On The Road To Mindfulness

I just realized I tweeted an article about mindfulness that’s accessible only to physicians. So before we head out on a road trip on this Labor Day weekend, let me try to summarize it for you. The author, Elena Rover, wrote the article “Stressed Out? Breathe In.” There’s sort of an abstract:

This most basic of biological functions can also be one of the most powerful weapons against stress. Read the research, then try the exercises described at the end of the article to learn how to use your own breathing for relaxation.

My firetruckWell, I’m not so sure about the relaxation part. I’ve recently reached my one year anniversary in daily practice of mindfulness after finishing our university’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. It’s not so much about relaxation; you may or may not relax. It’s more about paying attention to what’s happening in your life moment to moment, nonjudgmentally. A class about MBSR has been added to our residents’ curriculum. I can attest to its practical benefits as a consulting psychiatrist in a large academic medical center, where a hectic pace is the norm, traveling all over the hospital putting out fires. I’m on the lecture schedule to talk to the first year residents about my practice this month.

Rover mentions a fast breathing technique that I was not taught in my MBSR class last year, but which I think I recognize from watching the well-made video, Free The Mind, see YouTube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prEfBMAREMI  a DVD copy of which our health sciences library has acquired. The blurb about it is: “Free the Mind follows neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson as he conducts an unusual experiment. Following the practices of Buddhist monks and the advice of the Dalai Lama, Dr. Davidson utilizes meditation and yoga in an attempt to physically alter the brains of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To see how early in life these practices can take effect Dr. Davidson broadens the study to include children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

Anyway, Rover also says that “…one thing your medical training probably didn’t cover was how specific types of breathing can be useful tools for relieving stress–not only for your patients, but for you, too.” She quotes a physician, Mark Bertin, MD: “The perception in medicine, as it is taught, is that personal life comes second.”

That’ll sound familiar to all medical students and residents. I gave a printed copy of this article to the trainees rotating on the psychiatry consultation service with me this month. They’re a really sharp group and working pretty hard. By the way, they’re also learning about how to get small by walking our mascot, Alice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The bottom line is that docs need to take care of themselves in order to best care for their patients. Mindfulness is one way to do that. Dr. Bertin’s yet-to-be-published research shows that it can be effective. His study of 65 practicing doctors at a major health system involved their completing an online 12-session program, after which Perceived Stress Scores (PSS) went down about 27%, sleep improved about the same (measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index), and productivity also increased by almost 48% (measured by the Work Limitations Questionnaire). One of the results was nearly 80 minutes of productivity gain per week per doc.

I say one of the results because the gain in quality of life overall was not measured–get my drift? Work is not everything.

Dr. Bertin also points out how easy it is for doctors to get overworked to the point they go on auto-pilot, almost blindly following “routines and protocols,” which can lead to missing other important things in life. It can feel like being one of the walking dead.

See you.


Rover, E. (2015) Stressed Out? Breathe In. Physicians Life. “This most basic of biological functions can also be one of the most powerful weapons against stress. Read the research, then try the exercises described at the end of the article to learn how to use your own breathing for relaxation.” Date accessed 9/4/2015.



  1. Donna Barker says:

    Thanks — I so totally agree and though I have practiced mindfulness for over 20 years, I am still a “beginner” and still learning.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: