Most illnesses are potentials for genes to express pathology rather than inevitable sentences. In my theory and practice of biocognitive science, I propose that, in addition to genetic propensities, toxic environments, unhealthy diets, and other external factors, most illnesses have a learning component that must be addressed to heal rather than cure the malady: How we inadvertently teach our mindbody to get sick.
In the case of essential or primary hypertension (unknown causes), although studies show that you can lower your systolic (upper reading) and diastolic (lower reading) with meditation, healthy diets, medication, exercise, guided imagery, hypnosis, yoga, qigong, tai chi, positive thoughts, breathing techniques, and other methods, very few of these interventions have lasting effects. What do they have in common? They are addressing the symptom (hypertension) rather than the cause. And since health sciences cannot come up with a cause when there are no measurable pathological markers, I am going to propose there is a cause that can be identified and treated. Also, the cause is learned, and can be unlearned. I argue, based on the evidence I found from years of clinical neuropsychology practice, that we teach our mindbody essential hypertension by living in what I call the urgent present. And unless we change the operative consciousness (default mode) that we use to interpret our world, we will hopelessly continue to treat symptoms expecting to resolve the causes of most illnesses.
How We Learn to Live in the Urgent Present
Our brains set the speed of how we function in our time/space based on the degree of urgency we assign to our future events. Although we plan for the the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year, we experience the speed of our plans in the present. If we conclude there’s not enough time to complete tasks, we create an urgency that decreases efficiency, effectiveness, curiosity, enjoyment, and memory, while increasing accident-proneness, stress hormones, and blood pressure. This concept of urgent present is not the same as the fight or flight response. It is rather compressing the perception of time as a way of life. This urgency present is so insidious that most people believe that’s how life should be in the modern world, and support their behavior with the following rationalizations:
- I have too much to do, and not enough time.
- I’ll slow down when I finish this project.
- My job, home, relationships, demand urgency.
- I get more done when I multitask.
- High speed works for me.
- That’s the way to succeed in our competitive world.
I can write a book on all the reasons I have heard from my patients and readers. Although most of the reasons have some legitimacy, I can tell that when you slow down your present, not only will you notice a gradual drop in your basal (resting) blood pressure, but you will become much more productive with less time. Dress me slowly, I am a hurry, (although attributed to Napoleon, it was Don Quixote instructing Sancho Panza to help him put on his armor), is the best mantra to remind us we are functioning in the urgent present.
But changing operative consciousness is not an intellectual task. Otherwise, all you would need to do is slowdown. Since I am focusing on essential hypertension in this article, let me show you the tools I’ve found to be very effective in resolving persistent high blood pressure. Before I start however, I strongly warn against using my method or any other method without consulting your healthcare professionals. Biocognition is integrative rather than alternative.
So now that you have been clearly advised, let me show you how I believe the learning component of essential hypertension takes place.
- Our operative consciousness (default mode) determines how we perceive our world: the “goggles” we use to interpret our environment.
- Our operative consciousness is learned in cultural contexts. Examples: You’ll catch a cold if you go out in the rain. Hypertension is inherited and there’s no cure. Genetics, rather than ethnic adversities, is the cause of hypertension for some minorities. Stress is the main culprit in hypertension. Medication is the only treatment for hypertension. Hypertension is a family illness, and so on…
- If we change our operative consciousness, the unlearning of pathology can take place.
- Operative consciousness is not changed intellectually. The brain requires evidence to redirect neuromaps that maintain our selective perception.
- Mindbody experiential methods can change our operative consciousness.
The Behavioral Tools
- Check your breathing pattern throughout the day. Inhaling should be shorter than exhaling: a ratio of 4 slow counts inhaling, to 6 slow counts exhaling.
- Choose a grounding mantra as a reminder to slowdown: “Dress me slowly I am in a hurry.”
- Choose a target mantra as a reminder to live your mindful present supportive of normal blood pressure: “My resting blood pressure is 120/80” (normal rage).
- Allocate reasonable time for your daily tasks to avoid entering urgency-consciousness.
- Have meals without cells and laptops.
- Do not sit more than two hours without standing and moving around for a few minutes.
- Identify patters in conditions, time of day, and days of the week, where you discover you’re in the urgency present. Make a note of what you find and make the required changes with a slower speed.
- Take your blood pressure in the morning and before bed. Be patient because operative consciousness does not change overnight. Always wait a few minutes sitting, before taking your blood pressure. Use the same arm every time.
- If you are taking medication, and notice your blood pressure is decreasing, do not reduce your medication without consulting your healthcare professional.
- If you catch yourself in urgency present, stop, take a few deep breaths, and continue what you were doing in slow motion for a few minutes. This sends your brain a message to change urgent present-consciousness.
The MindBody Tools
- Before you take your blood pressure, close your eyes, drop your shoulders, breathe the 4/6 inhaling-exhaling ratio for a few minutes. Imagine your blood pressure is 120/80 and repeat it slowly as a mantra. Most important, imagine what you would do differently to keep your blood pressure within the normal range. For example, imagine performing a planned task very slowly, responding to a challenge slower than usual, speaking slower, pausing to construct your next action, and anything else that is compatible with a mindful present, free of urgency.
- After you take your blood pressure, sit for a few minutes and look for novelty around you. What do you notice that’s new or never noticed before? Curiosity takes you to the here and now faster than anything else.
- Throughout your day practice the grounding mantra and the target mantra. They serve as reminders to shift out of the urgency present.
- Throughout the day take several five to ten minute breaks to do the following: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and pay attention to your body. Don’t try to relax; just observe the tension and see it as passing clouds. Imagine how your life would be like if you had normal blood pressure. Imagine how your life was before you were diagnosed with high blood pressure. Then commit to actually do the things you imagined.
- If you go to the gym, go for walks, etc., do not take your headphones, cell, and iPad so you can concentrate on the tasks. You want to live in the serene present.
- As you spend less time in the urgent present, notice how other mindbody wellness begins to happen, in addition to dropping your blood pressure.
The objective of combining external behavioral tool and internal mindbody experiences is to orchestrate a gradual shift of operating consciousness from urgent present living, to a wellness pace that helps you unlearn what maintains dysfunctional blood pressure. Move slowly into wellness-consciousness.