Home' Nova West : November 2009 Contents Mind-body medicine
As evidence accrues, the mainstream
medical paradigm has cautiously begun to
consider the role of the mind in disease. In
the paper "Mind-Body Medicine: Science,
Practice and Philosophy", Dr Hassed cites
a study where 394 people were measured
for stress levels and then inoculated directly
with cold viruses: "The results demonstrated
that the likelihood of getting the cold was
directly proportional to the level of stress
which the host was experiencing, not just
at the time of exposure but over the
preceding six months.
"The intuitive sense that the mind is
interconnected through the nervous system
to the immune system has really begun to
gain credence since the 1970s."
Mind-body medicine reminds us that
chronic stress, fear, anxiety and depression
have quite profound effects upon the
health of the body. "These effects manifest
themselves on many different levels, from
the superficial experience of muscle tension
to the subtleties of how our genes express
themselves," Dr Hassed says.
A skill for life
Disease prevention, of course, is not the
only fruit of self awareness training.
Mindfulness creates that still point through
which you can experience more fully all
the riches of the inner and outer worlds.
Religion, philosophy, psychology and
sports science are just a few paradigms that
explore these benefits.
"When people are stressed, angry or
depressed they perform poorly," Dr Hassed
says. "It's estimated that 20 per cent of
doctors in hospitals might have depression,
and they make six times more medication
errors when they do (which is significant)."
Getting your attention on what you are
doing obviously improves your ability to do
what you do, whatever that is.
"When great sports people speak about
24 © NOVA NOVEMBER 2009
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'the zone', this is an explicit description of
mindfulness," he continues. "John Bertram,
Skipper of Australia II [when it won the
America's Cup in 1983], said training to
focus on the moment, to be in the present
was an important element of the crew's
success. He's talking about getting attention
off anxiety about future outcomes and onto
what's happening in the present moment."
Those who rate highly on the
mindfulness scale also rate highly on
emotional intelligence scales. Attention
training means you become the master (not
the servant) of your moods and emotions.
You then improve your ability to self
regulate; to discern, to let go of the feelings
that aren't useful. Also, "by becoming more
aware of your own thoughts and emotions,
you inevitably understand others better."
Increased empathy is also one of the
hallmarks of emotional intelligence.
"Training our attention is the greatest
skill you can have, and yet we don't have
methods for teaching that," says Dr Hassed.
"Many philosophical and wisdom traditions
have attention training, but in the West
we've lost touch with the contemplative
traditions...we've forgotten how to pay
attention in a particular way."
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of
awareness training, is found in the rewards
of the here and now. When we are 'lost in
our thoughts', when we're not aware of
where our attention is, we literally don't
know what we're missing.
Focusing on the present means
experiencing more of what's going on. As
physical and emotional stress is reduced,
the ability to cope with and enjoy life
increases. Relationships with others
are enhanced and mental capacities are
heightened. We notice more, feel more
alive, taste food better, and are more
engaged with people and with everything
"It's a richer experience," Dr Hassed
says. "We're all somewhere on a continuum
between perfect bliss and abject misery.
And no matter where you are on the scale,
the ability to improve focus and experience
more of the present will always lead to
improvements on the mood scale. And it's
our present moment life that needs our
1. Denise Ryan, "When the mind matters", The Age,
June 15 2009
2. Dr Craig Hassed, Mind-Body Medicine: Science, Practice
and Philosophy, 1998
Dr Craig Hassed will be a keynote speaker
at the WA School of Philosophy Cultural
Day on Sunday November 22 at Christ
Church Grammar School Claremont.
from previous page
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