Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category


P.L. Dobkin, PhD from: Curr Oncol. 2009 March; 16(2): 4–6.

Keywords: Healing, mindfulness, medicine

Correspondence to: Patricia L. Dobkin, Department of Medicine, McGill Programs in Whole Person Care, McGill University, 546 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec H2W1S6.


Suffering is an affective experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with harm or threat of harm. Suffering may be physical or mental (or both), depending on whether it is linked primarily to the body or the mind. Often it is precipitated by illness, especially when patients feel a threat to personal identity. Patients may experience isolation, a sense of loss of control and predictability in their lives. Mount and colleagues1 identified themes revealed by palliative care patients: Those who suffered and faced anguish felt a sense of disconnection from self, others, and the phenomenal world; they had a crisis of meaning with an inability to find solace; they were preoccupied with the future or the past; they maintained a sense of victimization; and they needed to be in control.
Many physicians practicing Western medicine have mastered skills aimed at diagnosing and curing diseases, and yet they may be at a loss when it comes to relieving suffering. With the advent of specialization, physicians have tended to focus on physical data (for example, test results) or on particular systems (cardiovascular, for instance) rather than on the whole person. Even though they acknowledge that psychosocial (and spiritual) factors may influence patients’ outcomes, physicians may have qualms about using that knowledge, perhaps because they consider it to be outside their realm of expertise—or more practically, because they think it too time consuming.
Hutchinson and colleagues 2 distinguish “curing” from “healing”—the former being an action carried out by a health care practitioner to eradicate disease; the latter being a process leading to wholeness and relief of suffering in response to injury or disease. The roles of physicians and patients differ considerably for curing and healing to occur. A physician draws upon expertise concerning disease to bring about a cure (when possible), but must shift positions when healing is the aim.
Healing is a process involving movement toward an experience of integrity and wholeness in response to injury or disease. It depends on an innate potential within a patient 1. Hutchinson et al. 2 observe that healing may occur upon acceptance of things as they are, including the fact that change is a constant factor in life. Mount et al.1 note that acceptance of self and personal situation is not a form of resignation; instead, it is an active integration of reality that frees a person to discern and opt for that which is possible given the constraints of the circumstances. For example, a woman who has been treated successfully for early-stage breast cancer needs to make choices about how to resume activities even though she is anxious about recurrence. By acknowledging and facing her fears (rather than repressing or escaping them), she can strengthen her resolve to live the rest of her life fully.
Egnew 3 conducted a qualitative study that involved an inquiry by Drs. Cassell, Hammerschlag, Inui, Kubler–Ross, Saunders, Siegel, and Stephens about the meaning of healing. A distillation of the interview data led to the statement “Healing is the personal experience of the transcendence of suffering” (p. 258). These well-respected allopathic physicians agreed that the healing process takes place within a trusting relationship. This assertion is consistent with the qualitative data reported by Hsu et al.4 , who conducted, with patients, physicians, and other health care professionals, focus groups pertaining to healing. A consensus that healing is both a personal and an interpersonal experience emerged. Emphasis was placed on communication, information sharing, support, empathy, and compassion. For instance, when a relapse occurs, the words spoken by the physician, the tone of voice used, the manner in which the patient is invited to integrate undesired news, the ability of both parties to explore their respective reactions, and the respect shown for the patient’s preferences and needs will influence the healing process.
Kearney 5 posits that providing a safe place in which patients can regain a sense of integrity and wholeness is part of the health care mandate. This place is more than a hospital corridor or an examining room; it encompasses the space in which expressions of doubts, dread, and hope can be heard. Mount 6 emphasizes the importance of inviting a meaningful exchange between two equal individuals, one who happens to be a doctor, and the other, a patient. For example, by being present to and accepting personal sorrow when communicating bad news about recurrence, the physician (sometimes called the “wounded healer”7 ) may be able to contain the patient’s grief.
