Sitting with myself: A Vipassana Adventure


For the month of October I am taking a break from interviewing wonderful NDs so that I can share my recent experience having spent ten days in “noble silence” at the Ontario Vipassana Centre: Torana Dhama. As described on their website, the course has three aspects: sila, Anapana meditation and then Vipassana. Firstly you must observe silence and refrain from harming yourself or others (including mosquitos!!). Then you learn to observe the breath, and eventually you learn the art and practice of Vipassana. This latter aspects involves meditating in silence, eyes closed, and observing the sensations in your body: big, small, pleasant, unpleasant…absolutely any sensation.

Before this course the longest I had ever sat for a meditation was an hour….once….and I found it incredibly hard. So making the jump to ten hours a day may have been a bit risky, but hey, go big or go home, right?

In addition to not speaking you also can’t bring any reading materials, write, use electronics or leave the grounds. Might sound like a prison. Maybe it is like a prison…..but I think that’s the point. No distractions. Just you and you – so get used to it, because guess what folks, that’s the reality of life no matter how many times we try to ignore that fact.

I arrived in the afternoon of September 7, which happened to be an insanely hot day. As I dripped bits of sweat onto my registration paper I started to mentally prepare for what the next ten days would bring, I had absolutely no idea.

The first mediation was that evening, after which noble silence began. One hour in and my hips ached. Oh dear. I walked to my cabin in the dark and tucked myself in for the night. At 4am my alarm clock went off: game time. Each day ran the exact same. Meditation from 4:30-6:30am. Sweet, glorious breakfast at 6:30am. My shower time was 7:20am – another cherished time of the day. Group meditation from 8-9am. Independent meditation from 9-11am. The worlds most delicious lunch at 11am. And then free time until 1pm.

At free time you would find most people sunning themselves or lying under a tree. Many of us went for walks along the loop trail in the woods. I had my routine down by day two. Two loops of the trail, one in each direction, and then find a spot to stand and stare at trees. Talk to birds and chipmunks and caterpillars and grasshoppers (telepathically, obviously). Try to stretch out my body. File my nails. Maybe put my hair into braids.

At 1pm meditations started again until 5pm, at which point we stopped for tea and fruit (no dinner). At 6-7pm we had our last group meditation of the day and then we had a nightly discourse, in video form, taught by S.N. Goenka. Once the discourse ended we would meditate until 9pm and then lights out by 10pm.

Over the course of the week I had all sorts of emotions. But as time went on, my hips opened up, my mind quieted down, and I began to experience feelings in my body I never knew existed. As my monkey mind shut down my subconscious mind began to emerge. Long forgotten memories would randomly bubble up to the surface. Beautiful memories from my childhood that I had completely forgotten. At moments I traveled into dream spaces I had previously created. I could feel the energy flowing through my body like a river.

This experience proved to me the power of meditation. The goal of this course, of this technique, is mastery of the mind. How often have you felt like you are a prisoner to your mind? How often have you wished you could just shut off all your thoughts and be HAPPY. Meditation is for everyone. Vipassana has even successfully been taught to people in prison. If you want to learn more about the power of meditation, let’s chat, even you can do it.

When I arrived it was summer. Each day it became cooler, leaves began to fall, trees began to change colour. Each night the moon got bigger. Each morning my alarm went off at 4am and I thought to myself, I’m awake. I’m awake.




Tea with an ND August 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Kimberlee Blyden-Taylor, ND


Teas Consumed: Iced mint tea for KBT and iced green tea for me (it was a sweltering day!)

The interview was not audio recorded, but rather I typed as we spoke, so the content below is not verbatim but rather a summary of what we discussed.

Although Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND may not have always known that she would one day become a naturopathic doctor, some would say that the seeds of this career path were sewn early in her life. Growing up with classic hippie parents, it wasn’t uncommon to find KBT stomping on acorns her mom had collected in the yard in order to make acorn bread. Now, having been a naturopathic doctor for the last 17 years, Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND shares with us parts of her journey through the wonderful world of naturopathic medicine in this August 2016 edition of “Tea with an ND”.

ME: What made you choose the career of naturopathic medicine?

KBT: Growing up, I had never gotten very sick (outside of the normal stuff like colds, etc) so I rarely had reason to go to the doctor, and I had never been to a naturopathic doctor. My educational background was in biology and music, and I had always considered getting into medicine some day. When I got pregnant with my first child, I was under the care of a midwife and I was blown away by the type of care I was receiving. She would ask me about my health and even about more obscure things like my dreams. After my baby was born I had horrendous postpartum depression, and my midwife referred me to a naturopathic doctor. The quality of care I received cemented for me that this was a career path that I wanted to follow. I started studying naturopathic medicine in 1995 and graduated in 1999. Back in 1995 the school (which is now located on a 4.3 acre campus at Leslie and Sheppard) was located in Etobicoke. During my second year we moved to the Yonge and Eglinton location. The school has changed a lot since then.

ME: Yes, I can only imagine the changes that have happened since 1999! How does CCNM now compare to how it was when you were a student?

KBT: Well certainly, the school has grown substantially. When I was studying there were 42 people in my class and we had a very tight knit family feel. We had all of our classes in one room and the professors would take turns coming to us. Also, because there were so few of us and because the demand for naturopathic care was present, we each had to see about 40 patients a month. Now the school clinic is seeing even bigger numbers than this but there are also way more students. Of course there have been other changes, like the amount of administrative overhead, but overall the biggest change has been the growth.

ME: Can you share a bit about your history? Where did you grow up? What’s your educational background and your life before CCNM?

KBT: I was born in Dayton, Ohio and moved around a bunch as a child. Most of my growing up was done in Long Island, New York. For school I studied at Columbia University in New York City and completed a joint program with the Manhattan School of Music. At Columbia my focus was on biology but at the time my dream was to go to the music conservatory. After graduation I moved to Toronto because I had a boyfriend who was going to York University. I worked for a time in environmental medicine and as a research assistant. In fact, I have a published paper in meteorology, on weather tracking in different parts of Canada. I then worked full-time in music for three years as a flautist and soprano. I sang with many different music groups, such as the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Choir, Elmer Iseler Singers, Opera Atelier and others. Originally, when I started studying naturopathic medicine, I imagined that I would use this career to facilitate my music career. It’s common for musicians to have multiple jobs, outside of music, in order to keep up with life’s financial demands. Little did I know that naturopathic medicine would end up being my full-time passion! I put myself through school at CCNM with singing gigs: being a lead soprano at a Catholic Seminary, doing commercial work, etc. Life was very busy then, although it actually feels busier now working full time, seeing patients in private practice and having two kids and a partner!

ME: It’s so interesting how varied your background has been to date! I bet many people didn’t realize how much of an accomplished musician you are! Obviously music is very important to you, but healthcare is your full-time gig now, so what is your philosophy of care?

KBT: Over the years I tried different approaches, I was very conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to get locked into my own way of thinking. I believe working at CCNM in a teaching capacity has helped with this, especially being a supervisor in the teaching clinic where you are constantly seeing and trying new things. I would say that over the years my approach has become less and less invasive. For example, I don’t do any parenteral therapy. I am not a huge supplement perscriber and I’m very aware of the fact that anything you give can be suppressive (aka when you stop taking it, the symptoms come back). My goal is to move past that and treat the root cause. I tend to prescribe less and dig more to the root cause through talking a lot with a person and understanding their state. That being said, sometimes it is very hard to treat the root cause and of course different therapies are appropriate at different times. I also have an ethical conflict with the idea of patients coming back week to week, I fear that too often we are creating dependency. I know we have to build a business, but I want to help to create a person who is self dependent, who understands their own health and how to take care of their own body. I see myself more as a consult. Over time my patients should need me less and less. Of course at different life stages they might need me more (ie when a patient has a child). That being said, I feel that after a while your patients should outgrow you. If you’ve taught them everything you can teach them they should reach a state where they are ready to move on and learn new things. At some point everybody wants and needs a different perspective on their life.

