Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ho'oponopono and hypertension? Spirit, meet blood vessels

Some people doubt that spiritual or meditative processes can affect physical conditions.

Yet there are many studies supporting the adjunctive use of mindfulness-based stress reduction, for instance, in conditions such as chronic pain, heart disease, psoriasis, and hypertension -- not to mention conditions said to be 'emotional', like anxiety disorders.

Enter another area for consideration: Ho'oponopono, a spiritual practice developed and used in Hawaii for centuries.

Ho'oponopono, which means "to make right" or "to correct an error", is a step-by-step problem-solving approach to identify and relieve stress. Though it one learns to care appropriately for the self through a practice of repentance, forgiveness, and transmutation. This process helps one develop a better working relationship between the conscious mind, subconscious, and superconscious (mind, body, and spirit), increasing self-understanding and self-acceptance.

Self-Identity through Ho'oponopono is a modernized version of the process created by a kahuna healer named Morrnah Simeona, and is now taught worldwide through The Foundation of I.

Might this spiritual practice also have physical health effects?

Kikikipa Kretzer PhD et al recently published a pilot study, "Self-Identity through Ho'oponopono as adjunctive therapy for hypertension management," in Ethnicity and Disease. They wondered whether Self-Identity through Ho'oponopono along with standard medical therapy might better control hypertension than standard therapy alone.

Serving as their own controls, 23 adults over age 30 with hypertension or pre-hypertension participated in a half-day class on Self-Identity through Ho'oponopono. They learned how to apply this process in their everyday lives. Systolic blood pressure decreased after the intervention, averaging 11.86 mm Hg below pre-intervention levels. Diastolic blood pressure decreased by 5.44 mm Hg. These findings were both statisically and clinically significant.

Reading the actual research paper shows that blood pressures decreased more over the 1-2 months following the intervention, than on the class day itself. Intriguingly, blood pressures even increased slightly on the class day. Why?

I wondered if class participants might have experienced increased stress with new (and maybe unfamiliar) ideas about themselves and their health. This possible effect, mirrored in the blood pressure readings, does seem to have tapered with ongoing time and practice after the class.

How many of our blood pressures rise when someone or something first challenges our long-held assumptions? What if the world really is drastically different -- and much more complex -- than we'd like to believe? hmmm . . . .

Having such spiritual resources within us can be a great relief, once we get over the shock of having them. :-)

The study included measures of spirituality before and after the classes; these scores increased significantly after the intervention.

Also, 91% of study participants wanted more personal involvement in their healthcare treatments. Providing a simple way to deal with stress, Ho'oponopono could allow such involvement while also improving blood pressures.

In this study, Self-Identity through Ho'oponopono offered a low-cost, low-risk, and readily accessible intervention associated with lower blood pressures and improved feelings of well-being in participants.

Though some will say the study is "small" (only 23 subjects), it carries big implications. I'm hoping the authors will explore further -- and that people like us will stay tuned.

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