Meditations in an emergency: Talking through pandemic anxiety with a pioneer of mind-body medicine


Andrew N. Wilner, MD: Welcome to Medscape. I’m Dr Andrew Wilner. Today I have a special guest, Dr James Gordon, founder and executive director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Welcome, Dr Gordon.

"This work is saying to people to take a little bit of time and relax a little, in order to allow yourself to come into a meditative state," said Dr. James S. Gordon, founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Courtesy Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Dr. James S. Gordon

James S. Gordon, MD: Thank you very much. It’s good to be with you.

Dr. Wilner: Thanks for joining us. We are recording this in late May 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people have been infected. Hundreds of thousands have died. Millions have lost their jobs. I think it’s fair to say that people are under a greater degree of stress than they’re normally accustomed to. Would you agree with that?

Dr. Gordon: I think it’s more than fair to say that everybody in the United States, and actually pretty much everyone in the world, is under extreme stress. And that compounds any stresses that they’ve experienced before in their lives. Everyone is affected.

Dr. Wilner: The mind-body medicine concept is one that you’ve pursued for decades. Tell us a little bit about the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and how that’s led to the program that you have to help us deal with the coronavirus.

Dr. Gordon: I started the Center for Mind-Body Medicine about 30 years ago. I’d been a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health for a number of years, in private practice, and a professor at Georgetown Medical School. But I wanted to really focus on how to change and enrich medicine by making self-care, self-awareness, and group support central to all healthcare.

Western medicine is enormously powerful in certain situations, such as physical trauma, high levels of infection, congenital anomalies. But we’re not so good at working with chronic physical or psychological problems. Those are much more complex.

We’ve been discovering that what is going to make the long-term difference in conditions like type 2 diabetes, pain syndromes, hypertension, depression, and anxiety are those approaches that we can learn to do for ourselves. These are changes we can make in how we deal with stress, eat, exercise, relate to other people, and whether we find meaning and purpose in our lives.

For the past 25 years, the major part of our focus has been on whole populations that have been psychologically traumatized by wars, climate-related disasters, the opioid epidemic, chronic poverty, historical trauma. We do a lot of work with indigenous people here in North America. We’ve worked in a number of communities where school shootings have traumatized everyone.

What we’ve learned over these past 25 years, and what interested me professionally as well as personally over the past 50 years, is what we’re now bringing out on an even larger scale. The kind of approaches that we’ve developed, studied, and published research on are exactly what everyone needs to include and incorporate in their daily life, as well as in their medical and health care, from now on.


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