ME: The concept that your patients should, in time, outgrow you is very fascinating. I like how it allows for the natural flow and evolution of the partnership between practitioner and patient. So, when you first have a new patient I’m curious, what is your practical approach to getting to understand someone’s case and coming up with a treatment plan?

KBT: I’m less interested in gathering specific information from someone and focus more on understanding the person’s state where they’re at: what it’s like to be them at this specific moment. This will dictate what you can do for them right now. I try to best support a patient based on the context of their life, whether that be financially, emotionally, etc. We all know the treatment protocols for different conditions, but then there’s the real person in front of you and you need to find a point of connection with them. They need to trust what you are saying and understand the process you are planning to take. Understanding a person’s entire circumstance is the art of medicine. I know I will never be the naturopath who sees twenty patients in one day. I just can’t do it, emotionally. I’m not saying one way is better than the other but each practitioner has to make it their own. For me, being able to teach and do private practice is a great balance. I’ve been full time at CCNM since 2006 and I practice 1.5 days a week, supervise in the teaching clinic 2 days a week and lecture 4 half courses.

ME: It sounds like you’ve been able to strike a really nice balance between teaching and direct patient care. Since you started working as an ND has your approach to patient care changed?

KBT: I started practicing in 1999 and when I first was in practice I did a course in all the UNDAs and worked with those for years. Then for a while I had many of Dr. Prousky’s overflow patients, who wanted orthomolecular medicine, so I concentrated on that for a while. I valued trying different things in order to not become overly dogmatic. Trying different approaches, over time, has really just confirmed for me who I am and has allowed me to come to know myself more and more. Since graduating I did a lot of homeopathic studying, such as a three year course at The Dynamis School for Advanced Homeopathic Studies with Jeremy Sherr. I have taken loads and loads of seminars on homeopathy. I also completed a one year program at the Faculty of Family Medicine at the University of Toronto called INTAPT (Interprofessional Applied Practical Teaching & Learning in the Health Professions). I was also the Associate Dean of Clinical Education at CCNM for five years. In this position my greatest interest was in curriculum design. I helped change the program at CCNM so that students were able to get hands on and meet patients earlier in the program. We were able to systematize the clinical program and create more consistency with the goal of making it an impactful and robust education. The challenge in that role was that I had to focus a lot of my time on students who were not doing well, which meant helping some pretty upset and angry people. Even with students my approach was to try and look for the root cause of the problem. I tried to take a situation and make it into something positive that actually feeds you, so that in the end the student would get something out of it and grow. In the end some students were so thankful and that was the beautiful part, but on the day-to-day it was very challenging at times. I stopped that job in 2011 and started a Master’s program in 2012 through the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. It is a Masters of Science in Integrated Medicine, with a focus on Homeopathy. It’s all online and it is a really fantastic program. My particular focus in on the concomitant use of pharmaceuticals and homeopathic remedies.

ME: Based on all of the studies you have done I am going to guess that your preferred modality is homeopathy, do you agree?

KBT: Yes, I think that’s true. But I also love to learn new things all the time. For example, this coming fall I’m going to be taking a course on Bowen Therapy. It’s a gentle and subtle therapy, which I really connect to. Sometimes you can do small things and see huge change in a patient. Other times you can clobber the body in lots of stuff and see very little change. I also use a lot of herbal medicine. I love prescribing something to a patient that has such a strong connection to the earth. I love to prescribe teas and I encourage my patients to grow their own herbs. I also feel it is very important to do some hands-on work with patients, in many forms, including the occasional manipulation. There is huge power in human touch.

ME: I get the sense that you really try to get very in touch with your patients, and I will assume you are very in touch with yourself. So on that line of thinking…if you were an animal, which animal would you be?

