Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mind/Body Study for Smoldering Myeloma - complete!

I just finished the study/supportive care trial called, Genomic and Psychosocial Effects of the 3RP on Patients With MGUS and Smoldering Multiple Myeloma. This mind/body program was held at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, at Massachusetts General Hospital and lasted 8 weeks. My myeloma specialist, Dr. R suggested this study and I actually enrolled last October. I have to say I am sad that it's now over. The mind/body program is officially called, Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP). The study was randomized and I was assigned to the "wait list control" group. After signing up for the study, I had to wait to enroll into the 3RP until January. During the time period between October and January I had my blood drawn twice and filled out different batches of questionnaires related to stress, worry, anxiety, etc. Then, this past January I started the program. The other participants in the study could be randomized into what is called the "immediate" group. The "immediate" group participants go through the program at time of sign up, and then continue to practice the relaxation response for 12 weeks after the program finishes.

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in this study. What I learned I will continue to practice on my own for the rest of my life. Am I a completely zen, non-stressed person now? Uh no. ;) But I do feel like I have a lot of different strategies to help combat stress and make sure I live as healthy a life as I possibly can.

Mindfulness/meditation has been in the news more and more lately...or perhaps I'm just more attuned to noticing it! ABC News' Dan Harris recently published a book called, "10% Happier". Here is an excerpt from his book:  Dan Harris: Meditation is the Path to Happiness     Dan Harris: "10% Happier"

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you'll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It's a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it's not a miracle cure. It won't make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That's an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment.

Once you get the hang of it, the practice can create just enough space in your head so that when you get angry or annoyed, you are less likely to take the bait and act on it. There's even science to back this up -- an explosion of new research, complete with colorful MRI scans, demonstrating that meditation can essentially rewire your brain.

This science challenges the common assumption that our levels of happiness, resilience, and kindness are set from birth. Many of us labor under the delusion that we're permanently stuck with all of the difficult parts of our personalities -- that we are "hot-tempered," or "shy," or "sad" -- and that these are fixed, immutable traits. We now know that many of the attributes we value most are, in fact, skills, which can be trained the same way you build your body in the gym.

This is radical, hopeful stuff. In fact, as I discovered, this new neuroscience has led to the flowering of an elite subculture of executives, athletes, and marines who are using meditation to improve their focus, curb their addiction to technology, and stop being yanked around by their emotions. Meditation has even been called the "new caffeine." I suspect that if the practice could be denuded of all the spiritual preening and straight-out-of-a-fortune-cookie lingo such as "sacred spaces," "divine mother," and "holding your emotions with love and tenderness," it would be attractive to many more millions of smart, skeptical, and ambitious people who would never otherwise go near it.

This Ted Talk - Ted Talk: "If you raise your level of positivity, then your brain performs significantly better." - speaks to some of what I learned through the mind/body program in terms of practicing gratitude/appreciation, mediation, and living an overall healthy lifestyle. The entire talk is actually quite humorous, but this last part has information everyone should keep in mind:

What we need to be able to do is to reverse this formula so we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of. Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you're positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

We've found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. We've done these things in research now in every single company that I've worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they're grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.

Journaling about one positive experience you've had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we've been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand. And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness. We get people, when they open up their inbox, to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their social support network.

And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we've found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution.