5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing

This interview was originally published on October 31, 2020, on Thrive Global, featuring our very own Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Element Apothec, Dr. Swathi Varanasi.

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Swathi Varanasi.

Dr. Swathi Varanasi, or Dr. Swathi for short, is a bilingual pharmacist specializing in integrative health and cannabis. She is a natural medicines educator, a clinical researcher, a TV show host, and a multimedia content contributor. She is dedicated to leading the charge in medical education by creating innovative programs about the range of healing modalities and their impact on the overall health and wellbeing of patients around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

Even before I started on my path to becoming a pharmacist, I had always been interested in holistic health and healing. I found myself in pharmacy school where there was little to no discussion about nutrition and preventative health, but I knew there was a way they both could work in synergy. When I graduated, there was no formal training for pharmacists interested in pursuing integrative health, so I partnered with one of my brilliant mentors to co-found and was the first-ever resident of the PGY1 Integrative Health Pharmacy Residency program. During this postdoctoral specialized residency program, I trained at an independent natural pharmacy and HIV clinic in Los Angeles, California. Emphasizing an evidence-based approach and working with the patient as a team, I was able to provide natural medicines education and guidance to help each patient achieve their own treatment goals; these conversations involved a number of methodologies and modalities of healing, like eastern & western herbs, homeopathy, cannabis, therapeutic aromatherapy, dietary supplementation and everything in between. Since my training, I have moved on to a variety of educational ventures, including but not limited to creating online courses, guest lecturing, college and postgraduate course curricula consulting, and textbook and reference guide writing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Some of the most interesting stories that have happened to me since I started my career involve maintaining an open mind to opportunities and networking. Through LinkedIn, I have made some lasting professional connections that have led to opportunities I would not have thought possible otherwise. One of my most requested guest lectures from colleges of pharmacy is entitled, ‘Disrupting Pharmacy Practice: What I Wish I Knew When I Was In Pharmacy School.’ I never thought that this early in my career I would have the chance to speak to pharmacy students so frequently about the tips and tricks I wish I had known about following your passion. Case in point: I created a niche that did not exist before me. It has been interesting in the best possible way to witness the trend of other western-trained practitioners and students starting to understand the possibility and potential of other healing modalities in combination with and/or in place of prescription medications.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Many people (me included) have the tendency to want to plan many months and years ahead, but these unpredictable times have presented a beautiful case study on the importance of not being married to specific life plans and being open to possibility. Worrying about the specific time frame and/or specific details leading up to your destination of choice can only give you anxiety. Reflecting on it now, I chuckle to myself as I have learned this lesson in many areas of my life. It is freeing not worry about the “how”, and to spend that time getting clear on the “where” and the “why”. By infusing the lifestyle tweaks discussed below, you, too, can surmount the tendencies that we, planners, face everyday.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

As an Integrative Health and Medical Cannabis Pharmacist, I am committed to educating practitioners, patients and students about the therapeutic potential and the possible pitfalls of botanical medicine as well as other modalities. In my practice, the intersection of many methodologies of health and healing is what is most vital to patient outcomes. I found through my training that I am so passionate about sharing my evidence-based knowledge and expertise about natural medicines with everyone.

I am proud to be the co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at the women- and minority-founded CBD & botanical brand, Element Apothec. I am the incoming Chief Pharmacy Officer at CalEthos, in which I will be responsible for founding the first-ever brick-and-mortar medical cannabis dispensaries managed and run by healthcare professionals in the state of California. I manage educational efforts at an innovative cannabis genomics and integrative wellness company, Jade Health, and an adaptogenic cookie company, Madeby. In addition to my post as adjunct faculty and/or guest lecturer at colleges of pharmacy and colleges of traditional Chinese medicines, I recently launched the first-ever online course on medical cannabis specifically for pharmacists (Cannabis Science & Therapeutics for Pharmacists) in collaboration with the educational platform, Medical Cannabis Mentor.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is no way I would be where I am today without the faith and guidance from one of my mentors, Integrative Health Pharmacist, Dr. Pam Tarlow. As I briefly mentioned in my background, even before I was a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) student, I had always been interested in preventative medicine, but did not know a pharmacist who was able to marry both the western and eastern mentalities of patient care… That was until I met Dr. Tarlow, one of the first Integrative Health Pharmacists who started 20 years ago. I reached out to her inquiring about a clinical rotation spot at her site, an independent natural pharmacy in Los Angeles, California. When I came out to rotation, I knew I had finally found my place in pharmacy, with the opportunity to help educate practitioners, patients and students about natural medicines. Beyond this realization, our relationship has since grown and inspired many of my other professional relationships with other bold, trailblazing women who are unapologetically passionate about what they do regardless of what everyone else says.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

