WHAT DOCTORS CAN'T DO FOR YOU
by Dr. LISSA RANKIN
"My patients were sick because they were in chronic repetitive stress response. No amount of kale can counterbalance the poisonous effects of high doses of cortisol and epinephrine on every cell. Their bodies had lost the ability to self-repair."
Mind Over Medicine: How to Help Your Body Heal Itself
As a physician, I was trained to believe that I know your body better than you do. If you get sick, you should hand yourself over to me the way you might bring your broken-down car to a mechanic. With little or no input from you, if the exchange goes well, voila! You're all fixed up and ready to roll. The problem is that this dynamic sets us both up for failure.
Your body is a self-healing organism. By bypassing its natural self-repair process and handing all your power over to a doctor, you might be ignoring the very thing you need to heal. This is not a revolutionary idea. As doctors, we learn that the body can heal itself. Our physiology texts teach us that it is brilliantly equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms that kill the cancer cells we produce every day, fight infectious agents, repair broken proteins, keep our coronary arteries open and naturally fight the aging process.
We also learn that our autonomic nervous system has two major operating systems — the sympathetic nervous system, which produces the body's stress response, also known as "fight or flight"; and the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces the body's relaxation response, also known as "rest and digest." This is our homeostatic state, when the body is in equilibrium. But here's what they don't teach in medical school: The body's natural self-repair mechanisms only fully function when the nervous system is in relaxation response.
How Stress Defeats Healing
Our stress response is there for a reason: If you're getting chased by a tiger, that burst of cortisol and epinephrine it produces will refocus all of your body's restorative powers to pump up your blood pressure and heart rate, activate your large muscle groups and save your life. Stress responses were meant to be limited only to life-or limb-threatening dangers, but many modern-day humans are in fight-or-flight all the time.
We all know stress is bad for us, but did you realize that every stressful thought, feeling or belief — we average more than 50 such responses every day — disables the body's ability to repair itself? We have an unhealthy relationship with the very notion of stress. We often think it means that we're too busy (and therefore that we're worthy and important). But it's much more than demands on your time and energy. Sure, stress can be running around like a headless chicken, trying to check off your to-do list. But as far as your nervous system is concerned, stress is also social isolation and loneliness. It's selling your soul for a paycheck. Stress is a pessimistic worldview. It's toxic relationships. Stress is money worries. It's knowing you have a song within you that has yet to be sung, or feeling out of touch with your life's purpose. Stress is negative beliefs about your health. It's feeling like nobody really gets the real you. It's pretending to be something that you're not. And stress is feeling disconnected from your higher power.
Your brain can't tell the difference between "I'm getting chased by a tiger!" and "Nobody loves me" or "I'm never going to get well." As far as the nervous system is concerned, they all signal imminent danger, and that is what stress really is, as far as your body is concerned.
While researching scientific data for my new book, Mind Over Medicine, I learned what really makes us sick: Did you know, for example, that lonely people have double the rate of heart disease than those who are part of a supportive community, and that researchers have found that loneliness may be a greater risk factor for your health than smoking or not exercising? Did you know that optimists have a 77 percent lower risk of heart disease than pessimists, or that happy people live seven to 10 years longer than unhappy people?
Suddenly, it all made sense. As an integrative medicine doctor in posh Marin County, Calif., I never understood how my patients – all health nuts, eating vegan diets or juicing, working out with personal trainers or taking supplements, and sleeping eight hours a night – could be some of the sickest people I've ever met. But after my research, I had an epiphany: My patients were sick because they were in chronic repetitive stress response. No amount of kale can counterbalance the poisonous effects of high doses of cortisol and epinephrine on every cell. Their bodies had lost the ability to self-repair.
The Medicine We Really Need
Most of my patients had taken advantage of all that Western medicine had to offer — and great doctors at great institutions had failed them. They turned to alternative practitioners, including acupuncturists, homeopaths and energy healers. But they were still sick because they weren't getting the medicine they really needed.
