BY LINDA EGENES

Dr. Suzanne SteinbaumCardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, is a woman on a mission. As Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of the life-changing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, she is teaching women a new, heart-centered way to live.

And she is succeeding. While many doctors complain that their patients don’t want to make the lifestyle changes that will truly transform their health, Dr. Steinbaum doesn’t have that problem.

You only have to talk to Dr. Steinbaum for a few minutes to find out why she calls herself a preventive cardiologist. When a patient comes to her office who has not been feeling well for a long time, Dr. Steinbaum gets the patient talking about her unhealthy food choices, her lack of exercise, and the stressors in her life. And then she motivates the patient to change.

“It seems to me that there are two options,” she says. “You can pull out your pad and write a prescription, or you can actually help them change their lives, which is something that they own forever. There is nothing more powerful than that.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s enthusiasm for transforming women’s heart health is contagious.

As a national spokesperson for the Go Red for Women campaign, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth, she is reaching out to women all over the country.

It’s not only passion for her work that fuels Dr. Steinbaum’s success; it’s authenticity. She has lived what she teaches from an early age.

Sharing Her Own Personal Family History of Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy LifeIn creating the future of women’s medicine, Dr. Steinbaum looked to her past. “When I was writing Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book, I realized that it was my story that drove me to do what I do,” she says.

Her story begins with her grandfather, who, as an athletic teen, was told by his doctor he could not play high school football because of a heart murmur. “He couldn’t understand why a doctor would tell him he was sick when he felt perfectly healthy,” says Steimbaum. “So he decided to learn more about the body, driving to New York City from New Jersey to take classes in nutrition.”

Eventually he became a doctor of osteopathy, which is a more hands-on field of medicine that focuses on holistic healing, beginning a family tradition that now includes eighteen doctors of osteopathy in the Steinbaum family.

Through his research, Steinbaum’s grandfather knew that nutrition affected the heart, and favored foods that modern research has found to be heart-healthy, such as avocados and dark chocolate. “Years later, when I was in my training, I wrote an article on nutrition and prevention of heart disease,” says Steinbaum. “Then I found out my grandfather wrote almost the exact same article in the 1930s. It felt strange, almost surreal. I wondered, ‘Is this genetic?’ ”

Whether nature or nurture, Steinbaum knew she wanted to be a doctor from an early age. As a child she followed her father on his hospital rounds on the weekend, and found it great fun to “assist” her grandfather in his home office.

“I was raised with the belief system that everyone is a holistic being, and you can’t treat just one aspect of the body,” she says.

Tackling the Myths of Women’s Heart Health

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum

“It’s important that you incorporate habits in your life that aren’t a burden. They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Like her grandfather and father, Steinbaum first trained as a doctor of osteopathy. Two things happened that altered the course of her career.

“As a student I was working in the emergency room, and a relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting,” she remembers. “The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She had a heart attack right there in the ER. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do; help women not get heart attacks.’ ”

Years later, Steinbaum ended up doing a rotation at Block Island in Rhode Island. She was shocked to see a parade of young women visiting her office complaining of heart palpitations and chest pains while on vacation with their families.

“And I thought, ‘What is this?’ ” she says. “I could see that these highly successful, but highly stressed, women needed help. These two things have stayed in my heart my entire career.”

Propelled by the desire to educate women to recognize and prevent heart disease, she went on to become board certified as an MD and a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a man’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than fifty-five years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Dr. Steinbaum says the significance of prevention for heart disease was what drew her to the field.“It was so compelling to be able to change the outcomes of people’s lives by simply helping them to change their lifestyles,” she says. “If I could teach people how to prevent the number one killer disease, what could be better than that?”

What Every Woman Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ first, but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which, by far, is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal; something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one; this is going to work.’ ”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about twenty-five million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do; it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls in place.”

photo_steinbaum01

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about. And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries, and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

For Steinbaum, any healthy habit has to resonate with a person’s goals and lifestyle. “It’s important that you incorporate things in your life that aren’t a burden,” she says. “They have to add to your life, not make it more difficult. I think that TM is one of the easiest things to do. It’s certainly one of the most effective.”

Living from the Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from the heart.”

When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And, ultimately, that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients: “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in the minutiae of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

