Posted on August 16
Q. As a neurologist, how did you come into contact with meditation?
R. It was at the most difficult time of my life, in 2012, after a divorce. I was alone with my three small children. There was a voice in my head that was going around in circles and preventing me from sleeping. I drank, smoked and took sleeping pills. I started yoga to get out of it. In 2013, Matthieu Ricard, the Buddhist monk, invited me to a retreat. He was an expert in meditation and I, my area of expertise was the brain and consciousness. I in turn invited him to my lab at the University Hospital of Liège. Since then, as a neurologist, I prescribe not only medication, but also meditation. It should be taught in school, like in the gym.
Q. Is the religious dimension of meditation important?
R. For me it is a universal need, meditation does not have to be reduced to Buddhism. Matthieu is a Buddhist, I am not. But it is true that meditation is often linked to religious traditions. In the West we take too many painkillers, in Canada you have the opioid crisis. It is unfortunate that we do not use the traditions that already exist. I was in Australia, there the natives know a form of mindfulness meditation [quand on porte attention à son corps]. I would like to better understand how it works for Canadians, for those who read this article.
Q. And in the Christian tradition?
R. It is really something universal on a religious level. In the Christian tradition, this is called contemplation. There is a resurgence in popularity of these practices. I think it’s no stranger to the incredible success of my first book [La méditation, c’est bon pour le cerveau, paru en 2019]which has been translated into 10 languages.
Q. What are the outstanding scientific questions regarding meditation?
R. We have seen it with medical imaging, it changes the brain. There seems to be an effect on the gray matter which protects against aging, but also against the development of degenerative diseases such as dementia. But as a caregiver, I would like to prescribe more controlled clinical studies on the indications and contraindications, the side effects of meditation. Unfortunately, there is funding only for clinical drug studies.
Q. Are there really any contraindications to meditation?
R. History is filled with gurus who have taken advantage of vulnerable people. There are people who want too much. If you go for 10 days of meditation, it can be very confronting, it is not suitable for everyone.
Q. Should we standardize meditation, a bit like psychoanalysis gave way to more quantitative psychotherapies?
R. John Kabat-Zinn, who standardized mindfulness meditation, has a lot of credit. I prescribed his stress reduction therapy extensively in eight weeks. We saw it with COVID, confinements are good, but they generate big emotional gaps.
Q. There have been clashes in Quebec over spiritual needs during the lockdown.
R. Let’s be clear, we have reduced the pandemic too much in terms of the virus, the pressure on the health system. I work in intensive care, I understand this dilemma.
But the children and the elderly have had a lot of difficulty with the confinement. I have five children and my mother is over 80 with Parkinson’s, it’s very hard. Some people died of loneliness rather than the virus. I have two acquaintances who committed suicide because they lost everything. Virtual reality is not a solution.
Q. Concretely, when do you meditate?
R. As soon as I can, in a traffic jam, when I’m waiting somewhere. You can’t meditate for 20 minutes morning and night and say honey I want 20 minutes.
Meditate with the Dr Steven Laureys
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The importance of meditation
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