Mindfulness Meditation Retreat 2018

The Customs officer leaned out the booth window. “Where are you going?”, he asked.

“Chicago”, I said. “For a meeting on mindfulness in veterinary medicine.”.

“I’m a psychologist.”, he replied. He had been hooked by our brief conversation. “What do you do to de-stress, that’s not related to veterinary medicine?

“I bake bread.”, I told him. “The yeast rises when it wants to. I can’t rush it.”.

He nodded. “I’m studying stress management and its relationship to suicide.”

“Then we were destined to meet!”, I replied.

Suicide statistics in veterinary medicine have been published internationally but I was more interested in understanding why my profession was experiencing such psychological distress and what could be done to prevent it. For the seventh year, Dr. Michele Gaspar would bring together a group of my peers. Through thoughtful discussion, meditation, books, yoga, art, and a movie (“Eighth Grade”), we could explore what was causing our stress. We saw how relationships, perfectionism, social media, bullying, anxiety, depression and more were affecting our work and home life.

There were 22 of us, mostly repeat attendees and several first timers, drawn from across USA and Canada. I was impressed by how quickly we developed community and built trust, which allowed us to share our stories of difficult times in our personal and professional worlds. It took courage to tell a back story which is seldom revealed to friends and family, much less acquaintances.

The ability of the group to hold the space, and just listen with compassion, allowed us to speak freely. This was part of our conversation with two guest speakers. Dr. Levin is a retired Emergency Medicine physician, and former veterinary student, who described a tumultuous period in his work life as being “blocked” from “who you are inside”. Dr. Moffic is a retired psychologist and described his experience as an “erosion of the soul”. As the end of their careers, they had suffered what they called burnout. Using these stories, they were now leading their Board Specialty Associations in how to recognize and cope with it. They showed us burnout was a process, often due to a system created to optimize efficiency rather than focus on patient care. We compared stories from human and veterinary medicine, exposing startling similarities. They offered some suggestions on how to manage burnout but we wanted more. Our three hour dialogue together could have continued on, all day long!

This retreat was a rare opportuny, where veterinarians could process the moments from their past that affected their present. Through sharing our stories, moving our bodies, creating art by paying attention to our intuition, we were able to observe ourselves in a safe, non-judgemental environment. We’d all taken great personal efforts (work, travel, financial, family) to be here in person because this type of interaction could never be replicated by an online webinar. This weekend would help us jumpstart the journey, or encourage us to continue, in the right direction for professional and personal growth.

We planned and made promises to each other to maintain the connections we had created. In this way, technology & social media could help to bridge the miles and the time until we could meet again. Even so, as I write this in the airport on my way home, I find myself missing my colleagues already…

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Happy Chinese New Year!

How could I resist! After all, it’s the Year of the Dog. I had to write a post to celebrate one of my fav animals. Part of this blog’s title includes a nod to the canine species. And I’m a small animal veterinarian, of Chinese-Canadian descent. Need to remember this one as a future yoga class theme…

As I love to cook and eat, I made dinner with my Mom. Turnip root cakes (Lo Bok Go) & leek and chicken dumplings (both store bought and then fried at home). Sweet and sour tempeh. Braised baby bok choy, with Five Spice beef. A toast to the New Year with a shot of Remy Martin. Vegan carrot cake cupcakes, with digestion soothing chrysanthemum Chinese tea, to finish. My Dad got lots of leftovers to keep him satisfied for several meals.

A simple meal to celebrate.

Gung Hai Fat Choy!

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A Valentine for You

Slightly irregular but the intent is there…

With Love,

Downward Dog DVM

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What happens when your dentist knows you are a veterinarian

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Talking to veterinary students about mindfulness meditation

It was surreal to stand in the classroom where I’d been taught, more than 20 years ago, and speak about mindfulness meditation. The funny part was that the broken swivel chair in room 1714 was still causing problems! Ah, fond memories…

As part of the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association’s “Lunch and Learn” series, I was invited to speak about meditation. I had been there before, in the Fall of 2015. This was a new generation of students at the Ontario Veterinary College. And it was being introduced at the beginning of the winter semester, in the New Year, when people are most likely to try a new habit.

Along with having them go through some simple meditations (breath awareness, Three Breath Meditation, One Minute Meditation, body scan meditation), I told them there were scientific studies suggesting meditation helps with neuroplasticity, being less reactive and improving focus. I encouraged them to add this skill to their toolkit, as it has been helpful to me both at work and in life. Even if they just dabbled in a meditation, that would count as a practice. From my own experience, I knew that they would explore more when they were ready.

