- Posted by admin on July 24th, 2011
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Holistic medicine means paying attention to the mind and spirit as well as the body. Stress reduction, meditation, and faith or spiritual focus are all proven risk-factor reducers for a range of health concerns, and despite a lack of specific studies on the topic, I see no reason why bone density wouldn’t be among them. One study showed that women in their 40s (when they should still be near peak bone mass) with clinical depression had bones that looked like they belonged to 70-year-olds. It was a small study, but the dramatic results at least hint at the powerful interconnection between your bones and your brain. It should be no surprise, after all we’ve learned about the role of emotions, stress, social support, faith, prayer, beliefs, and attitude toward heart disease and cancer, and a host of other disorders. Bones are no different from any other part of your body when it comes to being affected by whatever is going on anywhere in the body.
Stress triggers the release of stressor hormones that (among other things) greatly accelerate bone loss. The unrelenting nature of chronic stress makes it particularly important to reduce the constant stresses we’ve come to think of as almost normal, as well as the intermittent, specific stresses that are bound to come into your life. The emotions stirred up by your car’s breaking down, for example, are stressful, and you’ll feel better in general if you find a way to manage them effectively. But constant worry about whether your old clunker will make it all the way to the office each morning, and about how you’ll pay the bill next time it does give out, are more serious in the long run. By all means, switch to public transportation or get a more reliable car if you can, and set aside some money out of each paycheck to cover any necessary repairs to try to set your mind at ease. But beyond that, try some of the techniques here to ease the inevitable stresses of day-to-day living. Do away with as many sources of stress as you can, but learn how to manage what does come your way.
You (and in all likelihood your bones) will benefit from guided imagery, meditation, focused walking, and anything that elicits “the relaxation response”—the term coined by Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, M.D., to describe the calm state of the body without the rush of “fight or flight” messages stress-crazed Americans seem to subsist on. Stress raises hormone levels that can interfere with bone remodeling, so lowering stress takes one more obstacle out of the way of healthy bones.
The simplest approach is simply being present in the moment. Unless you are a Zen monk, you’ll probably find this difficult to do in the midst of your daily life (though that is the ultimate goal), so start by taking some time out specifically to practice it.
Relax in a comfortable position, breathing slowly and quietly. As you listen to your breath go in and out, pay attention to your inner self as well as your immediate surroundings. Focus on how you feel. If you notice tension anywhere in the body, focus on it and what it represents. Focus your breath and thoughts in the tense area, maintaining your focus until you can let the tension go. Relax and breathe and focus on any other tense spots. Keep going until you find no more tension. End quietly.
Benson provides a simple two-step process to help you achieve the relaxation response. First, select a word, short phrase, or sound, and repeat it to yourself. Choosing something meaningful to you is a good idea. For example, you might pick one line of a favorite prayer (“the Lord is my shepherd”), or something from an affirmation you’ve used (“I am healing”), or just a positive thought (“peace”). (For believers, prayers seem to be an especially powerful entree to the relaxation response, and spiritual feelings on their own have been associated with being healthier overall.) Even just repeating a number (like “one”) will work. Dr. Benson jokes that some of his studies were done with Harvard medical students who couldn’t handle anything more complicated than that! A repetitive physical activity, including walking or even knitting, can serve a similar purpose, on its own or together with a repetitive phrase. The second step is to determinedly let go of any other thoughts trying to horn in on your quiet mind, going back to focusing on your repetition. Pausing once or twice a day to do this for ten to twenty minutes will undo the harmful effects of essentially living in a constant state of “fight or flight” arousal. Even five minutes will help, so don’t discard this idea if you feel you don’t have enough time. The continual presence of stress-induced hormones is itself a stressor, and one we would all be better off without.
Focused walking, also known as prayer walking or walking meditation, is a concept rapidly gaining in popularity, and an excellent practice for mind, body, and spirit all in one. It may be finally the vehicle that brings meditation into the mainstream, since Americans already recognize the importance of exercise and like the feeling of being busy—not “just sitting there.” Here the benefit to your bones is more obvious: if meditation doesn’t help you out, you can be sure walking does.
This is basically the relaxation response in motion. Walking outdoors is ideal, as it gives you more immediate access to a sense of the divine than, say, a treadmill facing a blank wall in the gym with the television blaring. As you walk, notice your breath, counting how many steps fill the time of each inhalation and exhalation. Label them with numbers or phrases (“one, two, three” or “breathe, breathe, breathe,” for example) to keep time. As you get more advanced, you’ll be able to use any calming, repetitive phrase you like, as above, but keep it simple for starters. Again, your goal is to stay in the present moment and let any intruding thoughts of the past or future slip right on by. Keep breathing consciously, even if you pause to admire the scenery. As long as you feel calm and centered, you’re doing it right.