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Stressed-out docs first need to heal themselves to best help pediatric patients

Spiritual leader says 20 minutes of daily meditation can boost energy, avoid burnout April 20, 2018
Dr. Newman with Sri Sri

WASHINGTON – Addressing a standing-room-only audience at Children’s National Health System and hundreds more viewing remotely, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that people often work to create wealth and, in exchange, lose half their health. Then, they spend half their accumulated wealth attempting to restore their flagging health.

“It doesn’t often happen,” says Sri Sri, a global peace ambassador, humanitarian and spiritual leader. “We need to take care of the stress factor. We have too much to do, too little time. I think this is a common experience. Time, you cannot increase. There is limited time. You cannot reduce the workload. The only option left is increasing your energy level.”

The April 20, 2018, visit was his first-ever to a pediatric hospital as well as to Children’s National, whose colorful, cheery decor he likened to being in Disneyland. “It doesn’t look like a hospital. I think this is how hospitals should look. It’s not just healing for the body. It’s healing for the mind and spirit.”

It’s a lesson that stressed-out pediatricians should heed and learning they can glean from babies in their care, who he says smile hundreds of times per day, even before their tears dry, and are as flexible as a trained yogi. Health care providers need to spend at least 20 minutes a day reorienting themselves around the importance of breathing, cultivating a vibrant state of mind and adhering to what he calls M&M–meditation and healthy, balanced meals.

Sri Sri led attendees in group meditation, shaking away stress in hands and wrists, progressing to expel tightness from limbs and torsos, dispelling tension and infusing calmness through deep, measured breathing. He startled attendees by confessing that the gently guided meditation lasted a full 15 minutes, even though it felt a snapshot in time.

“At Children’s National, we realize that the well-being and resilience of our caregivers and teams of health care professionals are critical. When we think about healing children, we need to be healed and healthy ourselves,” Kurt Newman, M.D., Children’s President and Chief Executive, said in introducing Sri Sri. Dr. Newman called his visit a “unique” event aimed at helping staff “reconnect to our professional joy and the meaning of being here.”

Children’s newly formed provider wellness committee, which invited Sri Sri to speak, announced additional projects to further that aim, including:

  • A first-ever advanced provider wellness course from Sri Sri’s organization aimed at reducing provider burnout, which Hemant Sharma, M.D., M.H.S., co-chair of the wellness committee, called a “silent epidemic”
  • In collaboration with Children’s National and Sri Sri’s Art of Living foundation, Glenstone will host a summer course to help bereaved parents from Children’s National experience healing through breath-based meditation and art.

Mothers whose children were patients at Children’s National when they died–Whitney Ortiz and Jeni Stepanek– were joined by Emily Rales, founder of Glenstone, to discuss this initiative.

Sri Sri met with the women privately in Children’s Bunny Mellon Healing Garden and later called them “courageous” for their resolution in providing healing and solace to other grieving families. “I congratulate them for their courage and their initiative.”

As Sri Sri donned a protective yellow gown and gloves to tour Children’s pediatric intensive care unit, Stepanek reflected on the revolutionary changes that have occurred at Children’s National since each of her four children died due to complications from genetic disorders. The last of her children to succumb was Mattie, a poet and peacemaker whom Oprah called a “prophet for our time.” The visit was her first return to Children’s National in 14 years.

“My heart is here. The people here loved my children and took care of my children and made sure they knew they mattered–despite the fact they knew they weren’t going to live long lives,” Stepanek says. “In addition to physical changes, there has been a psycho-social change at Children’s National: They are now tending to body and mind and spirit in an integrated way.”

Media contact: 
Diedtra Henderson | (443) 610-9826 | (202) 476-4500


About Children's National Health System

Children’s National Health System, based in Washington, D.C., has served the nation’s children since 1870. Children’s National is one of the nation’s Top 5 pediatric hospitals and, for a second straight year, is ranked No. 1 in newborn care, as well as ranked in all specialties evaluated by U.S. News & World Report. It has been designated two times as a Magnet® hospital, a designation given to hospitals that demonstrate the highest standards of nursing and patient care delivery. This pediatric academic health system offers expert care through a convenient, community-based primary care network and specialty outpatient centers in the D.C. Metropolitan area, including the Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia. Home to the Children’s Research Institute and the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National is the seventh-highest NIH-funded pediatric institution in the nation. Children’s National is recognized for its expertise and innovation in pediatric care and as a strong voice for children through advocacy at the local, regional and national levels. 

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