Dr. Anna Yusim is an internationally-recognized, award-winning Board-Certified, Stanford- and Yale-educated Psychiatrist & Executive Coach with a Private Practice in New York City and Connecticut. She is best-selling author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life. On the Clinical Faculty at Yale Medical School, Dr. Yusim is presently creating a Spirituality & Mental Health Center at Yale. With clients including Forbes 500 CEOs, Olympic athletes, A-list actors and actresses, and the Chairs of academic departments at top universities, Dr. Anna Yusim has helped over 3000 people in 70 countries achieve greater impact, purpose, and joy in their life and work.
After working as a neurobiology researcher with Dr. Robert Sapolsky Ph.D. and completing her studies at Stanford, Yale Medical School, and the NYU Psychiatry Residency Training Program, Dr. Yusim felt that something was missing from her life. In her quest to find it, she traveled, lived and worked in over 70 countries, while studying Kabbalah, learning Buddhist meditation, and working with South American shamans and Indian gurus.
Dr. Yusim has published over 200 academic articles, book chapters, scientific abstracts, book reviews and articles for the lay public on various topics in psychiatry. A frequent contributor to CNN, Fox News, ABC and NBC, she has been a guest on hundreds of national and international TV shows, radio programs and podcasts.
As a highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Yusim gives keynotes for physicians and professionals all over the country and the the world on topics related to mental health and spirituality, thriving post-COVID, preventing burnout, physicians as meaning-makers, and resilience. For healthcare professionals, corporate leaders and community members, she also conducts workshops to empower individuals to sharpen their intuition, cultivate authenticity, awaken self-compassion, enhance their capacity for empathy, and improve their ability to connect with others.
Please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Anna Yusim.
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 355
Dr. Anna Yusim 0:00
It's not really about the spiritual experience, per se, but it's the human experience of spirituality. It's how do you process it in your psychological state and give it meaning? And what does that mean to you? And how does that shape the life that you know, you are leading? Does it add to your life or does it not? And if it's destabilizing you, then you need to stabilize people, sometimes through medication, sometimes through grounding techniques, sometimes just through sleep and exercise, and you know, rest and food, and removing whatever it was. So what are things that can, you know, push people over?
Alex Ferrari 0:46
I'd like to welcome to the show, Dr. Anna Yusim. How you doing Dr. Anna?
Dr. Anna Yusim 0:50
Thank you so much, Alex, I'm great. How are you doing today?
Alex Ferrari 0:53
I'm doing very good. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm excited to talk to you because of the work that you're doing. With with science and spirituality and bringing them together, and, and I love your book fulfilled. That is a must read if you're interested in combining the two. And your good friend, the forward is by a friend of the show, Eben Alexander, who is a miracle a walking miracle as well. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I do appreciate it. And I'm looking forward to talking to you.
Dr. Anna Yusim 1:28
Likewise. Thank you, Alex.
Alex Ferrari 1:30
So my first question is what got you started in science connecting science and spirituality, because that generally is not two things that connect.
Dr. Anna Yusim 1:30
Absolutely. And in my life, they were not two things that connected at all, until I got a little bit older, you know. And interestingly, in my home, they kind of connected because my mom was very spiritual. But my father was not super spiritual. He's a scientist, super rational biomedical engineer. And as I grew older, they often would have conflicts or fights about this whole science, spirituality. My mom was such a seeker. And my father was Jewish. And he was really into learning things about Judaism and reading about Judaism, and actually, with my mom being the seeker would read outside of the Jewish faith, he would be, you know, take us to that a little bit. So there was this tension of spiritual seeking, and science and how do you reconcile all that. And so that's how I entered this whole world. But then in my own life, towards the end of my residency, interesting and unusual, almost magical things started to happen in my life that I couldn't explain scientifically. So that led me to think what is happening here? How do I explain this? How do I explain what's happening with my patients in my own life, for example, I was walking down. One point after having this is like, right, when I started becoming more interested in this, I'd gone to a lecture at a synagogue to about the soul about what is the soul, we can talk more about, like the concept of soul. And I was walking back home and suddenly felt really pulled into this ice cream store to have an ice cream, like, Okay, I'm gonna have this ice cream, I'm sitting with having an ice cream, and this woman comes up to me with a child. And she's like, I have a message for you kind of give you a message. I'm a psychic medium, or a healer. And I was like, she looked relatively innocuous, a young woman with a child, we're in a public place. Sure, what's your message. And so this woman sits down and starts telling me all of these truths about my life that she couldn't possibly have known that aren't on Facebook that aren't, you know, anywhere, except maybe in my diary. And she just knows all these things about me, including the name of the guy at the time that I had this huge crush on. And he's in she. So it was very, very interesting. I'm like, what is happening? And, and for me, it was more like, How can a person know something like this because our conception of the mind is that our minds are completely separate and distinct, like, this person shouldn't have access into these deep personal parts of my life unless I share them with her, but she knew and she had no way of knowing. So it was these kinds of things that started to get me curious and wonder and then I started down this path that became my life path ultimately.
Alex Ferrari 4:16
So when you started and because you you are you work at Yale, which is fairly well established school. Very non woowoo, as they say. So it is definitely the establishment is very, very leans towards the science aspect of things. When you started to bridge these two ideas. How did your colleagues how did the you know the school everybody? How did they accept these new ideas of like, hey, wait a minute, there might be something more here. I'd love to hear what you know, like your colleagues at a Yale. I've had people from Harvard, I've had people from Oxford. I've had all sorts of so it's interesting. I'd love to hear your experience.
