Practitioner teaches meditative art to cardiac patients
Published in Boulder Daily Camera, by Debra Melani, FIT Editor ~ Monday, September 20, 1998
Focus on Cynthia Ghiron
Education: Ghiron holds a master’s degrees in guidance and counseling from the University of Colorado and a dance therapy certificate from the Naropa Institute.
Background: Ghiron’s main focus is tai ji, which she has studied for 10 years. An art form that originated in China, ti ji is a moving meditation that is used to reduce stress and build strength and balance. Ghiron trained at the Lanting Institute in the Wuyi mountains in China with tai ji master Chungliang Al Huang. She completed her teacher’s training under Al Huang and has taught tai ji for six years.
In addition, Ghiron has had advanced training in the Hakomi method of body-centered psychotherapy, and is a Reiki II practitioner. She was chosen last year to lead the stress-reduction section of of the Boulder Heart Institute’s Atherosclerotic Reduction Program, which this fall will be held at the RallySport Health and Fitness Club for the first time. The rehabilitation is for heart-disease patients and those at high risk.
Ghiron has lived in Boulder since 1982 and enjoys the outdoors, hiking, and swimming.
What is your attraction to Tai Ji?
“My own personal love for tai ji comes through the movement, the dance-like quality, the music. It’s a poetry, and it is ever-changing and ever new and dynamic.”
The meditative art continually teaches Ghiron about herself and allows her a release, she said. “It helps me let go of my worries of daily life and return to the present moment, to smell the roses.”
Tell me about the stress-management program you used as a model.
Ghiron studied the Jon Kabat-Zinn eight-week stress-management program created at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “It focuses not on the stress per se in one’s life, but on how you handle it,” she said, noting that stress is recognized in the medical field as having an adverse effect on blood pressure, adrenal response and the development of heart disease and other health problems. The Kabat-Zinn program is used for a variety of patients, not just those with heart disease.
What does stress-management do?
“The research shows that if people do 45 minutes of stress management each day for an eight-week period, 65 percent of the participants report a 33-percent reduction in chronic pain and a significant reduction in anxiety, hostility and depression.” She said a three-year follow-up showed that those who continued the work maintained the benefits.
What does this mean, why is it so important?
“Normally people respond to stress with the fight-or-flight response, and that creates a hyper-arousal response.” Ghiron said. With the stress of the 20th century, not mitigating that response can be deadly, she said.
“People will develop chronic headaches, back pain and other physiological problems. It can lead to maladaptive coping patterns, which can lead to substance abuse, like wanting to have more caffeine to work harder, and over-eating. It can also lead to an eventual breakdown, like a heart attack.”
So how do you teach people to deal with stress?
“What we want to do is learn to respond to stress rather than react to it. We do this by developing mindfulness. The research shows that by simply bringing awareness to a stressful situation, there’s less of an adrenal response or rise in blood pressure.”
During the first week of her eight-week program, clients are asked to note what in their lives is stressful and what is relaxing. Then they learn where they need to be more mindful, Ghiron said.
What stress-management tools do you teach?
“Full-body relaxation,” she said, referring to teaching clients how to, at home, lie down and relax by starting at the feet and moving up the body, generally with a soothing tape Ghiron has created. “Then we begin to focus on the breath. We teach them to do more of a sitting meditation first. And then my passion, of course, is tai ji, to get people to get up.”
Yoga is offered as a tool, but Ghiron prefers tai ji. “The advantage of ti ji is it’s done standing, and you don’t have to hold particular postures, and you can adjust for your own pain threshold.” She said cardiac patients might be experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath. And, Ghiron added, there is much more to it for them.
“There’s the trauma of having gone through a life-threatening event. And there’s a lot of fear: Are they going to be OK? What tai ji does is help people work with that fear and release stress and deal with the risk factors. Sometimes stress is very deniable. They don’t even realize that they are stressed.” They think they are relaxed, but their hands might be in a fist. As we start to do tai ji, they are like, “Wow, this is what relaxed is.”
What are your rewards?
“I think that these patients, because they have just come through a life-threatening event, their heart is open, and they are so willing to do something new and different, and there is such an appreciation for them to be alive that they are so happy and grateful. And it helps remind me of my attitude to life and my appreciation for being alive.”
What makes the Heart Institute program unique?
“Often, stress-management is a missing component in traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs. Lots of programs primarily focus on exercise and nutrition.”
The Heart Institute program works with four components equally. Ghiron said. It includes learning about heart-healthy diet, regular cardiovascular program, stress management and the medical component. “Dean Ornish (author, doctor) was the first person to scientifically research this, and those four components have been shown to actually halt or reverse heart disease.” She said the recent move to RallySport allows the clients to continue the cardiovascular section year-round.
Participants in the H.E.A.R.T. program must be heart-disease patients, either post-heart attack or at risk. There is a screening process, and the program is limited to 12. A spouse or other loved one is invited to attend with the patient.