The art of meditation has many healing properties. It can relieve stress, which lowers blood pressure and can help your immune system. Alejandro Chaoul, the Director of Education of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, has practiced and studied meditation and has turned his passion into a way to help improve the quality of life for many through mind-body practices.
Alejandro Chaoul was born in Argentina, and he moved to the United States to attend Boston University. His studies at Boston University didn’t start out with Philosophy or even meditation, but as he met more people, his interests grew, and he knew that Western Philosophy was a course he wanted to pursue. After graduation, Alejandro went to India, where he stayed for a year and studied Hinduism and Buddhism.
Back in the states, Alejandro received a master’s degree from University of Virginia in Tibetan Studies and taught Spanish at the same time. While at UVA, he ran into one of his former teachers, who encouraged him to continue his studies. Alejandro was committed to the practice, but to teach he felt he needed to become more academic in the Buddhist world, so he applied to Rice University for his Ph.D., and moved to Houston.
While at Rice, Alejandro experienced several life-changing events that shaped the course of his story. The first was his two children were born, and his wife began working at Rice at the Baker Institute. His father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and went to MD Anderson for treatment. What he saw at Anderson, Alejandro saw the possibilities to help with a place of wellness, and he knew he wanted to help the patients there and to teach there. When Alejandro graduated from Rice, and he started to do research with Lorenzo Cohen, on how yoga and mind-body practices affected patients with Cancer, and he began volunteering at the Place of Wellness. He also had many of his studies on Cancer and mind-body practices funded.
When Alejandro’s studies of mind-body practice and the positive effects they had on patients who were ill were at their height, he moved to Anderson and joined the faculty of the Integrative Medicine Program, specializing in end of life care.
Integrative Medicine is all about optimizing health and quality of life. This is done through education and research-driven clinical care at MD Anderson. The classes that are offered through the Integrative Medicine program are free for patients, caregivers and anyone who has been touched by cancer. The classes include everything from massages and Tai Chi to music and meditation.
The main clinic of the Integrative Medicine program provides oncology consultation, exercise consultation, acupuncture and oncology massage treatment. The Mays Clinic provides health psychology consultation, music therapy, and meditation consultation.
Alejandro is the Director of Education of the Integrative Medicine program at MD Anderson and has found a way to turn his passion into a niche that is helping patients and caregivers with cancer lead a calmer and healthier life while also living with cancer. Now, the Integrative Medicine program has the Friends of the Integrated Medicine that exists to raise awareness of the importance of the complementary role that Integrative Medicine plays in cancer prevention and in helping those with cancer live better and longer.
Meditation and the Houston Community
When it comes to meditation, it is a practice that can be incorporated into everyone’s life. Alejandro guides people through the meditation process every Tuesday at the Mays Clinic, but he also shares his meditation practices throughout the Houston community.
Giving back to this vibrant and culturally diverse community, I’ve found that meditation is the medicine of the mind. It has given me a connection to myself and to others.
Alejandro Chaoul has a calm about him that puts a person at ease immediately. His voice is soothing and melodic and lends itself perfectly to being able to quiet the mind to get in touch with the body. When he does a group meditation, he tries to be aware of the mix of people that are there and pay attention to those that have been meditating for a long time, as well as those who are there for the first time. His role is a facilitator to connect you at whatever level you are at in your meditation practice.
There are 84,000 different types of meditation in just the Tibetan tradition alone, which is the tradition that Alejandro specializes in, and he affirms that everyone can do some meditation and that there should be more health guidelines for including these in your life. Alejandro also enjoys taking his meditation practice to the entire Houston Community, and he has held meditations at the Museum of Fine Arts, The Rothko Chapel, and the Asia Society.
Do you have to sit in a dark, quiet room to meditate?
People sometimes take it too seriously. Meditation is a fantastic tool. You can start in a simple way by just noticing how your mind is doing on that day. Is your mind going from thought to thought or should you breathe deeper? Can the mind guide the process and help you breathe? You just need to think that it will work for you. The mission is to find something in the mind-body connection to do in your life, because a healthy mind leads to a healthy body and the mind and the heart are connected both to yourself and to others.
On Tuesday, Alejandro Chaoul is holding a twilight meditation at The Rothko Chapel, that is free to the public. The meditation will be in the Tibetan tradition, but it is a spiritual, not a religious practice. This very special meditation will begin at 6 pm. There will be a mix of people there, and whether you are a beginner or experienced, all are welcome.