Speaker: Mind and body deeply interconnected

The Asian Studies program’s guest speaker described the practice of meditation with an example the 115 audience members could relate to Wednesday afternoon in the Geren/Beck Room in the Brown-Lupton University Union.

“You are in the mountains, or a particular place of nature that you enjoy, or a sacred place, and suddenly you feel totally in tune. You’re totally in tune, not just with yourself but also with others, with the whole world, with the whole universe. And the moment you try to explain it, it leaves. The moment you start thinking, it leaves, The moment you start following a sound, it leaves. So that means you’re distracted from the wisdom.”

This wisdom that Alejandro Chaoul alludes to is the goal of meditation, and, in turn, medication.

Chaoul is involved with research that integrates meditation with breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Chaoul said when he first visited the Cancer Center, he was overwhelmed by the suffering there. He said that according to the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, life is suffering. He said the fourth Noble Truth, however, is that there are paths to healing this suffering, and he said he wanted to find a path for the patients.

Chaoul said his solution was a program based on the mind-body connection that has become more popular in the medical field in recent years.

“Mind and body are all part of the same unity,” Chaoul said. “When something happens in the mind, it might affect the body. When something happens in the body, it might affect the mind.”

The use of thousand-year-old practices Chaoul acquired from his Indo-Tibetan studies in combination with medical treatment has yielded positive results. He said he is currently working with 75 patients to help them cope with cancer treatment and improve their quality of life after treatment. The program has already helped hundreds of patients during the nine years it has been active, he said.

His research shows that meditation, concentration and yogic practices help manage stress, reduce pain, fatigue and nausea and improve cognitive levels and mental performance.

He said, however, that the patient must be willing, active and present in his or her own healing process.

Like the mental presence needed in the meditation example Chaoul gave at the beginning of his lecture, being completely present in one’s mind is the key to connecting not only with others, the world and the universe, but also with one’s own body, he said.

Alexander Gelinas, a junior mathematics and psychology major, said it was interesting to learn about proven research on Asian practices improving the self.

“I’ve done martial arts and Tai Chi and that sort of thing, and I’ve already experienced to a degree the sort of healing effects of having a calm, more relaxed demeanor,” Gelinas said. “It was interesting to know there’s official research on this and I’m not just a crazy kid who experienced this myself.”

Morgan Murrah, a junior nursing major, said that Chaoul’s research was innovative, and could be appealing to patients that want to try something besides straight medication.

Carrie Currier, director of the Asian Studies program, said it was interesting to see how all the pieces of the lecture fit together.

“He looked at yoga and meditation but also the importance of religion and spirituality and even brought in health,” Currier said. “I think in the end he just brought each of these individual pieces together in a way that really resonates with people.”