Kim D'Eramo, DO, shows up for our interview bursting with enthusiasm (which, I've since learned, is pretty much how she shows up for everything!) A wiry, athletic blonde dynamo, she's a ball of contagious energy and vitality. But the founder and director of the American Institute for Mind-Body Medicine was not always the poster child for health and well-being.
"During medical school, I was tired and sluggish almost all the time," she says. "I had fevers, chills, sinus infections, you name it. But every doc I went to had a microscopic way of looking at it-let's take a thyroid test, let's take a test for Lyme."
She was diagnosed with the usual suspects, including fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. At one point, she went to an allergy doctor who, pretty quickly, declared her allergic to ... well, almost everything. The number of things she'd have to avoid was staggering.
This was not the life she wanted for herself. "I was a third-year med student at the time, and I saw my life crash before me," she says. "And then I thought, ‘Wait! These diagnoses aren't necessarily true. I'm not buying it!'"
D'Eramo was trained in osteopathic medicine, which has a long tradition of being much more open to natural healing modalities than conventional medicine is. "There is a ton of science to show how the body heals itself," she says. "And if you understand that the body heals itself, you start to ask a different question in the face of illness, which is: what is preventing my body from healing?"
"[ Your ] thoughts will either create well-being, or they will have the opposite effect."
D'Eramo started applying the principles of mind-body medicine, and within 10 days she was symptom free. "I had no more joint pain, no fatigue, I started losing weight, and my labs were normal. No kidding!" Intrigued, I asked her for a simple definition of how mind-body medicine works.
"Every thought that you have creates a chemical response," she says. "And those neurochemicals aren't just in your brain. They interact with your heart, your brain, your kidneys-they even affect what happens with your genes! The type of chemicals you're creating at every moment can actually turn things on and off. And though you're not aware of the neural fields that are firing off at every moment, those thoughts will either create well-being, or they will have the opposite effect-they'll create things like stress, inflammation, and elevated cortisol. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, even obesity all have an underlying inflammatory cascade that is actually triggered, in some ways, by your mindset."
At one time, D'Eramo really wanted to have a great relationship and marriage, but was, in her words, far from experiencing those things. "But the more I could visualize it-the more I could invite it, the more I could allow it-the more chemical changes I would create in my body," she says. "When you change your brain's firing pattern-and you can see this on an MRI-your thoughts and behavior change. How fast you speak, your tone of voice, what you're saying in the world-they all change."
Adds D'Eramo, "I started singing a different song, and began attracting a very different kind of experience." (D'Eramo is now happily married.)
Easy as A, B, C
D'Eramo swears by these three steps to "instant elevation." "It's an incredibly powerful tool," she says of mind-body exercises. Learn more about this and other techniques in her book The Mind-Body Toolkit.
A is for aware. "Bring your awareness into your body," says D'Eramo. "Feel what's happening in it. Concentrate on your breath. This turns off toxic, negative thinking."
B is for breathing. "When you're stressed or guilty or angry, you're in a stress-breathing pattern-shallow. Try breathing into the chest, all the way down into the body, slow and deep all the way to the pelvis. This releases calming, positive chemicals like oxytocin."
C is for choice. "Choose something higher," says D'Eramo. "For example, ‘I choose to live in a healthy body at my ideal weight.' When you make that kind of choice, the actions you are going to do will be different," she explains.