Dr. Anna Yusim 5:00
Yeah, definitely. So I went to medical school, I love Yale, I've always loved Yale. And then I did my residency at NYU. And then I just hung up my shingle and started my practice, I was not affiliated with any academic institution very deliberately. And when saw when spirituality started coming into my life, I started integrating that into my practice, and eventually started writing this book about this marriage of science and spirituality. And my thought was, I'm going to possibly be discredited because bringing something so woowoo into the into the medical world might not be seen as reputable by my colleagues. And, you know, people might be very judgmental of that. So that was my fear. And when my book came out, I started talking at a lot of different schools and institutions at Kripalu at this slide, you know about my book, and you know, having on one hand, being excited to bring forth something that was a little bit different. And on the other hand, fearing that because I was a little different and embracing the woowoo, that there would be judgment. So when I went to present it at Yale, having those fears, the exact opposite thing happened. And it was after my presentation that they actually offered that I come back on their clinical faculty. And I was so thrilled to do that. So that was really a surprise, but a wonderful surprise. And my fears of being discredited. Thank goodness, they didn't come to fruition because a number of my colleagues, including two past presidents of the American Psychiatric Association, liked my book and praised it and endorsed it in the media and also wrote reviews. So that helped a lot. Thank goodness that wonderful colleagues who support your work. And so it was then that was in 2017, that I came on the faculty at Yale. And it was then that the Associate Chair at the time, Dr. Bob robot, and I started talking about the possibility of starting his mental health and spirituality center. And I was thrilled, that's what I always wanted to do, like at that point that was really becoming my life. So to think of having such a center and to have it at, you know, Yale, which I love, so much would have been amazing, would be amazing, is going to be amazing. And at that time, I also was very, you know, not sure never having started this center before. And so Bob Robach was supported, I knocked on a few doors, and it was very clear, it was not the time it was just yell wasn't ready. The world wasn't ready. So I put it on the back burner and said, Okay, well, if and when the time is right on now. So I continued with my pack, which also included a lot of spiritual personal work on my part. And about a year or so ago, I'm sitting at a Joe Dispenza meditation retreat, and I hear this voice, the time for your center is now go knock on the doors again. And I was like, okay, so I go knock on the doors again. And this time the doors swing wide open. The chair of psychiatry, Dr. John crystals like this is a great idea. This is so important. Yes, let's do this. He calls a meeting with some of the top faculty, please support me in this idea. Dr. Christopher Pittenger, an Endowed Professor of Psychiatry comes on board and he's the CO head of the Center with me, the soon to be center with. And so it was amazing. The response, you know, seven years prior versus now, and what happened in those ensuing years or six years prior, what happened was psychedelics came onto the picture. And psychedelics are very, very interesting because they offer not only a novel biologic mechanism for many psychiatric illnesses that you know, because antidepressants aren't effective for everybody, our medication, and our therapy models aren't effective for everybody. A lot of people are still falling through the cracks. And here's a whole new mechanism, biologically, but separate from this whole new biological mechanism is that psychedelics connect you to spirit. And so psychedelics had come onto the picture. They were a spiritual treatment, as well as a biological treatment. And suddenly, Yael was now open and ready for this mental health and spirituality center. So it was very, very exciting and a really big deal. Wow.
Alex Ferrari 9:05
So it's not like what Berkeley was in the 60s when he did psychedelics came on the scene, like either you know, Ram Dass, you need to calm down. That's fascinating, because you're so right, because the timing needed to be right. And I think it was, during the pandemic, post pandemic, there was some shifts happening spiritually. Around the world, there's some consciousness shift that I've saw, and this show started 2021. But if I started this in 2017, it probably wouldn't have gained the grip, it wouldn't have gained the following that has had so quickly, because people are now more ready for and they're really seeking for this these kinds of conversations where they weren't even five years ago, let alone 10 or 15 years ago, they wouldn't have been open to things like this. And psychedelics, you right. They were pretty much looked at as you know, or the tripping on acid or it was looked at as, as a drug really, you know, bad drug, the bad trips and things like that. But now it's kind of really opened up the world a lot. It's fab so glad that an institution like Yale, because when you think Yale you think Harvard, you think these big institutions that they're just not wavering, they will not open to new ideas. So I'm glad to see that you were able to sneak through a crack. And do it you're doing so that's fantastic. And let everybody know what kind of doctor you are. Because we haven't actually mentioned that in this conversation yet.
Dr. Anna Yusim 10:36
Yeah, I'm a psychiatrist. And I mean, my interest area is integrating mental health and spirituality. But I treat all kinds of anything psychiatric, but I'm also an executive coach. So I help people who don't have any diagnoses and want to heal, evolve, transform, be the best version of themselves, optimize all aspects of their lives. And that's what I do.
Alex Ferrari 10:57
You are a unicorn, Anna, you they don't there's not many of you. out there doing what you're doing from your background. So thank you so much for that, that your the work that you're doing is pretty remarkable. Now, one question. So one of the questions I want to ask you, is because I've spoken to so many people on the show who've had, quote unquote, spiritual awakenings, or deep spiritual experiences, how can you as from your point of view, discern the difference between the true spiritual experience and NDE, an SDE, a kundalini awakening from a psychological phenomenon? Or something that there was a psycho psychological break? Or just delusions? How can you tell the difference within a patient?
