by clicking the "Next" arrow.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Mindful : April 2016
The Science of Compassion By Victoria Dawson Photograph by Blake Farrington “Giving back affects our bodies: We live longer, are healthier, and are more resilient to stress.” Raised in Bombay, India, Parneet Pal entered medical school at the age of 17, and was part of the first generation in her family to attend college. She wanted to help others as a physician, but when she completed her internship and residency—at Columbia and Harvard universities—she felt dissatisfied. Now, 12 years later, she has found her calling in the field of well-being, moving from traditional clinical practice to life- style-as-medicine consulting at academic institutions and as chief science officer at Wisdom Labs, a San Francisco start-up. Why did you choose a non-tradi- tional approach to medicine? In North America, three out of four of us will suffer from a lifestyle-related chronic disease, and 80 to 90% of this is completely preventable. But nobody was talking about prevention and how to help people stay well—how to not get sick in the first place. That seemed counterintuitive. I felt a great disconnect between what I was doing and the impact I wanted to have on people’s lives. I made the decision to move away from traditional clinical practice and to dive into an explora- tion of what being well means. And first you went back to India? I felt lost. My whole identity had been tied to being a physician. Simultane- ously, my niece was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune kidney disease. Her health deteriorated, and we were told we would lose her. I felt helpless. How did you work your way out of your personal crisis? In India, I grew up surrounded by a culture that has a more holistic view of health and well-being. My parents meditated and practiced yoga. I didn’t. I thought I was too cool for that. But when I returned, I was in low spirits, anxious about my future and about my niece. I started exploring medita- tion just within the context of taking care of myself, of finding some peace of mind and stability. I played with different types of meditation and landed on a compassion practice. I also volunteered for the first time, work- ing with a non-profit in Bombay that serves children who live in the slums. Ironically, I was the one who benefited the most by spending time with them. I still tear up when I think about them. Slowly but surely I noticed a shift in my mood, in my perspective, in my ability to show up for my family and my own self. It helped that my niece made a recovery and is doing well. You mentioned compassion. Tell me more. Compassion means to notice suffer- ing in oneself and others and then to be motivated to do something to alleviate that suffering. The science of compassion is compelling: Giv- ing back has huge ramifications for health and well-being. It affects our bodies right down to gene expression. We live longer, we are healthier, we are more resilient to stress. We have better social connections. We’re more inclined to eat better, move more, and sleep better—and it helps prevent those lifestyles that lead to chronic diseases. You can put this into practice right here, right now: When you’re feeling stressed, help somebody else. Doing that literally engages the physiolog y of compassion. I think it’s one of the best things we can take from science. How does compassion fit into your own daily practice? For 10 to 20 minutes, when I first wake up, I do a few rounds of deep breathing, followed by a compassion meditation practice. Then I set my intention for the day. Throughout the day, whenever I see somebody—in a meeting, on the street—I silently wish them well: “May you be happy.” It takes only a second to wish someone well, but if you think about it, you are also priming your brain, your own networks, to lean toward compas- sion. Also, once a week I practice the five-minute favor, a tool I learned from author Adam Grant—intention- ally doing something unexpected for someone. It’s a wonderful way to keep the juices of giving flowing. And it multiplies, doesn’t it? Science is showing that compas- sion is contagious: it spreads in social networks, up to three degrees of separation. If I notice somebody being kind, I feel good, and it makes it more likely that I will then help somebody else, and my friends, seeing that, will do the same, and their friends will do the same, and so on. I can’t think of a better skill to go viral than compassion. ● 30 mindful April 2016 meet the meditator