Your mind is a powerful thing. The science behind the mind-body connection and how your thinking generates physical response in the body is at the center of Circle and Bloom’s mission and programs. Joanne Verkuilen, founder and creator of Circle and Bloom joined the podcast to discuss how meditation and visualization work and how we can tap into it to help manage our PCOS, fertility, and much more. Self-care like this is critical to living like a PCOS Diva.
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A full transcript follows.
Circle+Bloom was born out of Joanne’s passion for helping women overcome stress and infertility linked to stress. She was diagnosed with PCOS in her late-teens and was told that having a child would be very difficult for her. She had two very different pregnancy experiences but is now a mother to two happy, beautiful children.
Joanne delivers the guided meditations you’ll find in Circle+Bloom programs, among other things. She seeks to advance mind-body awareness and is a contributor to the fertility community and conversation in the United States of America.
Amy Medling: I discovered the website Circle and Bloom back in 2011 and had been recommending their visual meditation products to many of my clients whether they’re trying to conceive, going through IVF, or just wanting to live healthier with PCOS. Circle and Bloom, quote, “Is passionate about the power of the mind body connection in helping women including those wanting to conceive to use this unbelievable resource and body intelligence to improve health, well-being, fertility, energy, and anything else we desire. We want to ignite a mind body movement that empowers women to take charge of their health.” Today, I am really excited because the founder and creator of Circle and Bloom, Joanne Verkuilen is here with us to share more about the power of mind body awareness and guided meditation. Welcome, Joanne.
Joanne V.: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Amy Medling: I know that listeners would be very interested in sharing kind of your story how you came about developing your guided meditation, how they played a part in your story because you also have PCOS. I know that it was very instrumental in your healing process. Take us back to where this all began.
Joanne V.: Yes, my PCOS diagnosis was given to me by the first really good OB that I went to and this was when I was I think about 17, 18, 19 years old. When I say really good, because I think a lot of the symptoms kind of go undiagnosed, which is unfortunate. This particular OB, I’ll never forget him, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sat down and he saw my symptoms and told me that I had most likely Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and that pregnancy will probably be difficult for you. When I received that diagnosis at that really young age it kind of you know, you always have this Cinderella idea in your mind and I always did, you know, dreaming of being a mom one day and it kind of threw me for a loop. Of course I wasn’t in any position at that point in my life to need to do anything about it. I wasn’t married.
Another ten years later when I did get married, it presented itself as a potential issue, and it was always something that I was living with and, of course, most of us there was no real medication or treatment except for being on the pill which I was on for many, many years. Luckily, our first child came without … I mean, I did ovulate, I did have periods, but they were very sporadic and all over the place. I had a lot of hirsutism, I’m not sure if I’m saying that right but unwanted hair. I still do which is not fun. I don’t have the overweight part of PCOS, and as we just talked about as we were kind of gearing up for the show, PCOS has many different symptoms, so that’s what was coming up for me is this sporadic periods, unwanted hair in interesting and embarrassing places, and this issue of pregnancy, will I be able to become pregnant.
When we first were married, we tried and not tried, and within six months I was luckily pregnant with a very strong and healthy pregnancy. That kind of brought me at least mentally to a different place, of course, and so we waited a little bit of time, I would say two or three years before we went and tried to have our second child. That’s when I really started having issues and really difficulty, so I kind of term it up PCOS secondary infertility issue. It was heartbreaking, I mean, we went through I think two miscarriages and just this emotional up and down every single month, and I talk about that a ton and know that as I was going through it that my stress levels and just my ability to view my world from a place of peace and harmony just went away. It was very difficult to just deal.
We finally got pregnant again successfully after a miscarriage, I think within like my next cycle I got pregnant again which is nerve wracking as you can imagine. That was with Abby so we were very fortunate. We knew that we just wanted two. Then I had a really good friend start to go through infertility issues. It was only until I was able to go through it and then see a friend start to go through it that I was like, the stress, the emotional disconnect that you feel to yourself and your body and your dreams and why am I here, all these questions start to come up and it really took … The series of events and I looked at her situation and it’s hard to tell somebody, “Look,” she’s no PCOS with her, nothing physically impeding her pregnancy, so definitely unexplained infertility.
