mind-body-hypertension

High blood pressure is considered a “silent epidemic,” as lots of people have it but don’t know it. The usual treatment is drugs, and there are some dietary suggestions as well, especially cutting down on salt and fat as promoted by Dean Ornish and Nathan Pritikin. Stress reduction is highly recommended as well. However, there seems to be more the issue than salt and stress.

Recently I encountered the work of Samuel J. Mann, M.D., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Hypertension Center of The New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. You would hardly think that a revolutionary idea would come out of such a well-established medical institution, but Dr Mann’s work is certainly what I would consider ground-breaking. It also deserves attention and discussion.

As a hypertension specialist, Dr Mann has seen thousands of people with all varieties of high blood pressure. Eventually he began to notice a pattern that did not accord with the common view that stress is linked to this condition. “Even patients with severe hypertension did not seem more emotionally distressed than others,” he writes in his book Healing Hypertension: A revolutionary new approach (John Wiley & Sons, NY: 1999). “If anything, they seemed less distressed. Their high blood pressure appeared to be more related to what they did not seem to be feeling than to what they were feeling.” He began to see in his patients that old, un-healed, repressed trauma seemed to be a major culprit in the problem.

These are the main concepts covered by Dr Mann in his book, and they warrant serious attention.

1. Blood pressure fluctuates, and there has been extensive over diagnosis and unnecessary treatment of millions of people.

2. Anger or stress can elevate blood pressure temporarily, but do not actually cause hypertension.

3. Here is the kicker: “it is our hidden emotions, the emotions we do not feel, that lead to hypertension and many other unexplained physical disorders.”

4. To deal with hypertension at its core, it is necessary to bring those hidden emotions to the light, to consciousness, and to deal with them.

5. For those who are under the care of a physician for hypertension, incorporating this new information can help the physician select a more appropriate drug, if required, to match it to the cause of the condition.

While for many people there are contributing factors to hypertension such as genetics, obesity, and salt consumption, for countless others it may be driven mainly by repressed feelings due to traumatic experiences. It generally is not be easy to deal with these, and the process can be painful, but it may be worth it. Dr Mann points out that for those who do not want to deal with their hidden emotions, standard medical treatment will help control the condition.

I can testify to the validity of this approach. In the summer of 2000, I read about Dr Mann in a little free newspaper that covers my New York neighborhood. At the time this seemed a surprising syncronicity, as I had suddenly found myself grappling with some episodes of extremely high blood pressure, as high as 220/120. I was unable to sleep at night, or at most slept 2-3 hours, a completely new development for me; I also had trouble concentrating. Although I am very resistant to taking pharmacological drugs, I did consult a physician and took some anyway. I also went to my usual alternative medicine practitioners, such as my chiropractor, homeopath, and acupuncturist, which helped a little, but I knew it wasn’t enough.

After reading the article, I bought the book and read that. Then went to see Dr Mann at The Presbyterian Hospital, and with his encouragement started looking at what kind of hidden emotions I could be harboring. It didn’t take long to figure that the place to look would be in my repressed, or perhaps pre-verbal, memories of the three years I spent during World War II in Budapest, when I was two to five years old. I was there with my mother (my father was somewhere away at the front), and we spent many nights in cellars and basements with 30-40 strangers, hiding from the bombs and grenades. In terms of emotions, I knew there was something there, but I had no memory of it.

One day in August, after a weekend of sleeping one night out of three, I found myself again with a 200/100 pressure, and I went for a walk in the park, barefoot in the grass, which I had taken to do as a de-stressor. Thinking about the war years, and also about how I felt the sleepless night before, I realized that my night wakefulness was quiet and watchful. I did not think, worry, toss, or turn. I was just on high alert.

Then remembered my mother telling me about one time when we were staying in some cellar/basement, and she was summoned upstairs by the occupying soldiers for a party, together with another young woman there. Thus, she had to leave me alone in the dark cellar with all the strangers, none of whom cared about me. I suddenly got in touch with a profound terror — that which a 3 or 4-year old could feel — the fear that my mother might not come back. I realized now that I knew then that if she didn’t return I was dead – as simple as that. I had no home, no family, no friends around, nothing – it was just she and I and without her, that would be the end of me. I think I must have stayed awake all that night waiting for my mother, and now, in my sleepless nights, I was reliving it. I lay in the grass and cried, feeling and releasing that old terror.

After a while of shaking and crying, I got up and went home. Then I checked my blood pressure: it had gone down to 137/82. In one hour! I knew I was on the right track. Since then, it still has gone up and down, and I had to do quite a lot more spiritual work, but at the time of this writing, four months later, my blood pressure seems to be keeping itself normal with no medication. It’s been a harrowing four months, and I’m not finished yet, but I am certainly on the path to cleaning out that old emotional baggage, thanks to Dr Mann’s revolutionary insights.

Food, of course, is still a major healing tool for me. I found that eating beans daily helped a lot as well. So here is a nice recipe for Black Bean Soup.

Black Bean Soup

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small (about 2 cups)
1 small carrots, diced (about 1 cup)
2 celery ribs, diced small (about 1 cup)
1 ripe tomato, peeled and seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water
1 cup dry black beans, soaked 8 hours in 4 cups water, drained
1 tablespoon agar flakes (for extra minerals)
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoons fresh chopped cilantro

1. Saute the onion, carrot, celery, and tomato in the oil for about one minute each before adding the next one. Add the cumin and turmeric, mix well, and saute another 30-40 seconds.

2. Add the stock, the beans, and the agar, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes or so. Or pressure cook for 40 minutes. When the beans are soft, add the salt, and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.

3. Serve hot, with a teaspoon of fresh cilantro per serving. Makes about 4 servings.