Not a day goes by that meditation, yoga, t’ai chi, or some other mind-body healing modality isn’t spotlighted in the media. Recently, Time magazine published a lead story about meditation.
According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, deep breathing and meditation were the second and third most commonly used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities in 2007, far behind natural products but apparently growing fast. If this trend continues, within a few years more than 50 million Americans will be using mind-body modalities to address a variety of medical problems—possibly based on a prescription from their doctor or healthcare professional.
Many factors are driving the popularity of CAM, including an expanding body of clinical evidence. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction, a structured, eight-week group program, has been a subject of nearly 500 research articles, with many studies showing positive effects on psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression, and on medical illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis and HIV.
At George Washington University (GWU), the school of medicine offers an integrative medicine track program that includes regular workshops on a variety of mind-body modalities and even offers an Introduction to Therapeutic Yoga class as an elective. Many of these students are curious about how to address the mind-body connection with patients. That connection can often be explored once a good doctor-patient relationship has been established, but it isn’t always a simple process.
The difficulty for doctors does not lie in explaining how and why an eight-week mindfulness course can substantially lower cholesterol or decrease pain, because medical professionals can attest to its benefits as better than prescription drugs. More often, the challenge is to select the most effective and affordable modality for each patient. Finding this match often requires a commitment to exploring several different treatment options, although newer clinical techniques, such as the heart rate variability assessment, can help the healthcare professional select the most clinically effective mind-body modality, thereby simplifying this crucial step.
Given the effectiveness of mind-body therapies, the prospect of primary care doctors writing prescriptions for them looms on the horizon. In the meantime, the growing popularity of CAM enables informed and knowledgeable patients to teach their doctors about their experiences. Many practitioners new to CAM techniques will welcome the opportunity to learn from their patients.
For more information, visit the George Washington Center for Integrative Medicine at gwcim.com. Individuals interested in participating in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program can call 202-833-5055 or visit the website.