It was really hard for me to say, “You’re stressed,Steph.” You’re just not going to tell somebody who’s trying to become pregnant that they’re stressed, it’s like the last thing they want to hear. I had talked to her about it, anyway, the genesis for Circle and Bloom really came out of those very definitive events in my life. I really wanted to help her because I had just gone through it myself. The way I came up with the idea for the programs was I’ve always been interested in the mind body connection. I would always like in college I get myself into a really relaxed state to just allow kind of a natural, there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, but I just knew that I was stressed and that.
I used the ability to self-meditate, to self-relax, really to go through each body part, so I’ve always done that and that goes back to my early … Then I helped a friend in college with Alopecia. Alopecia is a condition where your white blood cells attack your hair follicles, and he literally lost all of his hair, and I just had this idea, why don’t I help you get into a really relaxed state and that will help you visualize what’s going on inside. Physically go in and see the white blood cells, and then see them kind of relaxed and go away. I helped him and he found great benefit to it. His hair grew back, I don’t know if it was because of those visualizations but then I started reading things by Dr. Bernie Siegel and Dr. Ellen Langer who’s at Harvard. The science behind the connection, it’s not something that’s talked about very much in terms of how your emotional state, how your thinking really kind of generates physical response in the body.
I reached out to Dr. Bernie Siegel who helped me create the Circle and Bloom program. He’s a New York Times best-selling author. He’s a fantastic advocate for us. You’ll find us on his website as well, and so putting the pieces together it was a passion project for me. I loved creating it, and we’ve got a slew of other programs. Our target is the infertility, helping other women, and I think a lot of us who do things like podcasting and blogging and consulting, and life coaching for fertility, we all have the experience otherwise you’re just not going to be able to connect with the audience. Yeah, to make a long story short, that’s where I stand. PCOS is the reason why I’m sitting here really and the reason why Circle and Bloom exist so positive benefit.
Amy Medling: I love to listen into your story, like you said, a lot of us in this work we have stories that allow us to do the work that we do and mine is very similar. I also had secondary infertility. Gosh, it’s such a hard thing to struggle with. You already have a baby, so you feel a little guilty because you had this child, but you really want another one and it’s not happening. I think, what I was wanting to say is that for those of you that are listening and you know that you have a greater calling to do something else in this world to make the world a better place in some way. I think your story it’s so interesting to see those little nuggets that these moments of helping your friend in college and then wanting to help your friend who was trying to get pregnant after you were pregnant, I think that’s almost like it’s your path and it’s kind of your soul calling you to this higher calling. If you’re listening today, if you feel like you’re getting these little tugs, listen to those nudges because who knows where that might bring you.
Joanne V.: Yeah, that’s so beautifully put. It definitely was a path and each little step led to the creation of a company that I call one of my greatest things I’ve ever done, really. Yeah, I love that.
Amy Medling: I had a client who was going through IVF, and she used your program, and she really credited your program as helping keep her centered amidst the storm of IVF. I would love for you to talk about like what is the program, what is the process, what are these guided meditations and how do they work?
Joanne V.: Yes, that’s great to hear about that, about your friend. I was actually looking at some of our data and we’ve impacted over now 50,000 women from our 2008 launch. These are numbers that are kind of staggering to me and it just speaks to what you were just talking about, follow your passion, just these things will become, take on a life of their own. Our programs are again based upon this mind-body science. We’ve got a lot of information, probably too much, but we have a lot of information about that on our website that delves into what does the mind body connection mean. What does it mean to tap into that? How can we leverage what are innate healing abilities are to help ourselves heal internally? Using a proactive approach, if you know anything for example about the …
You know the mind-body connection and looking at some of these incredible stories of using either your … If you know anything about the placebo effect, it is exactly what we’re talking about here. I mean, the placebo effect, it goes way above taking a sugar pill which is usually the example people give instead of the drug of whatever it is to really the pharmaceutical. If you take the sugar pill on average or usually the statistic show and usually these studies have to account for the placebo effect. That’s how powerful the placebo effect is. To discredit it or to put it aside so they can see the effects of the actual drug which is amazing to me. Why aren’t they study more about the placebo effect then if it’s so powerful.
