but over time, you do start to create new patterns of responding. I don’t call them habits. Sometimes, people will say new habits, and I don’t like to say that because it really moves us back into the unconscious. But developing new patterns of responding or new tendencies means that over time, you’re not going to have to think about it every single time. You’re going to start to respond as a matter, of course, with more kindness, more patience, more positive, joy, looking for what’s working instead of what’s not working, all of these things, looking where you can help, where you can make a contribution.

Over time, there does begin to be this sense of flow and that’s what we called living deeply in this book that Marilyn Schlitz and Tina Amorok and I wrote about, this research we did on transformations and consciousness, living deeply being dancing with life as it unfolds, and recognizing that sometimes we do feel completely out of control and thank goodness. I like to go see movies. There’s many situations where I want to feel not in control or not having to make choices, but in general, it’s a dance between that and then having times where I really do need to be discerning, deliberate, make choices, so that I can have good relationships, good work-life, like the eightfold path of Buddhism. Right speech, right livelihood, right relationship. That does require making some choices.

Lorne Brown:

And practice.

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah, and a lot of practice and messing up a whole lot. Every time we fall back or relapse or make a mistake or… The origin of the word sin in Christianity really meant the distance that an archer misses the target. So, the distance between the bullseye and where the arrow lands is called the sin. If we can think of it not as a shameful, evil thing, but, “Oh man, I missed my target there,” and just be like, “What do I need to learn from what happened there?” Oh, I was super tired. I wasn’t giving myself enough sleep. I wasn’t taking care of myself, or as you said earlier, I’m just not in the right situation. If I can’t make the right choice over and over and over and over and over again, then it’s possible that it’s not the right relationship, workplace, situation, whatever.

Lorne Brown:

It sounds like this is a practice of having kindness and compassion for self because I think of myself in my twenties, where I was quite critical when I had that sin, when I missed the mark, and now in my fifties, I’m much better at being curious and playful like, “Oh, I got triggered again. There it is again. I got something to tap on. I got something to work.” I find that intention, that attitude actually goes a long way, being curious, being playful with this work. For me, conscious work, this kind of work is not serious work. It’s important work, but it’s not serious. It is playful. It sounds like, if I’m interpreting well, that’s what you’re saying, have some compassion for yourself, have some kindness for yourself as you do this journey.

Cassandra Vieten:

Absolutely, yeah. There’s so much good research now on self-compassion and the health enhancing benefits of a self-compassion practice, which is that sense of curiosity, gentleness, investigation. It’s not like self-compassion is giving yourself a free pass on everything and being like, “Oh well, too bad, I’m self-compassionate.” It’s more like fierce self-compassion, which is good parenting inside like, “Okay honey, why did you abandon yourself in that situation? Why did you unkind? Why did you fall into gossip?” Just really kindly and gently and curiously investigating that. Yeah, I love this sense of humor and just the facepalm like, “Oh God, what did I do?”

Lorne Brown:

Now, you said good parenting. This is a great segue to get into one of your books, but also one of my favorite modalities is inner child work or inner child meditation. Is that something that you’re familiar with or that you like to use as well with your patients and yourself?

Cassandra Vieten:

Oh, definitely. Nowadays, I don’t really usually call it the inner child, but I do feel like there are younger parts of us and really great work on, I think they call it now, internal family systems and stuff like that, which way back in the day, we had, what was it called, transactional analysis. There’s always been this work on internal parts and I do find that really useful, not only in the metaphorical pieces of us, like the inner parent, the inner child, the inner teenager, the inner adolescent, but also sometimes, it’s helpful to have our bodies and our emotions weigh in on things.

An exercise that I’ll do with people quite often is, “Okay, what does your mind say about this situation?” You can tell it’s the mind, because it’s going to give you judgments. It’s going to give you pros and cons. It’s going to give you logic and narration. It’s going to talk a lot. It’s going to have a lot to say. Categories, comparisons, all kinds of things like that. And then I say, “Okay, great. That’s what the mind says. What does your heart say about this situation?” Meaning, your emotions. You can tell it’s the heart speaking because first of all, you often feel it right around your chest.