Dr. Anna Yusim 11:46
It's such a great question, Alex. And it's a very interesting, nuanced and complicated question. Because on the one hand, they're always the same, because ultimately, anything that happens to somebody that's particularly meaningful, and opens them up, you know, is a spiritual experience. Right? Whether they're real or not, that's that's the thing, right? It's kind of more what happens within the mind of a person, because all spiritual experiences ultimately are psychological in origin. And, but like, you know, I kind of get where you're going with the question, but it's such an interesting, nuanced question. Yeah. Because you can have someone for instance, having like, a dear friend of mine, Dr. Daniel Ingram is starting this emergent phenomenology Research Consortium, the E PRC. And this is for individuals who, in the course, of either their meditation practice, or any spiritual practice, overshoot the mark a little bit and have a psychotic break. And, or have some sort of other like, belief that their god or belief that they're Jesus and end up having to go to the psyche, D, something like that, right. And one way to think about that, is that any of those experiences, even if they are harmful, or deeply spiritual, because they lead people to their next level. And on the other hand, you also want to minimize those because they can be really harmful. And nobody wants to end up in a psyche or on psychiatric medications, or have a psychotic break, or especially not from meditating, or from doing a treatment with iOS or psychedelics that's supposed to open you to Spirit and be really healing. So. And you know, and also, like we talked about, a second ago, Evan Alexander, who wrote the foreword to my book, and they're at Harvard neuro surgeon and a dear friend of mine, he's an amazing, amazing person who had this near death experience. And that happened from a coma. If you were ever to Ask Evan, would you want to do that again, yet completely open him to spirit. But it happened because he was super, super sick. And then like the darkest point in his life, and he almost died. So no one could really will a near death experience, it kind of just happens. But it ended up being like this amazing, transformative catalytic thing. And for many people who end up having psychotic breaks kind of on the road to a spiritual path, either through meditation or through something else, it ends up often being a very spiritual important thing. But the most important thing is to ground people to stabilize them, for them to stay really safe. And for us, to enable people to have safe spiritual experiences, and less of this overshooting the mark.
Alex Ferrari 14:27
So it really is irrelevant if it's a quote, unquote, true spiritual experience or not in this in the scope of the mind, because if the mind believes it, believes it, it's going to have an effect on the patient or on the person, almost like a placebo, a spiritual placebo, if you will, that if you believe it. If you believe that you had a near death experience, because a lot of people go into comas every time and come out, or go into surgery and come out and don't have near death experiences but other people do. And I'm not discrediting people who say that they do obviously that's was all about talking to people like that and their experiences, but there but to be to look at from a devil's advocate, if you will be devil's advocate, there are people who might not really have had those experiences or saying it or so on so forth. I'm just curious, if they truly believe it, if they truly believe it, then it's absolutely something that happened to them. And it is gonna affect them in a spiritual path, hopefully in a positive way. But I like what you said that they are just the ground them. Because if you're walking around saying I am Jesus, okay, how far are we going with this? Like how? Because that can go down a dangerous path really quickly. So it's kind of like trying to stabilize them. And when you say stabilize, what do you mean? Or ground them better? How do you ground someone like that?
Dr. Anna Yusim 15:43
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when this happens, I mean, people can have deeply, seemingly spiritual but also very psychotic experiences, right. And working in a psychiatric emergency room, you see a lot of this, you see people presenting as Mohamed having, like, a whole bunch of things that, and for some people, you're able to ground them and make the experiences go away and kind of bring them back into reality. And for some people, it becomes a part of a chronic condition. And for other people, it becomes this healthy, beautiful way in which they connect to the world and connect to spirit. So at the end, it's really a question of, Do you have like, is this something that aids your life? Or is this something that undermines your life? And was this spiritual experience? So all spiritual experiences are psychological in nature? Because ultimately, it's not really about the spiritual experience, per se, but it's the human experience of spirituality? It's how do you process it in your psychological state? And give it meaning? And what does that mean to you? And how does that shape the life that you know, you are leading? Does it add to your life or does it not. And if it's destabilizing you, then you need to stabilize people, sometimes through medication, sometimes through grounding techniques, sometimes just through sleep and exercise, and you know, rest and food, and removing whatever it was. So what are things that can, you know, push people over a certain drugs can do that. Not sleeping for a long time can do that certain medical conditions can do that psychedelics sometimes can do that. Very deep stress can do that if people have propensities to, for instance, psychosis. So all of those are things that can push people into what appears to be a spiritual experience, but be very destabilizing.
Alex Ferrari 17:33
So I assume that you've heard of the term kundalini awakening, in your in your research, for my understanding of Kundalini awakenings they are, they can be dangerous on an energetic level, from again, from 1000s of years of Vedic traditions, and things like that, talking about these kinds of things. If the person who's experiencing it is not prepared for it on either their nervous system hasn't been prepped for it, or they haven't been prepped for it. I've heard that it can be dangerous. Have you had any experiences with patients with Kundalini awakenings that it was just too much for them at the time?
