When doctors found a massive tumor in Robert Persin's chest 14 months ago, his health wasn't his only concern.
The treatment also made him nervous.
"I had fears," the Carnegie man says. "When you're in that kind of situation, you can't help but think that modern medicine goes far, but not that far."
Eventually, after a surgery, the retired Army sergeant turned to what is known as mindful meditation. The practice draws its influence from Buddhist traditions, some dating hundreds of years before Christ.
The practice took on a more modern Western flavor when biomedical scientists Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced a mindful-based stress- reduction program at the University of Massachusetts in the 1970s.
Since then, it has been incorporated into the medical and psychiatric curricula at scores of universities nationwide. The method is being used by the U.S. Marines, tech geeks at Google and prison inmates.
Dr. Natalia Morone, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at UPMC, is trying to use the power of the mind to help elderly patients deal with chronic pain.
She's in the second year of a three-year, $1.5 million study, funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health, which focuses on mind-body interventions for chronic lower-back pain in adults older than 65.
"Meditation is not a cure for people who live with pain. But, not every medicine works for every patient," she says. "For those who live with chronic, consistent pain, they learn how to use mindful meditation to help live with their pain or illness."
If you decide to rush out and join a class, don't expect to see rows of people sitting cross-legged in off-the-shoulder-style robes, chanting to music played by Enya.
Carol Greco says there's some of that, but not nearly as much as stereotypes suggest.
"The practice of meditation requires the ability to focus," says Greco, an assistant professor of psychiatry for the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. …