Improving Your Health Through Community: The Benefits of Song

by Rajeev Kurapati

As social media becomes of the norm for more and more nations, it is tough to consider the world anything less than connected. At the push of a button, we can “connect” with millions of individuals from all across the globe. We can “maintain” friendships without ever uttering a single word, build relationships in isolation by stroking our keyboard. But, what are we sacrificing at the hand of convenience? Perhaps much more than we ever imagined.

Societies that prioritize “gatherings” tend to, on average, be happier than even those groups that have far more resources. Festivals especially reinforce the importance of connectedness in the truest sense of the word. These festivities, unique to each culture, foster unity – creating new ties and strengthening existing relationships.

Festivals cultivate a sense of belonging, and today, that is exactly what many of us are lacking.

For religious festivals, in particular, song is a key element serving to nurture togetherness. Singing in a group can be a transcendent experience – not only spiritually, but physiologically. And, what researchers have found is that the elation triggered by a chorus is very real.

Researchers in Sweden studied the heart rates of high school choir members as they sang as one. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, their findings prove that choir music, especially when singing in unison, has a calming effect on the heart.

The act of singing serves as a method of controlled breathing, which allows the heart to decelerate. The study found that when the groups sung in unison, their heart beats synchronized, reflecting the rhythm of the music. Not only does music allows us to sync our actions (singing and dancing), it also syncs our internal rhythms.

The implication of these findings is that the communal musical experience is not only a quixotic ideal. It is genuine – and very much transcendent. Singing at these communal gatherings cultivates a true experience of belonging – a unity of both our external beings and our internal counterparts.

Not only does music allows us to sync our actions (singing and dancing), it also syncs our internal rhythms

While your Facebook friends may number in the thousands, the isolation of the internet simply can’t compete with the calming effects of a beautiful hymn sung together at a community festival or a choir.

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Why I Pray for My Patients

by Rajeev Kurapati

We have come a long way in medicine, treating many illnesses and preventing many diseases. As a hospital-based physician, I treat various life-threatening diseases every day throughout the ICU, medical, and surgical floors. On a normal day, I roll at a fast pace – so, admitting, treating and, discharging patients has become fairly routine for me. On any given day, we have an abundance of modern medical expertise and technology at our fingertips, which allows us to work quickly and it is rare that we as doctors are ever truly stumped. But every now and then, I’ll come across a patient that despite even consulting with the myriad of sub-specialists at my disposal, we simply can’t find a cause for a patient’s suffering.

For these patients, treatment options are limited by numerous confounding factors: complications from a potential treatment plan, treatment options that the patient just can’t tolerate, or situations when options are limited by a patient’s financial constraints. In these instances, my fast-paced, ever-thinking mind pauses momentarily and asks for “help” beyond that of which I can provide, help from something greater than myself.

This situation is not common, but it happens occasionally, especially when I feel that a patient is truly suffering and not malingering, faking for some secondary gain. Whether or not this practice offers instant solutions to such a predicament, I pause for a second and simply make an unconditional appeal from the depths of my heart: “I sincerely hope this patient gets relief from his suffering.” Call it simply a plea for the health of my patients, I “pray” for two reasons:

  1. No matter how much we advance as a species or what great technologies we invent, there will forever be situations that are just beyond our logic and rationale. When I have to tell a patient’s family member that there are no options left to save her husband who suffered a stroke or a thirty-some year old who was diagnosed with a metastatic cancer that we are out of options – it is no easy task.  We are trained as medical professionals to “break the news.” As doctors, all we can do is best utilize the resources that we have at our disposal and do that which we are trained to do. Then, when all else fails, the conscientious act of hoping for the best is all that’s left.
  2. The word “patient” in Latin actually means – “sufferer.” Patients expect doctors to alleviate all pain. I find the process of helping to get people out of their suffering the most satisfying experience of all. With every such attempt, I feel as though I am fulfilling my purpose as a human being. Seeing a parent’s eyes glow to see their child jump again from being listless, or reassuring an individual with newly diagnosed diabetes that they are not alone in the challenges ahead, or providing patients with resources that will come in handy when they leave the hospital after a traumatic diagnosis – these are a few acts that give my life purpose.

Even in my medical triumphs, at the end of the day, I still acknowledge that I am only an agent to help the patient heal. This act of graciously acknowledging when patients get well or appealing for the benefit of a sick patient is what I consider to be “prayer.” Whether it works or not, patients and their families feel emotionally and physically stronger when they are sure that both known and the unknown forces are on their side.

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Being Mindful of Your Anxiety

by Rajeev Kurapati
Anxiety by Caroro

Anxiety by Caroro

Anxiety is a state of mind that prepares the body to avoid threats, whether mental or physical. It’s meant to serve as a mechanism of protection – by increasing vigilance, the animal proactively avoids harm. When this level of arousal exceeds what’s necessary for the situation, it becomes a debilitating impediment. A once defensive mechanism, can become a vulnerability, a disorder – in this state, we succumb to excessive worry leading to deranged coping skills.

The first step to overcoming anxiety is to understand exactly what is causing your stress. Put simply, unless we have awareness over the stress-inducing aspects of our life, we can neither control, nor overcome them.

