Holistic Family Medicine • Primary Care • Eugene

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Staying in Control When You Feel Anything BUT That

April 18, 2020

At a time like this, during a global pandemic, our thoughts are naturally consumed with survival. How to stay physically and emotionally well amidst this unprecedented time in our lives. Although there are people on the planet that survived the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, for 99.9 percent of us, the COVID-19 Pandemic is something we could not have imagined would befall us during our lifetime - or at least in this lifetime if you believe that this is not our only turn on the merry-go-round.

So, considering the reality we are living, which might seem to vacillate between the real and the surreal...

How are you?

Help! I want to get off...or rather - out!

Believe me - you and me both.

During the past month, I’ve been stretched to the max keeping my family and patients informed, healthy, and safe to the best of my ability. And it is a service I do willingly and with the utmost gratitude. Being a holistic family doctor is my chosen profession and one that I love.

That said. This is rough.

Even for someone who is a daily meditator, dedicated runner, and devoted practitioner of yoga with a strong spiritual practice. It has still been hard for me to stay grounded amid what is happening in our community, state, nation, and the world.

So if you are consumed by the desire to get off this rollercoaster ride, to be out and about, and getting on with your life...

You are not alone.

The Universal self

"Two birds, inseparable companions, perch on the same tree,

one eats the fruit, the other looks on. The first bird is our

individual self feeding on the pleasures and pains of this world;

The other is the universal Self, silently witnessing all."

~Mandukya Upanishad, 3.1.1

So the story of the two birds. What’s this got to do with life in the time of COVID-19?


As we go about adjusting to the endlessly evolving “new normals” of our lives in the midst of the coronavirus, we have to maintain a sense of the Universal self - the aspect of ourselves that has the ability to observe what we are doing from a slightly distant, but completely detached vantagepoint

But why? And how? What does that even look like?


Let’s start with the why.

So we’re getting into the aspect of yoga that I mentioned in my last post, The Yoga You Can Do, specifically the principles of raja and karma yoga which involve transcending the ego and fulfilling our duties without attachment to the results. 

The bird that is eating is literally enjoying the “fruits” of its labor, which depends entirely on the results of its actions. So, when things are good or the bird has been “successful”, there’s lots to enjoy. But when things don’t go as planned or hoped, when the going gets tough, or when things completely fall apart, the cupboard is bare. No fruit - or seeds or leaves for that matter - nothin’.

The bird that is silently watching this play out is akin to the fly on the wall. This bird is simply taking it all in. No judgement, no commentary. Just watching and noticing.

The role of the silent bird is that of awareness. In eastern philosophy, they call this “the silent witness” and in the west, meta-cognitive awareness.

We need this aspect of ourselves to realize our actions and the driving factors behind them. We need awareness to understand what we are doing and why. And, ultimately, we need awareness to regulate our emotions and change our behavior when necessary.


The role of the silent bird is to lead us to what cognitive behavioral therapists call the “wise mind”.

The wise mind is what our intuition tells us is best. Even in the midst of acting from the emotional mind, which is all about feelings, or the rational mind, which is all about logic, our intuition (wise mind) is there whispering in our ear or, in some cases, signaling frantically from the sidelines. 

Many of us vacillate between the two - the emotional and rational states of mind - sometimes even wildly. This is a sign that these two states of mind need to be merged to reach the more balanced state of the wise mind

If you are easily overcome with emotion or struggle to maintain control emotionally, exploring different ways of emotion regulation may be helpful. No judgement here. There are many reasons some of us may struggle in this way while others do not. And during times of unexpected stress, such as those imposed by social distancing, self-quarantine, working from home, homeschooling, and stay-at-home/shelter-in-place mandates (have I missed anything? oh yeah - having coronavirus!), you might find that you, your kids, or your partner need such tools, when prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 you did not. The goal is to help us connect with the wise mind to guide our actions as much as possible during times of extreme stress.

What - tools you can use

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness has been all the rage for quite some time. Especially in a place like Eugene, the benefits of mindful practices are well-known perhaps to the point of saturation. However, sometimes in the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to remember the skills we’ve used in the past or even remember what they are! So, here’s a refresher on some MBSR exercises and some resources for the entire family.

One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness is to bring a sense of awareness (the presence of the silent bird) to everyday activities. This can bring an added benefit to the things we normally do to counter stress such as walking, eating, meditating, listening, etc. The difference is that we bring that quality of observation, of detached awareness to the activity.

Other ways to practice mindfulness are to bring awareness to activities we might not ordinarily do with that level of attention, such as breathing, going to sleep, or exploring difficult emotions like anxiety or anger. Mindful.org has simple guided meditations ranging from 3 to over 40 minutes on bringing focused awareness to the body and mind and a guide to simple yoga poses that prepare the body for sitting meditation. Another great source of free guided meditations is the insight timer app. Other mindful activities include body scans, mindful seeing, and the 5 senses exercises. If you are a parent of teenagers, check out this list of Mindfulness Activities for Teens: 21 Activities to Try.

Here’s one tool that can be used anytime at all, but especially when a stressful interaction triggers difficult and powerful emotions:

STOP (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Stop. Take a momentary pause from whatever you’re doing. 

Take a breath. Pay attention to your breathing.

Observe. Think about what’s happening - inside you, outside of you, around you. What are you doing? What are you thinking about? How do you feel?