Dr. Steinbaum’s Top Five Heart-Health Tips

  1. Never smoke
  2. Exercise
  3. Eat heart-healthy foods
  4. Reduce stress with Transcendental Meditation
  5. Live from your heart
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(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 23. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES
Living From Your Heart: Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum Shares Her Passion for Women’s Heart HealthI don’t know about you, but it seems to me that there is a shift in medicine taking place—not only because patients are demanding more natural, preventive approaches, but because a new generation of doctors is leading the way.No one embodies this new paradigm of medicine more than Suzanne Steinbaum in her incredibly readable book Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life. As an MD, a cardiologist, the Director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red Women campaign—Dr. Steinbaum has the credentials. And because she speaks with the authentic voice of experience about how to live a healthy life—in her book, on her website and blog, as a columnist for Huffington Post, as a featured guest on 20/20, Good Morning America, and major networks, and as the host of her TV show, Focus OnHealth—women are listening.I sincerely think all women can benefit from reading this book, not only because any woman could be at risk for heart disease, but also for the experience of having a doctor talk to you about your health in a way that lets you know she GETS it. She understands how a woman’s physiology is different from a man’s, how stress and emotions can affect us so deeply, how women are often misdiagnosed, how clinical trials don’t reflect the way women react to treatment because most trials are done on men.Dr. Steinbaum was first inspired to become a cardiologist when she was a student observing in an ER. “I was the kind of student who wrote down everything the doctor said,” she says. “A relatively young-looking women was wheeled in sweating and vomiting. The doctors diagnosed it as gastroenteritis and left her to wait in the corner. She ended up having a heart attack. I thought, ‘That’s what I am going to do, help women not get heart attacks.’”Dr. Steinbaum likes to point out that although heart disease is thought to be a men’s disease, it is actually the number one killer of women. And because the symptoms are different in women than in men, many doctors don’t recognize the early signs of heart disease—or even heart attacks—in women.

“There is an increased incidence of heart disease in women less than 55 years old,” she says. “Women need to start early to prevent it, especially if there is a family history.”

Living from Your Heart

Dr. Steinbaum calls her philosophy of preventing heart disease “living from your heart.” When she speaks, her belief in her patients’ ability to transform their lives is palpable.

“Doing what is best for you, eating what feels best for you, exercising, living with passion, living with purpose—that is what living from the heart is all about,” she says. “And ultimately that is the way to be the most heart healthy.”

She advises her patients, “Live from your heart and everything else will be fine.”

To help her patients become more aware of who they are and what they need to feel healthy, Dr. Steinbaum leads them in an exercise called “journaling their lives.”

“When people get caught in a minutia of their own existence, it’s unhealthy, so I try to get people to step outside of themselves and to understand what they are living for,” she says. “For instance, a woman might feel motivated to lose weight so she can enjoy playing with her grandchildren.”

Later on, feeling good itself is enough motivation to eat heart-healthy foods, Dr. Steinbaum explains. But in the beginning, it’s easier for people to tie their goal to something larger than themselves.

“‘I want to lose weight to look thinner’ is usually not enough motivation,” she says.

Preventing Stress from Turning Into A Heart Attack

When I ask her to name the three most important things women can do for their hearts, Dr. Steinbaum says, “I used to say ‘stop smoking’ but now most people are on that bandwagon. Now I’d say eating a really healthy diet, and exercising, which by far is the best medication. And having a way to reduce stress is essential.”

For reducing stress, Dr. Steinbaum recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“I tell my patients that we have to treat this issue of overwhelming stress in their lives, and this is an evidence-based technique that has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes by 48 percent,” she says. “The American Heart Association recommends it as the most effective stress management tool for reducing hypertension.”

She says she first recommended TM because she was impressed with the research. “And then I learned it myself, and thought, ‘Oh this is huge! This is a really, really big deal, something that goes far beyond the medical benefits. One of my favorite things to say is that I never thought I could sit still that long, and now I look forward to it. I also say, ‘Trust me on this one, this is going to work.’”

As a working mother of an eight-year-old, Dr. Steinbaum herself is no stranger to the stress of modern life. “Every day I have about 25 million things to do, and before I did TM it sometimes was an overwhelming, daunting task,” she says. “Now that I do TM, it doesn’t mean I have less to do, it just means that it’s easier and calmer. There’s a lack of chaotic thought, and it’s almost like everything falls into place.”

TM offers a way out of the vicious cycle of stress, notes Dr. Steinbaum. “If you can meditate regularly and slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, dilate your arteries and decrease your blood pressure, it’s done!”

But just like exercise or changing your diet, you have to do it regularly to create the change in the physiology. “We know that the change is persistent if you make a regular, routine practice of it,” she says.

Dr. Steinbaum has clearly poured her heart into her mission of educating women and preventing heart disease, and it’s her biggest reward when she sees a patient living from her heart and feeling better.

“I feel lucky to be a part of that transformation,” she says. “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.”

YouTube Preview Image

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, April 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Resilient to StressYesterday I was shopping at the mall and overheard a conversation between a salesperson and a grandfather pushing a beautiful 18-month-old girl in a stroller while her mother tried on clothes.

“You won’t find many kids like this one,” the proud grandfather was saying as we all watched the healthy infant smile and coo and stretch her feet and clap her hands. She was the picture of contentment and ease even though there were now three strangers (including me) gathered around her. She wasn’t just performing, either. She was looking me straight in the eye with pure love and delight.

“She’s always like this,” said the grandfather. “Even if she’s sick or teething, she’s happy.”

To me, that’s what resilience is—the ability to thrive no matter what the circumstances. Last week I wrote about a new study that showed resilient children tend to do well in life even in adverse conditions.

This got me thinking about how lacking in resilience I was as a child. Back then, you could look at me the wrong way and I’d burst into tears.

