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Harnessing Your Mind's Power

Overcome illness with mindfulness-based meditation

By: Kate Johnson


Like so many others, I was inspired by the power of meditation as described by Elizabeth Gilbert in “Instead of trying to forcefully take thoughts out of your mind, give your mind something better to play with. Something healthier,” Gilbert writes. 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.

Experts in the field of medicine at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine are teaching patients how to focus their mind power toward overcoming illness. From stress reduction, problem eating and cancer, meditation is being used to 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 training promotes awareness of hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues.

In a National Institutes of Health (NIH) government-funded study at Indiana State University, professor of psychology Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., also affiliated with the Center for Mindful Eating, experimented with silence during some meals to promote awareness and enjoyment of food. The results of this study showed that mindfulness-based eating may decrease depression and inner conflict with food, as well as reduce an individual’s urge to binge. In the frenzy of most days, many people rarely eat with this type of awareness and therefore often overeat, mindlessly missing the cues of fullness and satisfaction. Meditation outside of mealtimes can also help develop mindfulness, and the ability to identify 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 at the University of Calgary has been using this approach for more than a decade and has shown improvements in cancer patients' immune function, stress hormones, sleep, mood and quality of life. These types of results may have the potential to boost survival, says Linda E.Carlson, Ph.D., a psychoncologist at the center. Although mindfulness meditation is simple, "it's not easy," she warns. Quieting the mind and calming the soul is a monumental challenge which requires 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.




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