The scientific literature shows that to keep the nervous system in relaxation response so the body can heal itself, we need a different kind of medicine. To the nervous system, medicine is being loved just as you are. It's helping those in need. Medicine is expressing your creative genius. It's seeing the glass half full, and laughing out loud. Medicine is the unconditional love of animals. It's speaking your truth, and knowing you belong. Medicine is communing with nature, and nourishing the body with real food. Medicine is tapping into your higher power. It's being unapologetically you.
When you give yourself this medicine, you turn off your stress responses, turn on your relaxation responses and allow the body to do one of the things it does best – heal.
That's why you can't hand your body over to your doctor like you would your car — nobody but you knows the medicine you really need. I'm not suggesting you abandon Western medicine. If you're in a car accident, having a heart attack or about to deliver a premature baby, get thee to an emergency room, STAT! But if you've tried what Western medicine has to offer and you're still sick, I encourage you to write yourself what I call the Prescription.
Maybe to finally get well, you need to quit your soul-sucking job or escape a toxic relationship. Maybe you need to meditate more, or move to the country. Maybe you need to find your calling and do your part to save the world. Maybe you need to paint.
Your body is your business because nobody but you knows what triggers your stress responses or, equally important, how you might activate more of your relaxation responses. The power lies in your hands.
So I ask you the question the poet Mary Oliver posed: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" When you start living the answer, your body's natural self-repair mechanisms will flip on and you will have done everything within your power to heal yourself.
Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling is a physician, speaker, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and mystic. Passionate about what makes people optimally healthy and what predisposes them to illness, she is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual, but also uplifts the health of the collective. Bridging between seemingly disparate worlds, Lissa is a connector, collaborator, curator, and amplifier, broadcasting not only her unique visionary ideas, but also those of cutting edge visionaries she discerns and trusts, especially in the field of her latest research into “Sacred Medicine.” Lissa has starred in two National Public Television specials and also leads workshops, both online and at retreat centers like Esalen and Kripalu. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her daughter. She blogs at LissaRankin.com and posts regularly on Facebook.
THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS OF ANCIENT RHYTHM
by Dr. BERRY BITTMAN
"Recent research reviews indicate that drumming accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system and produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self."
Therapeutic effects of ancient rhythm techniques
Drum therapy is an ancient approach that uses rhythm to promote healing and self-expression. From the shamans of Mongolia to the Minianka healers of West Africa, therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used for thousands of years to create and maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Current research is now verifying the therapeutic effects of ancient rhythm techniques. Recent research reviews indicate that drumming accelerates physical healing, boosts the immune system and produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self.
Other studies have demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, recovering addicts, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations. Study results demonstrate that drumming is a valuable treatment for stress, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension, asthma, chronic pain, arthritis, mental illness, migraines, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, paralysis, emotional disorders, and a wide range of physical disabilities.
Drumming Reduces Tension, Anxiety, and Stress
Drumming induces deep relaxation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress. Stress, according to current medical research, contributes to nearly all disease and is a primary cause of such life-threatening illnesses as heart attacks, strokes, and immune system breakdowns. A recent study found that a program of group drumming helped reduce stress and employee turnover in the long-term care industry and might help other high-stress occupations as well.
Drumming Helps Control Chronic Pain
Chronic pain has a progressively draining effect on the quality of life. Researchers suggest that drumming serves as a distraction from pain and grief. Moreover, drumming promotes the production of endorphins and endogenous opiates, the bodies own morphine-like painkillers, and can thereby help in the control of pain.
Drumming Boosts the Immune System
A recent medical research study indicates that drumming circles boost the immune system. Led by renowned cancer expert Barry Bittman, MD, the study demonstrates that group drumming actually increases cancer-killing cells, which help the body combat cancer as well as other viruses, including AIDS. According to Dr. Bittman, “Group drumming tunes our biology, orchestrates our immunity, and enables healing to begin.”
