Dr. Naika Wants You To Know That You Deserve The Best Care
Dr. Naika is a naturopathic practitioner, acupuncturist and herbalist based in Brooklyn, New York. In her practice, she works to help people from the inside out. She serves as the partner in your health journey, and the one who holds space for you to to be your highest self. Follow her @drnaika and check out the interview we did with her on the Anser Instagram last month. Here's our extended conversation with Dr. Naika about naturopathic medicine, taking care of yourself from the inside out, and her favorite self-care rituals.
Anser: Growing up, what did self-care mean to you?
Dr. Naika: Growing up, I didn't actually know what self care meant. That is definitely a newer concept for me. I would say it wasn't until naturopathic med school actually that I learned what self care is, how to do it, and how it could benefit my life. Since then, it's become such a core part of my everyday lived experience, and also a part of the work that I do.
Anser: So what was your "a-ha" moment about self-care or an experience that led you to make decisions around your wellness or self-care in a different way?
N: My aha moment for self care definitely happened during my first year of med school, where I learned that in order to do the work that I feel called to do, I really need to take care of myself. So all of the sleepless nights, all of the studying, all of the stress, coupled with life experiences, and coming of age as a 22 year old, really meant that I needed to learn how to take care of myself from the inside out so that I could be not only the best version of me, but also the best healer that I could possibly be.
Anser: What are the common themes you see in your practice? Are there things people at home can do to address those too?
N: The most common themes that I see in my practice revolve around mental emotional, and spiritual wellness, hormone balance, as well as digestive health.
So in terms of mental and emotional health, I always tell people that getting a solid support system is sort of the first step, surrounding yourself in community that can really hold you and hold space for you to walk on your journey is so important, because we really aren't meant to do any of this alone.
The second bit would be to really learn what self care means for you. I think about self care as bringing the sacred into your everyday ritual in a way that feels accessible and doable for your lifestyle.
"I think about self care as bringing the sacred into your everyday ritual in a way that feels accessible and doable for your lifestyle."
I think the other bit is getting real and getting clear with your roadblocks and obstacles. I think it's really easy to brush over things or turn a blind eye to the parts of ourselves or to our lives or even to society that we don't want to look at. But in order to heal a wound, you first need to acknowledge that it's there, and then you could lovingly attend to it.
And then for hormone balancing, as well as digestive health, it's really about diet and lifestyle: figuring out what foods and herbs and wellness practices that resonate the most with your body. It's not so much about following the latest trend or copying somebody else. It's really about exploring and learning what you like or learning what feels good in your body, and then adapting it into your life.
The other major part of both hormonal wellness and gut wellness is absolutely stress management. In our gut, we have our second nervous system so when we're stressed in the mind and then the spirit it absolutely manifests in the body as digestive upset or as hormonal imbalance. So really taking a look at the stressors in your life and learning how to deal with them, and creating a supportive environment of your in your life to deal with them is absolutely a key.
"We have our second nervous system so when we're stressed in the mind and then the spirit it absolutely manifests in the body as digestive upset or as hormonal imbalance."
Anser: So what is it naturopath's approach to care? And what what is the acupuncture philosophy?
N: The naturopathic approach to care is actually a very ordered and systematic approach that uses the least amount of force possible to create the most profound effect in the body. We get health on multiple levels. Environmentally, community wise, it's about your diet and lifestyle, it's about your spiritual wellness. And ultimately, it's about doing the least harm to the body as we create supportive conditions for your body to basically heal itself.
Very common modalities in naturopathic medicine include diet therapy, supplement therapy, herbal medicine, and then some more hands on approaches such as craniosacral, or different manipulations of the body, and energy work for some folks.
And then acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine. Thousands of years old, absolutely beautiful and deep practice that really connects mind, body, and spirit. You could basically treat anything with both of those modalities, because we're actually not trying to treat the symptom or to cure the disease. We're looking to basically heal you and that looks like really knowing yourself understanding yourself, working with your body's needs. And then ultimately, I think just being patient with yourself as your body does what it needs to do to adjust itself.
