Note from Sifu Anthony: This is a guest post by my amazing wife, Dr. Akemi Borjas de Korahais.
I’ve traveled to dozens of mindfulness retreats and wellness seminars around the world, and I’m scared s**tless every time I go.
This happens every time I go to Costa Rica with my husband to co-host our annual qigong retreat.
I’ve been on this particular trip over a dozen times, and I’ve helped to lead over 100 beautiful souls to Costa Rica.
But I still get scared. Every. Single. Trip.
Maybe it’s not fear. Maybe it’s anxiety. Or maybe it’s both.
I’m not alone in feeling all this, am I?
I hope not. I’m sharing my fears here in the hopes that you can relate to at least one of them.
I also want to share how I’ve faced my fears and become a happier, healthier woman as a result.
As we get ready for our upcoming retreat in July, here are 5 fears I’m wrestling with:
1. I’m a creature of habit
I like to style myself as someone who adores travel.
I’m a Sagittarius, I plan trips in detail, and I often do fantasy trip planning just for fun.
But that’s just how I view myself. The reality is that, as I get older, I find myself more and more attached to my routines.
A few examples of my obsessions:
- Room temperature of 69 F at night (so I can be cozy under my blanket!)
- A Phillips fade light for falling asleep (because I get scared of the dark sometimes)
- A special white noise app (because I get scared, did I mention that?)
- A special pillow for my neck (because my neck goes out of alignment while I’m sleeping)
- Breakfast consisting of bulletproof coffee (because good fat is good for you!)
- A daily 45 minute morning walk (for stress reduction, exercise, and for fun)
- Spending at least 3 hours of my day relaxing with zero humans and my two adorable pups (because I’m super introverted)
In my clinic, I see 60-80 patients per week, and this is how I find balance as an introvert.
I know I live a privileged life, and I’m grateful. Really! But going without these luxuries often feels like a hassle.
It’s hard for me to let go of my comforts.
Really, it’s like my brain comes up with all of these reasons ahead of time as to why I’m going to be miserable.
My thought process goes like this: Things are good here. Why change? It might make things worse. I’ve finally got my schedule figured out so that I have energy, feel productive, and don’t experience much pain.
Here’s the truth: The change in routine helps me identify the things that matter and that make a difference for me at home.
At the retreat, my heart opens.
I become inspired by new vistas on my daily walks through the natural reserve that is part of the retreat center.
I share my breakfast (i.e. bulletproof coffee) with the kitchen crew at the retreat center, who have become like a second family.
I make them an extra cup, and they marvel at my brilliance at putting butter instead of milk in my coffee. (Bulletproof coffee is a huge fad, and I’ve tried to explain this to them but they won’t listen and insist that I’m a genius.)
I’m dragged out of my introverted tendencies, and I glow.
I share laughter and companionship with the attendees rather than strictly maintaining silence and solitude. And when I truly need solitude, I find it.
It’s worth it to me, at least once a year, to shake my routine up. I’m a happier person for it, and also a better doctor.
2. I get travel anxiety
The first plane ride I ever took was at the age of 10.
That ride took me out of my native country of Venezuela to a new and safer life in America.
I remember having mixed feelings: I was excited beyond anything I had ever felt before (I was going to America! I could visit Disney World!)…but I was also devastated by the loss of family and culture.
Talk about a charged trip!!
Every time I get on a plane, I still experience some of that anxiety.
Because I’m so introverted, it feels like I’m gearing up for an assault of all my senses:
Harsh fluorescent lights.
Yucky cleaning chemicals and pesticides.
So. Many. People!
Plus my weird but persistent belief that I’m going to miss the plane even though I’m right there at the gate!
So, I gear up:
- Earplugs, to give me a break from the overwhelming sounds. (I just bought myself noise-cancelling headphones, which work great too.)
- Homeopathics and natural remedies for stress and immune support and motion sickness.
- Sunglasses or blue-light blocking glasses (which lower harsh light exposure and reduce my stress response).
- I dress for success (feeling pretty makes me happy and less anxious).
