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Massachusetts Medical Society's Physician Focus

January 2016

and the
Mind-Body Connection


  • Mindfulness is an approach that helps people participate in their own health care, by raising their awareness of their thoughts, physical sensations, and surroundings.
  • Practicing mindfulness can reduce the stresses of daily life, improve health, be helpful in managing chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes, and be useful in treating addiction, substance abuse, and even pain.
  • Mindfulness is not considered to be a replacement for any therapy, but rather a way to complement and enhance individual health for people of any age.

The stresses of daily life – financial pressures, family demands, professional or occupational stress – can produce fatigue, sleeplessness, and other physical conditions that can harm our mental and physical health.

An emerging practice to address these concerns is called mindfulness.

“Mindfulness can mean several things,” says Jefferson Prince, M.D., a psychiatrist. “In a historical sense, it can mean ‘I’m paying attention,’ or ‘I’m aware of what’s going on’. When we’re talking about it in a clinical sense, we’re talking about a formal practice. Mindful is what comes from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”

Dr. Prince, Director of Child Psychiatry and Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Mass., joined Michael Guidi, D.O., Chair of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s Committee on Student Health and Sports Medicine, in the January edition of Physician Focus to discuss mindfulness and the varied benefits it can bring to one’s health. Hosting this edition is primary care physician Bruce Karlin, M.D.

“This is a way that people may really participate in their health care,” says Dr. Prince, “so that in the middle of difficulties, whether they are medical, social, or emotional, people can learn to train their mind to deal with these difficulties in a way that they open up new possibilities, instead of going and doing the same thing over and over again.”

Dr. Guidi, a family physician engaged in using mindfulness to prevent youth substance abuse by teaching it to students, parents, and teachers, uses the approach with patients in his primary care practice. “With my patients, I talk to them about living for today and focusing on today, not worrying about things that happened in their past and not being fearful of what might be coming in the future.”

A key to mindfulness, says Dr. Guidi, is focusing on the ‘nonjudgmental’ part of mindfulness. “All of us can be very negative and critical about people and things around us,” he says. “If you become more nonjudgmental – and it can’t be done overnight – and become more positively focused, there’s a lot less clutter in your brain that you have to think about.”
An approach that came into practice more than 30 years ago, mindfulness is now reaching mainstream medicine. More than 2,500 research studies have investigated its effect on a variety of medical conditions – anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, acute and chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Most of those studies have shown positive outcomes - patients feel better, become more relaxed, and more compassionate. Blood pressures and heart rates are reduced to healthful levels. As testimony to its acceptance, the National Institutes of Health in 2014 allotted $100 million for research into mindfulness.

Both physicians agree that mindfulness can benefit patients of all ages, particularly the families of patients and caregivers, who experience increasing amounts of stress in dealing with major illnesses or conditions such as dementia.

Dr. Prince says mindfulness can be healing, in making us adapt to our circumstances. It can also be revealing, in opening up different possibilities for us. The purpose of mindfulness, he adds, “is not to replace a medicine, but as a way to improve people’s ability to relate to their circumstances in their life in a way that’s in line with their intentions and their values.”

Watch the above video for more discussion including conversation about how mindfulness can benefit patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and substance abuse; how it can help people cope with fear; and the benefits it could have with young people in deterring them from substance abuse.

MMS/Richard Gulla

UMass Medical School Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society

North Shore Medical Center Family Resource Center

Mind-Up - The Hawn Foundation

National Institutes of Health

One Moment Meditation

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mindfulness Coach

From left,
Bruce Karlin, M.D., Jefferson Prince, M.D. Michael Guidi, O.D.
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