Drumming Produces Deeper Self-Awareness by Inducing Synchronous Brain Activity
Research has demonstrated that the physical transmission of rhythmic energy to the brain synchronizes the two cerebral hemispheres. When the logical left hemisphere and the intuitive right hemisphere begin to pulsate in harmony, the inner guidance of intuitive knowing can then flow unimpeded into conscious awareness. The ability to access unconscious information through symbols and imagery facilitates psychological integration and a reintegration of self.
Drumming also synchronizes the frontal and lower areas of the brain, integrating nonverbal information from lower brain structures into the frontal cortex, producing “feelings of insight, understanding, integration, certainty, conviction, and truth, which surpass ordinary understandings and tend to persist long after the experience, often providing foundational insights for religious and cultural traditions.”
Drumming Accesses the Entire Brain
The reason rhythm is such a powerful tool is that it permeates the entire brain. Vision, for example, is in one part of the brain, speech another, but drumming accesses the whole brain. The sound of drumming generates dynamic neuronal connections in all parts of the brain even where there is significant damage or impairment such as in attention deficit disorder (ADD). According to Michael Thaut, director of Colorado State University's Center for Biomedical Research in Music, “Rhythmic cues can help retrain the brain after a stroke or other neurological impairment, as with Parkinson's patients...” The more connections that can be made within the brain, the more integrated our experiences become.
Drumming Induces Natural Altered States of Consciousness
Rhythmic drumming induces altered states, which have a wide range of therapeutic applications. A recent study by Barry Quinn, Ph.D. demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity, dramatically reducing stress. The brain changes from beta waves (focused concentration and activity) to Alpha waves (calm and relaxed), producing feelings of euphoria and well-being.
Alpha activity is associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness. This ease of induction contrasts significantly with the long periods of isolation and practice required by most meditative disciplines before inducing significant effects. Rhythmic stimulation is a simple yet effective technique for affecting states of mind.
Drumming Creates a Sense of Connectedness With Self and Others
In a society in which traditional family and community-based systems of support have become increasingly fragmented, drumming circles provide a sense of connectedness with others and interpersonal support. A drum circle provides an opportunity to connect with your own spirit at a deeper level, and also to connect with a group of other like-minded people. Group drumming alleviates self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation. Music educator Ed Mikenas finds that drumming provides “an authentic experience of unity and physiological synchronicity. If we put people together who are out of sync with themselves (i.e., diseased, addicted) and help them experience the phenomenon of entrainment, it is possible for them to feel with and through others what it is like to be synchronous in a state of preverbal connectedness.”
Rhythm and resonance order the natural world. Dissonance and disharmony arise only when we limit our capacity to resonate totally and completely with the rhythms of life. The origin of the word rhythm is Greek meaning “to flow.” We can learn “to flow” with the rhythms of life by simply learning to feel the beat, pulse, or groove while drumming. It is a way of bringing the essential self into accord with the flow of a dynamic, interrelated universe, helping us feel connected rather than isolated and estranged.
Drumming Provides a Secular Approach to Accessing a Higher Power
Shamanic drumming directly supports the introduction of spiritual factors found significant in the healing process. Drumming and Shamanic activities produce a sense of connectedness and community, integrating body, mind, and spirit. According to a recent study, “Shamanic activities bring people efficiently and directly into immediate encounters with spiritual forces, focusing the client on the whole body and integrating healing at physical and spiritual levels. This process allows them to connect with the power of the universe, to externalize their own knowledge, and to internalize their answers; it also enhances their sense of empowerment and responsibility. These experiences are healing, bringing the restorative powers of nature to clinical settings.”
Drumming Releases Negative Feelings, Blockages, and Emotional Trauma
Drumming can help people express and address emotional issues. Unexpressed feelings and emotions can form energy blockages. The physical stimulation of drumming removes blockages and produces emotional release. Sound vibrations resonate through every cell in the body, stimulating the release of negative cellular memories. “Drumming emphasizes self-expression, teaches how to rebuild emotional health, and addresses issues of violence and conflict through expression and integration of emotions,” says Music educator Ed Mikenas. Drumming can also address the needs of addicted populations by helping them learn to deal with their emotions in a therapeutic way without the use of drugs.
