I am a proud Dad of two little princesses and happily married to Richa, my lovely wife of over 20 years. I am a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN. I also serve as Chair of Mayo Mind Body Initiative, Director of research and practice at Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, Chair of Mayo Medical Student Life and Wellness Committee, and Associate Director of General Internal Medicine Research Fellowship.
I was born and raised in Bhopal, a mid-sized town in central India. My initial medical training was at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. The consequences of chemical spill that I witnessed as a first year medical student at Bhopal, and the scourge of poverty, malnutrition and disease that I saw throughout my medical training, left a deep impression on my psyche. I began associating suffering with resource constraints, illness and lack of support, which indeed was true, but as I later realized, wasn’t the whole story.
Throughout my medical training in India we read books written by renowned experts in their fields, mostly professors from U.S. and Western Europe. Curious to experience medicine at its cutting edge, I gladly accepted the opportunity to come to U.S. for specialized training. In June 1995, I arrived in New York, hoping to learn and practice medicine with the best and the brightest in the world.
The Big Surprise
During my two-year residency in Internal Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY, and six years of medical practice in rural Washington at Ocean Beach Hospital, I practiced a different kind of medicine than I did in India. The patients were, on the whole, healthier and better nourished; I was treating mostly chronic medical conditions, not acute infections, and had access to considerably greater resources. But to my surprise, the suffering was the same, its nature, intensity, and pervasiveness. From a distance, I had naively assumed that the entire U.S. would be nothing but Disneyland. I imagined everyone here will be happy and having a good time. The extent of stress made no sense to me.
I started my exploration into the reasons for stress keeping the premise that everyone wants to be happy. Some universal limitations must be preventing us from accessing peace. The obvious suspects were the brain and the mind. I thus immersed myself in the neuroscience of emotions and pain, read about the irrationality and imperfections of the human mind, educated myself about the organization of the human brain, and learned the basic precepts of evolutionary psychology. I tried to discern the human experience beyond the descriptors of race, religion, nationality or economic status. Understanding the scientific basis of human suffering and its solutions for the modern world became my daily obsession.
An Important Insight
After a few years of investigating on my own, I took six-months ‘thinking break’ during which I toured different places overseas, met spiritual leaders, learned healing techniques, read wide variety of books, and meditated. In July 2003, I came to Mayo Clinic Rochester to pursue Masters in Clinical research, which I complemented with an Integrative Medicine Fellowship from University of Arizona. This novel combination, along with the later experience of leading several NIH funded studies, provided me a good balance of scientific rigor and open exploratory thinking to take a fresh look at the issue of stress and suffering.
After years of studying and learning from patients, students, spiritual luminaries, scientists, and philosophers, gradually a theme emerged. I realized that human suffering is often not caused by our conscious thoughts and actions. A high proportion of our suffering originates in the automatic innate mechanisms of our brain and mind that evolved to provide us survival advantage in the treacherous past. The brain and mind work very hard to keep us dissatisfied and stressed, effortlessly bypassing happiness. Our suffering is nobody’s fault, yet we all can do something about it. This realization was as inspiring as it was empowering.
Currently, a tremendous gap exists between the scientific understanding of our brain and mind’s workings, and how we live life or treat patients. I believe helping patients and others understand our brain and mind’s maladaptive mechanisms is the first step to overcome them. I also believe that the relaxation programs that were developed several thousand years ago may not be easy or even appropriate for the modern minds, since the 21st century brains are wired very differently.
My Life’s Mission
Having now connected with and helped tens of thousands of patients and students over the last five years with scientifically-validated programs, I believe I can offer useful insights into human stress, well-being, resiliency, and happiness. My life’s mission is to share this scientific and practical approach with as many as I can so we live a peaceful, content and happier life, and thereby make the world a better place for ourselves and our children. Further, although I remain and will always be a work in progress, I strive each day to live by the principles I share with others. That’s my promise to you.
I wish you well.