Health Care and Healthy Habits of the Mind

Yours truly at the U.S. Capitol on a rainy day

We don’t need to move to the left or to the right. We all need to go a little deeper.”

This from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan according to a recent Washington Times article¹ by Patrick Hruby about Mr. Ryan’s interest in a form of meditation called mindfulness. Ryan has found it so helpful that he said, “This needs to be in the schools. And the health care system.”

There’s a lot of talk these days in the U.S. about health care, health care costs, and what role the government should play. Mr. Ryan’s interest in mindfulness seems focused more on health itself.

According to Hruby, research suggests that mindfulness helps with such problems as chronic pain, inflammation, high blood pressure, and stress. He quotes Mr. Davidson, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Lab for Affective Neuroscience, who said, “There’s a huge amount of suffering that can be prevented with healthy habits of the mind.”

For example, a recent study² at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that a mindfulness based stress reduction program “produced lasting and clinically significant improvements in asthma-related quality of life and stress in patients with persistent asthma, without improvements in lung function“.

Hruby also points out that according to the National Institutes of Health 7.6 percent of American adults practiced meditation in 2002 and this increased to 9.4 percent in 2007. Interestingly, according to this same NIH study³ a comparatively whopping 43 percent of American adults practiced “prayer for self” – another “mindfulness” practice  – in 2002.

Putting this into perspective using the 2010 U.S. census (see page 2) 43 percent translates into almost 90 million Americans aged 18 or older in 2000, and just over 100 million in 2010, who pray for themselves.

Prayer is the mindfulness practice I’ve found most effective for good health. It focuses on the connection between the individual and the presence of the divine. And because the divine presence is boundless, lasting benefits from this connection are always available.

Centuries ago, when leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into their new land Moses was feeling stressed and prayed to God. The answer came in this calming reassurance, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (NIV Exodus 33:14).

Today researchers are finding that patients who use prayer and who feel the presence of a higher power have more rapid recoveries and better health. For example, a study conducted in Michigan at Wayne State University by Brigid Waldron-Perrine, Ph.D. and published in Rehabilitation Psychology found that patients with traumatic brain injuries who “felt a connection with a higher power” experienced better rehabilitation outcomes.

Prayer can bring “rest”, calm, order and – yes – even less stress and better health to daily life. It’s definitely a “healthy habit of the mind”.

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¹ 7/11/2012 Washington Times article cited above entitled “Washington was making Rep. Tim Ryan sick … until he found mindfulness“.
² Effect of mindfulness training on asthma quality of life and lung function: a randomised controlled trial. Pubmed.org: Thorax. 2012 Apr 27. [Epub ahead of print] Pbert L, Madison JM, Druker S, Olendzki N, Magner R, Reed G, Allison J, Carmody J. Source: Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.
³ National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NIH, DDHHS, May 27, 2004: Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) Use Among Adults: United States, 2002. Barnes P, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin R, CDC Advance Data Report #343
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