Janice Turner

Shifting Your Paradigm Toward a Healthier Heart

By Lorna Oppedisano | Photography by Alice. G. Patterson

Janice Turner, the first lady of Bethany Baptist Church, has a calming presence. Her warm smile and steady voice, each syllable and word carefully thought out, would surely put anyone at ease.

Women are often in “fix-it mode,” Janice said, explaining that they tend to take on other people’s worries, problems and drama, resulting in an “inordinate amount of low-grade stress.”

But you have to learn to “shift your paradigm,” she advised.

“You have to have something that will help center you, so that you can see things clearly,” she said.

Learning to let go early

Janice grew up in Syracuse, a middle child with eight other siblings.

“Our mother was the epitome of patience,” she said. “She rarely, rarely, rarely got overwrought.”

Along with calmness and composure, Janice’s mother taught her children to have a conscience, Janice remembered. If she or her siblings misbehaved, their mother would talk to them “in a way that would [make you] think, ‘Please, just give me a spanking and be done with it,’” Janice remembered with a laugh.

Her mother taught them to remember their actions would always affect others, a lesson Janice carried with her through a career in teaching.

Growing up, Janice was never particularly drawn to one career path over another. So, in college, when it was time to choose a major, she took a chance on teaching.

Following a successful career of 17 years in the classroom and 18 years in administrative roles, such as literacy coordinator and staff development person, that decision has proven to be a fruitful one.

Thinking back to those childhood lessons, Janice remembered a few house rules that she followed in the classroom, too.

“You didn’t tease each other. You didn’t fight. You had to forgive,” she said, adding that those are “prerequisites” for a career in teaching.

One of her favorite things about leading a classroom was the fact that at the end of each school day, she could bid her students a pleasant evening, and the next day, everything started anew, fresh. As a teacher, it’s important to not take things personally, and never hold onto negativity from one day to the next, she advised.

Children are perceptive and notice if you hold onto things, Janice said. As a teacher, she said, you’ll end up dreading each day, too.

And, in terms of heart health, she added, “you’re going to be a nervous wreck.”

Venturing from the comfort zone

Along with her composure and good conscience, Janice and her siblings inherited other, more physical traits, from their mother; health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure run in their family. Despite health complications, Janice’s mother lived until she was 89. She passed away from a stroke.

Before her mother’s passing, Janice learned a handful of health lessons from her. Her mother had started to shift her paradigm, Janice remembered, walking for exercise at Shopping Town Mall long before anyone else had. She also began making more soups and developing healthier cooking habits.

Traditional comfort foods — dishes typically rich in butter, fat and salt — can get people stuck in a cycle of caring for, or “comforting,” others, and falling short of valuing themselves and their own health. Eventually, it becomes discomfort, Janice explained.

One of the tenets she tries to bring to friends, family and the church congregation is the importance of breaking out of your comfort zone and trying different, perhaps healthier, cuisines and habits.

“So, now you have to shift your whole paradigm of what comfort is, and that’s where the spiritual part helps,” she said. “If you start shifting your paradigm to valuing your body, then you’re more likely to make those positive changes in your health.”

While Janice herself focuses on teaching about spiritual heart health, Bethany Baptist Church hosts a variety of health and wellness workshops, organized by the church’s health and wellness committee, a group of health care professionals.

Janice became acquainted with the mission of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign a few years ago when her church hosted an event. The survivors’ testimonies — the life changes they made and seeing them in full recovery — drew her to Go Red, she said.

“And that’s where I decided to do my best, be it in small groups of individuals or with family, by telling people the importance of getting your heart ready, or taking care of your spiritual heart,” Janice said, “so that we can do the work that your physical heart needs to be healthy.”

Bringing it down

The American Heart Association does a great deal of work to get the word out about effects of heart disease and stroke on women in the United States. A lot of people know which physical signs they should be on the lookout for, and how to stay heart healthy, Janice said.

In her role as small group leader at Bethany Baptist Church, she hopes to help people to know and read their bodies better through spiritual heart health.

When her husband attended seminary, Janice decided to go along and audit the classes. She’d been an educator, and had a natural curiosity. She found herself particularly drawn to the spiritual formation class. Janice liked the fact that this class encouraged care of one’s spiritual life, teaching centering and contemplative prayer, discipline and practice.

“That was a big turning point for me,” she remembered.

It was there she learned how to “bring it down,” she said with a smile, giving example with a long, centering exhale.

Without being centered — having spiritual health, as Janice explained — physical heart health won’t come easy, she said.

“I don’t think [physical health] really becomes applicable unless you are ready to do that,” she said. “And that means that you really have to have your heart and a mindset that you value your temple. So, that’s where the spiritual formation [comes in].”

For women, many of whom are in that constant “fix-it mode,” as Janice said, one of the challenges to overcome is learning to better value oneself, she said. Take a step back, learn to know the signs in your body and be willing to make changes to benefit you both physically and spiritually, she advised.

Along with that paradigm shift of cuisine change, moving is equally important.

“When you become more comfortable with your own humanity, you will want to get up,” Janice said, suggesting walking and yoga, her two go-to activities. “I like yoga, because it makes you pay attention to your physical and your spiritual self.”

It wasn’t until about two years ago that Janice moved yoga from her bucket list to her daily routine. It had been a goal, merely words in her journal, until one day, she worked up the courage to walk into a class. That first day, she had no idea where to find her mat or what the foam blocks were for, she admitted with a laugh. But, thanks to the kindness of her classmates, she quickly learned the ins and outs of the class.

“That’s the value of coming out of your paradigm and finding things,” she said.

Janice’s advice is to stay away from drama — “I’m allergic to drama,” she chuckled — continue to move, try new things and always strive to keep your heart soft.

A fair number of churchgoers in their 80s and 90s follow these guidelines, and happily drive themselves to service each week, she said. Janice added that while you might be predisposed to heart disease, it’s how you choose to live while enduring it that matters.

“Quality of life doesn’t mean longevity,” Janice said. “It means how you live in the moment.” SWM