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A Call for Mindfulness in Healthcare

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Medical professionals specializing in alternative medicine presented the benefits of mindfulness-based healthcare and meditation to healthcare professionals and the general public last week.
Doctor Donald Maurer and psychologist Adrienne Beattie gave a lecture on the benefits of ‘Mindfulness’ on Tuesday, July 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the Tamkin Student Lecture Building. The purpose of the lecture was to spread the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction and to promote their course, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course or MBSR. The course focuses on reducing stress in daily life through acupuncture, yoga, meditation, as well as modern medicine. While not relying exclusively on traditional data, Maurer cited studies that showed a link between stress relief and lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem and other health benefits.

The program is based off the work of Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a doctor from Massachusetts who was the first doctor to incorporate Mindfulness into medicine with the opening of the University of Massachussets’ Stress Reduction Clinic. Since Zinn’s work, numerous studies on the benefits of Mindfulness and stress reduction on health have supported Maurer and Beatties’ claims about the beneficial nature of the program.

Both programs are based loosely on the principles of Buddhism, namely meditation, but Maurer did not associate his practice with Buddhism and instead merely insisted that faith was not instrumental.

“Although this program is, goes back to that tradition, it is not about Buddhism. John Cavatsting, the founder is not a Buddhist and many of the teachers in there are (not) though some are Buddhist, this is compatible with any faith or lack thereof,” Maurer said.

Mindfulness-based programs have been proven to lower stress, help with weight loss, raise self-esteem and increase flexibility, according to the reports done by various independent studies. One study done by Dr. Randy Zusman of Massachusetts showed a significant reduction in blood pressure in patients who engaged in meditation to relieve stress. Another study showed how meditation helped participants do better in a series of memory tests than groups that did not meditate.

Maurer and Beattie further supported their claims by sharing their personal experiences with meditation and the MBSR program. Beattie in particular claimed that meditation helped her find out what she was missing in life.

“In my forties, I was introduced to insight meditation and it felt like coming home, not in a kind of dramatic woo-hoo bells and whistles kind of way, but instead it felt ah, this feels quite right,” Beattie said.
Maurer had a similar experience and argued that it is crucial for people to break the cycle of stress through physical means so that stress will not bring harm to their health.

“The body changes during stress, and this is talking about chronic stress that we’re dealing with, [affecting] every organ in the body [and] every organ system in the body, and over time can lead to a breakdown in the immune system, various functions of the cardiovascular system, heart, lungs [and] liver. So as this stress cycle continues, it leads to and is associated with various kinds of disease, illness states and a breakdown in physical and psychological resilience,” he said.

There are many studies supporting the claim that stress contributes to illnesses including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other conditions. Therefore, a reduction in stress is seen as vital for both Maurer and Beattie.

Maurer cited a study done by the Harvard University in 2011 that showed a link between meditation and other stress-relieving exercises in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, and improved mental and emotional function in patients.

“What it (the study) showed was measureable growth in the areas associated with concentration, a sense of self, positive emotion, empathy, emotional regulation, learning and memory,” Maurer said.

It is believed that the brain undergoes significant changes while undergoing meditation. The same is also true if the brain undergoes continual stress. This change due to outside factors is known as neuroplasticity and is the main reason why stress-relieving programs like MBSR are linked to better mental and emotional function in people. For this reason, many other developed countries have incorporated MSRB programs into their medical systems. Maurer believes that is worth noting and that we should adjust how we view stress as it contributes to many negative changes in our bodies, for if we do not combat stress in our lives, it is our health that suffers.

“The problem is that often times these situations as you know happen on a daily basis and we are constantly bombarded with one quote stressor after another, and how we handle them in large part determines our resting kind of physiologic state in so far as heart rate, cardiovascular status, muscle tone, tension and just how we feel.”