Women Helping Women ~ Meet Dr. Ellen Choi

Meet Dr. Ellen Choi, mindfulness teacher at Understory

This summer we were given the honour of making Runa meditation cushions as special gifts for the female physicians across Canada participating in a new mindfulness course with Understory. Co-founded by best friends, Dr. Kelly Anderson and Dr. Meghan Daly, Understory is a not-for-profit created to nourish and connect women physicians. How great is that!!!

Meg and Kelly work with another women-led Canadian organization, Hygge in a Box, who have prepared and sent each course participant a special gift box including a REALthings Runa in Morning Blooms fabric.

And Dr. Ellen Choi will guide 75 physicians through her 6-week course aptly named Overdrive. We caught up with Ellen a few weeks ago to find out more about what it means to be in Overdrive.

 Q: Love the name Overdrive. What does Overdrive mean to you?

In the spirit of a balanced, middle way, even the most positive phenomenons have downsides. For example, I love my husband - in fact most days I like him a lot - but that doesn't mean I want as much as him as possible, all of the time. There really is no such thing as an unmitigated good. Aristotle describes this when he writes about maintaining the "golden mean" and today, in management research, there are frameworks that discuss how positive things should be considered through more balanced perspectives. 

All this to say, being driven is wonderful. In many ways it's the beacon of work ethic, productivity, achievement and success - all things that are very important in our culture today. Yet, without balance, too much drive can lead to such ends as burnout, fatigue, anxiety, and winning at any cost. Overdrive is an invitation to examine whether this virtue is in an optimal zone or whether we have tipped the scales into overdrive such that we're "successful" by external metrics but on the inside, our tank is left empty.

  1. Would you call mindfulness an antidote to Overdrive? If yes, why and how does it help?

The practices of mindfulness itself supports the  autonomic nervous system. The ANS is such a critical regulator of the nervous system altogether because it bridges the switch across the go-go-go of the sympathetic system and the slow-slow-slow of the parasympathetic system. In other words, it regulates our stress response and the ability to drive faster or slow down. Overdrive leaves us pressing on the gas in perpetuity, day after day, leaving little opportunity for our nervous system to restore and find balance.  

Mindfulness also develops the awareness to discern when to lean on the gas, and when to step on the brakes. Practicing mindfulness enhances the self-awareness to gauge where we are at, cultivates the self-compassion required to down shift, and builds the self-regulatory resources needed to disrupt our habits and default patterns (that are likely programmed to operate in overdrive if not deliberately overtaken). So, it may not be an antidote but it is enhances the decision making processes around how to drive.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to say about your anticipation for teaching this unique course?

I’m excited to use this beautiful Runa cushion to encourage everyone to slow down while we practice the techniques in this course. Meditation can be intimidating and uncomfortable. This makes sense because learning anything new or creating any sort of change requires top-down processing in the nervous system, which elicits epinephrine, adrenaline, and cortisol in order to override our reflexive responses. To program more peace, more contentment, and more joy into our physiology - we have to "do the work", even if it's just 1, 2, or 3 minutes a day to set the intention and connect to ourselves. I have put my Runa up in my 3-year-old's room, and I sit on it when I put him to bed. This way, when he begs me to stay, I just sit on the cushion and pay attention to the sensations in my body. Let this cushion be a gorgeous reminder of the peace that's within us, if we can just be disciplined enough to sit down for a minute.


Runa in Morning Blooms