Cutting Stress Meditation Can Help People Relax

Posted: February 05, 1996

Several people are sitting silently on blue cushions in a third-floor room, their legs crossed, their eyes closed.

It looks like they might be practicing traditional Buddhist meditation, and in a way they are.

But they're not seeking enlightenment - they're students in a stress-management class. And their teacher is not a Buddhist monk - he's a doctor at Graduate Hospital.

What's going on in the room is part of a revolution in the medical profession. Eastern-style meditation increasingly is being used not as alternative treatment, but as one more tool in the doctor's medical bag.

``There's nothing foreign or exotic about it,'' says Dr. Michael Baime, chief of internal medicine at Graduate, who leads the eight-week classes in meditation. ``It's very simple and very ordinary.''

About half the people in the classes are just looking for a way to reduce stress.

Others, though, suffer particular stress because of medical conditions like high blood pressure, and still others are trying to deal with chronic pain. All have the potential to be helped by meditation, Baime says.

The concept is simple.

Stress, says Baime, is usually caused when we react automatically to things, like criticism from a boss or a spouse, or when another driver cuts us off. We often don't realize we're getting upset until our bodies are filled with tension.

Essentially, meditation teaches people to take control of that process.

Several types of meditation are used in the class, but the most common works like this: People sit quietly with their eyes closed, and become aware of their thoughts and feelings.

They don't try to change or push away those thoughts and feelings - they simply get into the habit of recognizing them. With practice, this can be carried over to daily life, says Baime.

``It gives us the possibility of changing our automatic, unconscious reaction, replacing it with something more skillful and more accurate.''

In other words, the stress never has a chance to take hold.

Meditation also helps people with chronic pain by reducing their anxiety, which often heightens pain. They learn that the less they struggle against the pain, the easier it is to deal with.

Baime teaches the class with his wife, Dr. Regina Baime, a member of the Graduate faculty.

Baime recommended the class to Betty Schanne, 56, whom he was treating for chronic back pain. Because she also was under a great deal of stress - due to her husband's heart problems - Baime thought she might be a good candidate for meditation.

``I was a little skeptical at first,'' said Schanne. ``I didn't know whether this was for me.''

She now meditates for about 15 minutes a day, and has found she's under less stress and can better deal with her back pain.

``It's really helped me deal with the little things that people get upset about,'' said Schanne. ``And I've learned not to let the pain control me.''

Baime, who launched the program, has been practicing meditation since he was 14, and has been authorized to teach Buddhist meditation since 1983.

But he says ``there's nothing Eastern'' about the meditation he teaches in stress-management. ``If it were invented in 20th-century America, it would come out of some kind of think-tank and be called a psychotherapy.''

In recent years, the medical community has been learning more about the psychological reasons why people get sick or stay healthy, Baime says. As a result, programs like Graduate's have been springing up around the country.

Though the program is partly intended to help those with medical problems, says Baime, ``We also have lots of healthy, successful, busy people who experience a lot of stress. Meditation helps them cope better and grow more.''

For more information on the Medical Stress Management Program, call 215-893-2099.

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