A Holistic healer with a physician's precision

After 15 years learning to treat the human body, I was shocked to realize that the conventional medical model was KILLING me and my patients.

My wake up call came one sunny day as I exited the hospital post-call wearing my long white coat over a pair of blue operating room scrubs.

A girl with long brown hair, wearing a bohemian floral dress ran towards me from across the street.   She dodged an NYC yellow cab, sashayed past two ladies pushing strollers and nearly knocked me over in her excitement.  She was a friend from high school.  I hadn’t seen her in almost fifteen years.

“Wow you look great, looks like you really made it” she started to tell me “...a doctor here in Manhattan … you must be sooo happy!”

She couldn’t see the huge bags and dark circles around my eyes caused by insomnia but hidden by oversized sunglasses.

She couldn’t see the anti-inflammatory pain patch I had slapped onto my flank to ease the nagging low back pain caused by sleeping in the on-call room.

She couldn’t sense the frazzled state of stress and anxiety after almost 27 hours spent appeasing surgeons, nurses, colleagues, and patients in the hospital.

I excused myself after a few moments of exchanging pleasantries and continued on my commute home.

Was this the reality of “having made it”?

Why did I find myself trying to cope with ongoing back pain by routinely relying on painkillers for relief?

Why did I have dark circles around my eyes due to insomnia? Why did I feel the need to use sleeping pills more and more frequently?

Why did I feel like a nervous wreck before any major presentation (almost coming to the point of needing anti-anxiety medication)?

I was patching up leaks in a dam with mere band-aids.

Something had to change.

I was a successful double board certified physician, with multiple graduate level degrees in evidence based medicine, living in the greatest city in the world … yet I didn’t feel good.

I wanted to be someone who:

  • looks fit & flexible, and able to be physically active
  • is energetic, well rested, and motivated to take on the next adventure
  • feels cool, calm, & relaxed; someone who is able to make lemonade out of life’s lemons

We all want to be pain free, relaxed, and able to live a healthy & energetic life.

Many of us are struggling to achieve this optimal level of health and happiness.  While on that path, we often seek and become reliant on pills, procedures, or prescriptions; things readily provided by the medical-industrial complex.

The truth is that the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors are all incentivized to profit when we remain chronically entangled in this web of struggle.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I know this not just because of my unique combination of a highly specialized medical background with deep trainings in holistic therapies...but also, because I have lived it.

+ Early Life

I grew up in a family of first generation immigrants that was full of doctors. My grandfather earned a living as the “village doc” in India & Pakistan where he not only diagnosed medical problems, but he also ran his own dispensary of traditional and herbal medications. My father came to the U.S. to study to become a vascular surgeon where he trained to do surgeries as complicated as minimally-invasive, robot-assisted carotid and aortic artery repairs. Family dinners were just as likely to be focused on a discussion of the risks of the latest aortic stent graft as they were to be centered on the role of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory. When I suffered from debilitating acne as a teenager, my mother was just as diligent in taking me to the dermatologist as she was in ordering a batch of ancient clay from Pakistan to be used as an herbal cleansing mask.

It was no surprise that growing up, I wanted to become a doctor.

+ Academic Training

I excelled at school from an early age and eventually whizzed through high school. Knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine I went down to the Johns Hopkins University, for college where I graduated early in three years. I stayed an extra year to complete a master’s degree at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health. After four years in Baltimore of long hours spent in the library & a lengthy master's thesis in biochemistry & reproductive molecular biology, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa with both bachelor's & master's degrees in public health. I was ready to come back to New York when I next enrolled in medical school at NYU.

After medical school, I pursued a residency in Anesthesiology at the end of which I was elected by the faculty and my peers to the post of chief resident. I followed up residency with further training in Pain Medicine with another fellowship at NYU. Training in these two specialties provided me a wealth of insight and clear understanding of how the human body works in the awake, asleep, & semi-conscious state.

Upon achieving board certification in both Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, I was offered a faculty position at the NYU School of Medicine where I could continue to take care of patients,teach medical students & residents, and perform clinical research. I accepted the position of Assistant Professor as well as an offer to pursue another master’s degree; a Master's in Clinical Investigation. I wanted to understand how medical journals could publish certain findings but the media & the public would end up with a completely different message. I honed the skills of being able to interpret, analyze, design, and communicate important medical findings & breakthroughs to my patients and the future doctors that I train.

I found myself on a treadmill of sorts. An academic treadmill. Basically, if you can’t tell already, I was a HUGE nerd.

