By Susan Andresen________________________________________
The connection between mind and body is stronger than you think. At Harvard Medical School, in the sixties, Herbert Benson tried to establish a model for stress-induced hypertension. He trained squirrel monkeys to either raise or lower blood pressure using operant conditioning technology. The monkeys that were "rewarded" for higher blood pressure went on to develop hypertension, due to their own behaviors.
While this study was under way, Dr. Benson was approached by young practitioners of transcendental meditation who asked him to monitor their blood pressure. They believed they had lower blood pressures as a result of their meditation practice. This type of study was unheard of at the time. He measured blood pressure, heart rate, brain waves, metabolism and rate of breathing—both when the subjects sat quietly for 20 minutes and when they meditated for 20 minutes.
Through the simple act of changing their thought patterns, the subjects experienced decreases in their metabolism, breathing rate and brain wave frequency. These changes appeared to be the opposite of the commonly known "flight-or-fight" response, and he called it the "relaxation response."
The relaxation response can be elicited by a number of meditative techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, repetitive prayer, qi gong, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, jogging—even knitting. There are two basic and necessary steps which were found to be present in practices in almost every culture: the repetition of a sound, word, phrase or prayer; and the passive setting aside of intruding thoughts and returning to the repetition. From the earliest studies to the present, it is shown that by using your mind in a certain way—to elicit the relaxation response—measurable, predictable and reproducible physiological changes occur that can be useful in countering the unhealthy flight-or-fight response. Ask anyone who has had an anxiety attack while standing in line at the grocery store. When the slight dizziness begins with the quick pulse, clammy hands and urge to run out of the store, deep breathing exercises and distracting one’s mind will reverse the process.
Mind-body medicine is essential in holding up medication and surgery. Since roughly 60% to 90% of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress, it is vital not to neglect a mind-body approach.
The Mind/Body Medical Institute's (MBMI) clinical programs treat patients with a combination of relaxation response techniques, proper nutrition and exercise and reframing of negative thinking patterns, in conjunction with the beliefs of patients. Clinical studies over the years have shown the effectiveness of interventions on a wide range of medical problems caused or made worse by stress, such as hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, pain, insomnia, allergies, repetitive stress injury and infertility, among many others. Practicing the relaxation response daily can boost the immune system and make one more resistant to the harmful effects of constant stress.
Through the deeply meditative practice of Tum-mo yoga, Tibetan monks are able to dry wet sheets placed on their bodies in near-freezing temperatures by raising their skin temperatures 17 degrees. How the human body can perform this remarkable feat is still unknown, yet it serves as a striking demonstration of the awesome mind-body powers we all possess.
Making migraines disappear with the touch of a chiropractor
The pain of a migraine can be so searing you may as well drill a hole through your head. Then again this was the remedy of choice 3,000 years ago when evil spirits were thought to be the culprit behind migraines. While modern-day treatments have changed, the mystery behind the condition remains.
One popular theory: Migraines result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Often a trigger, such as certain foods, hormones or stress, can cause blood vessels to dilate in the brain. The vessels become inflamed, thus irritating surrounding nerve fibers. The nerve fibers then send messages back to control centers in the brain, which continues vessel dilation, thus kicking off a vicious cycle of violent pain.
There are plenty of drugs that combat migraines, though no magic bullet exists. Some studies, however, show that alternative treatments can complement mainstream medicine. A study from Northwestern College of Chiropractic in Bloomington, Minnesota, compared chiropractic manipulation with amitriptyline, an antidepressant commonly used to treat migraines. The study found that chiropractic healing was about as successful as the drug.
Chiropractors believe that some migraines originate in the spine. Often a misalignment of the vertebrae, or subluxation, can irritate the nerves that travel the length of the spine to the brain. This misalignment makes a person more prone to chemical imbalances in the brain. Some researchers say that realigning the vertebrae—a chiropractor's specialty—relieves the pressure against inflamed nerves and can in turn relieve the headaches.
For migraines caused by subluxation, chiropractors recommend gently stretching the neck—rolling and sudden movements should be avoided. To prevent subluxations, pay attention to your posture. For example, if you sit for long periods in front of a computer, move your body around frequently. Also, sleep on your side or back, and use a firm pillow that supports your neck.
Sources: Psychology Today.com, Herbert Benson April 25, 2005
Jeanette Harris, D.C., First Health Medical Center of Fresno, Inc.
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