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Practice the exercise at least twice a day and whenever you feel stressed, anxious or off center. After a month, if you are comfortable with it, increase to eight breaths each time.
The obvious advantages of this kind of practice are that it requires no equipment, is free and can be done anywhere. It is the most cost- and time-efficient relaxation method I have discovered, and I teach it to all my patients and to all health professionals I train.
THOUGHTS, EMOTIONS AND ATTITUDES
Your thoughts, emotions and attitudes are key determinants of how you age. The most common forms of emotional imbalance--depression and anxiety--are so prevalent that they can properly be called epidemic. They affect people of all ages, including a large percentage of the elderly. Doctors manage them with antidepressants and antianxiety agents--the key word here being "manage." These drugs suppress depression and anxiety; they do not cure them or get to their roots.
Conventional psychotherapy can make people aware of the thought patterns that give rise to emotional problems, but it rarely helps people change them. Changing habits of thought requires conscious effort and practice and often outside help. The best sources of help I have found are innovative forms of psychotherapy and Buddhist psychology.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has become popular only in recent years. It traces its remote origins in part to the teachings of a Greek philosopher, Epictetus, a former slave who developed a science of happiness. Perhaps the best-known expression of Epictetus' philosophy is the Serenity Prayer, attributed to the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous: "God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference."
Five hundred years ago, the Buddha taught his followers that unhappiness derives from the incessant habits of judging every experience as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and of trying to hold on to the pleasant ones while shunning the unpleasant.
In the 1970s, a "cognitive revolution" in psychotherapy incorporated these ideas into modern psychology and inspired the development of practical methods of implementing them. The result is that technologies now exist to help people change their patterns of thought and the emotions and behavior that derive from them. (By "technologies," I mean therapeutic strategies like CBT, not the use of devices.) Moreover, these new forms of psychotherapy are effective--as effective as the latest psychiatric drugs in many studies--and they work quickly, not requiring the commitments of time and money that older forms of talk therapy do.
One of the tenets of the integrative medicine that I practice is that health and illness involve more than the physical body. Good medicine must address the whole person: body, mind and spirit. My aim is to call attention to our unchanging essence--the part of us that remains the same no matter how much our appearance changes.