I was glad to spend time with OVC students today. (Hoping it was the presentation and not just the pizza that drew them to attend. Ha ha!). Grateful to be a part of the OVMA, in promoting wellness in the veterinary profession.

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Bread baking, as meditation

The yeast can’t be rushed. It will work at its own pace, to make the dough rise.

The oven needs to come to temperature, before the bread can be baked.

The loaf needs to cool completely before slicing, to allow the proper “crumb” formation.

Arise. Abide. Eat! 😉

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Mindfulness Meditation Retreat 2017

“You can only do what time and resources allow.” M. Gaspar

“You are not having a bad life. You are just having a bad day.” M. Beard

Happily overtired because I opted to skip sleep to stay up late and chat. Few things will tempt me to delay my regular bedtime hour. But I had only four days and I wanted to make every moment count.

Dr. Michele Gaspar (DVM, LPC) organized our annual Mindfulness Meditation Retreat at Techny Towers, in the Chicago area. Through the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), a virtual community of veterinarians had connected on-line. It was at the Retreat where we got to see each other in person, perhaps for the first time. Another first, thanks to the support of VIN, was the approval of RACE credits, making this program recognized as information worthy of being included as an option for veterinary continuing education.

From tentative newcomers to returning regulars, our group of 23 veterinarians developed the camraderie and openness required for deep conversation. Dr. David Thoele, MD introduced us to a quick and simple writing exercise (3 Minute Mental Makeover) that could help us process our work. Ann Raney, LCSW explained how being available to our animal patients & their owners allowed us to be present and to consider our work as sacred rather than purely technical.

We also had opportunities for meditation (sitting and walking), yoga to enhance our mind-body awareness, watercolor painting as way to play and process our thoughts, & a book swap with a mindfulness theme. Gelato with a movie (“American Beauty”) got us all thinking about reality vs appearances.

I’d prepared some yoga classes to teach but knew it would change from what I had planned. We needed to be together for me to get a sense of the group energy. I knew I wanted to introduce my colleagues to the possibilities that yoga could offer for developing their mindfulness practice. It ended up being a potpourri of yoga! The first class showed how a chair and props could help people settle into their bodies as they experimented with mindful movement. The second class was a hatha yoga flow, based on one from the Palouse Mindfulness on-Line course, so people could use it to continue their practice at home. We did restorative yoga, for one evening practice and on the last morning, to help the body rest and relax. We did simple yoga breathing practices, to help focus and calm.

I was so grateful to be part of this group of dedicated veterinarians. We knew that, in order to care for our animal patients and families, we needed to find tools to take care of ourselves. We came back to this theme many times, in different ways, and provided ideas, compassion and support for each other. Within a few days, we developed a mutual trust that allowed us to “hold the space” and permit ourselves to be vulnerable with others.

I hope this retreat continues to lead the trend towards wellness in veterinary medicine. Our profession needs to be nurtured carefully, as many of us have been struggling alone and silently for too long. By bringing together colleagues in a safe and guided environment, we can develop the skills to practice mindfully.

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Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving 2017

Because having a sense of humour (note the spelling), makes it special!

https://vimeo.com/244900478

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The Art of Yin Yoga, with Pauline Zink

Just finished a two day workshop learning about Yin Yoga, as taught by Paulie Zink. His Taoist based style of yoga is playful, based on animal movements and encourages energy (Qi) flow.

Always grateful to have a reason to visit Kripalu!

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Great Ideas 2017, wellness and yoga

It’s already been two weeks since I was in Collingwood, Ontario for the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association’s Great Ideas 2017 conference!  Just sitting down to write about it now…


Being able to take some time away from work was a luxury.  It was hard to let go initially, as I had a few patients and their families who needed some follow-up via email.  However, I was mindful that I had to take care of myself too, in order to take care of them.  I tried to hold onto that idea as I stayed at the stunning Blue Mountain Resort.


The cool part is that the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) encouraged relaxation with learning, by including wellness in the program schedule.  A full day lecture series by Beverly Beuermann-King focused on recognizing stress and tools for building resiliency.  A fun run through the Blue Mountain paths on Thursday, with Darren Osborne.  The next day was scheduled for a morning yoga class on the terrace, amongst the fresh air and sunshine.


Although it rained and had to be held indoors on the mezzaine/foyer, I was glad to teach the yoga class for the second year in a row.  I centered the cues on body awareness, to bring more mindfulness overall.  Connecting mind to body is hard to do when your brain wants to keep the hamster wheel spinning.  Beautiful surroundings were the inspiration for being present, as we moved through the class.

Yoga is part of the toolkit for skillful living.  Sharing a practice with my veterinary colleagues created comraderie and was a fantastic way to start the day.

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