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Fall 2011, Michael Misselwitz, Past Students

Meditation gaining notoriety in medical field

By Michael Misselwitz

Medicinal meditation; the value of mindfulness in health and lifestyle

Summary

A practice once majorly shunned by the medical community, meditation, now often referred to specifically as mindfulness-meditation, is largely accepted among the medical community as an alternative prescription for conditions ranging from anxiety to heart disease. As a preventative treatment, mindfulness-meditation is also considered an effective tool in maintaining mental clarity and relieving stress.

Medicinal meditation; the value of mindfulness in health and lifestyle

The viability of meditation as a scientific treatment has been a topic of dispute among the medical community for decades. Meditation’s many forms render its general practice too broad to be considered a tangible treatment in medicine. But, thanks to the integration of mindfulness-meditation, the practice has earned credibility among the majority of health care professionals today and now proves to be an effective tool in alternative medicine.

How meditation treatment earned its notoriety

Founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed the concept of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, in 1971. The practice since developed into the first form of meditation recognized by the medical community as a practical, acceptable treatment.

Mindfulness-meditation is the practice of grounding oneself entirely in the present. Doing so involves subduing worries of the past, thwarting any sense of current obligation or entitlement and abstaining from thoughts of the future. MBSR is works as a mode of reducing stress and maintaining mental clarity, and is considered to be instrumental in the field of alternative-medicine.

What began as a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Kabat-Zinn’s concept of MBSR has since developed into the principle method of legitimized meditation in medicine. This method involves the cultivation of present moment awareness, focusing on only the present and emphasizing no attachment to outcome.

Over the course of three decades, hundreds of studies have proven the practice’s effectiveness not only in stress reduction, but also in cases of extreme anxiety, depression and even heart disease. Mindfulness-based research has received millions annually in federal funding since its inception more than 30 years ago. Hundreds of programs are now offered in hospitals and clinics across the globe, as well as in schools, workplaces, prisons and many other settings.

Mindfulness at work

One such program exists at the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness, which was founded by Steven Hickman, a clinician and adjunct professor at the UCSD Department of Psychiatry. The center, one of many of its kind, provides clinical care, training, education and research to further the practice and integration of mindfulness in individuals, health care and education.

Dr. Steven Hickman of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness is a figurehead at the forefront of research and practice in mindfulness-meditation, and has assisted hundreds of patients with overcoming their personal issues through the science of meditation.

“Mindfulness-meditation is a training process, like giving your brain a work out,” Hickman said. “The practice literally and directly physically affects the brain, which can be extremely beneficial in relieving certain ailments.”

Hickman says evidence of advanced and sustained brain function in those who systematically practice meditation proves that the practice can be used to treat a variety of mental and physical conditions.

Limits in meditation medicine

Meditation has proven beneficial effects as an alternative medicine, however it is not yet considered a cure or a substitute for pharmaceutical treatment.

“Meditation is not a replacement for first line medical and psychological treatment for anything,” said Phillipe Goldin, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, said. “It should be viewed as an adjunct when treating ailments, or a method of preventative medicine.”

Regardless of its effectiveness as a primary treatment, those who meditate  say the practice helps them lead a healthier lifestyle. Jennifer Ricks, a retired mother of three and avid mindfulness-meditator, testifies to the positive effects of its daily practice.

“I’ve tried dozens of forms of meditation throughout my life,” Ricks said. “I find myself at peace most when I’m completely focused on the present, forgetting the stresses of tomorrow and not worrying about the trials of yesterday. That is what mindfulness-meditation is all about.”

Jennifer Ricks practices mindfulness-meditation on the beach to maintain peace of mind and relieve anxiety induced by the stresses of daily life.

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About Michael Misselwitz

Mike is a California thoroughbred and an explorer of the wild life. He writes on art, earth and all things in between... but mainly, surf.

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