Dr. Anna Yusim 18:13
Absolutely, absolutely. And you know, you have chakra systems, right, and chakra like it's more of the Eastern way in which energy is based in seven different parts of your body, and possibly others up above. And so with a kundalini awakening, it becomes dangerous when you have too much energy going up these chakras and not enough grounding. So like the first, second and third chakras are not sufficiently spinning and strong and grounded. And then the energy goes so high that it's like the person flies away, and they can become psychotic, it could be just completely overwhelming to them. They can feel emotions that they don't know how to deal with and that's, you know, not the worst of it, you know, it could be much, much worse. And so that requires grounding and, and also, a kundalini awakening could also be the most amazing connection to spirit a person has ever felt. So if so, depends on the context in which it's done, the person themselves, their biology, their genetics, how prepared they are, what it is, that's leading this, if this is something that's happening through meditation versus through drugs, and how they're stabilized and grounded into it. Joe Dispenza is a meditation practitioner and he works a lot with Kundalini energy. And people there can have, you know, their like energy really move up. And sometimes, you know, it could pop and oftentimes, it's a beautiful thing, but it could also be a scary thing.
Alex Ferrari 19:39
Yeah, it's it. Absolutely. You mentioned something in regards to Latin medicines, triggering a kundalini awakening. Your you know, psychedelics, Ayahuasca DMT they are. It when used properly, very powerful, very good for spirits. To awakenings and things like that, but I love this, this statement that the Maharishi said in regards to psychedelics is like, taking a psychedelic is like taking a sledgehammer to a wall to get the sunlight to come in, where meditation is putting in a window. And I thought that was such a beautiful way of doing it. If people go open up themselves to a psychedelic, and they're not done responsibility, and not done in a safe environment, it can easily open up doors that they weren't invited in to, in many ways, correct?
Dr. Anna Yusim 20:34
Absolutely, absolutely. So, with so much of the research that's being done, that's why patient selection is so important. And then the set and the setting is so important. And so for patient selection, so if you're looking for psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA, things like that, you aren't going to have anybody with a history of psychosis, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar mania, or even a first degree relative who might have that, because that increases the risk of, you know, being pushed off into, like, into a place that it just means that their body and these medications are not, you know, might not be simpatico. So that's number one. Those are the choose the patients and or the people to whom you administer these medications very carefully. And then the second setting, right, that is your mindset, you have to have the right mindset, you have to go in there, you have to be prepared, you have to be open, sometimes scary things will come up. And you don't want to avoid the scary things, you actually want to welcome them in and be able to metabolize and process them and be able to transmute this energy to be open to the darkness and learn how to transmute darkness into light. That's part of what a lot of I think just life in general is about. That's the set and in the setting is obviously your environment. And that includes the people administering the medicine, you make sure you have to train the people around you, not anybody who could, especially if you're in an altered state take advantage in any way, you're in a place that's very safe, that you feel secure. So there's a lot of ways to ensure that the experience that you have is very positive. But there's no guarantees, of course, you can do all that. And still you can have an experience that's difficult. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. A psychotic break is not a good thing ever. But having at some times a difficult journey or ceremony or trip could be really important and very instrumental for a person's growth.
Alex Ferrari 22:32
Oh, absolutely could bring up traumas that you haven't dealt with or have been put away. And that's what's been holding you back. There's 1000 things that I can do on a positive standpoint. Now, you mentioned Dr. Eben Alexander. I mean, I've spoken to now, over 100 Near Death Experiences, I'd love for you, if you could to explain from a psychological standpoint, or scientific standpoint, your opinion of near death experiences, what's going on in the brain and in the experiencers point of view, as much as you can from not having one yourself, I assume you haven't had one. So
Dr. Anna Yusim 23:09
No, but I have not had and I have certainly read about them. And I think it's really fascinating. And it's really just touching the divine, you know, and individuals who are brought so close to death that oftentimes they're so complete their body and they can look down on the river on the world. And you know, the interesting thing about near death experiences is many people who've never read about or heard of Near Death Experiences described very similar things. And a lot of them will describe leaving their body being able to see what's happening. And even while they're unconscious, actually know what's happening in the room, some will describe a tunnel of lights. And we'll even describe individuals that they know, from the past who've already passed on or angels or guardian figures or, you know, coming to them. And then many of them will be given the message if they come back that it's not yet their time, you know, which is which fits perfectly into the narratives that we have. But not everybody has those narratives. So people without those narratives have still had those experiences. Dr. Alexander is a perfect example. Because he didn't have that narrative. He's at Harvard neurosurgeon didn't even believe in this, you know, at all. And then this happens and just blows his mind. And, and also, he had a very, very serious case of E. coli meningitis, from which the survival should be zero. And he had a complete recovery. Right. So yeah, I think that that's also what happens when you are able to touch the divine in any way, especially in an unexpected experience to which you're sometimes forced completely to surrender. You heal. And this is actually a book that I'm writing right now. It's about miracles. I mean, my first book was fulfilled which is about the science of spirituality. Now I'm writing about the science of miracles, and how do you experience a miracle? There's many ways but type Seeing the Divine is one of those ways.
So let's talk let's dive into miracles a little bit because it's, it's a term that's been used and abused. So so often, you know, studying the the yogic philosophies and the yogi's in general, a lot of the things that they can do when they transcend, to enlightenment or their, they go beyond enlightenment and come back, that they say that they perform miracles, whether it's something like a limitation, or by location, or, you know, manifestation of ashes or something along those lines. These are all quote unquote, miracles. You know, that's why I always look back to Jesus, I'm like they were he was doing sounded very Yogi esque. A lot of the miracles that he performed as well. So from your point of view, what is a miracle? You know, what is truly a miracle in someone's mind?