+ The Pain of Professional Life

My medical training was tough. After the residency in anesthesiology, I went on to do another 12-month intensive training focused solely in Pain Medicine. I was learning how to effectively utilize complex pain medications (like opioids, ketamine, & cannabinoids) on patients as well as how to perform various pain relieving procedures, X-ray guided injections, and minimally invasive surgeries. That year I spent one weekend per month on call in the hospital, two to three weekends per month flying to workshops and conferences around the world to learn surgical techniques from international experts, which left barely one weekend per month for myself.

At the end of the fellowship year, I found myself chronically single- unable to hold a steady relationship; 30 pounds overweight- having neglected my physical health; with an intermittently aching and naggy lower back pain; and engulfed in a cloud of stress that almost never seemed to go away.

Despite having achieved so much professionally, I felt stressed and anxious as if my life was not in a good place.

I knew I needed a change.

+ Intro to Yoga

I started playing around with different diets (paleo, primal, ketogenic, etc.) and I hired a nutritionist. I sought out a personal trainer and started hitting the gym regularly as well. I started looking better, and more importantly- I started feeling better.

I was working on compound lift weightlifting program with my trainer and making decent progress on my strength. However, my trainer pointed out that my flexibility and mobility was severely lacking and that it was starting to limit my workouts. He advised me to look into Yoga; and I laughed. In my mind, yoga was something for girls to do in between picking up a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks and getting their weekly manicures done.

Well, after a few more weeks I hit a real plateau with my workouts and figured I would need to give yoga a shot.

I found a tiny little yoga studio not far from where I lived and stopped in one day to chat up the receptionist. They offered Intro-Basics level classes on Saturdays. I signed up for a two-week trial membership.

As the first Saturday approached, I had doubts and anxiety creep into my mind. What was I thinking joining a yoga studio? What do I even wear?! I couldn’t ask my friends; I might as well have told them I was taking up ballet. I found myself in front of my laptop, with about 17 browser tabs open -deep into research- trying to figure out the answer to: What do men wear to do Yoga? (...it turned out that Lululemon also makes clothes for men!)

So the first Saturday class rolls around. I put on my new yoga pants and walk to the studio. As I enter the hallway outside the studio, I am engulfed with the distinct smells of incense and patchouli. I see rows of sneakers lined up outside the entrance and begin to think- what kind of workout is this that makes you take your shoes off?

As I walk through the entrance, I am greeted by the teacher. She had this long dreadlocked hair, wearing all sorts of hippy necklaces and clothing, and just oozed of “new age-iness.” Without missing a beat, she walked right up in my space, put her hand directly on my chest, and said to me: “I just love your magical aura & the energy of your chakras.”

I almost turned right back around and ran out the door.

I found my composure, signed in for the class, and hunted down the furthest corner in the back of the studio to set up my mat.

I eventually made it through that class, and was able to keep up a fairly consistent practice for the next few years. During that time, I was exposed to more yoga and experiencing the benefits of a consistent practice. Simultaneously, I also had a bank of questions filling up.

Why does the teacher make me do this weird violent nasal breathing exercise that’s supposed to “polish” my skull, but instead just ends up with me having my lap littered with snot? Why does every class end with a “nap”? And why does that “nap” feel so damn good?

+ Yoga & Meditation Teacher Training

One day, I came across a flyer at the yoga studio that was advertising a 200-hour yoga teacher training. After much trepidation, I decided I wanted answers to some of the questions I had about yoga so I signed up and decided I want to climb further down the rabbit hole.

The training was excellent and provided a great introduction into the How & Why of some of the deeper practices.

Around the time of the 200-hour training winding down, I had become very interested in reading the profiles and biographies of successful people such as Muhammad Ali, various businesspeople, and influential figures. A recurring theme that came up among many of these people was their use of meditation as a tool for success. They spoke of it as if it were a superpower, and I had decided that I wanted a taste of this superpower. That led me further down the rabbit hole to spending the next year and more traveling back & forth from NYC to the Berkshire mountains for a 500-hour advanced yoga and meditation teacher training.

As I learned more about these modalities, I was surprised at how helpful they could be for people suffering from problems such as back pain, insomnia, and stress. I wondered what, if any, therapeutic applications there might be.

I dove deep into research and eventually, along with my research study group at the NYU Center for the Study and Treatment of Pain conducted a meta-analysis focused on looking at yoga as a treatment for low back pain. I presented the positive results of our study at an internationally attended conference of anesthesiologists and pain specialists and started routinely recommending the practice to my patients.

