Embodiment with Dr. Tawni Tidwell & Dara Bramson

"The cultivation of compassion makes a better diagnostician as well as therapeutic practitioner, attuned to the needs of a patient.” —Dr. Tawni Tidwell

Guest Bios

Tawni Tidwell, PhD, is a biocultural anthropologist and Tibetan medical doctor. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Center for Healthy Minds of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Tidwell’s research facilitates bridges across the Western scientific tradition and Tibetan medical tradition along with their attendant epistemologies and ontologies. Previously, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna, where her work focused on pharmacological innovations in Tibetan medicine and training practices for medicine compounding. Her doctoral work detailed the entrainment process for learning Tibetan medical diagnostics of Tibetan medical conceptions of cancer and related metabolic disorders. She is currently the Principal Investigator of North American COVID-19 Tibetan Medical Observational Study (NACTMOS) and Examining Individual Differences in Contemplative Practice Response and a Project Manager for Field Study of the Physiology of Meditation Practitioners and the Tukdam Meditative State (FMed). Her published works focus on diagnostic/treatment paradigms, pharmacological synergies, and modes of embodiment.

Dara Bramson is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology and Mellon Graduate Fellow in Community-Engaged Scholarship at Tulane University. She earned a Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship to conduct fieldwork in India on Tibetan healing practices and visual art. Her current research builds upon a decade immersed in post-conflict healing initiatives, during which she conducted fieldwork as a Fulbright Scholar and facilitated academic programs in Poland, studied Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution in Thailand as a Rotary Peace Fellow, and contributed to regional creative projects. Dara's interdisciplinary ethnographic approach draws upon training in the arts, biomedical coursework, museum anthropology (MA, Columbia University), communication (BS, Florida International University), and contemplative practices.

Episode Pearls

There are different approaches to understanding the body

  • “Tibetan medicine is what we all think medicine should be … it’s a comprehensive system that looks at the body and mind as an integrated whole that influence one another.” -Dr. Tidwell

  • "Western medicine divides the body into different systems (musculoskeletal, neuroendocrine, reproductive, etc.) whereas Tibetan medicine draws the lines differently."

  • Dr. Tidwell explains how Tibetan medicine (Sowa Rigpa)—“the science of healing”—addresses the art or skill of medicine; the ways in which memorization and practice becomes embodied knowledge.

Sensory training as a core aspect of medical training

  • According to Dr. Tidwell, sensory aspects of training come through quality of attention and observation such as taste and sight, including identifying plant medicine, and touch, including translating pulse textures, volume, and rapidity into diagnostics.

  • As part of their training, Tibetan doctors identify botanicals and medicinals in the natural world, which require "learning to parse out wall of green into various plants, their potencies, tastes, and chemical profiles."

  • “We’re not only physicians, we’re pharmacologists.”

The healing power of compassion

  • “As Tibetan physicians, when we generate greater compassion for our patient, greater care and concern for their well-being, we are literally better at perceiving.”

  • “Tibetan physicians are blown away by the idea that Western physicians are expected to just show up with compassion; there’s a lifetime of training that you must systematically engage in."

  • Tibetan medicine considers the patient-physician relationship sacred, regarding the encounter as a karmic connection. The potential for healing lies within the "contact of the minds" and the quality of a healer's presence and touch.

  • Dr. Tidwell explains that every Tibetan physician has a spiritual practice that impacts how they see their patients and facilitates how they visualize the benefits of the medicines they administer, which is infused ritualistically into their practice, even unbeknownst to the patient.


Further Reading

  • Health Through Balance: An Introduction to Tibetan Medicine & Healing from the Source: The Science and Lore of Tibetan Medicine by Dr. Yeshi Dhonden

  • Essentials of Tibetan Traditional Medicine by Chris Hakim and Thinley Gyatso

  • Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry by Terri Clifford

  • The Art of Tibetan Medical Practice in Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine (Edited by Theresia Hofer) by Barbara Gerke

  • Tibetan Medicine and You: A Path to Wellbeing, Better Health, and Joy by Miriam E. Cameron and Tenzin Namdul

  • Medicine and Compassion: A Tibetan Lama and an American Doctor on How to Provide Care with Compassion and Wisdom by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and David R. Shlim

  • Spacious Minds: Trauma and Resilience in Tibetan Buddhism by Sarah Lewis

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you understand various ways of understanding the body and how these perspectives impact treatment and care?

  2. Can you identify misconceptions or biases you hold about various healing systems?

  3. How do you engage your physical senses within the patient encounter? How does your own body become a diagnostic tool?

  4. In what ways do you connect with your body, community, and local environment? What are some tools that can help support deepening these relationships?

GOAL: Considering embodiment as a wellness practice linking the mind and body, choose a practice (i.e. yoga, meditation, breathwork, qi gong, stretching) and commit to it for one week, if not longer. Keep a journal documenting changes you notice as a result.


Host: Dr. Rebekah Byrne, MD

Guest: Dr. Tawni Tidwell

Student Interviewer: Dara Bramson

Producer: Erika Bennett, Lota Ofodile, Alexander Blum

Sound Design: Timothy Knowlton

Original Music (Composed & Performed): Timothy Knowlton