Things like you hear stories of these knee surgeries that people will go into and they’ll literally not do anything after surgery and the person will come out with their knee healed because of the belief of what has happened. The belief of this external impact but then the body believing it and doing whatever it needs to do internally to self-heal. Things like that just outstand me, and it’s so interesting. To be able to then, all of this kind of background data and Dr. Bernie Siegel and his book, “Love, Medicine and Miracles,” talks a lot about this as well which is being able to visualize certain things happening within the body.
We tend to shy away from calling our programs meditation, but they are essentially but it goes a step further which is that we’re actually helping you go inside the body and actually use the mind body link to visualize what your body should be doing. The key to the difference and why Circle and Bloom programs are unique is that they’re tied to where you are in your cycle whether it’s an IVF cycle, whether it’s an IUI. We’ve got a whole slew of different applications to this but where you are, what your body should be doing. We literally go in and help you visualize, and it opens up the mind body connection that help you visualize your pituitary gland, your hypothalamus, and what happens when there’s data streams and communication between those two important organs in your brain down to your ovaries and uterus.
What’s happening during that particular day? Literally, our programs are timed to the day of your cycle. Not only do you get the benefits of relaxation and stress, but it’s also then taking that to the next level and using the ability to visualize and help yourself heal, leveraging the placebo effect, leveraging all these other things and so what happens is that not only do we see … It’s hard for us to say, and I will never say that x% of the time you will have success using our programs. I just won’t do that even if we can point to a specific study because there’s just so much other stuff that goes on in it. We’re very careful as to how we sell the benefits because we want to be honest and completely upfront, but not only do you have this physical benefit. I mean, we’ve had success stories that kind of would blow your mind.
I mean, pages, and pages, and pages if you’re interested on the website, but there’s also this in which is what your friend was talking about, this grounding element which is probably as important, right, as you’re going through this very stressful bombardment of drugs and doctors, appointments and worry, shots and just the overload, be able to then take the time for yourself and every single day ground yourself, do something that will relax you, reverse the effects of stress that cannot help. There’s studies out there that prove it and so my opinion there is just the stress effect is real and every single day doing something to reverse that. Essentially, where our program just unbutton it up, tie it up and unbutton is that there are audio programs that are geared, that you listen to that are geared towards where you are in your cycle.
If you’re just doing a natural cycle, there’s 28 programs. We help you adjust it if you don’t have the exact 28 day cycle like we do like PCOS for example, PCOS patients. We help you adjust that, but then every single day take time listen to the program, it gets you into relaxed state. You visualize what your body should be doing during that time of your cycle. It gives you that support system, that internal feeling that your body is responding and doing something different to help toward your path to pregnancy. Then we usually offer kind of an emotional exercise at the end of each of our programs whether it’s expressing hidden or subconscious feelings about becoming pregnant, that really could impact again the physical aspect.
Every single day there’s a different emotional exercise that we offer. We always encourage people to journal their thoughts. We always encourage people to connect with others. We actually have a very strong and active Facebook community that’s ultra-private and secret, and so on that helps you get that part of it as well to connect with others. That in a nutshell is what we offer.
Amy Medling: I think when you’re going through, I mean just having PCOS in general, but also going through fertility treatments, so much of it feels out of your control, but I think that you’re doing a program like this, it kind of gives you back some control. Right? You can pop in the recording and you can change your mindset and change the way you choose to feel about it. That is within your control. I think so many of us with PCOS we feel like we’ve lost control of our bodies, but this is one way to regain that sense.
Joanne V.: I couldn’t agree more. When we first launched, again, almost ten years ago. One of our first customer reactions which I’ll never forget was a woman had emailed us and just said, “Thank you so much, through this process listening to the programs, I feel beautiful again.” It was like, “Oh my god,” it just like struck me through the heart, I’ll never forget that. It’s so true like you forget through this process just everything is so whirlwind in your mind and to be able to settle down and remember who you are and give yourself that freedom to express internally that it’s okay that you’re having all these negative feelings about yourself. Reverse it, forgive yourself, to get on a solid grounding is so key to the process.
