My (Dr. Sood’s) Story
I am a proud Dad of two little princesses and happily married to Richa, my lovely wife of over 25 years. I am creator of the Mayo Clinic Resilient Mind Program, a former Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN, where I served as chair of Mayo mind-body initiative, and enterprise chair of student life and wellness.
My Early Years
I was born and raised in Bhopal, a mid-sized town in central India. My mother was a teacher at an elementary school and my father had a small job with the state government. I am the youngest of four siblings and was raised with tremendous love, nurturing, and values. Nevertheless, I experienced considerable bullying and health issues, that adversely affected my confidence and sense of self-worth.
My initial medical training was at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. Consequences of the chemical spill 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 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 invitation, when a Professor from a reputed institution invited me to come to the 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 training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY, and then 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 in terms of 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.
Further, I was witnessing the acceleration in the pace of the world in front of my very eyes, along with attrition in human connection and relationships. I was shocked in my training when most of my work was managing numbers on the computer with little time spent bedside. I was first fascinated by the permeation of the internet with all the supporting gadgets in our lives, but soon realized this could breed loneliness, weak attention, and information overload. I don’t like to say I knew so, but in this instance, anticipated the surge in stress and mental health issues we might experience in the coming decades. I naturally turned to immersing myself in the causes of stress and potential solutions—a relatively new field for me at that time.
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 suspect was the brain. I educated myself in the neuroscience of emotions and pain, read about the irrationality and imperfections of our perceptions, learned about the organization of the human brain, and 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 a six-month ‘thinking break’ during which I toured different places overseas, met spiritual leaders, learned healing techniques, read a 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 that evolved to provide us survival advantage in the treacherous past. The brain works 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’s workings, and how we live life or treat patients. I believe helping us understand our brain’s maladaptive mechanisms is the first step to overcome them. I also believe that the relaxation programs that were developed several thousand years ago aren’t easy for the modern world, since the 21st century’s brains are wired very differently.
My Life’s Mission
Having now conducted over twenty clinical trials with the approach we have developed, published several books, connected with and helped over half a million patients and students with scientifically-validated programs, trained several hundred trainers, I believe I can offer useful insights into human stress, well-being, resiliency, happiness, and performance.
I am an introvert who struggles with self-worth. It has thus taken considerable courage and grit to climb out of my skin to serve my life’s mission, which is to develop and test innovative approaches to wellbeing, share scientific and practical solutions with others, and train as many teachers as I can, so we together 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 my life guided by the principles I share with others. That’s my promise to you.
I wish you well.