A new research study shows that a little yoga or meditation a day might just keep the doctor away. Stress-related health problems are responsible for up to 80% of visits to the doctor and account for the third highest health care expenditures, behind only heart disease and cancer. But as few as 3% of doctors actually talk to patients about how to reduce stress.
Mind-body practices like yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce your body’s stress response by strengthening your relaxation response and lowering stress hormones like cortisol. Yoga has been shown to have many health benefits, including improving heart health and helping relieve depression and anxiety. But the cost-effectiveness of these therapies has been less well demonstrated--until now.
Dr. James E. Stahl and his team of Harvard researchers studied a mind-body relaxation program offered through the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The 8-week program taught participants several different mind-body approaches, including meditation, yoga, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral skills, and positive psychology. The study volunteers participated in weekly sessions and practiced at home as well.
The researchers found that people in the relaxation program used 43% fewer medical services than they did the previous year, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone. This means that such yoga and meditation programs could translate into health care savings of anywhere from $640 to as much as $25,500 per patient each year.
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Yoga Coming to the Affordable Care Act
Here are four reasons we should expect to see yoga and other mind-body programs covered by health insurers and included in the Affordable Care Act as well:
1. Yoga has a strong scientific evidence that yoga promotes physical and mental health.
Yoga can improve heart health, cancer recovery, and chronic pain. Yoga has been shown to improve mental health by reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. Neuroimaging studies have shown that yoga and meditation change the brain and genetic studies reveal that yoga could even impact gene expression at the molecular DNA level and protect our the longevity of our DNA.
2. Yoga programs have been shown to reduce hospital visits by 43%, which could translate into thousands of dollars in health care savings.
Stress is one of the top three health care costs in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. Stress-related problems account for up to 80-90% of visits to the doctor, but only 3% of doctors talk about how to reduce stress with their patients.
A recent study conducted by Dr. James E. Stahl and his team at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who participated in an 8-week yoga and meditation program used 43% fewer medical services than the previous year, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone. This means that such yoga and meditation programs could translate into health care savings of $640 to $25,500 per patient each year.
3. The number of people interested in yoga is growing rapidly.
Yoga is the most popular form of mind-body practice in America today. One in 10 Americans are doing yoga, and nearly half of people who haven't tried yoga yet are interested in learning. This means that if yoga was made more affordable and accessible through health insurers, it's likely many people will actually use this insurance benefit.
4. Yoga provides tools that people can continue at home to create lasting benefits.
What is a better investment than a low-cost yoga and meditation program that teaches people skills that they can take home to continue these health benefits? Dr. Stahl, who is now section chief at general internal medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, teaches his patients mindfulness skills in his internal medicine practice and encourages people to practice daily at home. "The biggest thing that people need to do--whether it's meditation, yoga, or something else--is that you only need to spend 10 to 15 minutes a day, but the real key is consistency," Dr. Stahl recommends.
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Scientific Evidence for a Connecting Matrix
Neuroscientist Dr. Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum worked extensively with shamans and other individuals in Mexico, collecting vast amounts of data using electroencephalograph (EEG) readings and various inventories relevant to learning, memory, perception and biopsychology.
One of these studies began by having two people meditate for twenty minutes together. They were then separated into two different rooms, both of which were shielded from all electromagnetic energies. One person was presented with random flashes of light, designed to elicit shock responses. The other person, sitting in a different room, was hooked up to an EEG machine. This subject’s EEG readings showed a similar shock response, perfectly timed with the other individual’s light flashes, twenty-five percent of the time. A control group, on the other hand, showed no such correlation. Many interesting variations of this study were conducted, all with equally interesting results.
Grinberg published these results in Physics Essays, a highly respected, peer-reviewed journal. And though this evidence was painstakingly collected in more than fifty experiments over a five-year period, he received a great deal of criticism. In yet another paper he expressed his theory of a pre-space structure he referred to as a "holographic, non-local lattice," a matrix, if you will.
In this promising but controversial paper, Grinberg attributed nothing less than consciousness to this matrix, stating that the "neuronal field [emanating from the brain] distorts this lattice, and activates a partial interpretation of it that is perceived as an image. Only when the brain-mind system is free from interpretations, do the neuronal field and the pre-space structure become identical." He concluded that all individual minds were linked to one another via this non-local matrix.
Subsequent studies conducted by other researchers seemed to validate Grinberg’s original findings. Physicist Fred H. Thaheld, for instance, used Faraday cages to shield two separate compartments from electromagnetic energies. One person was hooked up to an EEG in one chamber, and another person was likewise attached to an EEG in the other chamber. The compartments were isolated from one another, making impossible any means of communication. Yet when one subject was presented with stimulating visual patterns, there was a statistically significant response rate in which the other subject’s EEG showed a corresponding and simultaneous response.
Charles Tart of UC Davis conducted a similar experiment, but instead of using an EEG and visual stimulation, he monitored galvanic skin resistance (GSR), blood volume and heart rate in response to small electric shocks. Two people were asked to meet one another and agree to remaining "connected" after going their separate ways. When isolated in different rooms, Tart administered small electric shocks to the "sender." Even though the receiver was totally unaware of any response at all, Tart’s data revealed that this receiver’s GSR, blood volume and heart rate all indeed reacted to each of the "sender's" shocks.
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