Amy Medling: Yeah, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces. I’m writing a book that’s going to be out on May. The first chapter is thinking like a Diva because you have to get that mindset piece down first and I really encourage women to have, I call it “meditation moments” every day where you can ground yourself and take time to regroup and focus on not just positive thinking, but I think it could really at the core for a lot of us is are we enough, are we deserving. I think taking these positives during your day through using a tool like the Circle and Bloom guided visualizations or even just taking a few moments in your day just to remind yourself that you are worthy. You’re worthy of this time for self-care because I mean, I think what we’re talking about is taking time for self-care. Even in the middle of this whirlwind fertility journey for how many women.
Joanne V.: Exactly. I think that that’s key. I think that’s also why in order to have a company, or process, or product, or an offering to this community, it’s so key that you’ve gone through it because there’s just so many emotions that people are going through and to be insensitive to that in any way is you need to just step away. That’s always been our first and foremost component of our offering is that I want people to know that they can reach out to us anytime to get the support that they need. It was actually recently a woman who just, she was having a really hard time towards the latter part of the cycle listening to the program. She just got really emotional all the time and listening to it almost got to a point where she couldn’t.
It was hard for me on email just to say what is going on, what is it that’s coming up for you when you do listen to the program, we jump on the phone and we talk through it. Believe me, I tell people I’m not a therapist, I’m not even a life coach, but just to be able to talk through and really figure out what’s going on. That’s primary to our offering in terms of the support. It’s so key. We cannot be a company and there’s so many of them today that you email, who knows who’s behind it, the website and who knows who’s behind … You never get a response email. I mean, if that ever happens to you in the company like then I’m out because I’m not involved because that would never happen … Anyway, that’s key.
Amy Medling: I mean, congratulations on just this … it’s not so much the success, but the women that you’ve been able to reach, 50,000 and really been able to change their life. It is really amazing. It’s an inspiration for me for sure.
Joanne V.: Thank you. Thank you.
Amy Medling: To have that longevity too in this fly by night, I can’t tell you how many companies in PCOS-
Joanne V.: I know, right. I know.
Amy Medling: It really come and go. At PCOS Diva we started in 2011 so it’s not quite as long as you but it’s been a while. Yeah, it’s amazing who’s come and gone. For those listening, thank gosh I can’t really add one more thing to my plate. I’m exercising, I’m trying to get in the kitchen and cook real food from scratch. How can I find time to add this one more thing, what would you say?
Joanne V.: I would say this, that I would really strongly suggest reframing it and calling it a time for yourself and calling it a time in which you can connect with yourself and really think about it differently not so much, “Oh my gosh it’s going to be one more thing I have to do.” Reframing it to say even if you haven’t even started yet but reframing to say, looking forward to that time when I can disconnect from the world. Get in touch with myself and my inner being, essentially that’s what you do through this process. Out of that, I’ve become stronger. I’ve become more receptive to the changes and the whirlwind going on in my life. I become more accepting and less anxious. I think it’s so critical. Reframing that piece of it I think would be the best way to think about it.
Honestly, 13 to 15 minutes you could even, there’s some women who tell me that they listen twice a day because that’s how much they get out of it. That’s what I would recommend, and I do think that yes, it’s like what I’m dealing with recently is I’m trying to schedule my day so that I have more time for myself like in the morning when I can sit down and journal and really plan out my day. I have to remind myself, this is key towards my own well-being to get the shit I want to get done, done. Then at the end of the day finding time, there’s a new exercise thing I like to do online, but putting aside that 20 minutes like a yoga thing that I’ve been doing. I find that if I schedule it in, it’s my time, and I also felt great after doing it. That’s what I would recommend.
Amy Medling: I think you need to focus on that feeling, good feeling that you’re going to have after you do it.
Joanne V.: Yes.
Amy Medling: If women that are listening are interested in your programs, I know you have a free introductory program.
Joanne V.: Yes. It’s very easy to find the introductory program. We offer that completely free, complimentary, but it’s on our website circlebloom.com. We actually have a lot of other free resources as well and we have a program that if you have experienced a miscarriage recently or other loss, that’s another program that we offer completely complimentary. We will never charge for that particular program. A lot of women get a lot out of that, it’s a way to just kind of center yourself again and work through the grief and the emotions. That’s on there. We actually recently similar to the infertility story, we’ve recently launched a cancer program. A really good friend of mine is struggling with pretty serious issues regarding cancer.