Well, the way that I define it, because I want it to be something that's accessible to people and for people not to think that it's something that is bestowed only upon the lucky few, I define it as something highly beneficial, yet statistically improbable. And according to that definition, miracles can happen all the time. And the question of the book is, how can we bring more miracles into our lives? You know, and I also see miracles as being sort of on the spectrum with this idea of, of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidences, synchronicities or these meaningful, little, you know, wings of the universe, that come into your life, that to which you give value, such as you think about somebody, and then they call you, you know, and you're thinking about someone didn't cause that person to call you. But nevertheless, that association between those two things, not causally but still associated, was an interesting coincidence, a meaningful coincidence, and that's a synchronicity. Or you haven't thought about someone for ages, you have a dream about them, and then bump into them in the street the next day, right? One didn't cause the other, but it's still meaningful to you. And so that's a synchronicity. So you have synchronicities. And then moving on, more forward, a little bit bigger of a synchronicity is a miracle that you've had this test result, and lo and behold, you did some work, you did some spiritual works, and people prayed over you, you surrendered. And that test result is now positive. Without you doing, you know, or maybe you know, you did other things. And so, you know, miracles, God helps those who help themselves. So definitely, don't just rely on God for your miracle, help yourself as well. And then the miracles could happen. And sometimes the problem is, if a person is actually helping themselves too much, sometimes God's like, hands off, I want to perform this miracle for you, and you're getting in my way, stop, get it get out of my way, and then we'll perform the miracle that happens too
Alex Ferrari 27:41
That's fascinating. If you've heard that old joke of the guy stuck at the top of the house, and the flood waters are coming up and keep sending boats and helicopters. That story is in my book. Yeah, it's an old story is like, no, no, I'm waiting for God and gets to heaven. Why did you save me I sent a boat, I've sent help, I sent helicopter you wouldn't allow it. So it's a very interesting point of view on miracles and synchronicities because I think everybody has us. Everyone has had one or the other, quote, unquote, coincidences that happened to us in our lives. But synchronicities is, I think, a better way of putting it that they're connected in one way, shape, or form, you meet the right person at the right time, the right phone call comes the right door, the right job opportunity comes when you're open to it and things like that, is there anything that people can do to kind of help that situation along a little bit?
Dr. Anna Yusim 28:32
Definitely, you could have intention. So be clear about what it is that you want, you could have expectancy like expected to happen, believe that it's going to happen. And kind of live from that place, but it's already happening, it doesn't guarantee it's going to happen. But to bring in that energy prior to having it this is, it's a very interesting thing, because that's a very unique skill set, to actually feel the emotions as if you have what you want before you have it. No one's taught to do that. And we're only taught to respond to their emotions. But what about proactive emotions of I would like this, I'm going to act as it the fake it till you make it model and not just the emotions, but your emotions, thoughts, behaviors, actions, as if you already have what you want to try that on for size and draw that in energetically.
Alex Ferrari 29:17
Now, can you elaborate on the concept of the soul? You kind of mentioned that earlier limit? What is your point of view on the soul coming from your point of view?
Dr. Anna Yusim 29:26
Yeah, definitely. And so, my interest in the soul came because I was here and, you know, psyche, the psyche, psychiatry, which is my profession, could be translated as either soul or mind. And most people translate it as mine, you know, the science of the mind. But it could also be translated as the science of the soul, you know? And I was like, Why isn't anybody translating it as that? And you know, psychoanalysis that was a term Sigmund Freud who is a starch starch. such an atheist coin. And so I was very curious because I had gone to all the schooling and the soul had never been mentioned once. And I'm like, Well, I'm supposed to be treating the soul, especially the psychiatrist. It's just the mind. And then I started looking actually going around the world and starting to understand what is the soul? What is this concept of soul? How to other cultures? Use it in healing? And what does it really mean? And it took me two ashrams in India, and learning Buddhist meditation in Thailand, and working with different shaman in South Africa and South America, to really understand what is this thing we called Soul. And my favorite definition of soul was through a shaman in Mexico named Fernando Broca. And he said that the soul is comprised of two parts. The first part is that which connects us to everybody in everything. So it's our interconnectedness. And the second part of our soul is that which is your unique set of talents and skills, abilities, interests, your uniqueness. So the soul is these two parts, your interconnectedness to all and then your uniqueness. And I love that definition.
Alex Ferrari 31:06
So it's for you, you're saying regards to the soul. I don't hear any dogma or religion. In play here. This is more on a spiritual standpoint. Because just like the word of God is loaded, the word soul is loaded in so many ways as well, because people have different perspectives on it based on the programming that they received as they were growing up. Is that a fair statement?
Dr. Anna Yusim 31:31
Absolutely. I think people's lives in general. Exactly. We're always trying to take off the layers and peel them back and ask Who am I underneath all of the expectations, ideas, rules, dogmas, ideologies? Who am I really what is at the root of my soul?
Alex Ferrari 31:46
Do you Do you agree with the concept that we are? We do come in as as a soul when we when we incarnate into this into this life, that we have some programming from the factory, no question about it skills, talents, things like that. But a lot of our programming is based around our, our family, our friends, our community, our religion, our country. And when those first seven years, that's kind of where a lot of that programming comes in. And then we spent a lot of the rest of our life trying to deprogram ourselves, would you kind of agree with that?
Dr. Anna Yusim 32:21
Yeah, mean, exactly. And it's the D program, or selectively deprogram, like, choose the parts that were passed down to you by your society, family, friends, community, and that you want to keep and that really serves you, and then release the part that doesn't and figure out how you can sell that boy.
