About Dr. Sood
I am a proud Dad of two little princesses and happily married to Richa, my lovely wife of over 20 years. I am a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN. I also serve as Chair of Mayo Mind Body Initiative, Director of research and practice at Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, Chair of Mayo Medical Student Life and Wellness Committee, and Associate Director of General Internal Medicine Research Fellowship.
I was born and raised in Bhopal, a mid-sized town in central India. My initial medical training was at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal and All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. The consequences of chemical spill that 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 in India 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 opportunity to come to 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 two-year residency in Internal Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NY, and 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, 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.
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 suspects were the brain and the mind. I thus immersed myself in the neuroscience of emotions and pain, read about the irrationality and imperfections of the human mind, educated myself about the organization of the human brain, and learned 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 six-months ‘thinking break’ during which I toured different places overseas, met spiritual leaders, learned healing techniques, read 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 and mind that evolved to provide us survival advantage in the treacherous past. The brain and mind work 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 and mind’s workings, and how we live life or treat patients. I believe helping patients and others understand our brain and mind’s maladaptive mechanisms is the first step to overcome them. I also believe that the relaxation programs that were developed several thousand years ago may not be easy or even appropriate for the modern minds, since the 21st century brains are wired very differently.
My Life’s Mission
Having now connected with and helped tens of thousands of patients and students over the last five years with scientifically-validated programs, I believe I can offer useful insights into human stress, well-being, resiliency, and happiness. My life’s mission is to share this scientific and practical approach with as many as I can so we live a peaceful, content and happier life, and thereby 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 by the principles I share with others. That’s my promise to you.
I wish you well.
SMART (Stress Management and Resiliency Training)
A structured approach to enhance engagement and emotional intelligence based on cutting-edge advances in neurosciences.
SMART is a structured program scientifically proven to decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety, and increase well-being, resilience, self-regulation, mindfulness, happiness, and positive health behavior. SMART addresses two aspects of human experience – attention and interpretation.
Research shows human attention instinctively focuses on threats and imperfections. Since a considerable amount of threat exists within the domains of the past and the future, attention inordinately gets engaged in the ruminative mind. The human brain has a default mode (dominated by default network) that hosts mind wandering. Scientists have recently uncovered that we spend half our day with a wandering mind. Excessive ‘dwell time’ in the default mode correlates with symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention deficit.
Human interpretations are guided by prejudices and principles. Invariant rigid biases that one is unwilling to renegotiate despite evidence to the contrary disengage the mind from the novelty of the present moment and increases reward (happiness) threshold. These biases prevent the individual from fully engaging with ‘what is.’
Instinctive functions of the brain and the mind thus lead to excessive thinking, ineffective efforts toward thought suppression, and avoidant response, all predisposing to stress and anxiety.
SMART workshop helps its participants with two closely integrated steps:
- The Basics– As a first step, participants develop a pragmatic understanding of the brain processes underlying human attention and interpretations. The training elaborates on the information about the brain’s default mode of mind wandering where we spend half our day (or more), and the mind’s focus on threats and imperfections. The workshop explores reasons behind the mind’s restlessness and irrationality, and the paradox of thought suppression causing recoil of the same thought. This is shared in a scholarly evidence-based fashion while keeping the format simple, participatory, and fun. The self-awareness that emerges from these understandings empowers the individual to take the first step toward more fully realizing the potential of their brain and mind.
- The Skills– The program offers two core set of skills – Engagement and Emotional Intelligence.
Engagement – Positive engagement entails authentic, undistracted and intentional presence. SMART fosters such engagement by training attention, a process that helps you discover greater novelty and meaning in your world. Trained attention finds deeper more nurturing connection with people (friends, strangers and loved ones alike), fulfills greater purpose, and helps one direct and sustain deeper focus. Such an attention is flexible, relaxed, yet passionate and purposeful. The outcome of positive engagement is less fatigue, greater creativity and productivity, and a more empathetic disposition.
Emotional Intelligence – SMART offers individuals a disciplined yet flexible focus to reframe their thinking with a more adaptive and pragmatic perspective that is conducive to calm temperament as well as passionate engagement. Such perspective helps enhance gratitude focus, nurture greater compassion, creatively work with ‘what is,’ explore life’s higher meaning, and strengthen forgiveness skills. The result is greater emotional intelligence, which in turn fosters more rewarding relationships, better emotional regulation, and thus enhanced ability to deal with adversity.
The workshop shares application of these skills to daily life, both personal and professional. The program has been tested in ten completed research studies at Mayo Clinic and elsewhere, with the results showing improvement in stress, anxiety, resilience, mindfulness, self-regulation, happiness, and positive health behaviors.
- Learn the neuroscience and behavioral aspects of human experience, particularly with respect to stress, resiliency, performance and wellness.
- Learn practical approaches to enhance engagement and emotional intelligence and thereby decrease stress and anxiety, increase resilience, enhance performance, and improve relationships.