A conscious conversation — with Dr. Leah Murray
Leah has helped me a lot over the last few years, in both small and big chapters of my life. Be it offering advise to me when I was living remotely, to more recently when I was seeking an integrative approach to my health. Dr Murray has been an incredible support to me and she has made the entire process of healing more accessible for me to understand, with her kind and patient attitude and her willingness to discuss and explain what she is doing and why she is doing it. It has been the ultimate doctor - patient team effort and it only excites me to think that this is the way medicine is moving.
Read below for our conscious conversation with Dr. Leah Murray and her take on Integrative Medicine.
I know that you have a lot of experience in emergency medicine, what made you study further and go the route of integrative medicine?
I’ve always been interested in integrative medicine and the body-mind-spirit connection, and actually started delving into it during medical school already – I spent time with Dr Bernard Brom (founder of Integrative Medicine in South Africa) during my 4th year of med school and so, was lucky enough to have my eyes opened to an integrative, holistic approach from an early point in my medical career.
While working in emergency medicine, I completed various postgraduate courses in Integrative Medicine and my love and fascination for it grew.
I love emergency medicine for many reasons – it’s always dynamic, things can change very quickly so you’re always kept very much on your toes, and you have to keep up to date with the management of a very broad scope of health problems. But I eventually succumbed to the effects of the constant high stress and night shifts and suffered a ‘burn-out,’ very common amongst staff working in an Emergency Room setting.
This was the push I needed to open my own Integrative practice, where I now work full time from my practice in Vredehoek called The Cape Doctor.
What inspires you the most about the work that you do?
Inspiration comes mostly in the form of seeing results in patients who have suffered for ages solely due to the fact that a different approach has been used and brought about profound change and relief.
I am also inspired by the body’s natural healing potential. By supporting natural physiological processes, for example liver and gut function, the body can shift a destructive process and come back into balance and full health without the need for drugs.
Can you explain to our readers what the difference is between integrative medicine and conventional medicine?
Integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with natural therapies, but focuses on therapies and supplements that are backed by scientific research, proving that they are safe and that they are effective. Integrative doctors will prescribe surgery and pharmaceutical medicine when it is needed, and when it will be the best choice of treatment in that particular case. But, we are also trained in the use of various non-pharmaceutical medications and supplements, nutritional therapies, vitamin, mineral and hormone balancing that support the body’s natural processes to bring about healing and health.
Another way to explain it would be to say our focus is more on optimising the HEALTH of the patient, and working back to find the root cause of what lead to the ill-health or symptom in the first place and dealing with it on a larger scale than simply giving a drug to suppress the symptoms.
Integrative medicine is BIO-PSYCHO-SOCIAL-SPIRITUAL medicine and so very much the epitome of holistic medicine, where one’s approach incorporates all aspects of a human being.
There seems to be a gradual movement towards integrative or even 'personalised' medicine in America and other parts of the western world, in your opinion do you feel that this is the way medicine will eventually go and what do you see this doing for health care in the future?
Although slow, there is absolutely a shift towards a more conscious type of medicine. People just aren’t satisfied with the pharmaceutically-focused medicine of today.
People are no longer satisfied with just suppressing symptoms, they want to be in optimal, vibrant health.
Obviously when it comes to necessary surgery and other interventions, the advances in modern medicine save many lives, but where I feel the medical system is failing, is on chronic healthcare and the management of conditions that either could have been prevented, or could be treated simply by a shift in diet or lifestyle or using simple natural healing techniques rather than drugs.
What excites me especially is the movement towards recognising the health and healing properties of some of our age old herbs and medicinal foods, that can now be ‘potentized’ to gain the full therapeutic properties – for example, medicinal mushrooms, milk thistle, curcumin, cannabis, saffron, and other plant based or phyto-nutrients and vitamins.
Your body can recognize these compounds as foods and process them in a way that is just so different to how drugs are produced, which usually block your body’s natural healing functions. Eg. anti-histamines, anti-hypertensives, anti-inflammatories, etc. Integrative medicine tries to support these natural processes, rather than block them. And studies are coming out revealing that the symptom relief is as effective, but the side effect profile is largely improved!
To what extent do you believe that good health care is a team effort between patient and doctor?
The Integrative approach focuses hugely on the relationship between patient and doctor and because true healing can sometimes be a very long and difficult journey, it’s vital to have a doctor who takes the time to truly listen and invest in your wellbeing. Meetings between you should be a sacred space that you feel totally comfortable sharing and releasing deep fears and feelings.
What is one daily / weekly routine or ritual that you find helps you live more consciously?
I start or end the day with yoga – even if it’s just 5 minutes on the mat, it connects me to the bigger picture in life.
Part of our training course in Integrative Medicine through Stellenbosch University was a short course in Mindfulness, and incorporating mindful meditation in one’s daily activities. I try to maintain that sense of mindfulness and awareness throughout the day as far as possible.
What is one thing that your patients have taught you?
I love that you often speak about 'Journey Work', this has helped me immensely when looking at my own health. How do you sometimes use this within your method of treatment and could you explain a little more about this for our readers?
There’s no such thing as coincidence.
Journey work means bringing about a type of ‘conciousness’ to the issues or symptoms that you are experiencing. Symptoms are indicators of a body function out of balance. It means going deeper into the condition and trying to work out what your body is trying to tell you. One of Dr Brom’s teachings is ‘the body is doing the best it can under the circumstances.’ It is an incredibly intelligent system working in a miraculous way – it deserves the utmost respect.
Journey work means being respectful of where and how your body (and mind and spirit) is at, at any given time, checking in and trusting in the process.
In a very busy world, it seems a lot more people are faced with a sense of overwhelm and burnout at times. What is something that you feel women need to consider more when addressing their health, that they may overlook or often not consider as important?
We are exposed to a vast amount of stressors, especially if we live in a city – stress of all forms – work, finance, deadlines, traffic and dangerous, busy roads, crime both serious and petty, overcrowding, corruption, long distance relationships with loved ones, larger scale issues like overpopulation and global warming, then toxins of all forms – plastics, exhaust fumes, petrochemicals, electromagnetic radiation, sterilized water sources, pesticides in our food – not to depress you but its true!
One can't underestimate that we need to realise our inevitable exposure to all of the above, and if we continue to choose to live in a city then we must protect ourselves from this by supporting the body where we can – go get spring water, avoid plastic as far as possible, get off all unnecessary pharmaceutical medication, support organic and locally farmed foods, eat grass fed meat or no meat, avoid processed foods, etc.
Perhaps most importantly – make time in the day / week / year to go into the wilderness and just be in nature. Sounds very hippie but to retreat into the natural environment to give your system a break from all of the above is absolutely vital. And don’t feel pressurized to cycle / hike / be active – sometimes the most essential activity is to sit and do NOTHING, just admire nature and remember the bigger picture – what are we really doing here anyways?!
Lastly, what's one word that you'd use to describe women's wellness?
Dr Leah Murray has had an interest in Integrative Medicine as early on as during her medical school training at Stellenbosch University. She completed an elective in Integrative Medicine in her 4th year with the founder of Integrative Medicine in South Africa, Dr Bernard Brom.
After completing her MBChB, and a rural community service in the Northern Cape, she spent a year abroad, mostly in India, where she deepened her understanding and intrigue in Eastern philosophies, Yoga and the body-mind-spirit connection.
Her other passion is Emergency Medicine in which she spent 6 years working in state and private hospitals in South Africa, as well as the UK. During this time she completed various post-graduate courses in Integrative Medicine, one through Stellenbosch University and another by Dr Bernard Brom.
She believes in finding long term solutions to health.
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