Alex Ferrari 32:39
Now, one thing that's very interesting in your work, as well, as you spoken about purpose, or mission in life, am I correct with that, like, when someone is given a purpose, or they feel a patient has a feeling of, I have a purpose in life, I have a mission in life. What does that do to the mental health of the patient?
Dr. Anna Yusim 32:58
I think that can tremendously help people's mental health for people to feel that they're not here aimlessly, trying to, you know, blow in the wind, and what in the world they're supposed to do with their life, but they actually came with the purpose that they're needed, that they're wanted that their skills, talents, abilities, are actually unique and important, and that they can help a lot of people and be of service to the world and what they do. That's there's something incredibly human in that idea.
Alex Ferrari 33:29
So is that why so many people who quote unquote, retire and stop doing their job and they sit around watching baseball or, you know, eating bonbons or doing something that's not meaningful to them? And they they die very quickly, a few years later, so
Dr. Anna Yusim 33:46
Yeah, that's so sad. That's so sad when that happens. Right. And I think that's a part of it. Certainly, there's so many aspects to that. And it's really important to prepare for later age in retirement, if that's what somebody chooses to do in this day and age, you know, like, in my profession, so many people don't retire. The first person I shared an office with when I put up my shingle in Manhattan was a woman named Simone who was she was 90 at the time we started, she turned 100, we shared an office for like, 10 years right before COVID. And she's just like, magical. And she continues to practice that to patients, you know, and people like that inspire me so much. And yeah, my analyst is almost 90, and he's going strong and like so sharp and so brilliant. These these are my heroes, these are my idols, I want to be just like them. And that this I'm going to be doing a lot of different things, you know, not just being a psychiatrist and going to be a lot of things but definitely want to be working to my 90s planning on that,
Alex Ferrari 34:43
Without question without question. Now, how do you think spirituality intersects with traditional mental health treatments like psychotherapy, and medication?
Dr. Anna Yusim 34:53
I think when patient comes to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist The Psychologist wants to understand the whole person. And a person's spiritual history is as important to get as any other part of their history. So learning about when did their anxiety or depression begin about their relationships about their family? And then also learning about their spiritual life? Who are they? Do they believe in God? Do they go to church? They go to synagogue? What does spirituality mean to them? Do they feel connected to something greater than themselves? Have they ever experienced synchronicities? Have they ever had individuals who have passed on communicate with them? What's their take on this whole thing? Do they have a spiritual practice either meditate? Or do they go to yoga? Do they go to Tai Chi, so it's just part of a whole person treatment. And that's what I think it's so important to do to not just limit it to certain parts of the human experience, but really to incorporate spirituality as any part of the human experience.
Alex Ferrari 35:51
Do you agree that having a belief in a greater power, or that you are part of a greater peace of the world is does really positive things for your mental health, as opposed to someone who might be an atheist or does have no belief in anything bigger? And they're like, this is the one life? And that's it? Do you? Have you seen both? And what's your experience with that?
Dr. Anna Yusim 36:22
Well, there's actually a lot of data on this. And, you know, I also don't think that an atheist can't be spiritual. So my definition of spirituality is a connection to something greater than oneself, which could be to God to mother nature to source to a higher power to a collective consciousness or a set of transcendent values, like hope, love, trust, perseverance. And by that definition, an atheist could be perfectly connected to Mother Nature and find their flow and their spirituality with the nature. So I don't think that atheists by definition, are non spiritual. Some Atheists may agree, some may disagree. But what has been shown is I'll give you some of the statistics, right that individuals who go to church are less likely to be hospitalized, any reason and when they are, the hospitalization is a little bit less, like shorter in duration. The number one predictor of sustained remission for alcoholism is actually having had a spiritual enlightenment experience. When you have elderly people with depression, the if they have some sort of spiritual beliefs and purposes that are part of their life, their depression is less severe, and lasts a shorter time. And this is just a few of the things but there's so much data like this basically showing that go into church having spiritual practices, and what is it about spirituality or religion that helps people it's a million different things, there's healthy beliefs about, you know, life affirming practices, there's answers to the question of why do bad things happen to good people, there's explanations for their pain and suffering, there's community, there are rituals, there's practices, there's a history, there's people telling you what to do, when they have hurt, there's, you know, books where you can get guidance and connection, there's a connection to spirit, there's angels, all of these things can be tremendously helpful for some people. And then there's some people who don't care, that's not part of their lexicon. And that's all okay, too. It doesn't mean that they're less happy, you know, more depressed or anything, they can live a very full, rich, amazing life, and have different beliefs.
Alex Ferrari 38:35
And let's dive into beliefs a little bit. Because those beliefs, the positive beliefs, and the negative beliefs that we have in our life, really control on an unconscious or subconscious level, our entire existence. So having positive beliefs, not only in a greater power, but having positive beliefs in about yourself, is a big determination between moving forward and a happy content way in life, and oh, my God becoming a victim. In many ways. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Anna Yusim 39:08
Absolutely. And hardship is inevitable, right. It's like what we do with our hardship and how we process that how we metabolize it. And you're exactly right. There's some people that whatever comes their way, whatever challenges come, they're like, I'm going to overcome that I'm going to learn from that I'm going to be strong. And this is what Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, and a fellow psychiatrist said, that the one thing that we can control no matter what the last of the human freedoms is, the attitude that we adopt in any situation, right? They can take anything from us, but they can't take our attitude or how we respond to the world. And that's so powerful. There's something so amazing in that because your perception is your reality, and your perception ultimately dictate the quality of your life. So to the degree that you're able, you have to be able to respond in the right way and choose to perceive things in the right way, but it's hard. There's a lot of factors It can be working against us, biology, hormones, you know, things happening in our world, our polarized society, true life problems. But nevertheless, if we are able to elevate and kind of see, from the right perspective, what is the best way of seeing things that's going to actually help me move forward? And also help the world? The best perspective to adapt
Alex Ferrari 40:22
Now what are the therapeutic potentials and risks of plant medicine, in meant in mental health and mental healing?