Drumming Places One in the Present Moment
Drumming helps alleviate stress that is created from hanging on to the past or worrying about the future. When one plays a drum, one is placed squarely in the here and now. One of the paradoxes of rhythm is that it has both the capacity to move your awareness out of your body into realms beyond time and space and to ground you firmly in the present moment.
Drumming Provides a Medium for Individual Self-Realization
Drumming helps reconnect us to our core, enhancing our sense of empowerment and stimulating our creative expression. “The advantage of participating in a drumming group is that you develop an auditory feedback loop within yourself and among group members—a channel for self-expression and positive feedback—that is pre-verbal, emotion-based, and sound-mediated.” Each person in a drum circle is expressing themselves through his or her drum and listening to the other drums at the same time. “Everyone is speaking, everyone is heard, and each person’s sound is an essential part of the whole.” Each person can drum out their feelings without saying a word, without having to reveal their issues. Group drumming complements traditional talk therapy methods. It provides a means of exploring and developing the inner-self. It serves as a vehicle for personal transformation, consciousness expansion, and community building. The primitive drumming circle is emerging as a significant therapeutic tool in the modern technological age.
Bittman, M.D., Barry, Karl T. Bruhn, Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, James Westengard, Paul O Umbach, MA, “Recreational Music-Making, A Cost-Effective Group Interdisciplinary Strategy for Reducing Burnout and Improving Mood States in Long-Term Care Workers,” Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, Fall/Winter 2003, Vol. 19 No. 3/4.
Friedman, Robert Lawrence, The Healing Power of the Drum. Reno, NV: White Cliffs; 2000.
Mikenas, Edward, “Drums, Not Drugs,” Percussive Notes. April 1999:62-63. 7. Diamond, John, The Way of the Pulse – Drumming with Spirit, Enhan
THE MIND-BODY HEALING BENEFITS OF BREATHING
by Dr. SHEILA PATEL
"Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system—the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind."
The Mind-Body Healing Benefits of Deep Breathing
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” ~Sanskrit proverb
Breath is essential to life. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do when we leave. In between that time, we take about half a billion breaths. What we may not realize is that the mind, body, and breath are intimately connected and can influence each other. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts and physiology can be influenced by our breath. Learning to breathe consciously and with awareness can be a valuable tool in helping to restore balance in the mind and body.
Researchers have documented the benefits of a regular practice of simple, deep breathing (1,2,6), which include:
Reduced anxiety and depression
Lower/stabilized blood pressure
Increased energy levels
Decreased feelings of stress and overwhelm
In the medical community, there is a growing appreciation for the positive impact that deep breathing can have on the physiology, both in the mind and the body. According to the research, many of these beneficial effects can be attributed to reducing the stress response in the body. To understand how this works, we look at the stress response in more detail in my;
When you experience stressful thoughts, your sympathetic nervous system triggers the body’s ancient fight-or-flight response, giving you a burst of energy to respond to the perceived danger. Your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and you primarily breathe from the chest and not the lower lungs. This can make you feel short of breath, which is a common symptom when you feel anxious or frustrated. At the same time, your body produces a surge of hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), which increase your blood pressure and pulse rate and put you in a revved up state of high alert.
With deep breathing, you can reverse these symptoms instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. Deep breathing stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system—the vagus nerve—slowing down your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and calming your body and mind.
In addition, with deep breathing, you engage the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in the upper chest and neck. This conditioning of the respiratory muscles results in improved efficiency of oxygen exchange with every breath by allowing more air exchange to occur in the lower lungs. It also reduces strain on the muscles of the neck and upper chest, allowing these muscles to relax. In short, deep breathing is more relaxing and efficient, allowing higher volumes of oxygen to reach the body’s cells and tissues.
