Irina Sharma is a health and wellness specialist and cultivator – and nature lover – who draws on 25 years of experience working in public relations, communications and radio broadcasting in continuing her work. She’s also co-host of the Wellevate Podcast with Dr Nasr Al Jafari and founder of the new LiveWell with Nakheel series, which kicked off in June with an event featuring Dr Harald Stossier, founder of the famous Austrian medical health resort Viva Mayr. The series continues this month with Irina and Dr Nasr in a discussion about gut health. Irina appeared on The Livehealthy Podcast to talk about her time in the UAE, why men can’t cry and the most important thing when it comes to health in wellness is to return to self-trust.
So tell me about the men’s health series you have with Nakheel. What’s going on and how do we engage?
LiveWell with Nakheel was something I created a few months ago. Nakheel just said, ‘Hey, we would love to bring wellbeing into the community’. I truly wanted to do it during the international men’s health awareness month [June 2022]. We all wake up during that month or that day, but it’s okay, because if that’s what brings attention to start the movement why not? This is something on Wellevate Life podcast also, we dedicate the entire month and every month now we still continue throughout the year to do a men’s special. We brought in Dr. Stossier to talk about men’s health on the basic thing, why men don’t cry. What is the pressure on men? Forget about everything else. Do we ever understand why?
How did you get interested in complementary health?
As a child, I’ve always been curious, like all children are and the curiosity grew in nature. Anything would happen, I would run up that tree and sit in the tree. If anybody needed to find me, they knew where I was.
I just related more to nature. It spoke to me, I spoke to it. Coming from the cultural background that I come from, I’m an Indian. Mom, you open the kitchen cupboard everything is there, the pharmacy is there. Dad, he’s a philosopher, his two to three hours of daily walks in silence made me appreciate nature and what it gives. I learned the most beautiful language called silence through my father. He was always observing something. I realized that once I started staying in silence and concentrating on breathing and looking around and seeing through the cracks of the pavement. There’s little green things, how are they growing up? I have always been a competitive athlete and that also drove me closer and closer to wanting to live well. That’s where it started at and that’s where I’m still trying to ask the right questions hopefully, find the right people, explore the right paths to know more. I am pretty much a facilitator and I like being that.
There has always been a divide between allopathic medicine and complementary alternative integrative, but it seems as if it has never been wider…
I think if the medical world and us as patients consumers stop judging it, we stop finding what’s right or wrong. I think it’s become human nature, we are always trying to find what’s wrong more than what’s right. We’re so disconnected with ourselves. There’s been a huge gap and that gap is being filled by information coming from everywhere and confusion. You have doctors now who have targets in hospitals that they have to earn this much and they’ve got to prescribe this much. There’s so much pressure. If we breathe, make it simple for us as patients, for us as the non-medical background people where we go to doctors. If we know ourselves better and we know what we want, it makes it easier on the doctors. Then they’re a little more open and if they’re not open and you don’t like them, walk away.
We also really need to say what matters and what’s enough, enough. Once we’re able to define that, it just gives us space to breathe. I always give this example when you go into a supermarket if you pick up a box and fine, I never filter myself. The Kellogg’s and the Nestle’s where we know what they’ve got inside that box. Who’s to blame? The person who’s buying or the person who’s making it? I think the blame game has to be very much self-oriented and self-responsibility.
Can you talk about how you were introduced to Dr Harold Stossier and Viva Mayr?
Around 16 years ago, Chinese doctor in Dubai said ‘Go to Viva Mayr’. It was a pop in for one week. I said, “All right, let’s do that.” We reached there. It was beautiful and then I met the man. You see him piercing straight through into your eyes. He said a few things. Then I lie down for an hour, and he’s doing this test on me and that’s it. My whole panel of things going on in my body are in front of me without any blood tests, without any X-rays. It was about this man, where I felt everything that I was looking for in terms of knowledge, an encyclopedia was sitting in front of me. Wellness, health, because everything he spoke about was so simple. His language, his answers were in yes and no, straightforward. It’s funny most of the things that my grandparents or my parents have taught us, and then how we go into the big wild world, and then we’re working and we forget, or we just don’t care.
