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Health benefits of mindfulness practice

by Nancy Maneely

Chronic Joint PainSpecific types of "mindfulness practices" including Zen Buddhist meditation and its secular offshoots, have demonstrated benefits for patients with physical and mental health problems, according to a report in the July Journal of Psychiatric Practice.

How do these practices work to affect mental and physical health? Dr. William R. Marchand, one of the report’s authors, points to recent research showing the impact of mindfulness practices on brain function and structure, which may in part account for their benefits. "These mindfulness practices show considerable promise and the available evidence indicates their use is currently warranted in a variety of clinical situations," he concludes.

In another study, breast cancer survivors who practiced a specific meditation technique known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) improved their health and emotional well-being. 

Researchers at the University of Missouri’s Sinclair School of Nursing say that MBSR – a technique combining of yoga, meditation, and physical awareness – can give cancer survivors the tools they need to regain a sense of control over their lives. And that has huge implications for the rest of us.

Breast cancer survival rates have improved in recent years, according to the American Cancer Society, and yet as many as half of survivors suffer from depression. The disease and treatment take their toll, with patients reporting lingering anxiety, fatigue, cognitive problems, lower self-confidence, and poor self-image.

The researchers found that those former cancer patients who learned MBSR lowered their blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. In addition, participants' mood improved, and their level of mindfulness increased after taking the class.

The researchers’ report, published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research, is among the many studies that support the wide-ranging benefits of “mindfulness practice.” The MBSR program in particular has gained popularity among mainstream physicians as well as alternative-health practitioners.

MBSR was developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. The technique has been featured in the Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary Healing and The Mind, on Dateline NBC, on ABC’s Chronicle and in various national print media and is the subject of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s best-selling book, “Full Catastrophe Living” and Saki Santorelli’s book, “Heal Thy Self.”

Some participants are referred to MBSR programs by their doctors; others seek out instruction on their own.  Some are dealing with chronic diseases, while others are in recovery from an illness or are just “stressed out.” According to the Center for Mindfulness, some common reasons for signing up are:

  • Stress — job, family or financial
  • Chronic pain and illness
  • Anxiety and panic
  • GI distress
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches

Participants are advised to continue to practice MBSR techniques after the class ends to maintain the positive effects.

Benefits for mind and body

According to the MBSR Center’s website, two decades of published research indicates that the majority of people who complete the MBSR course report:

  • Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
  • An increased ability to relax
  • Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
  • Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
  • Improved self-esteem
  • An ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.

Have you had success with a mindfulness-based practice? Share with us!

Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society 
 

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