You can feel it not coming from up here, but coming from here, coming from the belly. It usually uses many fewer words. Sometimes, it is a younger part of us. It’s like, “I just want some rest.” You’re like, “Oh wow, that wasn’t even the question. The question was, ‘What should I do about work?'” The heart says, “I just want some rest.” You go, “Okay, that makes sense.” Then what does the body say? The body has something to say about it. And then we ask, “What does the wise, oldest part of yourself, that may have been present before you were born and will be present after you die, say?”

What does that inner Yoda, your inner Gandalf say about this? Often, you can tell that that’s speaking because it is very few words, mostly, and very quiet. That part of you might say something like, “Wait.” That’s the entire message. If you can survey all of these parts of yourself about a decision you’re trying to make or about a situation you’re in, that’s a super interesting practice. Giving voice to all of these parts of yourself can be very illuminating.

Lorne Brown:

Yeah, you get some really good insight. When you said that, “I’m tired,” or, “I need rest,” it reminds me of somebody going through massive fertility treatments or a long period of fertility treatments with lots of setbacks. In some of the work we did, when she asked that question, “I’m exhausted,” and to give herself permission to rest. It’s just neat, these little shifts that happen because she is now pregnant at the time of our conversation. She did the physical stuff. She did a lot of physical, but in the end, it was just interesting when that part spoke and the relief when you can just be honest with yourself. I’m just fascinated with the brain and I’m impressed and relieved, grateful, to see how mainstream this is because in my work doing Chinese medicine and hypnosis work, this was fringe stuff and this is cute stuff, and it’s really mainstream and now high-tech that you’re using virtual reality to emphasize this. I just think it’s great that we’re accessing our brain and making these changes that we can do on our own, self-care and getting support with people like you.

I wanted to talk, not specifically about the book, but you wrote a book called Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year. I was curious what your take is from the research and the work that you do on mindful motherhood and the benefits to the child because in Chinese medicine, there’s this idea, in pregnancy, your emotions impact the child. So, they’re very concerned. A long time ago, it’s written, they don’t want the mother to be too stressed because it’ll change the nature, mentally, emotionally, and physically, of the child. They had this idea. Also, just in the podcast, I often share the goal is conscious fertility to conscious pregnancy, which we’re going to talk about, to conscious parenting. I’m just wondering what’s the benefit with healing ourselves, if that’s the right word, becoming whole and complete? How does this impact the child that we are going to conceive and for the individuals who carry?

Cassandra Vieten:

Like many researchers, we all often like to study things that we’re personally interested in. I had been using mindfulness and meditation for quite a long time for emotion regulation and mental health and things like that, behavioral health, and then I got pregnant. I was practicing mindfulness throughout my pregnancy and my early motherhood and I was like, “Wow, that is really helpful. I wonder if this could be helpful for people who are at risk for postpartum depression or peripartum mood disorders, things like that.”

And so, I developed an adaptation of several different mindfulness programs and started trying it with groups of pregnant women. This was funded by the Bella Vista Foundation in San Francisco at the beginning. Every group we would do, we would refine the intervention afterwards based on people’s feedback and try it again and try it again and try it again. We did find that we had really good results on reducing negative affect, meaning, difficult emotions like sadness, anger, fear, stress, increasing positive emotions during pregnancy, and then having better bonding with the baby and more peace postpartum.

We would have these mindfulness sessions with the pregnant women, and then we did a few groups with women with their babies, which we thought, “This is going to be a mad house. How can you teach mindfulness with a whole group of women and their babies?” It was so fascinating because the women would come in with their babies and there’d be all kinds of activity and crying and feeding and all that stuff, and then we’d start to practice and they’d put the babies on the blankets in the middle of our sitting in a circle, and there would be this symphony of baby noises while everybody was sitting, almost as though they could feel what was happening in the room.