There are two types of anxiety-driven states:

One is the threat to our survival – enduring illness, experiencing the sickness or death of a loved one, losing a job, getting a divorce. The level of stress induced from these triggers directly correlates to how directly our survival is threatened. This reaction is elicited by our fear of loss. You have to endure the initial phase of grief, work to regain strength, and then reflect on the situation to walk away with a lesson learned. Mourning periods are a vital part of our culture – allowing us time to regain our courage in the face of catastrophe.

The second anxiety is triggered by perceived threat. These triggers tend to be situations that in no way impact our survival, yet our physiological reactions mirror that of imminent danger. These include such inducers as meeting new people, work deadlines, unmet expectations at home. Our minds misperceive these tasks as predator threats comparable to that experienced while hunting in unchartered territory during our primitive days.  During public speaking, for instance, our mind concludes that the audience is judging our ability to deliver a perfect product. It is only our unrealistic expectations that cause stress in these non-threatening situations.

Unless we have awareness over the stress-inducing aspects of our life, we can neither control, nor overcome them

Despite our evolution from hunter-gatherer states to civilized societies, our mind sometimes fails to discriminate a non-threatening situation from that of a survival predator.

We can overcome these anxious reactions by familiarizing our minds with these foreign, intimidating situations. We can turn unfamiliarity (one of the leading triggers of anxiety), into a habitual act, easing the stress during these activities.

The key to alleviating anxiety is recognizing which of these two states it falls – is it life threatening? If not, teach your mind to respond accordingly.

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Human Being: Redefined

by Rajeev Kurapati

Recent developments in science enlightens how we define ourselves: Scientists have discovered complex social network consisting of trillions of microbes that populate our body.

Human Microbiome – as scientists call the complex communities of microbes that inhabit our skin and mucosa (lining of inside of our digestive tract). They are also part of deep layers of skin, in the saliva and oral mucosa, and even in the conjunctiva.

This microbiome is an integral part of human physiology. A balanced microbiome aids in proper functioning of our body, from digestion to self-defense. However, if the microbiome is imbalanced, often due to a compromised immune system or if microbes populate atypical areas of the body (such as through poor hygiene or injury), disease such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Vaginosis can result. Inadvertent use of antibiotics can also result in drastic shift in gut micro-flora and can result in unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating etc.

In an article published in Time, the author shares some interesting facts : “What we eat can affect our gut, both inside and out. The community of bacteria that colonize our intestines may shift depending on the makeup of our overall diet.

The fascinating part is that we are outnumbered. There are ten times as many microbial cells in each of us as there are our own cells. For instance, it is estimated that 500 to 1000 species of bacteria live in the human gut and a roughly similar number on the skin. But we don’t start off our life that way. Each of us acquires our own community of microbes from the surrounding environment. As a newborn, we begin our life as mostly sterile beings. We start acquiring these bacteria from our initial journey in the birth canal. We pick up some microbes from mom’s vaginal canal.

Following birth, we start developing our own specific microbiome from the surrounding environment and this continues throughout life. That is why no two humans share the same microbiome, not even identical twins.

“Our bodies are part of a microbial world,” says George Weinstock, who is a Professor of Genetics and Molecular Microbiology at Washington University,  “You can think of our ecosystems like you do rain forests and oceans, very different environments with communities of organisms that possess incredible, rich diversity.”

In this context, our human body gets a new meaning – a mini-ecosystem comprising of native cells and foreign microbes evolved together to form a complex biological enterprise, we call human body.

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Is Your Doctor “Good”?

by Rajeev Kurapati

Being a patient is never something that anyone (not even doctors)  likes to experience. The word patient is derived from the Latin word, “suffer.” All patients walk into the doctor’s office expecting their doctor to bring them out of their suffering.

What makes a doctor, good? Here are a few traits essential to all doctors:

Compassion

Compassion is not a virtue that comes packaged with medical training. It’s an innate trait that can be nurtured by emulating caring mentors in medical schools. Some people are innately more compassionate and caring than others. If you are lucky enough to find a caring and compassionate doc, you are in good hands for he/she is sure to take great lengths to get you through your ailment. Studies have found that these values are strongly linked to higher quality of care and better patient outcomes.

Competency

Competency includes knowledge and skills to perform the job effectively. Competency comes only from training and experience. For doctors, experience begins with training and starts the moment they enter medical school. Competent doctors are able to interpret the situation in the context that is relevant, especially during emergencies. Staying up to date on the latest research and technology is essential to becoming a great doctor.

Bedside Manners

Numerous studies have shown a link between lousy bedside manners and poor medical outcomes. Every patient wants to find a doctor who listens. A doctor can be among the best in his field, but if he/she has poor bedside manners, patients are forced to choose between competency and kindness. Young doctors in training can learn good bedside manner by emulating compassionate physicians.

Action Plan

Clarity of thought process and action plan is important in assessing a clinical condition. If your doctor orders a test, he/she must also know how to deal with the results. Having an action plan means that your doctor has control over the situation, whether treating a medical condition or consulting a sub-specialist when he/she is not sure of the treatment options.

Being a good doctor means embodying all the above characteristics. The next time you make a doctor’s visit, evaluate your doctor against this criteria. Is your doctor “good”?

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