Dr. Anna Yusim 40:32
Yeah, the potential is huge. And it depends on the plant medicine. So psilocybin, there's a lot of research that it helps with anxiety and depression, it especially helps with end of life anxiety. So individuals who are close to death, they have a psilocybin experience, and they're able to not fear death, so much very, very powerful. It helps with addiction, it helps also with nicotine dependence. There studies at Yale being done that's helping with OCD, that helps with PTSD. And then it helps people who don't have any diagnoses. I mean, more anecdotally, from patients from colleagues and friends who shared that it could help them with clarity, and get more insight into their purpose. People can, you know, have a can do a psilocybin journey and get some answers to important life questions that psilocybin so MDMA, which is ecstasy is being studied currently for trauma and PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder. And it's amazing the effect that it has on people's lives. And it's something that Rick Doblin, who is head of maps, has basically devoted their life to his life too. And he's running the FDA clinical trials to legalize MDMA, as a substance that's going to be used and prescribed by doctors, you know, and doctors together, or he or other treaters, in order to help patients with PTSD. So this is something that within hopefully, two years, we're going to be able to prescribe to people. And you know, in a clinical setting supervised, it's a very exciting thing. So psilocybin and MDMA, those are the two right now cannabis has indications as well, not as much for mental health, but a lot for pain, and things like that. And for a few other things. Cannabis, obviously is legal in multiple states, both cannabis and psilocybin are all are both still schedule one, meaning that it's not legal at the federal level, but things are being changed and, you know, things are moving in that direction as well.
Alex Ferrari 42:44
Yes, I had a, a vet from Afghanistan, come on the show and he was telling me how he took I think he he went down to South America and did a couple of three rounds of ayahuasca and he was completely cured from his PTSD. Like, he's like, I become an advocate, I go to a talk to all these vets that like if you are having issues, go down a road of either doing a proper Ayahuasca or doing psilocybin or doing something. And he's become a big proponent of helping his fellow vets because it is a it is a problem. And they're really, you can it's very difficult to medicate your way out of PTSD. But one trip sometimes or one dose of psilocybin, people can be cured of PTSD or trauma in general, would you agree?
Dr. Anna Yusim 43:33
So for MDMA, often, there's been evidence that having I believe it's three Spirits MDMA, I don't remember exactly how many but Dublin's doing but a few doses of MDMA. It's not a long term treatment. It's it's either one, or maybe two, or maybe three. But it's, you know, people having a very short course of this truly can cure their trauma, or reduce their trauma symptoms or PTSD symptoms in a way that very few other substances can. I haven't seen the same data for psilocybin, but I do believe that it's also being used for that. And certainly, anecdotally, like I Alaska, as well, iOS isn't presently legal. But there are places in other countries like Costa Rica, where it's legal. And so it's very interesting. I've had patients go and have amazing is there.
Alex Ferrari 44:25
What are some misconceptions that people have between how spirituality actually affects mental health?
Dr. Anna Yusim 44:32
That's a good question, misconceptions that maybe that. You know, that's really all woowoo that you have to believe in God that is spiritual, that, you know, it's all about. Yeah, I think, ultimately, at the end of the day, spirituality is about what you believe and how you connect to something greater than yourself. So belief in God is not a necessary prerequisite. Yeah, I think just the woowoo nature of it or that it's so soft. And that, um, it's not an anti scientific. So this is, you know, the reason that spirituality and mental health are in a way in conflict is because science is that which is reproducible subjected to double blind controlled trial experiments. It's something that could be very easily seen with your eyes, and it's an empirical science. Spirituality is the opposite. It's something that is individual, transcendent, deeply subjective, very personal. So how do you subject that to a double blind controlled trial? If you don't, it's very hard to do that. And so this is why the science of spirituality is such a paradox. So I think that probably the key misconceptions are that it's really woowoo. And not at all scientific. But it's because it's woowoo in a way that it is so interesting and important. And that's why we need to figure out how to start to study it scientifically, which is what we're doing at Yale,
Alex Ferrari 45:55
Do you do you see the field changing? In the sense of these ideas becoming more accepted by the quote, unquote, mainstream? I mean, Yale is obviously a very big step, because they are considered, quote, unquote, mainstream, you know, not a woowoo place by any stretch of the imagination, do you see in the next 10 to 20 years that these kinds of conversations, and even deeper conversations in a more clinical level with your colleagues will be much more people will be much more open to it, because from my understanding of talking to doctors, and, and people like yourself, there's a lot of closeted, spiritualists in the science community that are afraid of coming out of the closet, and they will talk to people like yourself at a party, you know, having a couple of drinks, but they would never dare come out in front of their colleagues and say things like you are saying,
Dr. Anna Yusim 46:50
Yeah, yeah, I think that you're exactly right. You know, and I think, you know, a lot of people aren't necessarily close off to it, they're curious. And so they're not sure where they stand, it hasn't yet been a major focal point in their life, but they're very curious. And they've had some unusual experiences that they'd love to share. Or they would love to have explanations to that are particularly meaningful to them. And I think that that's where you know, it goes. And for some people, their experiences stay exactly as they are. And for other people, they say those experiences were random coincidences, and that's how they make sense of it, that there was nothing spiritual about it. And it's all okay. It's all in a way the narratives that we construct of our lives. And the question is, is your narrative serving you? And if it is, God bless, there's no problems. If your narrative isn't serving you, how do we upgrade your narrative? Is there a better story? Is there another story that we can choose?
