For more than 20 years, Dr. Wendy Chabot pursued a career as a pediatric primary care physician on Martha’s Vineyard and in Western Massachusetts. Eventually she came to believe that a lot of the conditions she was treating patients for were stress-related and, therefore, either preventable or manageable without medication.
Now, Dr. Chabot has refocused her life’s work on teaching alternative medicine techniques. Through her practice, Vineyard Mind-Body Medicine, she offers health and wellness coaching, mind-body consultation, biofeedback, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga classes, and meditation instruction.
This month, Dr. Chabot is leading a free four-week meditation workshop at the Chilmark Public Library. The series will include a session on Breath Awareness Meditation, Body Scan Meditation, and Loving Kindness Meditation. The fourth week, Dr. Chabot will take requests on which practice to pursue further. “Whatever seems to be resonating, I’ll go from there,” she said.
Participants are asked to preregister and commit to all four sessions, since this is an introductory workshop for people to sample various meditation practices. “Just like taking a medication for hypertension, there’s no one technique that’s helpful for everyone,” said Dr. Chabot, “I like to offer people a different range of practices. It’s really important to find a form that’s best suited to you, otherwise you’re not going to reap and sustain the health benefits of meditation.”
According to a press release from Dr. Chabot, “Recent medical research has shown that using mindfulness practices can benefit a wide range of conditions, including anxiety and depression, stress, hypertension, Coronary Artery Disease, migraine headaches, chronic or recurrent pain including fibromyalgia, neuropathy, low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, fatigue and overeating.”
Dr. Chabot said she discovered the health benefits of meditation for herself in the early 1970s while she was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. “I came to it initially through yoga,” she said, “I went into it with little expectation but was surprised how much the practice seemed to calm me down. I found myself feeling calm and centered.”
Although she started practicing transcendental meditation regularly at that time, the demands of medical school, family and career eventually took precedence and Dr. Chabot didn’t return to the techniques she had learned as a young woman until years later.
It was a battle with chronic pain that inspired her to try meditation again. “Through the years I developed different pain conditions,” she said, “I had a prolonged bout with lower back pain, and I had disk surgery. I also developed some neck pain.” After a search for a solution through traditional methods, Dr. Chabot became frustrated with the medical options available.
“Having this pain condition brought me back to my yoga mat and my meditation cushion,” Dr. Chabot said, “Lo and behold my pain resolved. I found myself more centered and calm. Like in the 70s, some stress-related pain conditions fell away. It got me thinking about all my patients who had recurring pain, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety, ADHD. Because of my own experience — having significant pain evaporate — I wanted to study more about how I could integrate these things into my practice.
“I got to feeling like the practice of medicine came down to matching the symptom in column A to a medication in column B,” Dr. Chabot said, “I don’t want to sound at all critical of physicians. This is our western culture and the way medicine has evolved within it.”
Dr. Chabot decided to re-educate herself. In 2007 she completed the Practicum in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. That same year she also completed a 200-hour yoga teacher’s training at The Yoga Center in Amherst. She opened her Island practice in 2011 shortly after returning to the Vineyard from Western Mass.
In the past year and a half, Dr. Chabot has offered presentations on stress-related topics at the Edgartown Council on Aging, to members of the organization Women Empowered and to physicians at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
The sessions at the Chilmark Library will be formatted similarly to an ongoing series Dr. Chabot offers at the Yoga Barn called Meditation is Medicine. On the first Wednesday of every month she will give a brief presentation highlighting the health benefits of a specific practice of meditation, followed by a 30-minute guided meditation. The remaining Wednesdays are devoted to exploring various forms of meditation for an hour and a half. The classes at the Yoga Barn can be attended on a drop-in basis for $17 or for $14 a class with a prepaid ten-class card.
On Wednesday, January 9, Dr. Chabot kicked off the free series at the Chilmark library with an introduction to the health benefits of meditation. Each week, prior to the actual meditation practice, Dr. Chabot will present relevant research findings on the particular technique to be explored in that session. The heart of Healing with Meditation, as the series is known, begins next Wednesday, Jan. 16.
In describing the process of pairing individuals with specific types of meditation, Dr. Chabot referred back to her earlier analogy. “Now I match the symptoms in column A with the meditation in column B,” she said. “I like to offer people a range of practices.”
Later this winter, Dr. Chabot will start a six-week series called Six Weeks to Healthy Sleep in which she will present approaches to insomnia that don’t involve medication. She is waiting to hear from those interested in signing up before she schedules a day, time, and price for the six-week course. Call 508-687-9505 or visit vineyardmindbodymed.com.
Healing with Meditation, Chilmark Library, Wednesdays from 11 am to 12:30 pm, January 16, 23, 30, and February 6. The workshops are free but space is limited to 30 people who can commit to attending all four sessions. Preregister by calling 508-645-3360.