Mind/Body Practices: Ancient Traditions with Contemporary Benefits

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In October of 1991, the United States Congress passed a law dedicating $2 million to fund an office of the National Institute of Health dedicated to the investigation of nontraditional medical practices. Seven years later, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) became an official branch of the National Institutes of Health. Although alternative medicine has only recently gained official recognition in the United States, the mind/body practices that pervade NCCAM’s research have ancient roots. For example, the some forms of meditation, a technique originating in Eastern religions, can be traced back thousands of years. The American Yoga Association reports that yoga dates back more than 5,000 years! As of 2008, 38% of Americans 18 or older and 12% of children used some form of alternative medicine. The rates of individuals in the United States using alternative techniques, and the general interest in these methods of treatment, is continually growing (Frass et al., 2012). Although there are many types of alternative techniques, some specific examples include meditation, hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. As these modalities gain more attention, it becomes natural to wonder about the effectiveness of these methods, their mechanisms of action, and the specific ways in which they interact with the brain, immune system, and genes.
Meditation, which is a general term, is a practice in which attention is focused on something. Meditation itself can refer to a number of techniques, including mindfulness meditation, which comes from a Buddhist tradition, and transcendental meditation, which has roots in Hinduism (NCCAM Meditation site). In mindfulness meditation, the goal is to focus on ...

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