Alex Ferrari 47:44
Now tell me what you hope to have hoped to do with the Yale Medical Health and spirituality center?
Dr. Anna Yusim 47:51
Yeah, so the Yale mental health and spirituality center, we want to research and do clinical work and education, around topics at the interface of mental health and spirituality. So it's going to be a bridge between the Divinity School and the medical school coming together to be able to do some amazing research. The first three research projects that we have planned are number one, the spiritual side of psychedelics use the psychedelic use. So at Yale, we're studying the neurobiology of psychedelic psychedelics. And so we want to add the self transcendence, subjective spiritual side as well, that's currently being studied at Johns Hopkins, not at Yale. So we're going to be adding that which is very exciting. The second thing is we're going to study neural correlates of spiritual experiences. So when you do have a spiritual experience, we're in your brain, you know, what part of your brain has been used what lights up when you look at your brain with an fMRI, for instance. And then the third part is about intuition. And this is in the lab of Dr. Al powers. He is actually a schizophrenia researcher. And, you know, we started this conversation with schizophrenia and psychosis. So these are people who can hear voices. But often they hear voices in a way that they can't control. And that's very destructive to their lives. And then there is a really interesting control group that Dr. Powers was using. And that's psychics and mediums who also hear voices, but they hear voices in the service of themselves and helping other people. And these are individuals who really can control and have learned control these voices. And so then the question is, for individuals who can control these voices and have developed this amazing deep intuition? What do they have to teach schizophrenics who can't control voices? And what can we learn from the psychics and mediums? Because voice hearing is one form of intuition. And intuition is receiving information in ways outside of your rational mind. So hearing voices is one way and that's called Claire audience. Right. You can also receive pictures or visions Claire, Claire Boyd's, you can feel it through you could know something through your emotions or through your body clarity. sentience, or you can just know it. Sometimes you can have an intuitive hit because you just know and you don't know why, you know. And that's Claire cognizance. So these are all these ways of knowing these other ways of receiving information and knowing about the world that are different from just thinking in from the rational mind, but are equally powerful and amazing. So those are some of the things we're going to be setting it Yale.
Alex Ferrari 50:19
That sounds amazing. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with. Have you had any experience with channelers? Because they are also another version of hearing voices as well. And they get to very similar to psychics and mediums can control turn on turn off, as well. Have you had any experience with that?
Dr. Anna Yusim 50:38
Absolutely. Definitely. That is I would put those in the category with the psychics and mediums Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 50:42
No, I'm going to ask you a few questions. Ask all of my guests. What is your definition of living a fulfilled life?
Dr. Anna Yusim 50:48
It's when your mind your heart and your soul are aligned. And you're doing what you love every day. And you feel as though you're really doing, what you came to this world to do. And even if there are struggles and hiccups, that you're doing everything that you can, and you also feel like you're getting divine assistance for that.
Alex Ferrari 51:08
If you had a chance to go back in time and talk to little Anna, what advice would you give her?
Dr. Anna Yusim 51:14
I would tell her do what she's doing to keep going to not be so not work so hard to have more fun maybe when she was younger. But you know, if I'd done that I might not have accomplished what I have to. Yeah, a lot of a lot of things I would tell her. But those are a few.
Alex Ferrari 51:32
How do you define God or Source?
Dr. Anna Yusim 51:34
I would define that or source as this benevolent energy. That's really something deep within each and every one of us that we can connect with, either inside of ourselves or outside of ourselves. To connect inside of ourselves, we can have, like an intuition, or intuition connects us to our own soul. And our soul is the divine spark within us. And outside of ourselves. You can see the presence of God, everywhere through synchronicities and miracles.
Alex Ferrari 51:59
And we're and what is the ultimate purpose of life?
Dr. Anna Yusim 52:02
Alex Ferrari 52:03
Beautiful answer and where can people find out more about you the work you're doing, and pick up your book Fulfilled?
Dr. Anna Yusim 52:09
You can get my book Fulfilled, wherever books are sold, including Amazon, or on my website, where you can also contact me at www dot Ana usum.com.
Alex Ferrari 52:19
And you have a parting message for the audience?
Dr. Anna Yusim 52:21
Just to enjoy your life, live your best life don't have any regrets and that thing that you've been waiting to do whatever that is to it now don't wait. Life is short.
Alex Ferrari 52:32
Dr. Anna I appreciate the work you're doing the bravery that you are one of the first through the door in this really hopefully emerging field of spirituality and science and I thank you for helping awaken the planet, my dear. So thank you again.
Dr. Anna Yusim 52:46
Thank you, Alex. It's a pleasure to be here with you and thank you for all that you are doing.
Links and Resources
- Book: Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life
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