KBT: (Laughs a bit) Well, my answer is that I am an animal. When I was in school I did some Shamanic training with a group of students and over time discovered that my main power animal is the red tailed hawk. I actually still meet with this group to this day. Kenn Luby and I teach some basic Shamanic drumming courses. Spirit guides have always been a very powerful meditative source for me. Many years ago when I had my own clinic I named it Redhawk Healing Arts. In terms of homeopathy, I am a hard core bird remedy, although I won’t tell you which one. Actually, thinking about it now, I have a strong history of a connection with birds. I once did a summer research project, during my undergraduate studies, in Churchill Manitoba, where I studied semipalmated plovers. I would sit out in the tundra with binoculars and watch the birds. I would then write about their potential cognitive function.

ME: Very cool! I’m glad I asked that question! This has been great and I’m so fascinated by all that you have done. To end this interview I would like to ask you one last question: what do you think makes the naturopathic medical community special?

KBT: To me, doing what’s ethical is really, really important. So the question is, what does this mean in day-to-day patient care? Treating a patient without trying to get to the root cause doesn’t feel ethical. Not saying the hard things that need to be said doesn’t feel ethical. One thing that I love about naturopathic medicine is that it gives me the opportunity to work in a capacity to be fully encompassing which is so important given how passionately I feel about ethics. In naturopathic medicine the door is wide open and I feel that this way of medicine is an ethical response to our current state of healthcare and it forces everyone in the profession to really think about what that means.

Thank you to Dr. Blyden-Taylor, ND for having a tea and chat with me! Be sure to check back on the blog in September for the next Tea with an ND!



Tea with an ND July 2016 – Featuring: Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND

C Pickrell

Teas consumed: Three mint for Dr. P and a green tea for me

The interview was not audio recorded, but rather I typed as we spoke, so the below is not verbatim but rather summaries of what we discussed.

During my third year at CCNM I had the pleasure of taking botanical medicine and asian medicine classes taught by Dr. Pickrell, ND, or Chris has he more commonly goes by, at CCNM. He was one of those teachers who leaves you feeling empowered, inspired and full of great knowledge. He’s also funny, kind, professional yet down to earth and an all around great human being. I think I can speak for my entire class when I say that we all looked forward to learning at his lectures. He taught information in a way that was so relatable, which makes it so much easier to remember! Chris graduated from CCNM in 2008. In addition to teaching at CCNM he also works at the Herbal Clinic and Dispensary in Roncesvalles, Toronto, and co-owns a wholesale herbal dispensary called Perfect Herbs. In his private practice he is part of a community acupuncture clinic, which uses a pay-what-you-can model. For his one-on-one appointments he offers a sliding scale and is committed to accessible, affordable and quality naturopathic medicine. He is someone I greatly admire and I am so excited to share our interview with you today!

Me: Let’s begin with a common but important question: why did you choose naturopathic medicine?

CP: My feelings as to why I wanted work in naturopathic medicine were summarized in a banner that I saw many years ago at CCNM: I wanted to be part of the solution. For me personally, I felt that this profession was the best place that I could contribute my skills towards helping people. I had at one time considered pursuing conventional medicine, but naturopathic medicine just felt like a better fit for me.

Me: Tell me about your background….I know you have done many different things thus far in your life and career. I think people really value seeing an ND who is well-rounded, can you share some of your history?

CP: I grew up in New Brunswick and after high school moved to Calgary, Alberta to train as a short track speed skater. I then did my undergraduate degree there in Human Physiology at the University of Calgary. At that time I knew I wanted to get into the health care in some way, I just hadn’t figured out exactly how yet. I spent some time teaching pre-school in Calgary before moving to Korea for a year where I taught English. After Korea, I lived in Botswana, Africa for 8 months where I worked on community development for HIV/AIDS through sport.

The sister of a friend of mine was seeing a CCNM intern, which is how I found out about Naturopathic Medicine. I decided that this was the path for me, so after working in Botswana I spent some time in Ottawa and then made my way to Toronto to study at CCNM.

During my time at CCNM, I spent a month doing an internship in Hanoi, Vietnam at the WHO Hospital of Traditional Medicine. Upon graduating at CCNM, I was accepted into the two-year residency there, where I got to take on a number of roles, including being a supervisor for a year at Sherbourne Health Centre. During those two years I also studied Herbalism on evenings and weekends and became a Certified Herbalist.

