A guest arrived in Tucson feeling fine, so he was surprised when a Canyon Ranch nurse took his blood pressure and said it was high. He’d never had that problem before. He booked an appointment with Nicola Finley, MD, and she got an even higher BP reading. Luckily, she’s an intuitive doctor with broad perspective.
She recommended a relaxation practice and led him through a deep breathing exercise. Then she asked him to lie down on the examination table, turned the lights low and invited him to envision peaceful images. His blood pressure dropped significantly. During his stay at Canyon Ranch, it sometimes rose again but never as high as on the first readings. In the end, the guest took home practical nonmedical tools for managing blood pressure as well as a very low dose of medication.
“That’s what I do as an integrative medicine physician,” Dr. Finley says. “I pay attention to the mind, body and – if the patient is open to it – spirit, too.”
Integrative care looks at each patient’s test results, health history, current status, vital signs – and at the person behind all that information. Because Dr. Finley can spend nearly an hour with each guest at Canyon Ranch, she has time to ask her patients what’s really important to them.
“People know why they should stop smoking or lose weight, of course, but the motivation comes when they actually look at their values. They’ll say, ‘I want to watch my grandchildren grow up,’ or ‘I want to dance at my son’s wedding,’ for instance.” That heightened self-awareness becomes part of the remedy.
There’s no doubt that surgery or medications are often medical necessities. However, Dr. Finley also notes 75 percent of visits to primary care physicians involve symptoms related to stress. “Meditation, yoga or mindfulness can often be as effective as meds.”
Integrative medicine cultivates the doctor-patient relationship, and a spiritual or human connectedness can be part of that. Dr. Finley points to the power of human touch and says, “just knowing that someone cares and is listening” is good for patients. Some may write that off as a kiss-the-boo-boo effect, but it can actually help with symptoms.
Dr. Finley says that a trusting relationship with the physician can help trigger a patient’s natural healing. The premise is supported by research results. “People were given the same painkiller, but only half the people were told it was for pain. The people who knew what the pill was for reported greater pain relief.”
In reverse, Dr. Finley notes that if someone gets symptom relief from a source that’s not medically proven, it’s still relief. The power of suggestion may be an effective conduit for tapping into a person’s inner resources. “We might stimulate natural healing and avoid medications that could have side effects.”
There are, of course, many people who believe that prayers will bring healing for themselves or people they love. The process itself can provide great comfort and hope to believers.
“There’s just so much we can’t see in the world,” Dr. Finley says. “It’s challenging to study through scientific trials whether prayer will help someone who is sick. There are studies showing that people with heart disease who have a high sense of spiritual well-being may do better – and prayer is an expression of spirituality. And there’s no proof that prayer won’t help.”
More than a Feeling
Dr. Finley observes there’s a growing acceptance in the medical community concerning the positive effects of inner peace and connectedness. Many hospitals are now being built with gardens, for instance, to encourage contact with nature and allow social interaction.
“I often suggest that guests walk the labyrinth at Canyon Ranch,” she says. “The tranquility, the beauty and the repetitive movement are naturally soothing. You can get that same feeling from petting your dog or cat, praying the rosary, running, chanting – anything that helps you achieve that relaxation through focused repetition.”
Dr. Finley chooses dance as a way to connect with herself and others in meaningful ways. It gets her fully in the moment, deeply connected to the music and other dancers.
She also drew on inner resources when she was dealing with fertility issues and standard medical treatments weren’t working. It was time to look at other options.
“For me, it was yoga. I changed from within through yoga,” she says, acknowledging the power of the mind-body connection; becoming more centered and relieving stress can benefit anyone. “Now I have a beautiful 7-year-old daughter.”
Dr. Finley understands that a spiritual approach in medicine, as practiced at Canyon Ranch, is not for everyone. She respects each patient’s point of view. “It’s whatever a person feels comfortable with,” she says. “As a doctor, my intention is to connect with each patient, wherever they are, and really listen.”
Many people find that paying attention to inner wisdom and spiritual connection enhances the healing process. It’s a pathway with endless potential and no harmful side effects!