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Focus on your blessings. Keeping a gratitude list and/or gratitude journal keeps your mind in constant state of appreciation, abundance and recognition of the endless number of blessings around you. In this state of mind, a person is more open, able to receive, more creative and more resourceful. Even when circumstances arise that may be challenging or may be a loss at first, the power of gratitude can help you connect to a higher power and you can look beyond what’s immediately in front of you so that you can bring in or find the blessings. While I was recovering from my many surgeries, I went through a spectrum of emotions. What I learned was that the more grateful I was, the better I healed. The more gratitude I had for simply being able to get out of bed, walk a little further each week, get stronger — — the more I was empowered with the knowledge that I was a strong, resilient force — capable of just about anything.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness ” I had the pleasure of interviewing Serena Poon.
Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN is a nutritional energy practitioner, fusing her expertise as a celebrity chef, nutritionist and reiki master to her A-list clientele. Serena’s passion and career for curating healing and wellness programs using integrative health, holistic nutrition and Culinary Alchemy® began long before she started creating contemporary meals, menus and nutritional goodness for the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, and Kerry Washington. Serena’s Culinary Alchemy is the practice of combining intuitive energetic techniques with guidance and education on functional & spiritual nutrition, integrating how food affects our bodies on a physiological level, as well as how it affects the energetic body. Serena’s goal is to optimize and heal the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of her clients. Serena is certified as a Reiki Master for Usui Shiki Ryoho with an advanced knowledge of the symbols in the Usui System of Natural Healing. She is part of the International Association of Reiki Professionals and she is also certified with Quantum Touch Healing. Serena holds a degree from UC Berkeley and is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu’s most intense and comprehensive programming — Grand Diplome, which is inclusive of all advanced culinary techniques. She is also the founder of Just Add Water®, a wellness line of super nutrient-dense powered super foods, and Serena Loves, a lifestyle brand, blog and supplements, as well as the host for Serena Loves TV.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
Mystory began with my heart and soul, my parents. While I was in college at UC Berkeley, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer….it was a genetic disease, the same thing his grandfather had passed of years before. He fought but lost a very painful battle after just a year and 3 months. He was 48 years old. Two months later, my mother was diagnosed with a very rare and extremely aggressive form of ovarian cancer. She was 45 years old at the time. So, before we even had a chance to grieve my father, we were in another surreal battle to save my mother, who could hardly process the death of her soulmate, let alone her own mortality. With experimental treatment and (I truly believe), my father in heaven watching over her, my mother is still with us today. As you can imagine, this completely changed my perspective on life. All that mattered was the health and happiness of my loved ones. Both of my parents incorporated Western and Chinese medicine in their cancer therapy, but our knowledge at the time was limited when it came to nutrition and using food as healing. While my father was sick, I began looking into holistic, herbal and natural remedies for everything from his cancer symptoms, to alleviating the side effects of his treatments. Experiencing firsthand, the suffering that he and other cancer patients go through — I knew there had to be more that we could do, if we only had the information and resources. I studied Nutrition at college, but this drove my passion further and I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu. I wanted to study the culinary arts to understand food and nutrition and to create ways to heal and comfort people through the power of food.
As passionate as I was about healing, providing comfort and nutritional education to others, I did not realize the physical and emotional trauma that the entire experience of my parents’ illnesses took on my heart, my mind and my body. What I didn’t yet understand at the time, was that full health and true wellness is about the healthy balanced systems of the whole mind, body and soul. Self-care not yet a priority in my life, I put my own health after everyone else’s until I found myself fighting for my own health after I had a surgery and contracted MRSA straight from the operating room. Almost 9 years and 8 surgeries later, and nearly dying from one of them, when I experienced a massive hematoma 12 days post-operation, resulting in a blood loss of over 30% of the blood in my body, and after years of spiritual and self-development work, I’ve learned to balance my energy. I’ve learned to take care of myself first so that I can take care of everyone else around me, and much of this process has been attributed to energy work. I decide to study Reiki, a Japanese energy healing technique that channels universal life force energy to areas that need support and balance. I began to incorporate this healing modality into my practice with food and nutrition and Culinary Alchemy® organically came to life.
