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Lions Roar : January 2003
30 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2003 tion programs to see if helping them improve their diet and physical activity will protect them from future disease. Even though people do make changes, surpris- ingly these intervention studies often show less or even none of the health protection predicted from previous studies looking at people who reported changing to healthy habits by themselves. Self-changers showed a very strong protective associa- tion. What is that about? One possible explanation is that being suddenly and prematurely coached to change aspects of your lifestyle involves a different cognitive process than doing so under your own steam. The research subjects may not have a chance to generate the natural mind shift that may ultimately be needed to engender good health. The idea that mind may have direct as well as indirect effects on health is good news. As practitioners we know that we can slowly but surely have some influence on our minds if we persevere—that’s what meditation and practice are all about. For those unconvinced or wary of Eastern tra- ditions, there are the effective alternatives of cognitive therapy and relaxation tech- niques. The message to patients and doctors alike is ultimately one of empowerment. Encouraging healthy habits and healing is about facilitating an opportunity for a per- son’s mindset to shift. The starting point for any change, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, is our present state of consciousness. Ultimately that’s all we have at any given moment. So mind your mind. ♦ CHRIS STEWART-PATTERSON, M . D ., is assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and an emergency department physician at an inner city hospital in Vancouver.