Healthy Tahoe: Mind over matter
“What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve,” Napoleon Hill.
There is a growing body of evidence that mindfulness can meet or exceed the results of traditional medicine. What many researchers have called the “placebo effect” in the past, may actually be a positive side effect of a person’s belief that a treatment may work.
Research has identified many types of placebo responses driven by different mechanisms depending on the context. Some placebo responses, such as analgesia, are initiated and maintained by expectations of symptom change and changes in motivation/emotions. Placebo factors have neurobiological underpinnings and actual effects on the brain and body. They are not just response biases. (A comprehensive review of the placebo effect: recent advances and current thought, Annual Rev Psychol. 2008;59:565-90.)
The American Mindfulness Research Association defines mindfulness as the state, process and practice of remembering to observe moment to moment experiences with openness and without automatic patterns of previously conditioned thoughts, emotions or behaviors. (goamra.org, 2016).
Medical practitioners are now using Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs to treat chronic pain. A recent study on adolescents suffering from somatic syndromes found MBSR to be a feasible and acceptable intervention with significant results. More time spent doing home practice was associated with better outcomes. (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Adolescents with Functional Somatic Syndromes: A Pilot Cohort Study, J Pediatr. 2017 Jan 12. pii: S0022-3476(16)31548-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.12.053. [Epub ahead of print])
In a randomized clinical trial, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that among adults with chronic low back pain, treatment with MBSR or cognitive behavioral therapy, (CBT) compared with usual care, resulted in greater improvement in back pain and functional limitations at 26 weeks.
These findings suggest that MBSR may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic low back pain. (Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain, JAMA. 2016;315(12):1240-1249. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.2323)
If MBSR is so powerful, why aren’t we including it in our daily lives? Even if you don’t have pain, here are three different ways to start practicing MBSR. Before you start, find a quiet place with minimal distractions and get comfortable.
Body Scan: Gradually sweep your attention from head to toe. Start at the crown of your head and focus on each body part separately down to your toes. Take note of different feelings or sensations but avoid being critical of a specific part of your body.
Sitting Meditation: Focus on deep breathing into different locations of your rib cage then the excursion of the abdomen while breathing. Minimize the distracting flow of thoughts. Try counting backward while focusing on deep respiration.
Yoga Nidra: Nidra is a Sanskrit term meaning “sleep.” It is a meditation practice that induces a state of deep, but conscious relaxation. It is said that the state of consciousness entered during yoga nidra is somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. The goal of yoga nidra is to achieve a state of samadhi (intense concentration), enlightenment, or bliss. (Yogapedia.com, 2017)
There are certain conditions and diseases which cannot be cured by mindfulness or meditation alone. However, cancer patients who practice MBSR techniques during chemotherapy reported feeling less depression and hopelessness. This seems to be a widespread phenomenon for many conditions.
Whether or not this is a “placebo effect” seems less important than the improvement in a persons quality of life. I hope that we can all remember to spend as much time fostering a healthy state of mind as we do maintaining a healthy body. For more guidance on practicing MBSR techniques contact your local yoga studio or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Frohlich is a doctor of physical therapy and U.S. Army veteran. You can find her serving the South Lake Tahoe community at Gallanty PT and Emerald Bay PT. Contact her directly at email@example.com.