LAYTON -- Twenty-eight million people suffer from migraines. Thirty-one million have chronic lower-back pain, and 40 million have some form of an anxiety disorder.
Many of those conditions can be caused by stress, which can eventually exhaust the body, said Jacob Hess, a stress-reduction teacher at Davis Behavioral Health. People who experience pain or mental illness tend to tense up, making their problem worse.
"We fight against our pain and try to get away from it, which is a natural response," Hess said. "But study after study shows, when people unclench their fists and relax a bit into their pain, the pain and other problems such as anxiety and depression begin to decrease."
Hess, along with stress-reduction teacher Debi Todd, are teaching a new eight-week Mindfulness Stress Reduction Class beginning Thursday, Jan. 30, at Davis Behavioral Health. The class will be ongoing, Hess said.
Participants attend the class once a week and have additional home assignments to practice. Many people have found the practices taught in the course help them to better work with a variety of conditions such as headaches, depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, stress, fatigue and other problems.
"We are doing the class because it's always good to have a support system," Hess said. "It's the same as people who get together and train for a marathon or CrossFit. This is training of the mind."
The class involves meditation that helps retrain the mind and release stress, Hess said. While meditation has its roots in eastern religion, this class is free of any religious overtones and draws on years of scientific studies.
"Jon Kabat-Zinn developed mindfulness-based stress reduction in the 1970s," Hess said. "He was working at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and started talking with doctors who treated chronic-pain patients. They were only able to help about 20 percent of them with medication, so Kabat-Zinn started to experiment with meditation."
According to Kabat-Zinn's research, after an eight-week course, patients' pain levels significantly decreased.
"They measured pain levels both before and after the class, and they were amazed at the difference the meditation made," Hess said. "There were people with nerve pain and chronic back pain who were not able to be helped otherwise."
Kabat-Zinn is the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is also the founding director of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Hess said more studies were done to determine how meditation might help other ailments, including mental illness. He said every study showed an improvement. The class began spreading throughout the United States and has now found its way to Utah.
"The class here is free, but on the East Coast, people are paying $500," he said. "We are really excited to start teaching people how to manage their pain and lessen their suffering. It is by no means a cure-all and it doesn't replace their current treatment. It's more of a complement to what they're already doing."
The class is offered to adults age 18 and older. The first eight-week course will be held at Davis Behavioral Health, 934 S. Main St., in Layton, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
To register, go to www.dbhutah.org or call 801-773-7060, ext. 502.