Anser: On your Instagram, plants and gardening and growing your own food seem to be really important to your self-care process. Can you talk about why gardening and working with plants with your hands is part of your concept of healing?
N: I started gardening and growing my own food and my own plants for myself and my community this year. 2020 has been such an interesting year to say the least. I've spent so much time at home. Around springtime, kind of in correlation with the seasons -- which is very on brand for Chinese medicine -- I was feeling the push to be creative and to use my hands and basically to tend to myself and my environment simultaneously. I also feel like the direction that the world is moving in, it's really important to recognize our own power and our own agency and food plays such a big part of our health. I was also kind of tired of standing on line for three hours at the grocery store. So I said, Why don't I try growing my own food?
"It's really important to recognize our own power and our own agency and food plays such a big part of our health."
I think it's a really useful skill to have, in addition to my mental, emotional, spiritual practice of wanting to attend to something. So, it was my first time this year, and it was absolutely incredible. I grew dozens of plants and herbs. And actually, my favorite part of it was growing with my plants, just starting from seed to a full blown plant that I could enjoy and that my loved ones could enjoy was really special. I found the process of tending to my garden extremely meditative. I find so much healing and joy and inspiration in nature, but I feel like for the longest time, nature was something outside of me and kind of far away. I could access it on a hike or when I travel or when I go to the beach, but this year was very much about bringing all of that into my own home and experiencing the beauty and the wisdom of nature for my own backyard.
For me, gardening was less about the final result and more about the journey to getting there. And as cliche as it sounds, we're always talking about the journey and not the destination, but that's what growing my own food and my herbs meant for me. It was about the love and the energy poured into the earth and by extension, myself and my community. And then the fruits of the labor were just the cherry on top.
Anser: So what was your favorite thing to grow?
N: My favorite thing to grow is definitely sunflowers. It's so surprising because sunflowers weren't my favorite flower before. But I think they are now. I really fell in love with how strong and tall and colorful they stand, and how they sort of mirror the sun with their bright yellow color. Just their strength and ability to weather any storm -- we had some rough storms this summer -- but I would always peek outside and look at my sunflowers and they would be there standing strong. So they were very inspirational for me this summer.
And then in terms of food, I would say my watermelon, my single watermelon. I didn't even know watermelons could grow in New York's climate, but they can. And that was a really beautiful process because it started as this tiny little thing and grew into this giant green watermelon that my family and I enjoyed.
Anser: What inspires you?
N: I would say nature is my number one inspiration. Just observing her cycles, and also honoring how my own life, how my patients' lives, how everyone's life really mirrors nature with the ups and downs, the shedding, the blossoming, the birth, the death, the times of color, the times of pale hues. It's such a rich experience in this life.
"I aim to live a life that I'm deeply proud of. And that looks like walking my path, a path that's in tune with my higher self, my higher power."
I think my life is my inspiration. Honestly, I aim to live a life that I'm deeply proud of. And that looks like walking my path, a path that's in tune with my higher self, my higher power. And also, hope inspires me, I think it's very easy to look at the world around us and get disheartened. There's bad news at every corner. But there's also good news at every corner, there are people doing the most incredible work on themselves and in their families and their communities, and in society at large. So I think hope is probably the biggest inspiration for me, when I look at the future and I look at the world, I think that with hope all things are possible. And that's something that I tell my patients all the time.
Astrology has been really anchoring for me as well. It's something that I didn't grow up with, and something I didn't know much about until right after college. It's really deepened my own self practice, and has certainly bled into my professional work. In terms of how I see humanity and hope, I have this understanding that everything comes and goes in cycles, like I was saying before about nature. It's this idea that everything is temporary and everything transforms. Everything is of the moment, for the moment for you and for the collective and then before you know it, you're on to the next lesson. So kind of related to hope is this idea that everything is constantly in flux, everything changes. And even if things seem so somber and dark and hopeless right now, it is absolutely temporary. The dust will settle and the sun will shine again.
"Even if things seem so somber and dark and hopeless right now, it is absolutely temporary. The dust will settle and the sun will shine again."
Anser: How has your self-care practice changed in 2020?
