Mainstream: The Healing Mind in Health Practice

Thorhallsson: Mindfulness and Equilibrium

New brain scanning capabilities assists researchers to map the human brain. Thinking and emotion can be mapped in specific areas of the brain. This is known as “neuroimaging.” Through neuroimaging, researchers have been able to provide neural evidence that mindfulness seems to produce a variety of health benefits.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that teaches the individual to live fully in the moment with no distractions. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zin, who teaches mindfulness to thousands of patients, defines it as the “moment-to-moment, open hearted non- judgmental present moment awareness.”
Strong lingering negative emotions like anger produce a cascade of stress hormones in the brain that have many effects on the body.

Some of these effects can have a negative impact on the immune system. Recent studies have shown that a mindful awareness of anger and other negative emotions without self-judgment alters the brain chemistry in positive ways. Labeling the emotion and simply stating, “I am experiencing anger right now,” is enough to shift the neurochemical profile in the brain from a stress response to a relaxation response.

David Creswell, a research scientist with the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) at UCLA states that the mindful labeling of emotions turns down the agitated response in the brain. He explains that many new studies show that mindfulness practices, including meditation, are “effective in reducing a variety of chronic pain conditions, skin diseases, stress-related health conditions and other ailments.”

During moments of distress, mindfulness behaviors help to deactivate the centers in the brain that naturally synthesize the chemicals that inhibit immune functions in response to perceived stress or threat. We practice mindfulness by becoming more aware of our daily activities; by being present in our experience. We perform such tasks with intention and purpose.

This is what the regular practice of yoga attempts to do. It teaches moment-to-moment awareness as the individual engages in a specific movement or still posture. The participant is asked to be aware of the breath and the sensations that arise during the yoga posture. It is the practice of smelling the rose with awareness and being fully and joyfully in the moment.

Maryann Thorhallsson, PhD, ARNP, is a Professional Life Coach, and a Nursing Professor at BCU. Dr. Thorhallsson holds certifications in nutrition, yoga and QiGong and has written wellness columns since 1990.


From the Chicago Tribune

Doctors going alternative

More mainstream physicians suggesting meditation, massage and acupuncture

For years, Dr. Ali Keshavarzian ignored “alternative” therapies because his Western-trained brain wanted more evidence that they actually worked.

But Keshavarzian also knew conventional medicine often needed some assistance. And when he learned his patients were seeking out natural products, acupuncture, meditation and massage, he took a deep breath and dived in.

Ten years later, Keshavarzian straddles both worlds, using Western treatments along with a variety of alternative approaches, a combination known as complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM. “CAM is looking at a patient as a human being, rather than a disease,” said Keshavarzian, a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Center. “Instead of treating ‘ulcerative colitis,’ I treat ‘Mr. Jones.’ ”

The future success of the holistic CAM movement in the U.S. hinges on the very people who once viewed alternative medicine with cold skepticism: mainstream, conventionally trained doctors. Though many, such as Keshavarzian, still believe medical treatments should be backed by rigorous scientific data, they will not rule out adding into the treatment mix mind-body therapies that have been used for centuries in other cultures. Keshavarzian, for example, might suggest relaxation techniques when he thinks stress is a factor, acupuncture for pain or probiotics for acute diarrhea…

Integrative treatments fall into four main categories: natural products (vitamins and supplements), energy medicine (acupuncture), manipulative practices (chiropractic work) and mind-body medicine (meditation or deep breathing)…

Laura Restaino of Wheaton tried an integrative physician, Charles Dumont, a Loyola University pediatric gastroenterologist, after prescription drugs, creams, steroids and lotions prescribed by conventional doctors failed to treat her daughter Alex’s severe eczema. After receiving hand acupuncture (using pellets in place of needles) from Dumont, the condition cleared up almost instantly, Restaino said…

An increasing number of prestigious medical schools are teaching integrative practices. Since 1999, the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, a group that includes Duke University, Harvard and Northwestern, has grown from 8 to 43 members. With more traditional medical schools focusing on health care that addresses the mental, emotional and physical aspects of healing, the use of CAM by the nation’s future physicians is expected to grow

“Early in my career I felt like we [doctors] were missing the boat because we weren’t addressing underlying problems,” said integrative physician Steve Devries, a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “We’d often tell patients after angioplasty that they ‘had the heart of a teenager again.’ But it was completely untrue. We’d bought them time to correct the underlying problem, but if we didn’t fix that then we’d see them again and again…”

One of the challenges of integrative medicine, however, is that it requires more of a doctor’s time (as opposed to the conveyor belt HMO system where a patient is usually in and out in 15 minutes with a new drug prescription). Critics say it also has a relatively small evidence base, but that, too, is changing. Though research funding pales in comparison to pharmaceutical drug trials, the National Institutes of Health‘s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been increasing its pace of granting funds for CAM research. It has funded more than 2,200 research studies since 1999… (continues)