That was really fun. That program got adopted by a five-year project at UC, San Francisco called the Mama Study, which was for overweight and obese, low income, high risk, inner city pregnant women. We did that study for about five years, and we included some nutrition and movement in with the mindfulness training. What we found was not only did it help the women reduce their stress, in these particular women, it changed for the better their glucose metabolism. Also, after the babies were born, the babies showed less stress reactivity when their mothers had taken the mindfulness training versus the babies of the moms who hadn’t had it.

Now, eight years later, we’re still following those moms and babies and we’re still showing positive results. So, we know for sure that there are stress disorders and behavioral issues that are passed on from generation to generation. Some of those are purely genetic. And so, it’s more about navigating that when it happens. Some of them are through this interaction between behavior and environment and genetics. We know that the fetal environment can be altered by reducing stress or improving mood. Now, I don’t ever want to fall into the trap of saying that someone who’s in fertility treatment just needs to have a better attitude and then they’ll succeed-

Lorne Brown:

[inaudible 00:44:14].

Cassandra Vieten:

Or that a woman who is living in a stressful environment that’s out of her control, in poverty or in food-insecure areas or all kinds of trouble can happen, and that somehow it’s her job to make sure that her mental state is correct or else she’ll hurt her baby, because it’s not that simple at all. But just like we were saying before, there is no doubt that you can collaborate with your body in the process of creating as optimal a fetal environment as you can by practicing some of the things that we have been talking about throughout this podcast.

Mindfulness, meditation, mindful movement, eating well, all of these things are choices that we can make that can help us, and a lot of it does have to do with treating ourselves with kindness, treating ourselves with nurturing. This does reduce cortisol in the body. Cortisol is very well known to be the hormone that influences the uterus, the placenta. Cortisol is a time clock for when a baby is going to be born. There’s a huge rush of this when it’s time for the baby to be born. It affects preterm birth and the time the baby’s born and all of that kind of thing. So, anything we can do to balance our inner states is helpful. It’s not determining, but it’s absolutely helpful.

Lorne Brown:

I want to go back to one of the things you said, not worrying about being stressed, because it’s an important thing to emphasize. Two things I’m learning or that I’m reading in my own personal experience and observing in clinic is one, it’s not the situation. It’s how you perceive the stress. That’s key. The other thing is that, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel sad then.” Actually, if you can come alongside yourself and accept yourself with a person who feels sad, a sense of relief comes over. So then, it’s no longer seeming to have that negative impact.

If I’m in a situation like you said, food insecurity or in a living situation I don’t want, and you use these tools that you’ve been describing to help you surrender to what is, and that doesn’t mean we’re resigned to it or we prefer it, we’re just lowering the resistance, something emotionally, physically seems to happen in the body. I call it the resistance lowers. People feel a sense of relief. Even without the situation changing, using your word, your perception to this situation changes and that can have physical benefit. Even though the situation is not what you want, you’ve made the shift inside and now, you’re not having that negative impact. That’s my speculation. Can you elaborate on that? Am I [inaudible 00:47:11]?

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah. I mean, some of the metaphors we use are, it’s like waves in the ocean. You could go and sit on the beach and say, “I am going to make these waves stop. I’m going to create the perfect home life, the perfect relationship, the perfect inner state. I’m going to make all of the waves in the ocean stop.” You can imagine how effective it is to go sit at the beach and try to make the ocean wave stop. It’s impossible. But what you can do is instead of fighting them, or trying to make them stop, or getting bowled over by them all the time, getting knocked over, it’s learning to surf. How can I be more able to surf the waves of life?

If I have a wave of sadness, can I let it come through me without trying to stop it or suppress it? And then, as soon as I feel like I’ve been able to feel that feeling completely, can I do some reframing in my mind of the situation and say, “Look, my job is not to fix X, Y, or Z or to control the outcome, but my job is to be as kind and loving to myself as I can, which includes taking care of my body, taking walks, taking time for meditation, taking time for yoga, seeing friends, art, nature, music, creativity, spending time with animals.” These become not luxury activities, these become essential, daily activities. That’s one.