N: In 2020 self care for me has been really literal. I think in the past, I thought about self care a lot as treatments and things outside of me that I could add to my life for my health and wellness. And that is absolutely valid. I think that getting acupuncture and massage and bodywork done is a solid form of self care.
But since that hasn't really been available to me in 2020, I've really had to pour that love into myself in new ways. I think before, self care at home was mostly about meditation and baths and taking deep breaths, and that has certainly carried into 2020. But I feel like it's actually deepened. And I've had to pour into myself in really intentional ways. So instead of maybe a 10 minute meditation, it's now a 30 minute meditation followed by a private like tea ceremony with myself, followed by journaling, followed by going for a walk, followed by a self-massage, which is something that I didn't even really do before.
I'd say 2020 has actually made me more accountable to myself in terms of self care, this year has brought on so many different types of stress, and so many different types of restrictions that I've had to really pour into myself to meet the needs of myself, in my community and the world. So although it's been a difficult year, I've actually taken the best care of myself, for myself, by myself this year. And that's something that I'll take with me into the future for sure.
"I think there's some magic in taking some really deep breaths in and even longer, deep breaths out. And if you make it a part of your practice throughout the day, you'll find that you're better able to respond to life's challenges, because you've made yourself the center."
Anser: From your perspective, what is the most common overlooked self-care practice that you'd like to advise our community to take part in, or discover, or reignite?
N: The most important self-care tool would be breath. I tell my patients that breath is the first thing to go when we're experiencing a stressful moment, or scary moment, moment or an anxious moment. The first thing that we do as humans is actually hold our breath and we need that oxygen.
In Chinese medicine, we need that qi to flow, we need that energy to circulate in our bodies in order to meet the energy of the moment in the strongest way possible. Take really intentional breaths throughout your day. And sure, you're breathing normally, it's a normal physiological response. But I think there's some magic in taking some really deep breaths in and even longer, deep breaths out. And if you make it a part of your practice throughout the day, you'll find that you're better able to respond to life's challenges, because you've made yourself the center. The breath is a very centering tool.
One of my teachers says that in life, most of us walk through it as a glass of water with sediment that is sort of like a tornado in that cup. Everything swirling, we're responding to life stressors, we're not really attuned to the moment, but with breath work or meditation, you invite that cup to be still and that water to settle and all of the dust to settle at the bottom and that way you return to yourself.
The other tip is to put yourself first, and to realize that if you're not taking care of yourself the best you can, you're not going to be able to show up as strong as you need to in this world. So doing the mental, emotional work of realizing that you're somebody who's worthy to be taken care of is so profound. You deserve to be taken care of, tended to, adored. And that's what self-care really is. It's actually a mindset first, followed by a practice.
"You deserve to be taken care of, tended to, adored. And that's what self-care really is. It's actually a mindset first, followed by a practice."
Anser: How have you learned and taught others to advocate for themselves and their needs on their health / wellness journeys?
N: When taking charge of your health and wellness, it is so important to recognize that you are in control, and you are responsible for you. The health care system is actually here to serve you. You are the most important person within the healer-patient encounter. And it's up to you to advocate for your health. It's up to you to find healers who you resonate with the most. And it's up to you to hold them accountable to the standards that you have for yourself, because your health is the most important thing that you have.
"You are the most important person within the healer-patient encounter."
If you don't understand something in the doctor's visit, have them slow down and explain it to you. And if you don't understand it that first time, have them explain it again, have them point you to resources that you can explore beyond the encounter, so that you can educate yourself. I firmly believe that knowledge is power. I have so many people come into my office and tell me that they had lab work done and that they never had their results explained to them. I think that is unacceptable. You deserve to know what's happening in your body. And you deserve to be an active participant in your health.
Advocate for yourself, know your worth, and keep the healthcare system accountable. Because that's the only way that it's gonna serve you the way that it was actually designed to.
Anser: What are some tips you have for people at home who may be experiencing hormone imbalance, stress, digestion issues, weight management, acne? Any knowledge for our community before they go reaching for the medicine cabinet?