After my residency I chose a date where I gathered all of my friends together for a party at midnight and gave away almost all my earthly possessions and decided to spend a year focusing on meditation and really getting to know myself deeply. I spent three months at a Vipassana retreat in Massachusetts, two months at the Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton Nova Scotia (which he spent with Pema Chödrön!!), one month at a Vipassana in California, a solo retreat at a cabin in British Columbia, and then slowly made my way back east while visiting friends along the way. During that year I also spent a month at an Ashram where I studied yoga and became a yoga instructor. For that year I really set everything in my life down and then chose to pick it back up once the year was done.

Me: Wow. That is an impressive list.

CP: It was a conscious decision for me to try and do a lot of things. Being young is a precious time in life and I wanted to experience a lot in my youth.

Me: What is your philosophy, as it relates to the healthcare you provide?

CP: In my practice and as a teacher my aim is to create an environment of supported independence. I do what is required, no more, and no less, in order to help someone reach their goals. I try to hold space for my patients, and once they gain the skills they are seeking they then become empowered to use those skills for their own health and life management.

Me: Aside from your philosophy, how do you approach patient care? As in, what is your practical approach to getting to know a case and coming up with treatment?

CP: I treat the individual, as a whole person, and look for the root cause of their concerns. These are the tenants of naturopathic medicine, and I practice true to them. I love practicing this way and being an ND because sometimes the cause is something very physical, and it can be treated as such. However, what I find these days is that the majority of the work I do is counseling as often the cause lies in working with someone’s psychology. I treat the cause, wherever it may lie.

Me: Since you started working in 2008, has your approach to patient care changed or evolved?

CP: To be honest, it hasn’t changed that much. When I first started practicing I put a lot of time into really trying to figure out what my approach would be: what made the most sense for me as an individual. I invested a lot of time and energy into the front-end of my career in order to figure out who I was as a practitioner so that I could be authentic, practice with integrity, and shape my career in a way that fit for me. I always maintained that I wanted my underlying approach to be providing affordable and accessible care, and that hasn’t changed. I knew I wanted to treat the root cause, and that also hasn’t changed. My goal was to create a practice model that was sustainable, realistic and practical for my patients in their own life. You could say that I approach each case from a harm reduction perspective…or you could call it health optimization.

Me: What are your preferred modalities?

CP: More than half of my practice is clinical counseling. This actually happened without it being my intention, but I’m really happy with how it all landed. It’s just where I receive the highest number of referrals from my patients. Next would be botanical medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (tied for second). My third most used modality would be physical medicine.

Me: That’s really interesting, have you taken specific courses in counseling, outside of our training at CCNM?

CP: Yes and no. The year I spent doing meditation retreats was also a time when I learned a great deal about Buddhist psychology, which in a lot of ways is a non-secular form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I intentionally devoted a lot of my time to time learning these theories of psychology, in my personal meditation practice and through Buddhist teachers and books, which highlight my tenants of practice:

1) you can only work with someone as far as you’ve gotten yourself, and

2) you have to meet people where they are at.

Me: I totally agree and think that’s a really important point. Now on to a somewhat unrelated question, more for the students out there: have you taken any courses that you really enjoyed?

CP: Yes! Most people will probably be surprised to hear this answer. I really enjoyed the recent prescribing course that I took. Additionally, in my fourth year at CCNM I took at Botanical Medicine course with John Redden which I really enjoyed.

Me: Awesome! Okay, for my last question, what do you think makes the naturopathic medicine community special?

CP: I believe as Naturopathic Doctors we truly are specialists in preventative medicine. We really do help people not get sick and stay well. I resonate with that.

There you have it folks. A speed skating, herbalist, meditation guru, yoga instructor, harm reduction, TCM, counseling Naturopathic Doctor. Sounds like a good option for health care to me!

Thank you so much to Dr. Pickrell, ND for taking the time to meet with me and sharing some of your life experiences and knowledge about naturopathic medicine.

Stay tuned for the next Tea with an ND coming in August!