A Tale Of Two Healers: Part 1, Veena Somani
By Julie Savage Parker
Veena Somani arrived at the River Arts District of Asheville by way of Pittsburgh, Vassar, a small village in the north of India… and finally Charlotte, gathering bits and pieces of herself along the way.
Dr. Veena Somani is a board certified physician in Integrative and Holistic medicine. She and her colleagues at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville (IFMA), Dr. Brian Lewis and Dr. Chad Krisel, view each patient not just as a diagnosis, but as a complex tapestry of family, physiology… and dreams. This is reflected in their new patient intake form that has questions (in addition to the more standard ones) like: What are the most important things to you? If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? And, What are your sources of Comfort, Nurturing, and Connection? In fact the intake form was so rich and so comprehensive that Dr. Somani decided to take it herself when she first joined the practice.
Linda-Arlene Hoxit, one of Dr. Somani’s patients, said of her: “She is amazing! Part of the reason I moved here was that I was looking for more variety of medical options. At IFMA they take more of a preventative approach and take a look at the whole situation. I can trust Dr. Somani not to give me a prescription that is unnecessary. I don’t need a GP that is going to give me more medication. After a recent, rather complex hospital stay, she had a nutritional solution for me that helped the specialists change and cut back on their interacting medication.
“I was impressed with how well she works with the specialists I have and she really goes out of her way to contact them and hospitals to get all the information possible to help me as my GP. She helps coordinate the whole medical team.
“I love the fact that she has that combination of Western and Eastern, which I feel is a little more holistic. And at IFMA there is an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, a massage therapist, etc., right there. Oh and she found there were some tests that had not been given that I should have, standard simple tests. She took the time with me to get the full picture of me.”
Interestingly, all three of the doctors, in addition to having a passion for treating the whole person, have a background in religious studies; in fact, Dr. Somani’s undergraduate degree at Vassar was in Eastern Religions, which she feels has helped give her a broader perspective in her work.
“I went to Vassar College because I fell in love with the atmosphere at the college on my visit there. It was a perfect spring day, and the campus quad was filled with a cappella groups and I was just in heaven. I said ‘I need to go to school here.’ I had already put a deposit on another school—Washington University in St Louis. But I fell in love with Vassar, a small liberal arts college, and chose to major in Eastern religions after having an incredible intro religions course. Although much of my coursework was spent deep in religion and philosophy, I knew I still wanted to pursue medicine. Both of my parents were practicing internists, so I grew up in a medical environment. My sister and I volunteered in their office, and had patient interaction, and I was a candy striper at the hospital, all that. I felt that doing religion—something far from the biochemistry I was going to do anyway, was going to help round out what I could give to the profession. Not even knowing then as much as I can see now how it helped form me as a person and give me the ability to see things in a little bit different way. That is why this kind of medicine makes a lot of sense to me, finding what is the root cause of an illness, taking both the scientific aspect and the spiritual aspect into account, and the body’s ability to heal itself.
“Things that are so important for healing are spirituality, and having a really good support group, and community. Those are things I work on now. Strong family and social structure, I think they are really important. I think that cherishing every day is important. Not saying ‘Let’s work so hard so that we can do this next year.’ Live paycheck to paycheck if necessary, just enjoy, you can’t live for the future. My husband and I love living in Asheville, it is very easy to live in the moment and just enjoy.”
ON JOINING INTEGRATIVE FAMILY MEDICINE OF ASHEVILLE
“I had met these guys [Dr. Brian Lewis and Dr. Chad Krisel—watch for their profile in the June Y Chromosome issue] in Charlotte a handful of years back at a conference called Heal Thy Practice. It was actually auspicious timing when we first met because that was where they met Brian Forrest. This practice is somewhat modeled after his work—a little bit different—he has been sort of a mentor to them. That’s where the whole idea of this practice really birthed.