The three main blockages that prevent us from taking the objective information we know and implementing into our daily lives are unsupportive environments, loss of the big picture, and lack of patience. Unsupportive environment speaks to the fact that people around us may not share the same goals, so trying to tweak your lifestyle while around others not on the same path can be difficult. Trust me, I have been there. But, maintaining the bigger picture really helps make decisions that align with your goals. Many of us get caught up in the daily trials and tribulations of life only to realize that it somehow is nearly the end of another year.

Where are you going right now? Where do you want to go?

Are those answers the same? If not, perhaps it is time to look at the big picture and evaluate what you can do now to change your trajectory until those two questions have the same answer. As a society where so much involves immediate gratification, patience can get lost in the mix. Once you have a destination and goal in mind, it is time to embody patience that you will reach your destination in due time.

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

Tweak #1: Mental, Emotional, Physical — and Spiritual Health

We have all heard a lot about mental health, emotional health and physical health, but seldom do we discuss the influence of spiritual health on our daily lives. I define ‘spiritual health’ as when you are on the path to living your purpose, and your actions are in alignment with your beliefs and values. Sometimes called spiritual wellness, I believe this tweak is rooted in service and an overall positive contribution to the plant and to society.

Tweak #2: Your Mom Was Right. Drink More Water.

Whether or not this one seems intuitive, it bears repeating. Hydration is linked to almost everything you can think of that is important in our daily lives. Tired? Headache? Feel sick? Hungry? Brain fog? It is possible you are simply dehydrated. The average American drinks much less than the recommended 11 glasses for women and 16 for men. Adequate water intake also influences sleep quality and lifts mood.

Tweak #3: Stretch Your Body

Another thing I wish I knew years ago is the glory of stretching. During my undergraduate, postgraduate and residency training, the time I spent on my computer was a contributing factor to my suboptimal posture. Once I started incorporating daily stretching to my morning routine, the intermittent lower back pain I experienced disappeared. I have interacted with patients who have told me similar stories regarding streching and its impact of their pain relief. Another facet of this tweak is the work-from-home lifestyle many of us have transitioned to in the past few months, likely rendering us sitting more hours a day than before quarantine. Not only is sitting be discussed as ‘the new smoking’ in terms of its deterimental effects on health, it also can cause your muscles to tighten, thereby increasing your risk of injury.

Tweak #4: Stretch Your Mind

Apart from the ever-important mindfulness practices, this tweak is regarding stretching your intellectual bandwidth. Studies have shown that spending only a few minutes a day consuming educational material can prevent neurodegeneration and enhance cognitive function. Given the multitude of platforms and mediums (eg. podcasts, YouTube, books, magazines, etc.), there is likely one that speaks to you and can become a part of your daily routine.

Tweak #5: What Are You Grateful For?

A daily gratitude practice can be essential in the development and maintenance of a positive, growth mindset. There are many techniques to go about gratitude practices, but simply spending a few minutes everyday to make a list (in your mind or on paper) of what you are grateful for works wonders on subconscious brain processes. Another method is the one-minute method in which you time yourself for one minute and write down everything you are grateful for. Even that one minute makes a difference. Try it and let me know what you think!

