Rush-hour traffic. Relationship issues. Overbearing bosses. Bills. These are only a few of the many stressors that we all deal with on a regular basis. Stress is unavoidable, and the fact that excessive stress is detrimental to our health is now well-established. However, the most important indicator of the degree that stress negatively impacts us is not the overall amount in our lives, but rather how well we learn how to cope with it. Stress-management techniques are powerful preventative medicine tools and are part of a field called Mind-Body Medicine.
Meditation has been practiced throughout much of human history by a number of traditions, many (but not all) of which have historically been rooted in spiritual and religious practices. Today, meditation is an essential component of Mind-Body Medicine. The basic concepts behind meditation are easy to understand, however it takes a lot of practice to master them. Nearly all varieties of meditation share two primary aims: 1) control over the focus of your attention and 2) maintaining a non-judgmental attitude towards your thoughts and emotions. Needless to say, both are easier said than done. Luckily though, you do not need to have mastered either of these goals in order to derive benefit from meditating. Simply sitting quietly in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, attempting to relax your body, and temporarily removing stressful thoughts from your mind for as little as 15 minutes a day can make a big difference. Releasing stressful thoughts is always challenging but gets easier over time with regular practice.
Currently, research is underway to discover how meditation works. It is thought that meditation stimulates changes in brain function, and increases our conscious control over automatic processes such as heart rate, breathing rate, and stress hormone modulation. As more information becomes available about how and why meditation is an effective stress-reduction technique, it will be discussed on The Zeneration Blog.
In addition to the many forms of meditation, other popular Mind-Body therapies include Biofeedback, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong.
Biofeedback utilizes modern technology by allowing patients to monitor various physiological measures (such as heart rate, skin conductance, brain waves, skin temperature, muscle tension etc.) via electrical sensors placed on the skin. Under the guidance of a therapist, the patient is lead through various exercises, designed to increase their state of relaxation. Their progress can be measured and adjustments made if necessary until the physiological markers reach desired levels.
Nearly everyone is familiar with Yoga, although many people think of it as a type of exercise rather than a Mind-Body modality. In addition to strengthening and stretching the body through a series of postures, an important component of Yoga is the focus and relaxation achieved by maintaining control over the breath. Yoga classes exist for people in all walks of life, all ages, sizes, and levels of fitness. It’s a healthy way become more physically fit while reducing stress, however it is important to take your own individual physical limitations into account to prevent injury. For beginners especially, it is helpful to attend a class with a licensed Yoga instructor until you feel comfortable enough to also practice on your own.
Tai Chi originated as a martial art in ancient China and has since evolved into a health practice and a type of moving meditation. Like Yoga, Tai Chi is both a form of exercise and a means to reduce stress and improve overall wellness. Both modalities focus on retaining control over the breath while moving the body through a series of postures. Tai Chi can be practiced by people of all ages, sizes, and levels of fitness but again it is important to keep your own individual physical limitations into mind to prevent injury. Ask your instructor about their training and experience; some Tai Chi masters must study for years prior to becoming qualified to teach themselves.
Qi Gong also originated in ancient China, and is a part of the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qi Gong involves tapping into the body’s Qi or vital energy in order to establish balance and harmony and improve wellness.
For any of these modalities be sure to ask your instructor about their training and experience. Also as always tell your primary care provider about your CAM use. While Mind-Body Medicine is a powerful adjunctive therapy, it is not meant to replace conventional care. For more information on the different types of Mind-Body Medicine, please keep an eye on The Zeneration Blog!
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
6. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Fourth Edition by Marc S. Micozzi for more detailed information on various Mind-Body Modalities (Ch. 9). Published by Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri 2011.
7. Integrative Medicine Second Edition by David Rakel for more detailed information on usage for specific conditions. Copyright 2007, 2003 by Elsevier Inc. Published by Saunders Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA 2007.