Emory Report
April 3, 2006
Volume 58, Number 25


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April 3, 2006
Panel examines mind-body role in health

BY Alfred charles

The long-simmering debate that has pitted Western science against Eastern healing practices came to Emory during a panel session on March 29 that attempted to find common ground between the two disparate disciplines.

The 7 p.m. lecture, “Mind-Body Connections and the Search for Health: Past, Present and Future,” drew about 150 people to WHSCAB for the two-hour presentation. The overriding theme of the program was the role patients’ minds play in their quest for health and well-being.

Charles Raison, an assistant professor of psychiatry who works in Emory’s Mind-Body Program and has long been a supporter of Eastern healing practices, laid out the school of thought espoused by Western medical practitioners, while Pema Dorjee, chair of the Tibetan Medical Council and a leading scholar of Tibetan medicine, provided the beliefs of Eastern medical healers.

Anne Harrington, a Harvard faculty member who currently holds Emory’s Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor in Science & Society post, provided some historical insight into how attitudes about the mind-body connection have evolved over the years.

The discussion was the result of collaboration between the University’s Program for Science & Society and the Emory Tibet Partnership, which aims to link Tibetan wisdom with Western academic traditions. The fascination at Emory’s campus with science and Buddhism has surged in recent years. One of the Dalai Lama’s closest assistants for the last 15 years, Geshe Lhakdor, recently spoke on campus about the relationship between science and spirituality.

But the debate about holistic healing is not limited to the University. As the “Mind-Body Connections” lecture began, the panel’s moderator told the audience that they could continue their participation in the subject by watching a documentary later that night on public television that chronicled the effort by patients around the country who are seeking treatment that mixes Western science with Eastern mind healing techniques.
The PBS documentary “The New Medicine” examines how holistic medicine is being used in some quarters alongside traditional health care approaches.

Harrington reminded the Emory audience that, a generation ago, a significant portion of affluent Americans were enthralled by transcendental meditation (TM), a belief founded and practiced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught his followers that his meditation practices could lower stress while boosting health, intelligence, energy, happiness and self-esteem.

Harrington, a science historian, said that Western scientists would later conclude that the meditation approach turned off stress responses. “Meditation became a lot less interesting,” she said. “It could be deconstructed.”

But Harrington said the medical’s field renewed fascination with Eastern healing approaches stems from the “hungers we have on spiritual levels.”

Said Harrington: “There is no question that the reintroduction of Tibetan philosophy has reenergized the [medical] field.”

Dorjee, responding to a question from the audience, suggested that it was possible for Western medicine and Eastern beliefs to maintain their different points of view, but far preferable would be the creation of a third belief that mixes the best of both practices.

“If we could share and exchange views and produce something new, that would be wonderful,” he said.