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Mindful : April 2013
“The most important thing I did is what I would call mindfulness of heal- ing,” says Strang. “Instead of fighting against these treatments, which left me feeling in such misery, I just obser ved and accepted what was happening. A nd I would think to myself, ‘Chemotherapy is my friend. It’s going to save my life.’ “If I observed the treatment from a place of being kind a nd healing to myself, rather than looking at the treatment as some horrible thing that was happening to me, it made it easier. Bringing mind- fulness a nd kindness to your care gives you a different perspective.” This is when Strang came up with what she calls her “survival plan,” which took—and continues to take—her own body a nd mind into account. To help fo- cus her mind on the positive, she started a blog, ww w.perksofcancer.com, which chronicles her approach to dealing with the disease. Strang ’s way of coping with her can- cer ref lects the approach that integrative health care doctors take, according to Dr. Margaret Chesney, director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California–San in bringing attention to post-traumatic stress disorder before it was a clinically acknowledged diagnosis. He is inter- nationally renowned for his work with trauma and was asked by the U.S. govern- ment to train critical-incident and trauma teams after the 9/11 attacks. Meshad uses a technique called TFT, in which a practi- tioner asks the patient to recall a traumatic event, then helps them tap different parts of the body known as meridian points (mostly on the face) in order to release the trauma. This practice is often coupled with breathing practices. Combat veterans in particular are often averse to talking about their trauma to a stranger. “The great thing with this method,” says Meshad, “is that they don’t have to go into the details that distress them. They just need to describe the moment that led to the trauma and what haunts them, and then we go through the procedure. I ask them to rate their anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. If they are at 10,mygoalistogetthemto1. “People think I’m a miracle worker, but I know this stuff works. I’ve watched a decorated combat vet laughing or crying with joy like he won the lottery because he feels free. It’s freedom, a release from the imprisonment of the brain, a release from hell.” → Francisco. Chesney emphasizes that the best way to enhance health and heal illness is often a combination of conven- tional medicine and healing methods that “address the person as a whole, that see where they are in their lives from the point of view of mind, body, spirit, and community.” For a patient at the Osher Center who wants to prevent heart disease, for example, the treatment plan might include an appointment with a cardiologist for appropriate testing but also a stress-management program such as yoga, meditation, or massage. Richard Low ser ved for 16 months in Iraq as an officer in the 4th Battalion of the 23rd Infa ntry Regiment. He didn’t think of himself as the sort of person who needed yoga to round out his life and help him heal. He wasn’t even sure he needed healing, but he volunteered anyway to be part of the Veterans’ Well- ness Study at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in Madison, Wisconsin. “During the study, I learned a lot about what PTSD was and just how much I had been affected,” Low now says. He also learned how to use a yogic breathing technique called sudarshan kriya, which has been found to be particularly effec- tive for trauma sufferers. With trauma usually comes agitation, and that makes most meditation techniques difficult. It’s hard for people with traumatic thoughts to sit still and relax, but breathing tech- niques give them a way to feel their body and find relaxation there. Low came to some realizations. “I really numbed myself out after returning from Iraq,” he says. “I was disconnected, but I didn’t really know it.” Other family members noticed, though. His dad, for one. “ We were out deer hunting,” says Rich- ard. “ We were talking about the study and my dad said, ‘I can see that you’re you now—the you from three or four years ago.’ I was happier, joking around again, relaxed.” Standard treatments for post-trau- matic stress include therapy and medi- cation. However, recent studies have shown that both therapeutic and drug treatments have high dropout rates, and of veterans who do complete treatment, only about half experience a reduction in symptoms. Shad Meshad, founder of the National Veterans Foundation, was instrumental Funding for NCCAM— the U.S . government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine—hit $128 million in 2012, a 156% increase since its inception in 1999. “I really numbed myself out after returning from Iraq.” Richard Low, who served for 16 months as an officer in the 4th Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment +156% 2012 April 2013 mindful 39 health