That’s exactly what he brought back into my life. The minute I started practicing certain things be it chewing, just simple thing. I applied it as medicine. Everything. When someone says gut instinct, gut health. You hear things, but there’s no logic behind it. He gave me logic. I got to experience it myself. That’s where the 16 years relationship were still there. I started studying at the academy. It took me many, many years to graduate in nutrition, health, and a few other things and we work together.
What happened when you were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, at 46?
It was one of those things. I diagnosed myself. I felt it. Every time I felt the lump, there would be a bitter taste in my mouth. Did I ever go through any fear, anything? No and everyone thinks I’m lying on this, but there was no fear. For me, a cold was worse than cancer. I know that sounds bizarre, but it was just, all right. I’ve always done everything right all my life. Now, if your thinking gets cluttered, everything is a disaster. No matter how strong your body is. For me, thoughts play a huge role. Gratitude is medicine, all this is medicine. Breathing is medicine. All that I’ve invested in since I was six, I should just let it all crumble? No.
You just go and say, all right. I went to again, Dr. Stossier, he closes my file and says, ‘So what do you want?’ I said, ‘What I don’t want is any chemo, Tamoxifen (a drug to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer), radiation, give me a tree of a bark to chew on. I’m fine with it or bark of a tree’. and he said, ‘All right, let’s do it’, and here I am. Is it so simple for everybody? No. I have worked a lot with breast cancer patients. The fear, family, this, that.
I think one of the biggest mistakes the family does is they pile on, they all have their own advice. With love, care. I understand that but you are overwhelming the patient and everyone has a suggestion. Then tears start falling. It’s okay to cry, but let the person breathe. Let the person think of what they want.
So you had a double mastectomy. Why no chemo, radiation or Tamoxifen?
It’s just something I’ve never had faith in. I’ve never wanted to ever apply conventional medicine when I always have found a solution with nature. I’m more connected to nature.
Have you been called dangerous for talking about this?
A great question. Everyone goes, ‘Yes, but we can’t talk about it’. I said, ‘Why, doctors are practicing in the clinics? Why can’t I say mistletoe I inject in my stomach?’ Yes, but the health ministries all over the world, if I look here, is allowing that practice. I’m not saying ‘do this’, I’m just sharing my story. I’m no one to advise anybody. If people call for advice, I can’t give it. This is what I did. I can put you and connect you to the people but I’m no one to give advice.
What’s the mistletoe you inject, this is part of your continuing post care?
Mistletoe is great to build your immune system. What we were doing was, we weren’t treating the cancer. I was working on my immunity, building my immunity to deal with whatever is happening in my body. There’s a beautiful homeopathic doctor here who does mistletoe treatment. You just inject and it’s a process. Everybody does it for a different time period and you’ve got different mistletoe from different shrubs, the apple, the pine. It really depends what premenopause, postmenopause. It really depends when you get cancer.
You’ve been talking about breast cancer and AIDS and HIV since both were very stigmatized…
I just want to mention something on breast cancer. 25 years ago, we couldn’t say breast cancer. We had to say cancer of the chest. I used to say, ‘Hang on, but you have a breast surgeon’. I could not use the word breast. There was a lot of education also in the system that was required because again, a social-cultural barrier not only here, all over the world, this has happened. The same process went through in the States, in the UK, in the ’70s and now. It’s moving forward. HIV/AIDS literally fell in my lap with my client, I was working with Durex.
I was watching a movie and in the cinema, I saw Durex and thought ‘What? They’re advertising? If they’re advertising, why aren’t we talking about it?’ I literally called them in the UK and I told them ‘I’m so and so’, and he thought it’s a prank call from a friend. He said ‘Oh, Kathy, stop pulling my leg’. I’m like, ‘No, this is Irina Sharma from Dubai and this is what I’d like to do’.
Now you can buy condoms in the gas station.
Exactly. That’s the thing. See, everything is being sold here. Then everyone said, ‘Irina, you’re going to get deported’. I said, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ There was no lines I’m crossing here. This is education and thanks to Durex, honestly, we did wonders and it was fantastic.
• The next LiveWell with Nakheel is on July 30, featuring the Wellevate podcast hosts Irina Sharma and Dr Nasr Al Jafari talking about gut health. To register go to Live Well with Nakheel, follow @wellevate.life and @nakheelcommunities for updates.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.