Yet as an adult, I have become much more resilient to stress with each passing year. Rather than growing in stress as I’ve aged, I feel like I’m letting more and more of it go. Not a small part of that growth in resilience has come by practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique.

Twice a day, every day, I’ve been letting my mind and body settle down to a deep state of rest, much deep as sleep, and that refreshing state has allowed deep-rooted stress and fatigue to be released.

A meta-analysis of twenty programs of stress reduction shows that the TM technique is the most effective stress-reduction technique available. A number of studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found that the TM technique has a multi-faceted effect in reducing stress: it significantly lowers levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreases trait anxiety, and reduces sensitivity to stress. At the same time, TM practitioners show increased sense of security and Emotional Basic Trust (EBT)and increased serotonin levels (associated with relaxation and reduced stress).

Another three-month prospective study evaluated the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on stress reduction, health and employee development in a large manufacturing plant of a Fortune 100 corporation and a small distribution sales company. Employees who learned TM were compared to controls similar in worksite, job position, demographic, and pretest characteristics. Regular meditators improved significantly more than controls (with irregular meditators scoring in between) on multiple measures of stress and employee development, including: reduced physiological arousal (measured by skin conductance levels) during and outside TM practice; decreased trait anxiety, job tension, insomnia and fatigue, cigarette and hard liquor use; improved general health (and fewer health complaints); and enhanced employee effectiveness, job satisfaction, and work/personal relationships.

Getting rid of stress allows your mind and body to function normally, to heal itself if you are sick. And there’s this added advantage: the more stress-free you are, the more resilient you are to new stress coming in.

You could think of stress as a line being chiseled in stone. Something traumatic happens to you as a child, say your teacher wrongly accuses you of cheating and you are too shy to defend yourself. That stress is stored in your nervous system, in the chemistry of your body or in its structure. Maybe even a health problem has started from that traumatic stress, or maybe you stop trusting people in authority.

Then you start to practice Transcendental Meditation, to achieve a deep state of rest on a daily basis. That stress dissolves a little bit more during each meditation, or perhaps in one deeply restful session, it’s completely gone. You feel lighter, you don’t react when your boss unjustly criticizes you—you are able to defend yourself calmly, without stirring up the old feelings of disempowerment and shame. The same stressors are there in your environment, but you’re feeling stronger—it just doesn’t affect you anymore.

Instead of making such a deep impression on the physiology like a line chiseled in stone, stress becomes more like a line in water—you react for a moment, but because you are already functioning in a less stressed state, you’re more quickly free of it. The stress has been released.

It’s even possible, as you continue to dissolve stress through regular meditation, to become so established in a state of equanimity and bliss that nothing can shake you out of it. The traffic jam on the way to your child’s school, the difficult co-worker, the challenging hours your husband works—somehow you’re able to maintain that connection with the wholeness of life throughout it all. The ups and downs don’t shake you—you start seeing them as new opportunities for growth and enjoyment.

I think it’s important to note that we’re not talking about stepping away from our responsibilities in any way. We’re talking about strengthening ourselves so that whatever life brings us, we can react with calm, grace and ease. Stressors are there—modern life is stressful no matter where you live or what you do—but if you are resilient to stress, they roll off you like Teflon. It’s more like a line drawn on air—they don’t stress you at all.

And this doesn’t take years to happen. As Megan Fairchild, a principal with the New York City Ballet noticed six months after learning the TM technique, “I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.”

I’d also like to clarify that I’m not talking about an emotionally detached, disembodied state of being here. I’m talking about being more connected to your children and other loved ones, more loving, more fully engaged in life.

After all, when you are anxious, stressed and angry, how much help are you to those around you? A lightbulb must be fully lit to give light.

What brings in the light is the direct experience of joy, happiness—and, yes, bliss—that is already deep inside each of us. Bliss is our natural state, only it gets covered by stress. That’s why, when stress is reduced through TM—and we can directly experience that reservoir of bliss, energy, intelligence and creativity inside us all—so many aspects of life suddenly get better. We’ve removed the roadblocks and the bliss and happiness can flow. Health gets better, because with less stress, the body can heal itself more effectively. Relationships get better because the stress that came between us is starting to dissipate. Mental health improves as the anxiety, depression and anger recede.

It’s the experience of bliss that stabilizes the mind. It’s not that we infuse bliss into the mind. The mind already has bliss. It’s like a farmer who is having trouble getting water to his crops because there’s a big logjam in the irrigation canal. As soon as he removes the obstacles, the water can flow. In the same way, by removing stress, what is left is the natural state of the mind, the original state of the mind, which is bliss.

Like the beautiful, peaceful baby I met at the mall, we can tap into our own reservoir of bliss and creativity every day—it’s there waiting for us to enjoy.

Watch Video: http://www.tm-women.org/videos.html#video=VhepgxkAdDY

Additional References:

ALEXANDER CN et al. 1991 Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6:189-247

EPPLEY, K.R., ABRAMS, A.I., AND SHEAR, J. 1989. Differential effects of relaxation techniques on trait anxiety: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45(6), 957-974.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, January 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)