As well as reversing the physical stress response in the body, deep breathing can help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in the mind. Breathing can have an immediate effect on diffusing emotional energy so there is less reactivity to our emotions.
4 Deep Breathing Techniques
Beyond the practice of simple deep breathing, the ancient yogis described different types of rhythmic deep breathing techniques that can have differing effects on the mind and body. In fact, many studies document the beneficial effects of yogic breathing in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), COPD (chronic destructive pulmonary disease), and asthma. (3,4,5) There are also theories that support the notion that by slowing down and controlling the breath, we can improve our longevity.(3)
The basis for all deep breathing practices originates in the science of yoga, specifically the branch of yoga known as pranayama. The word pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words: prana (life force) and yama (control). By controlling the breath, you can influence every aspect of your life. You can train yourself to breathe in a way that has a positive influence on your health.
Each of the following simple yogic breathing techniques has specific effects on the mind-body physiology.
Complete Belly Breath: With one hand on your belly, relax your abdominal muscles, and slowly inhale through the nose, bringing air into the bottom of your lungs. You should feel your abdomen rise. This expands the lower parts of the lungs. Continue to inhale as your rib cage expands outward, and finally, the collar bones rise. At the peak of the inhalation, pause for a moment, then exhale gently from the top of your lungs to the bottom. At the end of exhalation, contract your abdominal muscles slightly to push residual air out of the bottom of your lungs.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: When you are feeling anxious or ungrounded, practice Alternate Nostril Breathing, known as Nadi Shodhana in the yogic tradition. This will immediately help you feel calmer.
Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
At the peak of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your fourth finger, lift your right thumb, and then exhale smoothly through your right nostril.
After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, closing it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation, lift your fourth finger and exhale smoothly through your left nostril.
Continue with this practice for 3 to 5 minutes, alternating your breathing through each nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, with your mind gently observing the inflow and outflow of breath.
Ocean’s Breath: When you feel angry, irritated, or frustrated, try a cooling pranayama such as Ocean’s Breath, or Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai). This will immediately soothe and settle your mind.
Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like waves on the ocean.
Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages.
Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
Energizing Breath: When you are feeling blue or sluggish, try Energizing Breath or Bhastrika. This will give you an immediate surge of energy and invigorate your mind.
Begin by relaxing your shoulders and take a few deep, full breaths from your abdomen.
Now start exhaling forcefully through your nose, followed by forceful, deep inhalations at the rate of one second per cycle. Your breathing is entirely from your diaphragm, keeping your head, neck, shoulders, and chest relatively still while your belly moves in and out.
Start by doing a round of ten breaths, then breathe naturally and notice the sensations in your body. After 15 to 30 seconds, begin the next round with 20 breaths. Finally, after pausing for another 30 seconds, complete a third round of 30 breaths. Beginners are advised to take a break between rounds.
Although Bhastrika is a safe practice, stay tuned in to your body during the process. If you feel light-headed or very uncomfortable, stop for a few moments before resuming in a less intense manner.
Contraindications: Do not practice Bhastrika if you are pregnant or have uncontrolled hypertension, epilepsy/seizures, panic disorder, hernia, gastric ulcer, glaucoma, or vertigo. Use caution if there is an underlying lung disease.
A regular daily practice of deep breathing is one of the best tools for improving your health and well-being. Performing one of these breath techniques twice daily for only three to five minutes can produce long-term benefits. You can also use them any time you are feeling stressed or notice that your breathing has become constricted. By training your body with a regular practice of deep breathing, you will begin to breathe more effectively even without concentrating on it.
“Healing is every breath.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Dr. Sheila Patel is the Chopra Center’s Medical Director and a board-certified family physician who is passionate about bringing holistic healing practices into the Western medical system. She earned her M.D. at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and completed her residency in family medicine at the Ventura County Medical Center in Southern California. For more than a decade, she practiced full-spectrum family medicine, from prenatal care and deliveries to ER coverage and primary care for all ages.