- And I prepare myself to warmly encounter every person I come across, like I’m doing a one-on-one meeting in my clinic. This tactic works for my social anxiety (groups are no bueno but one-on-ones are muy bueno!)
My husband has also battled his own anxiety. Because of this, we like to make sure that every person who comes on our retreat feels like they’re part of a supportive family, and that anxiety isn’t the end of the world.
3. I have food anxiety
These days, it seems like everyone and their nephew has developed a food sensitivity or is on a special diet.
And yes, I’m talking about myself here too.
When I’m at home, I eat:
- …grain free (no corn, no wheat, no oats, no rice)
- …dairy free (except for the occasional sheep’s milk cheese)
- …6 servings of fresh, mostly local, organic vegetables per day
- …lots of ghee (clarified butter), avocado oil, awesome olive oil, lard and duck fat
- …local, humanely-raised proteins from the farmer’s market
This is the food that nourishes me and makes me feel healthy.
I’ve grown to love my diet (my brain works better than it did 10 years ago), but it makes eating out hard.
Traveling is even harder.
But here’s the thing. Our retreat center serves delicious, gluten free, organic, local food, and they can accommodate virtually any dietary need.
For example, we’ve had all types of people come to our retreat:
- Those who suffer from celiac disease (extreme gluten sensitivity) and other gut problems like inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis
- people with vegetable allergies;
- people who are strictly Paleo;
- people with nut, soy, or corn allergies;
If you need a special diet in Costa Rica, then you basically get your own personal chef. The retreat center assigns a specific team member to ensure your allergy is taken care of.
This makes me wonder why I get so stressed about food!
It’s not like I’m traveling to a convention center where I’ll be forced to eat bad food! Bleh.
Really, the biggest problem is what to eat at the airport, and that’s easy enough to manage.
Costa Rica has a high rate of celiacs in their population so most restaurants often have some gluten-free options.
So really, there’s not much for me to worry about.
I’m a champion worrier though, so when things get hard, I keep my eye on the prize.
That prize is Emanuel’s gluten free chocolate cake!
Emanuel is the head chef at the retreat center. He started out as a gardener, but started cooking and blew everyone away with his creativity and natural talent.
His chocolate cake is worth the trip! It motivates me when my anxiety gets too high.
4. I have a chronic illness
I beat ovarian cancer when I was 22 years old.
After beating cancer, I suffered from chronic fatigue and autoimmune issues that affected my brain.
Even before the cancer, my immune system was vulnerable to bad infections.
I’ve also faced debilitating menstrual periods for many years. For a long time, I was terrified to go through one while traveling.
For a couple of years, I suffered from migraines – the first one I ever experienced I went through alone in a hotel room in Chicago. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
All of these issues have pretty much been resolved, thank goodness (and thank qigong and Chinese medicine!).
I know how scary it can be to be on your own somewhere while being sick.
There have been many times where I’ve cried for my mom (as an adult, mind you) when I’m in excruciating pain.
Here’s the thing: I’ve never felt more supported and taken care of than I have at our retreat center in Costa Rica — even while I was sick.
For example, last February I was hit by a bout of vertigo while on retreat. This was my first-ever experience with vertigo. I told my husband that it felt like tumbling out of an airplane — for 3 hours in a row.
The entire staff took amazing care of me. Sifu Simon (one of Anthony’s colleagues and one of the teachers in residence) held my hair back whenever I vomited. (Anthony was teaching qigong to the group.)
To be honest, I was incredibly embarrassed at the beginning. I kept apologizing, but Simon just looked at me and told me so sincerely that he would rather be there with me than anywhere else. My heart cracked wide open seeing this kind of pure human compassion.
There’s something very special about the people on that mountain.
I am so grateful for that experience. It changed me in a deep way. Because of how I faced my suffering, some deep and hidden emotional wounds began to heal.
Honestly, I’m not the only person has had health challenges at the retreat, and I’m also not the only one who has grown from the experience.
Some have had trouble sleeping, others have had a flare up of pain, others have had digestive upsets, and one or two have had sprains from ambitious trail walking.
And they are always well taken care of.
