We had the good fortune of connecting with Seetal Cheema and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Seetal, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
My name is Seetal, rhyming with “lethal.” Lethal Seetal – a good pneumonic for remembering the pronunciation. It means “peace,” and I promise I won’t hurt you.
My full first name is actually Seetal Preet Kaur. I am Sikh, and all Sikh women have the middle name Kaur, meaning “princess.” Preet means “love.” So I am the “Princess of Peace and Love.” I was named very appropriately for California living.
A Sikh is a “seeker of truth.” And that has been my journey, to Live my True Being.
Often it is assumed that since I am of Indian descent, I must be proficient in yoga, meditation and Sanskrit. The truth is that I did not take a yoga class until I was 17 years old in college, by an American teacher. I did not learn to meditate formally until I was 28, living in New York City. The only Sanskrit I know is from yoga teacher training, where I learned that vriksasana means “tree pose.”
Interestingly, most people in India do not practice yoga and meditation as we see it here in the Western world. Actually, these practices historically have not been known to the masses, and especially not to women. Women are to be at home, get married and have children. Education is very much emphasized in Asian culture. Education is important, just underneath the traditional female household roles – for with education come professional stature and financial success.
I studied through high school, was at the top of my class, and then completed college and medical school. I then completed Internship in Surgery, Residency in Anesthesia at NYU, and Fellowship in Pain Management at Harvard. I then continued to do acupuncture and yoga training. After working for four years full time in the hospital in Boston, in 2012, I left my full-time position at work. I had been on a race to succeed. And all of a sudden, I was asking myself, “Is this really what I want to do?” How many more days could I endure the routine of waking up at 5 am, getting to the hospital before dawn, preparing to hold another human’s life in my hands as they endured the trauma of surgery, and sleeping with a pager next to my pillow to be awoken for an emergency case at 3 am? I was burnt out. I felt like the sacrifice for rest, for time to sleep and laugh and love, was never going to end. I sacrificed my needs for restful sleep, nourishing meals, laughter with dear ones, gazing at sunsets, creating with paint and poetry. I even denied myself the essential of oxygen by holding my breath constantly in anxiety. I was depleted. And my work at that time was not inspiring any passion. I saw so much struggle, not only in the care we tried to provide, but in our own daily grind to learn. I was dissatisfied and constantly racing through the days on high stress speed.
I was not sure exactly what the next steps would be, but I knew I had to change.
I believe that when you let your heart brain speak and make a decision more than your head brain, the courage keeps you strong, and all else falls into place.
After I told my Chief that I was going to leave work, I felt like I had wings. All the weight was lifted off my shoulders. I did not have to be imprisoned by my work or another’s choices anymore. I could Fly.
I took 8 months off and traveled to Mallorca, Rome and Machu Pichu. In the midst of this break, a dear friend from yoga gave me advice: “You need to lie on a bolster for 15 minutes.” I remember thinking, “That sounds like a waste of time.” But she was right. I needed to train myself on how to sit in silence. How to actually let go. How to do Nothing at all. And with this rest, I found new energy to create.
I found a new path eventually, working part time at the hospital, and building a private practice in acupuncture. Many people asked, “How do you make a living doing acupuncture?” “You gave up full time anesthesia to teach yoga?” “Acupuncture? Does it really work?” I had seen the enormous benefit of the tiny acupuncture needles, sometimes more than medications and procedures, and I knew in my heart I could not give up on providing healing and caring to others with the addition of Eastern medicine.
After three years, I still was not completely satisfied. Something was itching in my soul for more. On a trip to Joshua Tree in 2014, a sound bath at the Integraton and mineral pool baths under desert skies sparked an interest for the magic of the West. I met many people who had embraced the adventure of living the California dream. I felt an openness and eagerness from others for Eastern medicine, and I also wanted to explore. My feet longed to dig into sandy beaches and dance in ocean waves. I craved radiant sun, grand mountains, and ripe avocadoes. To shake up my linear path and rewrite the script – this was the gold I desired. My heart knew it wanted to move. And I felt my wings growing.
Two years later, I left the snow and cold of Boston, and moved to the City of Angels.
Looking back, I have no idea how I did this. It was a journey to let go of the expectations of what an Asian physician “should” be doing with her life. Moving was also a culture shock. I navigated the infamous LA traffic from Hollywood to Malibu, made a precious new tribe of friends, and learned about living in fires and earthquakes. Healing myself in body, mind and spirit has empowered and strengthened my desire to help others find whole well-being emotionally and physically. I eventually found a balance in career and personal passion, and am bridging care in novel ways with Eastern medicine and Western science as an anesthesiologist and acupuncturist. My wings have grown beyond imagination, and my roots strengthened into a lovely home.
I share my story now so that others know that they have a Choice to Heal and Burnout is Real. These are rocky times, and it can take big shifts to shake us up and reflect on what we truly need. Stress and anxiety are higher now in the pandemic. If you are feeling burnt out – you are not alone. If you want to pause and make a change – you are not alone. Voice your concerns. Find resources to help guide you through these changes. The definition of Success is what each one determines whenever she or he says, “I am.” I am strong, I am wise, I am pure, perfect and complete. No matter what. I am.
What should our readers know about your business?
After mastering studies in Western medicine and attaining board certifications in anesthesia and pain management, I ventured to study healing practices from the East, and completed further education in acupuncture, yoga, and aromatherapy. By combining knowledge from these multiple disciplines, I learned to provide a safe environment for my patients to heal emotionally and physically in situations of acute care, as well as chronic conditions. Essential to your health is balancing the elements of body, mind and spirit. With compassion, dedication and knowledge, I will partner with you to provide care that is holistic and beneficial. I will help you integrate resources that promote change in your physical body, allow emotional growth and foster well-being. Every individual has the potential to change and see wellness within. May we live balanced in thoughts, actions, and beliefs, in mind, body and spirit.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Swim in Century Lake at Malibu Creek State Park, Gaze at Sunset at Point Dume, Indulge in Dinner at Malibu Pier Cafe, Dance under Urban Lights at LACMA, Stroll along Sea View Drive in Mt. Washington, Transform in the Desert of Joshua Tree
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I dedicate this Shoutout to My Tribe of Good Company – I am fortunate to have more to name than I could easily choose to list. In the words of Edmund Lee, “Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” I also want to give a Shoutout specifically to the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, which has been providing free healthcare to thousands of people in Los Angeles since 1968, for their compassionate spirit of true healing and caring is hope for the future.
Youtube: Seetal Cheema Wellness