Usually I need a muse to help me, so I developed this series of programs specially for her but that’s now also something that we offer and again it’s using its grounding. It’s really the same, all the things we just talked about. Grounding yourself through cancer diagnosis. Grounding yourself through having to go through the treatments and then leveraging that the ability for your body to self-heal and it’s unfortunately getting beyond. You almost have to believe it first that you can do that. If you do and you really apply this principles consistently, it can be pretty amazing. If I can, just Dr. Bernie Siegel has a story in his book, “Love, Medicine and Miracles,” about a little boy who was I think 12 or 13 who’s diagnosed with advanced stage of brain tumor.
Doctors went in, figured that would be too risky to operate, so they essentially told his parents accordingly, and they couldn’t do anything more for him. The parents though took it upon themselves to find a mind-body place where they taught him visualization, and so every night this boy would visualize going inside of his brain and visualizing a space Martian gun type situation that he would be shooting the cancer, and was very consistent with it, and the boy at one point told his dad, “I have nothing left to shoot.” The dad knew what he was talking about. There’s nothing left to shoot. He had fallen down the stairs which required him to have an MRI to see what was going on. You probably know the story which is that they go in, and they find no evidence of the cancer.
It’s these kinds of stories that ignite something in me. I’m like, we need to know more about this as human beings. What else can we be doing to tap into our self-healing capabilities? We can’t just accept and hand over his diagnosis that the doctor gives us. We can’t give up our power which I get very passionate about this because it’s like there’s so much more we can be doing that we have control over. It’s first of all believing it and implementing it and finding the tools to help you which is where we have come in in that regard. Our cancer program is in its early stages, not a lot of people know it’s there. We’re trying to get the word out. Trying to figure out how to best do that but it’s a full program. I think over 18 hours of audio programming that will help you through any kind of, the post-surgery, pre-surgery, chemo treatments, radiation treatments, how to feel before and after all of these.
Anyway, that’s our next passion project, and we’re thinking about maybe offering it for breast specifically for breast cancer, specifically for ovarian cancer, but really it can be applied universally, but we have programs from PCOS as well, so if you have PCOS and you’re trying to become pregnant, it implements additional visualizations regarding hormonal balance that you should be experiencing. There’s a lot of research that went into this. This dates back four or five years which is like … Understanding what we know about PCOS today which was not easy because the development of this programs I need to understand how the body is acting in the state that of the disease or the syndrome and then how the body should be acting and connecting the two so that we can visualize the counter balance to those and that’s exactly what we’re doing with PCOS.
As you can imagine, it was very challenging to figure out what’s happening in terms of the hormonal and disconnect and testosterone and all these things that come into play and insulin. We have a program for PCOS if you’re trying to become pregnant, also if you just want to find the self-healing component and using the visualizations if you’re not trying to become pregnant with PCOS.
Amy Medling: I think it’s just a great addition to the PCOS Diva Lifestyle, so I really encourage those listening trying to conceive, go ahead and download the free guild and check out your fabulous site.
Joanne V.: Thank you.
Amy Medling: I’m so glad you took a few moments out of your day to come talk to us.
Joanne V.: Absolutely.
Amy Medling: I feel your passion, I’m really grateful for what you do, Joanne.
Joanne V.: Thank you so much. You as well. I know it’s been a long time. We’ve had a relationship online for a long time, and I love what you’re doing for PCOS as well.
Amy Medling: Thank you.
Joanne V.: We do have a special. Can I …
Amy Medling: Yeah, please.
Joanne V.: From PCOS awareness, I think we’re offering 20 or 25% off for those programs just for the PCOS awareness month which I think is September.
Amy Medling: Right, right. Okay, great, that’s fantastic. I just want to thank everyone for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. If you like this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe to PCOS Diva on iTunes or wherever else you might be listening to the show. If you have a minute, please leave me a quick review on iTunes because I love to hear from you. If you think somebody else might benefit from this podcast, please take a minute to share with a friend or family member so she can benefit from it too. Don’t forget to sign up for my free newsletter at pcosdiva.com to make sure you never miss an article or future podcast. This is Amy Medling wishing you good health. Bye-bye.