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

As an Integrative Health and Medical Cannabis Pharmacist, I would be remiss to not discuss the incredible therapeutic potential of botanical medicine. Without delving into too much detail, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a system in the human body that maintains our body’s homeostasis; this system is linked to many other organ systems and neurotransmitter systems, so cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa — phytocannabinoids (eg. CBD, THC) and cannabinoids made in our body — endocannabinoids (eg. anandamide, 2-AG) influence the functionality of the ECS as well as other systems. Contrary to popular belief, the feelings of euphoria and delight from the ‘runner’s high’ have always been thought to be linked to endorphins, when, in fact, it is actually from a surge of anandamide; endorphins are involved indirectly, but anandamide is the main driver. This increase in anandamide is significant as it acts on the same receptor (CB1) as the most famous euphoric compound in the plant, THC, producing that feeling of being ‘high’ after exercise. Apart from feeling great, studies also demonstrate that exercise improves low mood, enhances cardiovascular health, supports the muscles & joints, and provides the brain a chance to recharge.

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, I believe that all wellness regimens should be highly personalized per patient as each person’s body functions and maneuavers a bit differently. That being said, when someone who currently does not do strenuous exercise consistently, I would recommend starting with walking. If the weather is nice, this could be a wonderful oppirtuntiy to check out a neighborhood you have been wanting to explore, or a national park you have had on your list for years. Climbing up and down stairs is also another option especially for increasing stamina and endurance. In addition to walking, regardless of age, the benefits of strength training and stretching before and after exercise speak for themselves; most notably, these activities can improve the quality and range of mobility in your physical movement and they can decrease the likelihood of injury.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

“You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero is without a doubt one of my favorite books. Having listened to the audiobook, I found myself either writing profusely so as to not miss one of her takeaways or laughing at her bold, irreverent sense of humor. In particular, she has one section called, ‘How to Tap Into the Motherlode,’ which focuses on the method to harness the abundant energy of the universe and understand the wants and needs of the subconscious mind. According to Sincero, the best way to do this is through meditation, and I agree with her. This was one of the first ways I saw the relationship between meditation and connecting with source energy to achieve goals explained so simply and straight-forward. Highly recommend this book as well as other others in the series!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, it would involve the widespread discussion of and accessibility to healthy food and a healthy mindset. There would be many moving parts including a list of authoritative bodies, private corporations and nonprofit involvement, however, I believe this movement is key to improving overall health in the American population. Studies have shown that food desserts not only have high rates of chronic disease, but also have high rates of crime and mental health concerns. Working with grocery stores and food banks to eliminate food deserts in low-income areas would be beneficial for so many communities.

In addition, certain cities have begun setting an example for others by incorporating prescriptions for specific healthy foods that can be found in pharmacies alongside prescription medications. This not only helps patients but also local farmers who can provide seasonal produce for these programs. With pharmacies on nearly every street corner providing these new healthy food services, pharmacists can play an essential role in helping provide guidance and answer patient questions.

New specialties such as nutritional psychiatry are demonstrating the intrinsic link between the food we eat and how we feel. My proposed movement would also extend past nutrition to include the accessibility to low- to no-cost mental health providers. I firmly believe that ample access to nutrient-rich foods and mental health care services is pivotal for the future of the country.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” -Steve Jobs

I was introduced to this quote by two of my mentors (shoutout to Chris Winfield and Jen Gottlieb!). I think Steve sums it up so beautifully that surrendering to the universe and having confidence that it will happen has been the key to his unbelievable success. This powerful quote reminds me of having clear goals, a positive mindset and inspired actions to move forward. As an extension of this quote, I would add something about the importance of celebrating the small wins along the way just as much as the big wins.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

In an effort not to sound redundant, natural medicines education is one of my absolute favorite things. I feel honored that I have the chance to share my expertise on integrative health solutions to enhance others’ personal and professional growth. My goal is to reach as many people as I possibly can! I really admire women who have broken barriers by pursuing their passions to make an everlasting impact on the world. I would be honored to have the opportunity to share any and all of this information on national television programs and digital/print magazines. If you are reading this, Elaine Welteroth, Chioma Nnadi, and Samira Nsar, I would love nothing more than to have lunch in New York the next time I am back east. 🙂

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn! If you have any questions, DM me on Instagram and let’s chat (@doctorswathi). Looking forward to e-meeting you!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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