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areas include proper diet, exercise, and
social support.
While the health benefts of diet and
exercise are obvious, there is a growing
body of research now indicating that
supportive interpersonal relationships
are strongly associated with better
health. They seem to ameliorate or buffer
the harmful effects of stress on the body.
Variations: The Many Contexts of
Mind/Body Medicine
This feld is uniquely cross disciplinary,
which accounts for its wide availability,
helping make it the most commonly
used form of alternative healing. Medical
doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants,
naturopaths, osteopaths, practitioners of
Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, body
workers, homeopaths, and chiropractors,
may use its variety of techniques.
Other human service providers such as
psychologists, clinical social workers,
marriage and family counselors, ministers,
and hypnotherapists also use these tools.
And of course there are very specialized
applications for midwives, physical
therapists, exercise physiologists,
respiratory therapists, and others.
The repertoire of mind/body medicine
includes all psychological strategies that
directly infuence physiological states.
Following are the most commonly used
The process should take
place in a quiet environment, a setting
where one can be quiet, undisturbed,
and in a comfortable position for at least
ffteen to twenty minutes. Given this
setting, there are only two essential
steps: the silent repetition of a word,
sound, phrase, or prayer and the passive
return back to the repetition whenever
other thoughts intrude.
This is actually another
approach to meditation, which involves
the ability to focus completely on only
one thing at a time. In other words, in
mindfulness the mind is full of whatever
is happening right now. This can include
walking, cooking, sweeping the foor,
dancing, watching a bird, hearing the
sound of a river, or any other focus you
may choose.
Whenever thoughts intrude, you
simply return your attention back
to the focus.
Progressive Relaxation: This is another
common approach to eliciting the
relaxation response. In this technique
the body itself is used as the focus of
attention. It may be done either lying
down or sitting. They technique involves
progressing through the body one
muscle group at a time, beginning with
the feet, moving up the legs, and so on,
spending approximately a minute in
each area. For each muscle group, you
hold or clench the muscles in the area
for a count of ten and then release for
a count of ten before moving on to the
adjacent area.
The remaining techniques described
below, while they also can lead to
induction of the relaxation response, are
also used for other purposes.
Mental Imagery:
This involves using
symbols to imagine that the changes
you desire in your body are actually
happening. For example, you might
imagine that pain is melting away and
dripping like a warm liquid out of your
fngertips. Or you might develop an
image of your immune cells actively
subduing and preying on cancer cells
or viruses, like birds of prey swooping
down to engulf feld mice in a meadow.
This is a highly personalized technique
and you would use images that are
uniquely exciting and meaningful to you.
Studies of mental imagery have found
that people can actually infuence
their immune functioning as well as
signifcantly reduce pain and tension in
the body with this method. But aside
from the physiological benefts, which
take some practice to achieve, there is
also the knowledge that you are doing
something to help yourself, channeling
your energy into a healing activity. This
in itself helps to improve emotional well-
being and build a sense of self-effcacy
or confdence, which research has found
to improve immune functioning.
Autogenic Training: This approach
involves using a combination of
autosuggestion and imagery. Phrases
are used to describe to oneself what
changes in the body are desired as if
they are happening now. For example,
“My legs are warm and heavy,” “All
the muscles of my back are softening
and melting,” “I am calm,” and
“Warm; peaceful relaxation is fowing
throughout my body.” These phrases
are repeated while maintaining one’s
focus on those parts of the body being
addressed. Whenever the mind wanders,
the attention is gently and passively
returned to the focus.
Breath Therapy:
A variety of
breathing exercises can help one to
release tension, anxiety, and pain. They
can be used in conjunction with imagery
or autosuggestion. They can also be
used to encourage fuller breathing in
general and give the body a greater
supply of energy, which it can use
for healing. It takes energy to fuel the
body’s self-repair mechanisms including
the immune system. Since we take
a thousand breaths every hour, each
breath is an opportunity to contribute to
a healing process.
Some breath therapy techniques use
the breath in a calm, peaceful way to
induce relaxation, to release pain, or to
prepare for imagery. Another variety is
Evocative Breath Therapy (EBT), which
uses stronger breathing, sometimes
accompanied by music, to stimulate
emotions and emotional release.
Hypnosis: A simple description of
hypnosis is offered by Karen Olness,
M.D., of Case Western Reserve
University who calls it “a form of self-
induced, focused attention that can
make it easier for you to relax or learn
to control your body’s functions.” It is
this experience of extraordinary focus
of attention that makes it possible to
infuence bodily states.
Jan/Feb 2012