Throughout my journey, my business evolved to include more than just private chef and catering services. As I began practicing my Culinary Alchemy®, I became a nutritionist, wellness expert, coach and reiki master to my clients. I was inspired to launch my health and wellness line of super nutrient-dense super foods, Just Add Water®. As my consulting practice grew and I became aware of my influence within my own community and I realized that I could effectively teach and help so many more people by expanding my platform. Through the power of social media, I expanded my personal brand into a lifestyle brand, Serena Loves, which offers products and tools to support the spiritual and emotional body, as well as therapeutics and supplements to support the physical body. My journey has taught me that the power of knowledge, information and sharing experiences can literally help save lives. In an effort to provide more value to my community, I also host a regular streaming TV show and podcast, Serena Loves TV, where I interview entrepreneurs, visionaries, healers, and nutrition and wellness thought leaders as a resource to others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was fortunate enough to begin my career as a private chef to some of the most recognizable faces on the planet. As such, I’ve become well-accustomed to the privacy concerns of my clients. You will seldom hear or see a whole list of my clientele. Some of my clients really do live their public lives under a magnifying glass, so when it comes to their homes and private lives, they will often go outside the box to ensure that their privacy is maintained. I once was hired to prepare a dinner party for a couple — who, at the time, were the most visible couple in the world, not just because they were famous, but because of the nature of how they became a couple….they met on set and they were not both single at the time. So, I was blind-folded upon pick up, driven to a small private airport, put on a helicopter and remained blind-folded the entire time until we arrived at the house. It only took about an hour and a half, but it felt like I was playing out a kidnapping scene in a movie. I’ve also been cast in some popular movies by my director clients, but the blind-folded experience was far more interesting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I share this quote often because it’s still the one that I live by on a regular basis, “No one is you and that is your power”. It’s just a reminder that even when you are not feeling strong, or when you feel lost or uncertain, that the power is within you to rise and that this is your duty — because no one can be you. The other quote I live by, quite literally now, is that “opportunities come from obstacles”. Even in your darkest or most challenging days, know that there is a gift hidden between the layers of the challenge or obstacle that is right in front of you. This is what helped me pivot my business when I was recovering from my 4th surgery, when I had nearly died, and I was not able to use the upper left side of my body for months. Without the use of both my arms, how could I be a chef? How could I serve my clients? I realized I had so much knowledge in me from all my studies and research that I poured into the food — I could just pivot and pour into consulting and programs. Treating myself like I was my own client, I was able to use food and nutrition to raise my hemoglobin from barely a 9, back up to 13, in 2/3 of the time the doctors told me it would take to recover. I realized that I had to rise up and be of service to my clients and community, and I had to do it in a different way. I began offering pre-operative and post-operative healing protocols to clients and my business ended up making 3x more that year than the years before — and I did it without the use of my left arm for the 6 of those months. Opportunities were hidden in the obstacles.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
The Alchemist. For so many reasons, but mostly because I resonate with the dreamer, the creator and the ones who believe in the power of magic. I am someone who is lead by my heart, I believe in living in alignment with your soul and your purpose. I believe that kindness, love and gratitude are the foundation for our journey. These themes run throughout the book!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We are launching an app, the Serena Loves App, which will be the platform to run several programs we have designed to offer our community. The first program is an Ultimate Health Reset, where you will “Stress Less, Sleep Better and Slim Down in 28 Days.” The program offers shopping lists, meal plans, mindfulness, gratitude journaling and daily affirmations and mantras throughout the self-paced journey. This is just the first of several programs I’ll be offering, some addressing more specific health needs, such as a 7-day Sugar Detox, a 14-Cleanse, a Gut Reset and more! I’m so excited about these programs because realistically, I am not able to work one-on-one and help as many people as I would like to, and these programs break down and simplify the process so that you can track your progress (the app does this for you), go at your own pace (consecutive days are recommended) and I offer 7 supplements that are specifically designed to help support you along the way. The supplements will also be available via our Serena Loves website, as well as with some of our health and wellness partners, for anyone who is not going through the program. In addition to those supplements, we are also offering an immunity line of 7 immune-supportive supplements under the Serena Loves brand. I know that I have been a source of information for people when it comes to all aspects of immunity and nutrition, so I am excited and grateful to be able to offer high-quality, well-sourced products to my community. At the same time, we are also launching 5 more products in our Just Add Water® line, to help support our community and consumers. Four of the new products will be a deconstructed version of the current Just Add Water® signature formulation. This will give people more options and flexibility to choose what they want to drink at any given time of the day. Originally, the Just Add Water® recipe was designed to be “everything you need in a day” to Simplify Your Self-Care®. It was a simple, one action product — add water and drink! I decided to break down the original formation into 2 categories of pea protein (chocolate and neutral flavored), 1 category of all your super greens and super foods, and 1 category of all your antioxidants. The fifth product we are releasing in the Just Add Water® line is a fizzy, highly bioavailable vitamin C drink. It’s delicious, and perfect for children as well.
