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Stanford University School of Medicine

Mindfulness takes center stage at Stanford Medicine X


Yesterday's Medicine X session on mindfulness, appropriately, kicked off with a brief, guided meditation led by Michael Amster, MD.

Amster, and several other panelists, said they developed a mindfulness practice to address an urgent physical or mental health need. Amster said a 10-day mindfulness retreat changed the course of his life and led him to found Wellness for Doctors, an organization that offers training and programs for physicians. "I'm very concerned about my colleagues burning out," he said.

Speaker Joe Burton also turned to mindfulness as a last resort after suffering from insomnia and back pain as a result, in part, of his high-powered career. In mindfulness, he found a way to restore his own health, as well as a new business opportunity: He founded Whil, a mindfulness system tailored to reach busy business people.

Burton said he wants to introduce others to mindfulness before they reach a crisis point.

Panelist Britt Johnson, an ePatient and board member of Medicine X, said she uses a mindfulness practice to cope with severe pain. "Increasingly, the more I understand it and develop that practice, it's becoming the main tool. That's what I'm going to first."

Mindfulness can take many forms, she reminded the audience. The guided meditation that began the discussion is one type of mindfulness, but Johnson pointed out that activities such as eating an apple can be done mindfully. Another example: Amster said he counsels doctors to consider hand-washing a mental and emotional cleansing to transition between patients.

The panel also featured Jennie Powe-Runde, clinical director of the Mind Body Awareness Project, which brings mindfulness programs to at-risk and incarcerated youth. Although her work is high-stress and emotionally intense, Powe-Runde said she benefits personally from the mindfulness practices. "The team I work with and lead, they're immersed in walking the walk, as well as talking the talk. The authenticity goes both ways."

At Burton's company, all the employees gather at 3 p.m. for a 10-minute group mindfulness practice. That practice helps build a healthy work culture and boosts performance the other 23 hours of the day, Burton said.

"Mindfulness is so powerful because it's not a thought process," Amster said. "It's actually a practice."

Previously: The opioid crisis: Medicine X panelists explore the complexity of managing chronic painMedicine X, the academic conference where "everyone is included," returnsUsing mindfulness-based programs to reduce stress and promote health and An oasis of peace in "the 500 channel universe": Research on mindfulness and depression
Photo of Joe Burton and Jennie Powe-Runde courtesy of Medicine X

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