N: In naturopathic medicine, we look at something called the foundations of health. So it's this idea that before we look into surgery, pharmaceuticals, and even herbs and supplements, that we're addressing the foundational elements of your health. So that looks like eating a diet that is supportive to your health and your health goals. For most people that looks like clean foods diet that is anti-inflammatory, filled with plants, if possible, and other foods that make you feel nourished, energized, and vital.
Foundations of health also includes making sure that you're getting consistently deep, sound, and restorative sleep, and that's something that a lot of people struggle with. In naturopathic medicine, we think about something called sleep hygiene, which is a collection of practices that you could use to increase the likelihood that you'll get a better night's sleep. These can include eating more than two hours before you go to bed so that your body could have enough time to digest all of the food properly, limiting your screen time before bed so that the blue light from the electronics doesn't interfere with melatonin production and your body's signals to fall asleep. It also includes health supportive rituals that could really ground you and sort of release the stressors and the energies of the day. That could be something as simple as brewing a cup of medicinal tea, something like chamomile or lemon balm or lavender.
It could look like journaling your thoughts. One of my teachers says that the practice of getting the thoughts out of your head onto a piece of paper is therapeutic in and of itself. It doesn't even have to be a long journaling session, but just a way for you to connect with yourself and to kind of shed the energies of the day.
"One of my teachers always says that the practice of getting the thoughts out of your head onto a piece of paper is therapeutic in and of itself."
The other arena foundations of health is, of course, digestion. Digestion is extremely important. I always tell people that before we look to herbs and supplements, let's make sure that you're actually hydrated. Let's make sure that you're drinking enough water to support your body's needs. Let's make sure that you are exercising. It doesn't have to be anything intense, just any sort of mindful movement that gets your energy flowing, and gets your body producing those feel good hormones is extremely important. That could be anything from yoga, to walking -- which is my personal favorite, I walk every single day -- to something more energetically intentional, like Qi Gong, for example, a way of really manipulating the qi in your body. Just doing that for 15 to 30 minutes a day could have absolutely profound effects on your health.
Anser: You talked about clean food as part of the foundations of health. What are some simple swaps people could make in their diets to eat "cleaner"?
N: Living a more balanced and holistic lifestyle could seem really daunting and overwhelming at first. But it could be as simple as switching out more unhealthy ingredients and foods for cleaner ingredients and foods. For example, instead of consuming cow's milk, especially if it's something that doesn't resonate with your body, you could look to something like almond milk or coconut milk or oat milk.
Instead of romaine lettuce in your sandwich or salad, you could go for a super green, such as spinach, or kale, or swiss chard, or moringa, which is one that I'm really into.
Instead of using a really intense skin products with chemicals and compounds that you can't even pronounce, look for the simplest and purest ingredients possible. One of my teachers says look for ingredients that you would feel comfortable eating, because those will be the cleanest ingredients possible.
And in terms of our environment, too, it's important to be mindful around animal consumption. So perhaps instead of red meat every single day, you could look to swapping out more vegan products or even pescatarian products. So different fish products can be really supportive to your health as well.
Instead of reaching for processed sugar, your favorite cakes and cookies which are okay, every once in a while I myself indulge, you could look to things like dried food or fresh fruit.
Anser: How do you personally keep your glow? Your skin is so luminous!
N: So people are always asking me what I do to maintain my clear skin and my glow. And the truth is I've actually had the same skincare routine since I was two weeks old. The story goes that I developed a rash on my skin when I was two weeks old, and my pediatrician, who I'm still in touch with, by the way, told my parents that I should use sensitive skin Dove soap to cleanse my face, and to moisturize with really clean products such as coconut oil, shea butter, or cocoa butter. And believe it or not, that is my skincare routine.
"I've actually had the same skincare routine since I was two weeks old."