I am also part of the mindbodygreen Collective and I created a Mindset module for them for their Functional Nutrition Coaching program. I’m so excited about this class because I get to share the tools that I’ve created through my own experience of building my brand and my business, to make it easier for other entrepreneurs to do the same. I really feel that every experience we personally go through is designed for us to not only learn from, but also to teach.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
One of my clients and mentors, the late Garry Marshall, is someone who helped me more than he knew. He started as my client and I quickly became a part of the family at the production company. I helped him with his health, while he was like a grandfather, advising me about life. Garry believed in me during a time I didn’t believe in myself. He was there before my life-threatening surgeries, during and after, guiding me through heartbreaks and healing. He shared with me so many stories from his youth, as a young man navigating Hollywood, as a husband, as a father and a grandfather. His life experiences were life teachings for me and I still reflect back on certain pieces of advice that he gave me. There is a magic that comes from someone who sees you for who you are, especially when no one else does, including yourself. There is an invaluable exchange of energy that occurs when someone believes in you, during your deepest moments of struggle, and you choose to believe them. Their unconditional love is so great that you begin to believe in yourself again. I am forever grateful for his soul and I know that he touched the lives of many in much the same way. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to meet earth angels and we are to pass forward that energy when we do.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?
My concept of gratitude is simple but powerful. It’s peace in the presence, feeling whole in the moment and cherishing every breath you take. It’s seeing the beauty in the simplest of things, because when you are not in place of gratitude, you can so easily overlook the magic that surrounds you. And we are all surrounded by magic, at all times, in just about every circumstance. We just have to look beyond what seems to 3-dimensional and realize that everything around is a blessing or a miracle. For example, we so often take for granted the miracle of our bodies. Our bodies are complex, intuitive, incredible and brilliant healing systems. We don’t often think about how all we do is breathe at night while we sleep and our bodies systematically detox, cleanse and resets itself. Most of us in first world countries have access to clean, upgraded water and yet we don’t always remember that the simplicity of water — and how it supports, cleanses, nourishes our bodies — is really a miracle in and of itself. Gratitude is so often just simplifying what we see around us and focusing on life in its more basic forms. Focusing on the magic of life, in any form, is a simple way to gently ease your mind into a space of gratitude.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
I think that it’s very easy to get swept up into the energy of your immediate environment and the collective energy of the world beyond that. It happens to all of us — the distractions that are constantly popping up on our devices, the constant push and pull to do more, be more and achieve more. How many of us have only one thing on our daily “to do” list: TO BE. None! Most of us, especially as entrepreneurs have daily lists that are quite long and suddenly life can seem complicated. What does it mean “to be”? It means to be present, to be in the moment and to take your focus away from all the distractions around you. Feeling gratitude can start as just a simple daily practice of a few minutes a day of being present. Many people feel that it’s more complex than that, or that it requires more time, so they never quite get started or they don’t make it a daily habit. It may be hard for some to imagine that your entire day can shift into a positive, productive space with just a few minutes of ease and awareness of presence, but that’s all it really is. You can even simply just take a moment and ask yourself, what brought me happiness or comfort today? And focus on that.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Gratitude can enhance our immune system, shifting us from a sympathetic (fight & flight) to parasympathetic (calm) system. Researchers have linked gratitude to a decrease in blood pressure. Gratitude creates a biochemical shift in the body, allowing the brain to send healing, regenerative messages to the cells in your body. Gratitude can help you have better, higher quality sleep, which can result in more energy. With more energy, you can be more focused, have higher levels of enthusiasm and determination, and have better clarity and be more effective and productive. Gratitude can enhance our social interactions with others, creating more compassion, community and emotional and psychological resilience. Gratitude can effectively optimize your physical, emotional and spiritual bodies. Essentially, gratitude can help build your foundation for creating a healthy, sustainable life of your dreams!
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
There has been ample research and studies that have linked gratitude to a reduction in toxic emotions. Robert Emmons, a leading researcher in the space of gratitude and well-being, has confirmed studies that show gratitude can effectively increase happiness and reduce depression, stress and aggression. For example, you cannot feel grateful and jealous or resentful at the same time. Instead, the practice of gratitude can lead to more empathy for others and also increase our levels of positive intelligence as well as emotional intelligence. One of the most powerful mental wellness benefits of gratitude is the contribution to our inner strength. Studies have shown that when people have a grateful disposition and see the positive when facing serious trauma, adversity or suffering, not only do they recover more quickly, it helps them avoid post-traumatic stress and long-term anxiety.
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
When we talk about leveraging the power of gratitude to improve our mental wellness, we really are talking about finding the grace and the gift in every situation.
- Find the gift or create one. When my father passed away from cancer, I was devastated. I could not find any positive take-aways from the situation. So, I had to create one. I found myself deeply appreciative of my parents at an age where most of my friends were more concerned with college parties and getting through the classes that semester. Life fast-forwarded a learning that would probably not have come to me until much later, as an adult or as a parent myself. At an earlier age, I was able to appreciate my parents and my grandparents in a way that has cultivated deep compassion in me. This compassion has been a strong force in my mental resilience and my ability to work with others through difficult situations.
