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Deep Listening

Dr. Neha Sangwan and writer and coach Jackee Holder say deep listening is the path to wellness

Heal
Image of Dr. Neha Sangwan

Photo courtesy of Dr. Neha Sangwan

Dr. Neha Sangwan, CEO and founder of Intuitive Intelligence, is an internal medicine physician who believes that listening is part of the medicine we need to ail us. She developed a methodology for communicating for patients and doctors after nearly burning out after working many years as a physician. “As a dedicated Internal Medicine physician, I was so focused on other people’s health and doing what was expected, I rarely paid attention to what my own body was saying. My official diagnosis: a classic case of people pleasing.”

Sangwan was committed to getting to the root of her own issues, and developed a series of questions that she used on herself to claim accountability. She she now uses these same questions with patients in the hospital on the eve of their departure:

  • “Why this?”
  • “Why now?”
  • “What signals might I have missed?”
  • “What else in my life needs to be healed?”
  • “If I spoke from the heart, what would I say?”

Sangwan's technique of using reflection and listening to address the root cause of stress, miscommunication, and interpersonal conflict, often heals chronic conditions such as headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. “I love using the science of medicine to help people, but I have come to realize it is the art of medicine that transforms a physician into a healer.”

Sangwan is committed to teaching her patients how to listen to their bodies and uses the following guidelines on how interpret its signals in order to better manage stress:

  • Use honest and compassionate conversations to save time and connect deeply
  • Articulate frustration and disappointment effectively
  • Talk to people instead of about them
  • Make agreements that stick.

You can find her book Talk RX: Five Steps To Honest Conversations That Create Connection, Health, And Happiness here.


“We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

Jackee Holder is a writing coach and executive trainer who advocates for what she calls paper therapy, the act of reflection and deep listening through journaling. “Writer Kim Stafford likens writing to playing the violin. He says that a violin played everyday will keep the vibration of the music in its body, even while lying still and silent. If it is not played everyday the vibrations dissipate and the wood grows lifeless… When I go to my journal I am humming with life…energy is flowing through me.”

“My paper therapy journey has been like a seed planted in the earth. Every word, every paragraph and every line has been turned over and mulched into the fabric of my daily life. The pages of my journal have been the earth and the soil in which I have grown. Each journal from cover to cover has watered my life. Nothing I’ve written has been wasted.

When I don’t write regularly, when writing is not at the core of my life it feels as if I’m skimming over the surface of life. When I write often and regularly I’m noticing how my hunger for the things in life that are addictive and unhealthy is greatly reduced. My digestion of everyday experiences is clearer and more of a felt and lived experience when I write.”

In a recent workshop Holder gave at the Emerging Women’s conference in San Francisco, she referenced James Pennebaker, a psychologist and researcher from The University of Texas, who points to increasing evidence that shows that journaling in detail about personal challenges and conflict has a positive impact on physical, emotional and psychological well being. Pennebaker says that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, and believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. But there is a threshold to the writing; it would appear writing for 15 minutes a day seems to be the sweet spot for addressing trauma, but writing for more than that can create a sense of  “dwelling and collapsing into the experience,” explained Holder.

“Writing gives power, ownership, and freedom over our story. The work is in trusting in that we don’t know where the writing is going to take us.”

Holder provided the following activity for personal reflection and exploration:

Step 1: Create a list of 10 successes that you are proud of accomplishing

Step 2: What a few lines about each of those successes about what makes them feels good

Step 3: Write about what it felt like to create that list of your successes.

Check out another writing activity called Writing the Labyrinth, and find more writing exercises on her website.


Leah Lamb is a writer, storyteller, and educator living in the Bay Area. www.leahlamb.com


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