The other metaphor I like to use is the obstacle course, where some of us will try to get rid of all the obstacles, internal and external, get rid of all of them and say, “Then I’ll be able to walk peacefully across this field.” You’re just not going to be able to get rid of the obstacles. They are part of life. They’re part of your inner life and your outer life. It’s about becoming more agile and nimble and flexible to be able to navigate these obstacles with greater ease and grace, sometimes even to look at an obstacle and say, “I’m not going to make it over that. I’m going around. I’m skipping that one,” or, “I can’t do that alone. I’m going to need help getting over that one. That’s going to require a team,” which is true in some obstacle courses.

Focusing on those things, I want to become more agile, nimble, and flexible in the face of life’s obstacles, which means, stretching myself internally and sometimes literally stretching myself. Why do we do yoga? We want to increase our flexibility. We want to increase our connection between mind and body, which is what yoga actually means is yoking together the mind and the body. But there’s also something very important that happens when we’re holding an uncomfortable pose and not stopping holding it is that we are building physical resilience, but we’re also building mental and emotional resistance. So, I’m standing in warrior pose, it’s getting really painful, it’s getting very uncomfortable. The teacher’s like, “Hold it for another count of 10, 9, 8…” You’re going, “Oh boy, this is really hard to hold.” By doing that, you’re actually stretching your ability to sit with discomfort, and that means that you’ll be able to do it more in other settings as well.

Lorne Brown:

The fertility journey, they describe it as fertility stress, fertility trauma, incredibly uncomfortable, and again, it’s preparing them. When they have this child, they’re so grateful and they’re so awesome parents because they worked so hard to have this. What I hope, I wish, my intention is with the work that you’re doing and the tools that are available, that even if they don’t get to grow their family, they still feel whole and complete, that they have that resilience for other things in their life, and they go on feeling wonderful. That’s what I hope.

Cassandra Vieten:

Yeah. I mean, I always like to say that acceptance as a concept in mindfulness, or people talk about acceptance based coping or acceptance in commitment therapy, it’s not becoming a doormat. It’s not like you’re just going to let everything happen to you and just resign yourself or feel defeated, let life roll over you. Acceptance is a more of an actual warrior stance. It’s saying, “I choose to meet life as it is and make choices that are in alignment with my values and goals. That means, I’m going to do everything I can to create the optimal environment for my fertility, for my pregnancy, for my motherhood, and then I’m going to be open to outcome.”

Those two things can happen at the same time. “I’m going to do everything in my power to create the best possibility, best environment I can have, internally and externally,” and then the tricky part is, “and then I’m going to be unattached to outcome and I’m going to learn to surf the waves of whatever comes.” There was a great teacher who passed away that I just loved, Angeles Arrien, and she had something called the Fourfold Way. These four things were the four things that she recommends: show up, number one, tell the truth without blame or judgment, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, and be unattached to outcome. I just love those. Boy, I mean, you think about how many books and systems and everything else that’s out there. If we could just learn those four things, show up, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, tell the truth without blame or judgment, and be unattached to outcome, we’d be doing pretty good.

Lorne Brown:

All those are simple and yet not easy.

Cassandra Vieten:

Not easy.

Lorne Brown:

I want to add to the not attached to form and outcome because the population that I get to support, they’re like, “What do you mean? I got to have this baby. I want to have this baby.” I want to clarify, what I observe is not being attached to form and outcome does not mean that you stop wanting this baby. You actually don’t get to choose what you want. So, you still get to want it because you do. It’s just a reality. Otherwise, you’re lying to yourself. That’s not being, you didn’t use the word, authentic, but tell the truth was one of those. So, you want this baby, but it’s not this desperation. There’s a different change in energy. I want it and I’m going to do everything I can do to create the environment to have it, and I’m also accepting or knowing that even if I do all this, I may not get the baby and I will be disappointed, versus it has to happen. If it doesn’t happen… That’s how I’m interpreting non-attached to form and outcome. You still want.