- Simplify the complex. Many of us go through a cycle of overwhelm, stress and anxiety that can loop back around on a regular basis (daily, weekly) or even just the occasional basis. However, when we go through these loops, we are complicating our circumstances instead of simplifying it so that we can resolve whatever problems are at hand. Taking a moment to focus on gratitude can allow you to ground and re-center yourself, opening up possibilities and solutions that you might not have thought of initially. These are characteristics of a leader and can actually inspire others around you to be part of the solution. Especially with multiple projects going on at the same time, I have found that being grateful for every opportunity allows me to stay focused on the goal, on the delivery of service to others, and away from the feelings of overwhelm that can paralyze you from being productive.
- Focus on your blessings. Keeping a gratitude list and/or gratitude journal keeps your mind in constant state of appreciation, abundance and recognition of the endless number of blessings around you. In this state of mind, a person is more open, able to receive, more creative and more resourceful. Even when circumstances arise that may be challenging or may be a loss at first, the power of gratitude can help you connect to a higher power and you can look beyond what’s immediately in front of you so that you can bring in or find the blessings. While I was recovering from my many surgeries, I went through a spectrum of emotions. What I learned was that the more grateful I was, the better I healed. The more gratitude I had for simply being able to get out of bed, walk a little further each week, get stronger — — the more I was empowered with the knowledge that I was a strong, resilient force — capable of just about anything.
- Connect with nature. What we all really need to thrive and survive, comes from nature. The sun is necessary for our immune system, the ocean is healing whether you are in the water or just listening to the waves crash. Most of the whole foods we consume comes from seeds that grow in the earth. At the end of the day, the true cost of these things is very little. Mother Nature doesn’t make us earn any of these things. For those of us in first world countries, we have easy access to all things that nature provides. When you focus on gratitude for mother nature, for our planet and that which is likely a higher power beyond ourselves, you begin to realize how much you have and how attainable everything you need, actually is. It puts your mind back in a space of abundance or prosperity. Mental health is so often associated with feeling a lack of love, lack of self-love, worthlessness, anxiety, fear, or loss. When we are able to look around and see how much there is around us, that there is enough for all of us so as long as we just use what we need, there is no fear of lack. A mentality of abundance will only bring more abundance.
- Empower your words. There is a great deal of power in the words we use. The words behind the thoughts in our minds and the words that come out of our mouths. What if those words always reflected gratitude in its definition? What if instead of being “unlucky”, you saw your circumstances as an “opportunity” to find the gifts. Instead of being “busy”, change your words to reflect “blessed”. The energy and focus of your attention will shift and in turn, build mental resilience and a healthy mindset. Choosing your words to include an energy of appreciation is a simple, effective way to use the power of gratitude to improve your mental health as well as the mental health of those around you. I found this to be extremely helpful with my own team. As the calendar fills up, it’s very easy to say that you’re busy, which does not carry the same energy of gratitude as the word “abundant”.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
Focus on what OTHER people say they love about you. When we are in a vulnerable, sensitive or “down” place, it can be difficult to suddenly shift gears and think about your gratitude list. You may be stuck in a momentarily or even lengthy space of doubt, uncertainty and the inability to see the grace in your situation. If this is the case, focus on the words and descriptions that people have used to describe you in a powerful, positive, empowering way. Think about the way someone speaks of you when they are expressing gratitude FOR YOU. This is where you start. As you fill your mind or your journal with these words, you will shift your energy and your focus to a place of grace, and of appreciation for those words of love, for the people who said those words and for the person with which those words described — YOU. This is powerful practice I teach as well as actively do myself.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I love Deepak & Oprah’s meditation series — just about all of them. Oprah’s wisdom, in any format, has been a wonderful resource. I love the teachings from one of my teachers, Master Co, and he makes all of his videos available for free across multiple platforms. The works of Ram Dass have been powerfully helpful for me. The works of Paramahansa Yogananda are also beautiful and profound. I have been blessed with incredible guests on my show, and their interviews always leave me feeling deeply grateful and inspired.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to start a movement called the Circle of Compassion. You reach out to 5 different people: 1) one to say you’re sorry for something you have not apologized for yet 2) one to say thank you for something you have not expressed appreciation for yet 3) one to say you love him/her 4) one to say you miss him/her 5) one to share what you’ve learned from him/her. Each person you tag or reach out to, must do the same with 5 people and so on and so forth. Sometimes, the mere act of acknowledgement, of being seen, of being heard, of being understood can be transformative for a person and/or for a relationship. Creating the circle of compassion can only lead to more kindness, more love and the elevation of us as a collective.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
They can find me and all things Serena Loves online at www.serenaloves.com, on social media platforms @chefserenapoon (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter & Tiktok), Serena Loves on Apple podcasts, Spotify & iHeart and @serenapoon on Clubhouse. They can find Just Add Water® at www.justaddwaterinc.com or @justaddwaterinc on Instagram and Pinterest, and @justaddwaternutrition on Facebook.