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Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS

Helen Lavretsky, MD, MS

Dr Lavretsky is Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. She also directs the Late Life Mood, Stress, and Wellness Research Program at the Semel Institute at UCLA. She is an editorial board member of Psychiatric Times. She writes:

I usually joke that I left Russia for America to find Kindalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. But this joke contains a deeper truth. I found Kundalini yoga (or it found me) during a very stressful period in my life when I thought I was on the verge of having a heart attack. I became a devoted practitioner of Kundalini yoga because it gave me peace and improved coping with stress, sleep, and immune function. Very impressed by my own experiences, I went through the rigorous teacher training program and became inspired to study yoga effects in dementia caregivers, which became one of the first studies to demonstrate changes in telomerase and gene expression with the brief Kirtan Kriya meditation.

Although I never met the Yogi himself, his teachings and his students had a profound effect on my spiritual awakening and evolution. I continued exploration of various spiritual traditions ranging from the Native American to Eastern, Jewish, and Christian Esoteric. I realized that the purpose of my life is not in just writing grants and papers, and getting promotion after promotion and then dying, but rather living in balance and peace with my soul and the world, and contributing to the wellbeing of humanity. This realization led me to obtain certification by the American Board of Holistic and Integrative Medicine in 2011; and to write a book, Resilience and Aging: Research and Practice (published in 2014 by the Hopkins University Press); and to co-edit a recently published international textbook, Complementary and Integrative Therapies for Mental Health and Aging (published by Oxford University Press in 2016). I organized the first UCLA Conference on Integrative Medicine and Mental Health (www.semel.ucla.edu/integrativementalhealth) that brought together experts in the field and practitioners of mind-body medicine.

My professional activities are merged with my personal passion for elevation of consciousness of humanity through profound ancient practices such as meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi/Qi Gong. I also know that the contribution of one’s life will be measured not by the number of published papers, but by how many people show up at the funeral. Therefore, I am devoting a lot of my time to teaching and mentoring students and junior colleagues in neuroscience of integrative mental health. My future projects include new books and courses on neuroscience of consciousness and human enlightenment. While I know that it is still considered a controversial topic in academic circles, our students and general public are hungry for this kind of knowledge, and I intend to “give it to the people.”

In my spare time, I meditate, play piano, do silk painting and nature photography, go on spiritual travel to the powerful energetic centers of the Earth, and play with my amazing 1-year-old granddaughter, Elena.

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Our brains can be trained to function better as we age, and it doesn't take the Fountain of Youth to get there. In this podcast, geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky prescribes strategies to challenge our brains. She notes: "The more we challenge our brain, the more new nerve pathways and circuits we form."

Research is needed to define clinical biomarkers and genetic screens that could be used to identify early stages of dementia and to link clinical syndromes with the later development of dementia.

In this podcast, Dr Helen Lavretsky discusses the topic of appropriate diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. It will be increasingly important to strengthen the definitions of what is “normal” to avoid the “pathologizing” of aging or of any individuals who experience temporary or continuous cognitive impairment.

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