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A Program in Contemplative Self-Healing: Stress, Allostasis, and Learning in the Indo-Tibetan Tradition

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This paper reviews current behavioral health interventions and introduces a self-healing program based on the Indo-Tibetan tradition. While most work on behavior change emphasizes cognition and motivation, this review highlights stress-reactivity as a rate-limiting resistance to learning. Surveying cognitive-behavioral theories, it finds these limited in modeling stress-reactivity. Reviewing current interventions that address stress by integrating relaxation, mindfulness, imagery, or movement with cognitive-behavioral education, it attributes their limited effectiveness to the limits of their model of stress and their strategy of eclectically mixing techniques. Next, the article explores the Indic model of stress-cessation and self-healing assumed by mindfulness practice, concluding that it more fully reflects current findings on stress and learning. It reviews the theory and practice of mindfulness and of two less known contemplative “vehicles” preserved in Tibet, using more advanced techniques and insights better suited to lay lifestyles and secular cultures. It suggests that the Tibetan tradition of integrating all three vehicles of contemplative insight and skill in one self-healing practice should maximize coherence and effectiveness while minimizing confounding variables caused by eclecticism. Finally, the paper introduces an intervention that integrates mindfulness with techniques of cognitive analysis, affect modulation, motivational imagery, and reinforcing breathing, tailored over centuries into a complete, threefold path of self-healing. A pilot study of this intervention in women treated for breast and other gynecologic cancers suggests that the whole spectrum of Indo-Tibetan mind/body practices can be readily mastered and effectively used by Westerners to reduce stress and enhance learning and quality of life.
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Keywords: Indo-Tibetan; contemplation; health education; imagery; mindfulness; self-healing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Professor of Medicine and Professor of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University, New York, New York, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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