Psychologist credits ‘Spiritual Fitness’ in recovery from leukemia

By Marjorie Wertz

When Nancy Mramor learned she had leukemia nearly six years ago, the Pittsburgh-based licensed psychologist turned to mind-body medicine to help herself become well.

She refers to the mind-body approach as spiritual fitness and used various techniques, including prayer, faith, and visualization during her struggle with the disease.

To listen to the Spiritual Fitness interview with Dr. Nancy and Fr. Ron Lengwin

Fr. Ron Lengwin

“A big part of physical healing is attitude and faith,” said Mramor, who holds a Ph.D. and has worked in private practice, schools, and hospitals for over 30 years, and appears monthly on KDKA-TV’s “Pittsburgh Today Live” as a regular contributor. “If you have a strong attitude and faith that you will recover, the brain sends a message to the body that you will heal. Visualizing yourself in a healthy condition sends a message to the body to lead you in that direction.”

In addition to applying mind-body medical practices, Mramor also heeded the advice of Dr. Carl Srodes, an oncologist affiliated with the West Penn Allegheny Health System, and underwent aggressive chemotherapy for several months.

“Her leukemia was a serious problem that a majority of people would not be cured of, but there are certainly cures that occur,” Srodes said. “Establishing a dialogue between science or medicine and the humanities and not dismissing the importance of the spiritual in coping with disease and the problems associated with it are essential.”

Mramor was very clear about making decisions regarding her treatment, he added.

“In the long run, giving people information in terms of data that they are emotionally receptive to, empowers them, and gives them a feeling of being in control,” Srodes said. “This is something physicians should encourage with their patients. