How did you come to use meditation to heal your patients, children and teenagers?
It all started in 2007 when I worked at the Bicêtre hospital in Paris in the reference center for rheumatological and inflammatory diseases in children. It seemed to me then that there was no clear distinction between evils of organic origin and those of a psychological order. My long years of practicing meditation had convinced me of this. Psychosomatic illnesses are an example of this interaction between the psyche and the soma. I started offering meditation to children in order to pacify their psychological state. To my surprise, their pathological situation often improved dramatically. I came, little by little, to develop specific techniques aimed at relieving various ailments from which children suffer.
You then systematized the use of this tool at the Nîmes University Hospital…
After a thesis in immunology, I was appointed professor of medicine at the University of Montpellier-Nîmes. I continued to use meditation as a therapeutic complement at the University Hospital of Nîmes to treat children. I used to save the meditations on the child's cell phone so that he could practice at home. One day, a child suggested that I write a book with an audio part. It has become meditacare, book in which I explain the procedure to be followed by the children through twenty clinical cases. I offer fourteen simple meditations to practice at any time.
Are the exercises you propose inspired by Buddhist practices?
Most of these exercises come from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Vipassana meditation. Certain exercises, however, such as the meditation of self-compassion, come from both Buddhist practices and the teachings of the Ignatian tradition.
How are the consultations carried out?
They always begin with a deep listening to the young patient and the members of his family. I listen to them carefully without interrupting them so that they can express everything they have to say. Then I make a diagnosis. These children are often anxious about the future because of their illness. I then suggest that they breathe and do a mental body scan, an exercise that consists of observing the sensations in each part of their body and gradually relaxing each of them. This tool makes it possible to obtain, while remaining awake, a very deep relaxation. In the majority of cases, children regain calm and smile after these exercises and begin to see things differently. A management plan can then be established. I then teach them relaxation while lying down so that they can fall asleep peacefully. Due to illness, children have to deal with being different from others (frailty, handicaps, repeated absences, or visible signs of illness). They sometimes have to deal with teasing or misunderstanding from their classmates or their teachers. I then offer them self-compassion exercises to help them regain their self-esteem. When they have too much rumination, I teach them to observe the thoughts that arise and let them go.
How do parents react to these practices? Do they sometimes show a form of reserve or suspicion with regard to meditation?
No, because I am not talking to them about meditating. I invite my young patients to breathe in and out and focus on the sensations. I suggest that parents accompany them in these exercises. They thus approach meditation experientially and can see its beneficial effect.
What are the ailments and illnesses that you can best alleviate or even cure through meditation?
Ten percent of the children who come to see me have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They fail to concentrate and are restless all the time. They may also develop oppositional and defiant disorders. When conscious breathing is introduced to these patients, the children take it as a lifeline, because they are often failing at school with low self-esteem. I teach them to use the breath as a way to bring awareness back into the body and focus. They are very receptive and assiduous to meditation, because they understand very quickly that these practices free them.
“I suggest that children breathe and do a mental body scan, an exercise that consists of observing the sensations in each part of their body and gradually relaxing each of them. This tool makes it possible to obtain, while remaining awake, a very deep relaxation. »
I also treat patients who suffer from a wide variety of pain. It's not just physical pain. There is always a psychological reaction to physical pain. By relying on meditation, one manages to remove or attenuate the moral component of moral suffering. Thus, meditation helps to live better with psychosomatic pain. Little by little, the unpleasant sensations no longer bother them.
What other ailments can you cure with meditation?
Meditation is effective against tics, tocs, insomnia, anxiety which can aggravate breathing difficulties such as asthma or headaches. I also work on inflammatory diseases and autoimmune diseases.
Can we cure an autoimmune disease by relying on meditation?
When I receive patients who suffer from autoimmune diseases, I make them do an exercise that aims to allow them to come to terms with their dysfunctional organs. I first offer them to do a body scan, then I invite them to send tenderness energy towards the diseased organs. I have observed in patients who regularly meditate a drop in their auto-antibodies. And, thanks to this method, we can reduce the drugs prescribed at the beginning of the treatment, or even stop them.
Can you cure childhood phobias?
A phobia is an unconscious fear. It comes from a past event that the child experienced with fear, without being aware of his bodily sensations. He does not want this event to happen again and interposes fear between the mental experience of the situation and the bodily feelings. This blockage prevents him from reliving these unpleasant sensations. While it is by facing these feelings, while remaining equanimous, that one comes out of this panic. To accompany these children, I begin by placing them in a state of reassurance. I then accompany them so that they can return, through their imagination, to the phobic situation they fear. If they agree to experience the bodily sensations thus triggered, without reacting and calmly, they manage to free themselves.
After how many sessions do you get results?
For phobias, for example, a single session is generally sufficient. For nervous tics, after a meditative walk and a session of zazen, the troubles usually pass. I recommend continuing to meditate to prevent the return of tics when stress returns. Above all, it is important to learn the techniques and put them into practice. When the child masters them, he can then use them himself and manages to be autonomous after two or three sessions. To conclude, the disease can be a gateway that allows the child to access a more intense life thanks to the full presence of oneself.