Every retreat, I bring a suitcase full of my Chinese medicine supplies, and I’m ready to switch into doctor mode whenever I’m needed.
But even without me, the mountain and her keepers will be there to care for you.
I’d like to add that more often than not, I feel my best in Costa Rica.
I’ve spoken to many attendees who mark their time at The Blue Mountain Retreat as the line between before and after.
The Flowing Zen Qigong retreat in Costa Rica helped me SO MUCH! I had been anxious and depressed for 9 months from some health challenges. I practiced at home every day, sometimes 3 times a day, but I couldn’t shake the emotional slump I was experiencing. After I went to the beautiful retreat in Costa Rica, I am amazed and delighted: the anxiety and depression are gone! Now I have more energy than I have in years!” – Dr. Claire Holland, MD
Their health improved in measurable ways after a retreat — in spite of minor challenges like the ones I’ve described.
I hope that if you’re someone who’s challenged by a chronic condition, and you’re scared to come to the mountain, ten you’ll let us all help you heal yourself.
5. I get stressed about money
Closing my acupuncture clinic while I travel to Costa Rica has been challenging in many ways:
- I worry about my patients getting the care they need;
- I worry about covering the business expenses of the clinic;
- I worry about paying my employees even when there’s no money coming in;
- I worry about paying myself even when there’s no money coming in.
I can imagine it’s the same for many of you considering the trip. You’re worried about the money part.
The trick for me was to observe what happened after every retreat, like clockwork: my medical practice boomed as patients mysteriously flocked into my clinic.
One of my mentors taught me an important lesson years years ago:
“When the doctor is up, the practice is up. When the doctor is down, the practice is down.”
It’s similar to the Law of Attraction.
The more I take care of myself and engage fully in my life, the more people want to see me for healing.
And I’m not alone. I know this has worked for many participants as well — entrepreneurs and employees alike.
Costa Rica is often the boost that we all need to get us out of scarcity mode.
People often tell me: “I wish I could go, but I can’t afford it.”
I sympathize. I do. I grew up in poverty in Venezuela, and I’ve experienced plenty of financial stress as an adult as well.
On the other hand, I’ve watched broke college students who made it to Costa Rica by scrimping and saving and staying in the Dormitory.
I’ve seen retirees on a fixed income make it work.
I think the key is to view it as an INVESTMENT.
I’ll give you an example.
If you know me, you know that I love my pups, Ziggy and Pepper.
I love them so much that I don’t mind buying the absolute more expensive grain-free, organic dog food that I can find.
It’s an investment. I want them to lead long, healthy doggy lives.
See, Schnauzers are well known to develop tumors as they age.
Our dogs have none, and I attribute that to their diet.
There’s a saying in the veterinary world: You either spend the money now on good food, or you spend 10x as much later on vet bills.
The same is true for humans. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been teaching this concept for centuries, and we have our own version in the west: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This is a hard concept, especially for Americans. We’re brainwashed by marketing to favor instant gratification, and we typically spend our money on cures, not prevention.
But you can do it. I know you can.
Be Scared, But Do It Anyway
If you have that inner voice that’s telling you to go to Costa Rica, why aren’t you listening?
Maybe it’s one of the five reasons I listed?
Or maybe you’d like to share your reason in the comments below?
I’ve lived my entire adult life with cancer hanging over my head. It’s colored what I do for a living, and what I choose to do with my time.
As someone who’s almost died at young age, I implore you to live your life to the fullest and never to assume you have another year.
We make plans for 1, 2, 5, 20 years down the line, but really there are no guarantees.
I’m 35, and I don’t assume that I’ll be alive in a year.
This isn’t an excuse to act irresponsibly or throw my life out the window. I still adult every day. I see patients, I pay bills, and I cook dinner.
But I also seize the day. Carpe diem. I also grab every opportunity to really LIVE.
If I can do it, then you can too.
I’m Dr. Akemi Borjas de Korahais, and I’m dedicated to loving and caring for each and every patient that walks into my clinic. I use a combination of acupuncture, Functional Medicine, qigong, Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), and nutritional counseling to help my patients get the healing that they deserve.
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