“The three of us have all done a fair bit of urgent care and we still do urgent care here at the office. In our office we have a pretty low overhead model, we do all our own injections. That is atypical. In most practices they have a lot of ancillary staff. I think patients like it, I think they like the additional time with the provider. We are able to spend a little more time with patients, like when you find out that they have taken three buses to get here and you get a peek into their social situation you might not otherwise. It is not just go go go and ‘Here’s your ‘scripts!’
“I spent one semester in college through a program called School for International Training and I went to northern India—I have family there and so I had been there before. We could choose what we wanted to do for our international study project. In India there are lots of shamans and holistic healers. It is not considered ‘alternative’. It was really interesting, there were trance healings going on, they would be doing these trance-like dances and exercises, that whole kind of spiritual healing. Many of them had tried conventional therapy before that had failed. There were cancers that actually went into remission. I really think there is a huge mind/body connection. Medicine is approached very differently in other parts of the world.”
“When people use the words Complementary and alternative most are usually alluding to healing modalities like Reiki and Kinesiology and Healing Touch, even Acupuncture, Homeopathy… integrative is more holistic, really looking at the whole person. Not saying ‘Okay, you’re nauseous—here is some nausea medicine.’ but Why is this happening? These five or six things that are happening that might be a little bit off—how are they connected? Integrative is more of an approach to a case, not necessarily one of the modalities. The reason we don’t care for the term ‘alternative’ is that it should not be alternative, it should be mainstream. It is what medicine needs to be more of.
DR. SOMANI’S BEST ADVICE
“In general people are really stressed, whether it be from kids or work or situational triggers, and are dealing with low level depression or anxiety. They may otherwise ‘feel’ fine and not seek medical attention. Getting good sleep is really important to rid the body of toxins—it is the time when the liver detoxifies. The best hours of sleep are important too. Not just getting enough sleep, but between ten and six, give or take, are really the best hours for the body’s circadian rhythm. Shift work is not ideal, (my husband is an emergency room physician); staying up late and getting up late is not ideal. Getting up with the sun is the best for the psyche, as is taking time in the day to reflect and relax. Something almost ritualistic is good to do also. Whether it’s exercise, breathwork, or meditation—it’s the sanity time that every body needs.
“It is really important for long-term health to take care of our bodies. Too often the sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, ‘drink coffee and keep going’. There is so much in the way of stimulants that make people very anxious in an already anxious environment. It is important to step back and detoxify, take caffeine fasts from time to time, take screen time fasts from time to time. I love living here in Asheville! We don’t have TV and we play in the woods everyday with our friends. It is fantastic. People from where we used to live say ‘You mean you just don’t have a TV in every room, or…? Your kids don’t ask for it all the time?’ ‘No!’ And of course clean eating. Don’t shop at the grocery store. Read some of Michael Pollan’s books.”
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT IFMA?
“I love working with Brian and Chad and I love Ren and Rebecca. [Rebecca is the office manager. Ren is a medical assistant and phlebotomist.] They are like family. If I am having an issue with childcare, I can bring my kids in. Rebecca has watched my kids and they ask for her all the time. It is really a great place to work. We have all come from other settings where it is not necessarily like that. We have hung out socially.
“Also in spending more time with patients, relationships can grow stronger. Sometimes it is ‘I’ve never shared that with anyone!’ There are lots of tears, lots of really opening up. Time spent where you can open up like that is therapeutic in and of itself, and has been more rewarding for us as providers too. This is the kind of practice where I would love to be a patient! I feel like we really help people. We can make real changes.”
You can reach Dr. Veena Somani at Integrative Family Medicine of Asheville in the River Arts District at 372 Depot St. See integrativeasheville.org or call 828-575-9600.
Julie Parker is busily healing, with the help of the good folks at IFMA, from the minor inconvenience of ovarian cancer. Her blog The Vocabulary of Joy – Celebrating the Blessings of Life with Cancer is at julieparker.me. Her web design site is handwovenwebs.com and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
PART 2 next month will feature Gyn-Oncologist, Dr. Ashley Case.