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The Short Version: Doctors often treat chronic diseases or mental health concerns through prescription drugs, but many of those conditions can be addressed through lifestyle changes. Dr. James Gordon, Founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), used his experience in traditional medicine to create a program that addresses medical and mental health conditions through self-care. Dr. Gordon wrote “The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma,” a book to share his techniques, and he teaches individuals, couples, and groups through CMBM. His clients and readers of “The Transformation” often report increased feelings of connection, reduced stress levels, and healthier lives.
During a recent training workshop, Dr. James Gordon, Founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), asked participants to create three drawings. The first was a drawing of themselves, the second was a drawing of their biggest problem, and the third was a drawing of that problem being solved. He said that exercise can be quite powerful and is just one of many that he uses to help individuals, couples, and groups treat and prevent chronic disease and mental health concerns.
One woman in the group was battling cancer. Her second drawing featured a red, scary scribble in her belly. Dr. Gordon assumed it was cancer that was her biggest problem, but, when he asked, he discovered it wasn’t. As she was drawing, she recognized that it was the anger at her husband she was keeping inside. Her third drawing showed them both facing each other, talking.
“She told me she hadn’t thought of this until then because she was so preoccupied with cancer,” he told us. “That exercise shows us that our imagination can come up with a solution even when it’s not in our rational mind. It gives us a sense of hope that change is possible. We don’t know what will appear on the page until we start drawing.”
Dr. Gordon shares his exercises and techniques in “The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma” and with individuals, couples, and groups through The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. They are designed to quickly and effectively reduce stress through scientifically proven practices that can heal medical conditions in both the body and mind. His strategies can also help bring couples closer together.
He works in one-on-one and group sessions and also offers his services to communities impacted by traumas. Dr. Gordon has taught more than 7,000 people to implement his healing methods with others, and to share with them what he thinks of as an owner’s manual for our bodies.
“I am very interested in all the things people can do for themselves,” he said. “There are so many ways that we can help ourselves — and better understand and connect more closely with our partners.”
As a researcher with the National Institute for Mental Health — and in his private practice — Dr. Gordon said he saw many treatments that didn’t work. He saw patients who suffered from anxiety, depression, trauma, heart problems, and diabetes. Doctors often prescribed them one-size-fits-all remedies for their symptoms, but rarely, if ever, provided them with the tools they needed to help themselves.
He recognized that self-care and self-awareness techniques proved effective in treating and preventing a variety of physical and mental health concerns. He saw individuals and couples who could benefit from his unique perspective, so he founded The Center for Mind-Body Medicine to share his knowledge.
“I wanted to create a place where people could come together and see that there is another way to do things,” he said. “My focus, since the beginning, has been on teaching wide varieties of people, health and mental health professionals, educators, leaders of women’s groups, and others who simply want to serve their communities.”
The foundation of his training is self-care, and he begins by showing participants how they can use the tools to help themselves.
Then, they are encouraged to help others. The techniques are designed so that virtually anyone, from young children to seniors, can use them. In his group training sessions, offered in cities throughout the United States, he teaches 15 self-care techniques, along with the science and models behind those practices.
After learning his techniques, some people opt for more advanced training they can use to help their communities.
Dr. Gordon encourages people who are interested in living happier, more fulfilled lives to start by reading his book, “The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma.” He said he decided to write the book because nearly every living person experiences some form of trauma during their life. That can range from a neglectful childhood to painful breakups or even the death of a loved one.
“We’re so hard on ourselves,” he said. “There are chapters on gratitude, forgiveness, and the healing power of nature and physical movement and exercise. There is also a long chapter on the trauma-healing diet: how food can help us deal with psychological challenges and makes us more resilient.”
Dr. Gordon said he wanted to include the connection between nutrition and healing in the book because he saw few resources written on the subject. But research shows a direct link — via the vagus nerve — between nutritional health and mental health.
Many readers are often surprised to learn that they can heal themselves through a proper diet and nutritional supplements.
Another tool he teaches is what he calls “soft belly breathing.” It’s breathing mindfully in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly and deeply, while maintaining a relaxed stomach. He teaches people to focus on the breath and think “soft” as they inhale and “belly” as they exhale. This practice can reverse fight or flight response, quiet the body, calm and focus the mind, and help people become more self-aware, as well as more compassionate to and connected with those around them. Dr. Gordon said the staff at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine begin and end every meeting with soft belly breathing.
Another simple tool that CMBM teaches is shaking and dancing.
“It helps loosen up the body and bring up emotions that we’ve kept down,” he said. “It is an easy, safe technique that anyone can do.”
The techniques Dr. Gordon developed at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine can be especially effective with couples who are having trouble connecting and communicating. Dr. Gordon said he frequently works with couples who aren’t in sync — physically or mentally.
“Often, that makes understanding, or even talking with each other, difficult. But these techniques can bring us into harmony,” Dr. Gordon said. “They lay the groundwork for better communication and feelings. That can make all the difference with how you deal with issues that come up.”
Dr. Gordon recommends couples sit face to face and practice soft belly breathing with their eyes closed for five minutes before beginning any serious conversation. He also encourages couples to try the drawing exercise and then share their results. The most important aspect is that each partner avoids criticizing or analyzing their partner’s work. Instead, they should listen.
“Your partner may show what is going on in a way that you may have never seen before. Their notion of the solution may be new and novel to you,” he said. “Then you show your drawings the same way. Sometimes what comes out is what no one expected.”
Over the next few years, Dr. Gordon hopes to expand the reach of his work so that more people can benefit from his techniques.
He has also been working in regions impacted by war or climate-related disasters, and he’s hoping to do more throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. He always offers his services regardless of a participant’s ability to pay.
“There are so many approaches and techniques. There are 25 that I teach in “The Transformation. I show people different ways of putting them together, so they can find a way that suits them,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”