Proceed. Maybe you’ll go back to what you were doing. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, use the information you got from this exercise to continue with your day in a mindful way.

And here’s another tool that I’ve presented on. Use this whenever you feel your thoughts racing. Calm this emotional turbulence by remembering to have a cup of “tea”:

TEA (Orestes Gutierrez)

Thoughts can often be restless, like a mental merry-go-round.

Emotions may be turbulent during stressful times.

Actions are the only thing that you have control over. You can choose a healthy behavior or an unhealthy behavior. When you choose a healthy behavior in the midst of a restless mind and emotional turbulence, you are the master of your health destiny.

The daily practice of 10 minutes of meditation, discussed in my last post The Yoga You Can Do, allows your life to be transformed from a battleground to a playground. You develop the will power muscle to be the wise witness of your thoughts and emotions. You become the conscious choice maker.

Want more?

Tons of mindfulness courses can be taken both in person (during non-COVID times) and online. Though UMass Medical School is where Jon Kabat-Zinn first put his application of scientific perspectives to Buddhist principles of mindfulness and meditation to work at the Center for Mindfulness, it is now one institution among many devoted to the study and teaching of MBSR. 

UMass trained Dave Potter’s Palouse Mindfulness is another reputable institution for mindfulness training.

A final word

So here is what you can do now. I’ve offered a few tools from my own stash that may be of help to you. If so, give them a try. And if not, use the tried and true strategies that have gotten you through tough times before. Whatever works, right? You got this.


The Yoga You Can Do

April 17, 2020

Ever wish you could escape your thoughts? 

I have, especially on days when my mind was fixated on my failures and uncertainty of the future. On all the things I wanted to be - but wasn’t. Wanted to do - but couldn’t. Wanted to have - but didn’t.

Mired in my negativity bias, or “pity committee”, my thoughts used to be like a playlist of songs written by my own worst enemy (me) looping endlessly. It felt like there was a war waging inside my mind. Like I was living on a battleground. 


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Self-Care Plan To Stay Sane During The QuarantAne

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Self-care is the most important thing you can do during a pandemic. All over the news, we hear about healthcare workers running out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There is a shortage of masks, gloves, gowns, eyewear, etc, and in the richest country in the world, this is a tragedy. This materials shortage is a metaphor for Americans’ lack of self-care. As individuals, when we follow an excellent plan for self-care, that is our greatest personal protection equipment (PPE). You never ...

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Potent Plant Powered Penis Presentation

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After a quack misdiagnosed the Professor, all he could think of was his upcoming presentation and Dr Yoga. Last week, after the exciting announcement, he prayed Dr Yoga would attend his Grand Rounds presentation at the Best Teaching Hospital (BTH). He was unsure if she was in attendance until the very last minute. He was nervous, distractedly watching for her arrival. Also, he was regretting the audacious title of his presentation, “Potent Plant Powered Penis: The Health Benefits of Veganis...

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October 26, 2019


 The Professor was well-respected by fellow residents and attending physicians alike.  He had maturity both from the few extra years of age, and from his military service that filled in those years.  When he first arrived at the BTH (Best Teaching Hospital), the attending physicians with a history of military service addressed him as “Commander”, but his unparalleled knack for quoting the best Evidence Based Medicine (EBM), clinical acumen, and ability to share knowledge quickly gave way...

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Grandma Dies From a Boob Job!

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Grandma Dies From A Boob Job

The Professor hangs his head.  In the dim glow of the hospital’s nighttime fluorescents, elbows on knees, he’s torn over what weighs more:  his head or his heart? Eyes closed. Head down. He drifts off.

A click of foreign heels interrupts his momentary slumber.  His downward gaze opens to the sight of red pumps against the white tile of the hospital floor.  Confused by this incongruous scene, his ...

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A Cuban Refugee Returns Home After 39 years

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“Surprise! We are going to Cuba!`` My wife revealed on Valentines day. 

Stunned and overjoyed I asked, “When is the trip?” 

She said, “May of this year for your 43rd birthday, on a Royal Carribean Cruise!”

The thought of being back in Cuba after 39 years away was overwhelming. Images of us drenched in sweat dancing salsa into the night. And during the day, we would frolic on the beach and walk barefoot on the soil. This soil has awaited 39 years for my return home. On this epic journe...

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Experience True Freedom and Happiness in 2019

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Long ago there were twin brothers raised in a small village. They were best friends and raised in the same househ...

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Through the power of touch in medicine, we can make Americans happier and healthier overall, reduce reliance on pharmaceutical pills, and help folks save money. As medicine has made more technological advancements we have become more reliant on fancy lab work, X Ray, CT scans, MRIs, and even telemedicine at the expense of the sacred doctor-patient relationship. With more sophistication in medicine, the power of the human hand to diagnosis and to heal is often overlooked. Upon examining th...

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The Illusion Of New Year's Resolution

January 5, 2018


Research tells us you will not fulfill your New Year's resolution. Instead, the New Year's resolution will create stress and overwhelming pressure in your mind and body, leading to failure and poor health. In fact, today is only January 5th, 2018, and most of you reading this have given up on your New Year's resolution. Even if you put your nose to the grindstone and fulfill your goal, the stress induced by achieving it will be detrimental if not catastrophic to your health. You may ach...

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About Me

Orestes Gutierrez, D.O. Board Certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine. Author and All American Masters Runner.