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francescamarangell's blog

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The Relaxation Response: A Book Review

Dr. Robert Benson discusses the powerful health advantages of the relaxation response in his book titled, The Relaxation Response. Through mental training techniques Dr. Benson demonstrates how to elicit the relaxation response and how to absorb the de-stressing effects it has provided for millions of individuals. Dr. Benson believes that Medicine is a tripod, balanced by three healing resources: medications, medical procedures such as surgery and self care. Regular practice of the relaxation response is believed to significantly strengthen the third leg of the tripod. After reading Dr. Benson’s book, I was both intrigued and enlightened by several of his ideas, theories and arguments. However, I was also hesitant and critical of certain claims that were presented.

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What Controls our Dreams?

Last night I dreamt that I had slept through my alarm clock. The red numbers flashed 10:15am. I had missed breakfast and class had already begun. I had to scramble to get ready. I couldn’t find my toothbrush. I couldn’t find the right books. I couldn’t find my key. Then I woke up to the sound of my alarm. I awoke to a different reality that seemed more real than the one I was previously in, and yet in the moment of searching for pens and book bags that disheveled, frantic world seemed alarmingly real. Why had I dreamt of oversleeping? What caused that dream to occur? Who or what controls and creates my dreams?

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Meditation: The Brain’s Treadmill

When the Bryn Mawr yoga instructor begins her session by uniting the voices of the class with the universal sound of ohm, scattered chuckles roll across the floor. Bowing to the light within, centering oneself and falling into the unconditional embrace of yoga is not a fundamental aspect of western lives. The mental facet of yoga falls under the mental training umbrella of meditation. Meditation is a practice that attempts to calm and focus the mind on one subject, releasing all other thoughts. Oftentimes this focus is geared inwards, towards the self. Meditation is gaining respect in western civilizations because a plethora of studies are showing it provides predictable, reproducible and measurable medical benefits. However, meditation is not ingrained in our culture; it is not a lifestyle like it is for monks under the Buddhist religion. Buddhist monks who dedicate their lives to meditation exhibit unbounded mental potential for mind-body control. From the far off peaks of the Himalayans to the Bryn Mawr yoga classroom, meditation is occurring and our minds and bodies are absorbing its side effects, which currently science can’t fully explain. How meditation affects the brain and alters our physiological states is a simple question without a simple answer.

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Placebos and the Mind Body Relationship

When a product seems more enticing and more enjoyable because of a particular brand name, label or expectation, when an individual meditates, when a sugar pill has the capability of ailing a pain: these are all examples of a phenomenon called the placebo effect. The placebo effect is traditionally a deception of the mind, involving the application of a non-pharmacological drug or procedure that results in the improvement of ones health. Why this phenomenon occurs, is an unanswered question which is difficult to medically understand. What takes place in the body and what causes this phenomenon to occur? How deep is the connection between mind and body? To what extent can mind control body on internal, physical, involuntary levels?

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