Because suffering is magnified by a personal perception of being separate and alone, suffering may be alleviated by the presence of another who is able to be with and to bear the distress. A physician can be one such person. The physician may acknowledge the patient’s suffering verbally or otherwise, and may encourage the patient to deal with that which perpetuates it. Fricchione8 refers to this situation as the physician’s willingness to provide care by stepping into the “intermediate area” between separation and attachment.
Brown and Ryan9 consider mindfulness to be an attribute of consciousness; they propose that consciousness encompasses both awareness and attention. When purposefully cultivated, mindfulness results in heightened awareness of inner and outer experiences through focused attention in the present moment.
In the late 1990s, Epstein 10 published an article in JAMA titled “Mindful Practice.” That article elaborates on how mindfulness can be brought into the clinical encounter. Epstein says, “Mindful practitioners attend in a nonjudgmental way to their own physical and mental processes during ordinary, everyday tasks” (p. 833). By taking this stance, the physician can be open to the whole person who presents as a patient and can skilfully treat that patient. According to Epstein, the goal of mindfulness is informed compassionate action incorporating relevant information, making correct decisions, and empathizing with the patient as a means of relieving suffering.
In line with the importance of relating to patients in this manner, Stewart11 showed the link between effective physician–patient communication and patient health outcomes (that is, emotional health, symptom resolution, functional status, and pain control). He maintained that, for optimal communication to occur, physicians must be “mindful” of themselves, the patient, and the context.
Epstein answered the question of whether mindfulness can be learned in the affirmative. Mindfulness is characterized by learned mental habits: attentive observation of self, patient, and context; critical curiosity; beginner’s mind (that is, viewing the situation free of preconceptions); and presence. Presence is defined as “connection between the knower and the known, undistracted attention on the task and the person, and compassion based on insight rather than sympathy” 12.
Epstein proposed an eight-fold method for teaching mindful medical practice13: priming, availability, asking reflective questions, active engagement, modeling while “thinking out loud,” practice, praxis (consolidation of knowing through experience), and assessment and confirmation. The method can be integrated directly into medical training by a mentor who also engages in the relevant mental habits when working with patients.
It is recommended that mindfulness be introduced early in medical education14 given that Shapiro and colleagues15 found that the level of empathy significantly declined in medical students during the period between entry into medical school and the end of the first year. To counter this trend of decline, a program titled “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction” has been provided, with positive results, to medical students and physicians in various medical schools around the world. In a randomized clinical trial for health care professionals, Shapiro et al.16 found that following the program, participants reported reduced stress levels, increased quality of life, and more self-compassion. In a study with a larger sample size of medical students, Rosenzweig and colleagues17 reported similar results.
Being a physician is both a privilege and responsibility. Mindfulness enhances the physician’s ability to bring awareness to the treatment of another human being18 . It is not what is done, but how it is done that matters most. It is not how much time is spent with a patient, but rather what transpires within that time. Physicians need to be as comfortable “being” as “doing”—that is, being fully present to the patient and to their own internal processes.
What might this “full presence” look like in the context of a medical encounter?
The physician would be an effective communicator, who listens actively, provides emotional support, relates with compassion, and is flexible. The physician would encourage the patient to explore the meaning of illness and to grow from the experience, no matter the physical condition or prognosis3 . The physician would be committed to the patient, offering generosity and patience. The importance of continuity of care would be recognized and acted upon18 .
To practice medicine in this way—that is, to cure when possible and to foster healing even in the absence of cure—the physician needs to add the form of consciousness called mindfulness to the traditional “black bag.” This state of consciousness can be taught and learned through practice. Numerous medical schools around the world have recognized the need to broaden training such that curing and caring are equally valued and simultaneously provided in the best interest of the patient. Outcomes may depend upon it.

Meditation and Health

Posted: February 1, 2007 by Doc in Medical, Meditation


Meditation is Good for Your Health

Link: How to Meditate

Full article at New York Times

Josef Astor for The New York Times

Is Buddhism Good for Your Health?

