Mind Power

First published on my iVillage Health Beat blog.

Mind Power

Though the sun has set on Earth Day we mustn’t forget the importance of harnessing Nature’s sustainable resources. One resource that is not usually considered in this category is the Power of the Mind. As a medical journalist, I rarely report on energy issues – but mindpower is a resource in need of development.

Like so many others, I was inspired by the power of meditation as described by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love (www.elizabethgilbert.com/eatpraylove.htm). We know that the brainpower we harness is just a minute tip of the iceberg, and that most features of our remarkable mental machines remain untapped and wasted.

This week, as I attend the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, it is inspiring to know that experts in this field of medicine are teaching patients how to focus their mindpower towards overcoming illness. From stress reduction to problem eating, to cancer, meditation is being used to literally calm the soul and fuel the cure.

One form of meditation known as Mindfulness/Receptive Meditation has shown impressive results, simply by encouraging patients to become aware of the moment, the here and now. For people struggling with obesity, Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy promotes awareness of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues.

At the Center for Mindful Eating (www.tcme.org), psychologist Jean Kristeller encourages silence for at least part of a mealtime, to promote awareness and enjoyment of food. In the frenzy of most days many families rarely eat with this type of awareness and therefore often miss the cues of fullness and satisfaction. Daily eating awareness meditations outside of mealtimes can also help shift thought patterns away from bad eating habits and kick-start a fresh approach based on awareness, she says.

Even in the context of life-threatening illness, mindfulness-based meditation can harness healing in impressive ways. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre (Canadian spelling) at the University of Calgary has been using this approach for more than a decade and shown improvements in cancer patients’ immune function, stress hormones, mood and quality of life. These types of results boost survival, says Linda Carlson, a psychoncologist at the center. But although it’s simple, “it’s not easy,” she warns. Quieting the mind and calming the soul is a monumental challenge which requires lifelong practice, as Elizabeth Gilbert’s book so articulately describes. And though we may struggle with this, our children face an even steeper challenge.

For those of us who remember a time before internet or cell phones, the memory of solitude, silence and concentration is real. I remember, and have stayed in touch with that part of my brain that can focus – quietly. But for our children, who text while they Facebook and watch television, the noise may be overwhelming. — KJ


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