January 14, 2017
Novel Paradigms in Medicine and New Year's Resolutions

Христос Рождається! Christ is Born!

Happy New Year, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

It is my sincere wish that you and your loved ones had a blessed Christmas season and are beginning this New Year with hope, health, inspiration, and joy! In my New Year greeting to you, I would like to share some thoughts on making the most of this new beginning and kindly invite you to consider the following:

Metropolitan Andreу Sheptycky once made a profound statement: “After God’s Grace the most important is science (наука)” …God inspires us, but we have to do the work...

The last several decades have brought about three major new paradigms in the field of medicine that expanded our understanding of human possibilities, our capacity to change our life, and improve our health. Neuroplasticity of the human brain, Mind Body medicine, and Epigenetics are three novel paradigms that challenged the status quo of formerly established medical dogmas, namely: the rigidity of human brain, the dichotomy of mind and body, and genetic determinism.

This bourgeoning scientific knowledge has tremendous practical implications regarding our spiritual health and wellbeing. By understanding the underlying principles of these scientific concepts and applying these principles in our daily life we can empower ourselves to better cope with different life challenges, illnesses, traumas, and losses. Armed with the instruments of our faith in God, our faith in ourselves, and our knowledge of the scientifically proven capacities of our mind, spirit and bodies, we can move from being the passive victims of our heredity to potentially masters of our life destiny. 

I invite you to reflect on each paradigm separately and consider how each might help you achieve your resolutions.                                                                                         

Neuroplasticity of the Human Brain: The human brain was originally considered to be a fixed, rigid organ. However, recent research has uncovered the brain’s incredible limitless capacity for change, adaptation, and development throughout our entire life course. This dynamic nature of the brain is called “neuroplasticity”. Our brain, mind, and spirit are constantly evolving, responding and forming new connections and pathways due to new experiences. The concept of neuroplasticity also stresses the importance of exercising our brain Use it or Lose it - Use it and Improve it. This does not mean we need to do complex mathematics or read serious literature to enhance our neuroplasticity. Spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or contemplation help form new pathways and connections in our brain. Practicing positivity, for example, helps form new connections and build a new, more positive outlook. (In a similar way, focusing on the negative helps reinforce those negative connections in the brain and rewires the brain for a more negative outlook.) Regular spiritual practices help wire our brain to generate or maintain inner peace, insight, and personal growth. They nourish our brain, mind, and spirit. Intensity, frequency, and specificity of our prayers, meditations and intentions can help ensure these new connections are not lost.                                                                                                                                          

Mind Body Medicine: This field of evidenced-based medicine highlights the interconnectedness of the health of the mind and body. Research has shown that the mind and body work in unison to heal, regulate and maintain. The body has a natural capacity for self-healing and regulation and is deeply influenced by the mind (for example, consider how stress or anxiety may affect how your body copes with an illness).  It is important to understand that our spiritual, mental, and emotional state can create physiological responses and physical changes in our bodies. Take a few moments every day for stress-reduction by employing mind - body practices such as repetitive prayer (Rosary), mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation/ contemplation (centering prayer), deep breathing, yoga, jogging, knitting, sewing, etc. Whatever helps evoked your relaxation response to reduce stress will help reduce the impact of stress (mind) on your physical body.

Epigenetics:  Until recently, it was commonly thought that we are stuck with the genes we are born with: chained to our genetic code. Epigenetics has emerged as a new field of medicine that studies the way genes are expressed (turned on or off). Our genes get turned on or off and are “expressed” to greater or lesser degrees depending on environmental and lifestyle factors such as nutrition, exercise, stress, pollutants, behaviors (such as smoking). These factors produce chemical modifications to our existing genes/ DNA that changes the way the genetic code is expressed. Evidence has shown that because of these epi-genetic changes, individuals with the same originating genetic factors can have very different outcomes. We can work to overcome our genetic predisposition by eating healthier, being more active, reducing alcohol intake and smoking, and limiting our exposure to harmful pollutants. We can work to reduce our stress levels with some stress-reduction techniques mentioned earlier.

I hope and encourage you to consider these paradigms and principles and try applying them in your daily life so we can all work to improve and promote our health using the power of our living faith in God’s Grace and the power of our human spirit, mind and body.

Wishing You a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year!

With sincere wishes and prayers,

Fr. Yaroslav