I think as I've gotten older and I've learned more through school and also my own life, I've dabbled in different products and skincare regimens. But I always come back to the basics and what works for me. A really simple exfoliator that I'll do very rarely will be a very simple brown sugar and extra virgin olive oil or extra virgin coconut oil combination. I'll just lightly scrub my skin. I'll probably do that once a month. And then if I'm feeling really fancy for a face mask or something, I'll just make my own. So I truly don't use any sort of fancy products on my skin. I just keep it really simple and really close to nature. And there's no judgment with that either. I think that you should absolutely explore and figure out what works best for you. I just know what works best for me. And it just happens to be what I did when I was two weeks old. What my parents did when I was two weeks old.
I think the world would be a better place if we were all just living in our truth in our authenticity and in our purpose.
Anser: You do have a deeper glow about you though, and I wonder if that comes not from Dove or skincare products but from within?
N: I maintain my glow by living in alignment with my truth, my purpose, and my higher self. I think the world would be a better place if we were all just living in our truth in our authenticity and in our purpose. And that's something that could take some time to find, but I feel like I found it at a really young age. I knew what type of person I wanted to be, what type of healer I even wanted to be from a very young age, and living my life in alignment with my values and my purpose has really been transformative for me. And even times where I feel like I falter a little bit, which happens it's a part of being human, I just reconnect to my core. I reconnect to my center, I remember why I'm here, I remember why I do what I do. I remember that I love myself and that I am loved and that helps me create a glow from within.
Anser: Are there practices or exercises people can try at home to add some balance into their daily lives or self care practices?
N: One self care practice that you can implement into your life that will bring not only a sense of mindfulness and peace but will also have a therapeutic benefit is the practice of tea making, and creating tea rituals or tea ceremonies into your day to just bring you back to center and ground you. I always tell people to have simple goals like let's just start simple. Let's try and do one cup of tea but eventually you can graduate to more.
"I personally have at least three cups of tea a day."
I personally have at least three cups of tea a day. My first cup of tea will be the very first thing in the morning. So depending on my energy, it will be something really grounding like a burdock, or dandelion, or even ginger, taking immune health into consideration. Or it'll be something a little bit more elevating and energizing such as a jasmine tea, or an ashwaganda, or if I'm really needing a bit of a boost, maybe some ceremonial-grade green tea, or matcha. So just having that ritual in the morning is really special, and can really help ground you to start your day.
The second cup of tea could be around lunchtime. So it could be something for digestion such as a chamomile, or a lemon balm, or even a ginger again, or feeling kind of cozy fall vibes, you could add some cinnamon into it, and it creates a really lovely aroma. So that's something that you could have after lunch, and it'll serve a purpose of helping you with digestion as well.
The final tea that I'll have is usually after dinner, and if I could pick one tea time for you would probably be dinner, because the time between dinner and sleep is actually really important. It's a time for your body to really digest and process and also release the day. So about an hour after dinner, maybe even 30 minutes, I'll have like a digestive or sleepy time tea to help me digest my food, but also prepare me for sleep. Bonus points if you want to journal or meditate with your cup of tea right beside you. Again, it's that element of mindfulness into your day. So love a chamomile tea after dinner. That's my number one tea recommendation. A lemon balm or a lavender is really sweet too. Or a valerian root or a skullcap, these are all nervine herbs that'll help soothe your nervous system. Those would be my recommendations for self care and mindful practices that you could bring into your day and into your night practice.
Remember that you are worthy and deserving of the most special care. Remember that you come first and that your cup has to be full before you give to others.
Anser: Any parting thoughts?
N: Remember that you are worthy and deserving of the most special care. Remember that you come first and that your cup has to be full before you give to others. And also having a full cup feels really juicy and satisfying and fulfilling. So make sure you take care of yourself in whatever way that looks like. That could look like doing the three deep breaths, it could look like brewing yourself a cup of medicinal tea. It could look like taking a walk in the park with a loved one and giving thanks for life. But just remember to put yourself first and to love up on yourself and to take care of yourself as best as you possibly can. If you feel like you need some extra support, or if you have specific health goals that you want to tackle, and you'd like a partner with you on your journey, I would be honored to be that person.
I invite you to connect with me. I am @drnaika on every social media platform, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, come find me come connect with me. My community is very heart centered, spirit centered, very engaged. Very activist minded. Very community oriented. So we would love to have you in the space and I will see you there.