In addition to reaping the benefits of the practices for myself, I was seeing and experiencing how there was a role for yoga and meditation for the patients coming to me for medical treatment.

+ Failure of the Conventional Medical Model

I woke up one morning feeling like a complete fraud. I was convinced that I was the worst doctor in all of New York City. I felt like I was simply cheating patients out of their hard earned money.

I had been treating patients for a few years as a Pain Medicine specialist with a background in Anesthesiology. The more patients I saw, the more I was exposed to the pitfalls and perils of the medical-industrial complex.

Patients were pushed routinely towards pills, prescriptions, and procedures. Many of the people I treated did get better. But there was a growing number of my patients that either didn’t get better or didn’t stay better.

I remember one particular patient. She was 36 years old and started to develop some nagging lower back pain. Her well meaning primary care doctor set her up for a course of physical therapy and prescribed her some anti-inflammatory medications. After a few weeks of treatment, she unfortunately developed a stomach ulcer which required an invasive endoscopic evaluation of her esophagus and GI tract and found her having to take another medication to protect the lining of her stomach from becoming too acidic. She was taken off the anti-inflammatory medication, but still being in pain, was referred to me for an x-ray guided steroid injection in her back. She had relief for a few months following the injection, but then returned to her PCP with lingering symptoms. This time she was prescribed an opioid narcotic medication (Percocet) and referred to a spine surgeon. The next treatment she underwent involved fusing her lower lumbar spine with rods and screws. During the recovery process her surgeon now added another opioid narcotic medication (Oxycontin) into the mix. About 6 months after her surgery, she showed up again in my clinic. She was still in pain, now with rods & screws in her back. On top of that she was also now addicted to both oxycontin and percocet, suffering from constipation, and simply seeking help.

“What went wrong?”, I thought to myself.

Sadly, I was seeing similar scenarios play out with other young women & men coming to me for treatment. I needed answers.

In medical school, we used to have weekly small group discussion sessions during which a group of 4-5 medical students would get together with a senior attending physician and go over an interesting care and learn from an informal case-based discussion. Most of my classmates were having these meetings at happy hour over a few drinks, or were meeting their mentors while having a picnic in Central Park. My group got to meet with our faculty leader in a small windowless room in the basement of the ancillary medical library located just down the hall from the cadavers housed in the anatomy lab.

We would start the sessions by sitting silently in a circle. Each of us would be consciously trying to avoid making eye contact with him so as to avoid getting picked on. When his finger pointed at you, the sweat almost instantly started to gather on your brow and your neck began to tense up a bit. Then began the Guantanamo-style interrogation about the physiology, pathology, and pharmacology of a case from the wards that you had to present. This would continue either until you broke or time ran out. Let’s just say it was no ‘picnic in Central Park.’

Looking back at all my experiences from training, some of the most profound and transformative lessons I learned were from that stern, seemingly overbearing attending physician.

In the midst of my medical-existential crisis I recalled something he used to regularly say: “Your patients are your best teachers.”

+ Acupuncture Training

Practicing in NYC, where people were becoming more conscious of health & wellness practices, I was starting to get a few people coming in to see me for evaluations for medications, injections, and surgeries who towards the end of the visit would ask me about Acupuncture. Not having learned about it at all as a part of my medical curriculum or training, I would just shrug my shoulders and say “sure, go ahead, give it a shot” not knowing if it could actually help.

As the number of patients asking about Acupuncture kept increasing, I eventually decided I needed to conduct my own investigation so that I could answer my patients more effectively.

I dove deep into learning about the practice and eventually took up a one-year long medical Acupuncture training program at Harvard Medical School designed specifically for licensed and practicing physicians from all over the world. I went all the way from simply telling patients that the greatest risk of Acupuncture was simply to their wallet to instead singing the virtues of the potential benefits targeted treatment could have on pain, sleep, and overall levels of stress.

+ The Ongoing Journey

Through research, training, & personal experimentation I have gained first hand knowledge of the some very transformative practices. I help people use these modalities to improve optimize their health and wellbeing. When customized, these modalities can be used at all stages of various medical problems; in the acute phase for a new problem, for chronic symptoms present for years, and as preventative therapy to maintain balance and good overall health.

I continue to study and personally experiment with other natural solutions (such as herbal remedies) and ancient healing practices (like the Mayan Temezcal ceremonies in the Yucatan) to find out how best they can help people remain pain free, well balanced, and full of life & energy.

There is a lost magic to be recaptured when natural and ancient therapies are combined with the advances of modern medicine.