Cassandra Vieten:

Well, that’s what I mean by the warrior stance. We can look at this in terms of social justice too, which there’s been critique of this idea of acceptance. So, I’m just supposed to navigate the unfairness and the oppression and all of this stuff? It’s like, “No, the stance is I will do everything in my power for the rest of my life to the greatest of my ability to reduce the amount of oppression and cruelty and racism and all of these things that are happening in the world, and I refuse to be defeated and to become bitter and angry and resentful because of it. I refuse.” There was a similar quote or maybe I’m putting together a quote from the Dalai Lama, which was essentially, “I will never stop working for the independence of Tibet and I will never accept a solution that involves the harming of one Chinese person.” I mean, that’s commitment.

Lorne Brown:

Yeah, that is commitment. Cassie, I really enjoyed our discussion today. We didn’t have time to talk about psychedelics. Maybe, we’ll get together again and talk about psychedelics. I do want to let the listeners know how they can find you. I’m aware of your website of cassandravieten.com and I want to direct our listeners there, because there’s books and publications you can find there. She has courses and workshops and she has multiple YouTube interviews that she’s done. Hopefully, this one will show up there as well. Cassie, are there other ways that we can direct our listeners to? We’ll put them in the show notes if you want.

Cassandra Vieten:

Sure, yeah. One thing I invite people to see in addition to cassandravieten.com is johnwbrickfoundation.org, which is the integrative mental health organization that I’m a part of. We do have an upcoming summit, which will be April 11th through 17th, that is on a variety of integrative approaches to mental health and wellbeing that I think your audience would love. It’s free. That is called The Mental Health and Wellbeing Global Summit, and the information will be at the johnwbrickfoundation.org website. You can also look for me at the Center for Mindfulness at UC, San Diego, and Center for Mindfulness at UC, San Diego offers quite a few online courses in mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. If you want to learn more about mindfulness, you can go there.

Lorne Brown:

Thank you, Cassie, for making the time to share and all the writing and the stuff that you’re doing and just for our time to meet. Your friend and colleague from the Noetic Institute, Dr. Julia Mossbridge, she’s by the way, episode 18, Unconditional Love herself, she introduced us. So, Julia, thank you for the invitation. Appreciate that as well.

Cassandra Vieten:

Agree. Thank you, Julia, love you, and thank you, Lorne. It’s great to have spent this time with you and with your audience.

Speaker 3:

If you’re looking for support to grow your family, contact AcuBalance Wellness Center. At AcuBalance, they help you reach your peak fertility potential through their integrative approach using low level laser therapy, fertility acupuncture, and naturopathic medicine. Download the AcuBalance fertility diet and Dr. Brown’s video for mastering manifestation and clearing subconscious blocks. Go to acubalance.ca. That’s A-C-U, balance.ca.

Lorne Brown:

Thank you so much for tuning into another episode of Conscious Fertility, the show that helps you receive life on purpose. Please take a moment to subscribe to the show and join the community of women and men on their path to peak fertility and choosing to live consciously on purpose. I would love to continue this conversation with you. So, please direct message me on Instagram at Lorne Brown Official. That’s Instagram, Lorne Brown Official, or you can visit my websites, lornebrown.com and acubalance.ca. Until the next episode, stay curious and for a few moments, bring your awareness to your heart center and breathe.

Cassandra Vieten

Cassandra Vieten

About Dr.Cassandra Vieten

Dr. Cassandra Vieten is Executive Director of the John W. Brick Foundation. She is also a Scholar-in-Residence at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego. She is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where she worked for 18 years in successive roles as Scientist, Director of Research, CEO, and President from 2013-2019. She is a clinical psychologist, mind-body medicine researcher, and author of numerous articles in scientific journals.

 

Where to Find

Cassandravieten.com

Mental Health Global Summit

Center for Mindfulness

 

 

Hosts & Guests

Lorne Brown
Cassandra Vieten

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