Published: September 14, 2003(Page 3 of 4)
The ”Monk experiments” at Madison are beginning to intersect with a handful of small but suggestive studies showing that Buddhist-style meditation may have not only emotional effects but also distinct physiological effects. That is, the power of meditation might be harnessed by non-Buddhists in a way that along with reducing stress and defusing negative emotion, improves things like immune function as well.

The power of the mind to influence bodily function has long been of interest to scientists, especially connections between the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, researchers at Ohio State University, for example, have done a series of studies showing that stress typically impairs immune function, though the exact woof and weave of these connections remains unclear.

Interestingly enough, the Buddhist subjects themselves are largely open to scientific explanation of their practices. ”Buddhism is, like science, based on experience and investigation, not on dogma,” Matthieu Ricard explained in an e-mail message to me last month. The religion can be thought of as ”a contemplative science,” he wrote, adding, ”the Buddha always said that one should not accept his teachings simply out of respect for him, but rediscover their truth through our own experience, as when checking the quality of a piece of gold by rubbing it on a piece on stone, melting it and so on.”

In July, I joined Davidson and several colleagues as they stood in a control room and watched an experiment in progress. On a television monitor in the control room, a young woman sat in a chair in a nearby room, alone with her thoughts. Those thoughts — and, more specifically, the way she tried to control them when provoked — were the point of the experiment.

Davidson hypothesizes that a component of a person’s emotional makeup reflects the relative strength, or asymmetry, of activity between two sides of the prefrontal cortex — the left side, which Davidson’s work argues is associated with positive emotion, and the right side, where heightened activity has been associated with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

His research group has conducted experiments on infants and the elderly, amateur meditators and Eastern adepts, in an attempt to define a complex neural circuit that connects the prefrontal cortex to other brain structures like the amygdala, which is the seat of fear, and the anterior cingulate, which is associated with ”conflict-monitoring.” Some experiments have also shown that greater left-sided prefrontal activation is associated with enhanced immunological activity by natural killer cells and other immune markers.

When one scientist in the control room said, ”All right, here comes the first picture,” the young woman visibly tensed, gripping her elbows. Electrodes snaked out of her scalp and from two spots just below her right eye. And then, staring into a monitor, the young woman watched as a succession of mostly disturbing images flashed on a screen in front of her — a horribly mutilated body, a severed hand, a venomous snake poised to strike. Through earphones, the woman was prompted to modulate her emotional response as each image appeared, either to enhance it or suppress it, while the electrodes below her eye surreptitiously tapped into a neural circuit that would indicate if she had successfully modified either a positive or negative emotional response to the images.

”What’s being measured,” Davidson explained, ”is a person’s capacity to voluntarily regulate their emotional reactions.”

Daren Jackson, the lead researcher on the study, added, ”Meditation may facilitate more rapid, spontaneous recovery from negative reactions.”

The visiting monks, as well as a group of meditating office workers at a nearby biotech company, have viewed these same gruesome images for the same purpose: to determine what Davidson calls each individual’s ”affective style” (if they are prone, for example, to hang onto negative emotional reactions) and if that style can be modulated by mental effort, of the sort that meditation seeks to cultivate. It is the hope of Davidson and his sometime collaborator Jon Kabat-Zinn that the power of meditation can be harnessed to promote not only emotional well-being but also physical health.

Since founding the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have treated 16,000 patients and taught more than 2,000 health professionals the techniques of ”mindfulness meditation,” which instructs a Buddhist-inspired ”nonjudgmental,” total awareness of the present moment as a way of reducing stress. Along the way, Kabat-Zinn has published small but intriguing studies showing that people undergoing treatment for psoriasis heal four times as fast if they meditate; that cancer patients practicing meditation had significantly better emotional outlooks than a control group; and not only that meditation relieved symptoms in patients with anxiety and chronic pain but also that the benefits persisted up to four years after training. Kabat-Zinn is conducting a study for Cigna HealthCare to see if meditation reduces the costs of treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.