By Ryan McKinnon
Medical and scientific research backs centuries-old wisdom about how to live a meaningful life, a noted brain expert said Tuesday.
Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist and best-selling author, has studied the myriad ways ancient practices like meditation or awareness change the physical architecture of the brain while altering both physical and mental health. The world-renowned brain expert spoke to a group of mostly medical clinicians in Sarasota about how the physical brain benefits from treating the abstract mind. Put simply, combating the stress, trauma or negative experiences stored in a brain can directly improve physical health.
“It’s almost like sci-fi — you’d think I’m making it up,” Siegel told the roughly 100 clinicians, therapists, social workers, and child advocates at the Sarasota Community Foundation during Forty Carrots Family Center’s 15th annual free community education talk.
Siegel’s message centered on the intersection of the brain and the mind. Too often, Siegel said, clinicians studying the physical brain pay no regard to those who are studying the impact of relationships on behavior, and vice versa. He described several ways that practicing mindfulness, which he said means focused attention, the awareness to be open and the intention to be kind, can alter both the makeup of the brain and someone’s physical condition. Children with attention deficit disorder got better results from eight weeks of mindfulness training than from being prescribed Ritalin, Siegel said.
“It was meditation, not medication,” Siegel said.
Michelle Kapreilian, executive director of Forty Carrots, described Siegel as a researcher with “rock-star status in his field.”
“For many years Dr. Siegel has been at the top of our staff’s wish list of speakers for this community presentation,” Kapreilian said.
Several attendees said Siegel’s talk provided scientific validation for some of their methods. Bruce Sogolow, executive director of RADical Healing Inc., said Siegel’s talk was “very reinforcing.”
Linda Stone, CEO of the Community Health Center of Sarasota, works with low-income patients who are often dealing with relationship issues in addition to health issues. Her case load represents the need to care for both the client’s “brain and mind.”
Stone said she hopes to incorporate more mindfulness techniques into her treatment of patients who may be resistant toward medication.
“We work with a low-income population. How do we support them in a way that enables them to maintain treatment?” Stone said. “I hope to use more mindfulness approaches.”
The morning event was an invitation-only session targeted mostly toward medical clinicians. On Tuesday evening, Siegel spoke to hundreds of parents and educators at a free event open to the public at Riverview High School in Sarasota.
Bianca Lawrence, a mother and volunteer who led Tuesday morning’s event, said she was inspired by Siegel’s message on the importance — and benefit — of kindness.
“We are so focused on where our children are going to be and trying to push them,” Lawrence said, while adding that kindness “is just as critically important as where you rank with your G.P.A., or where you rank with your scores or where you get into school.”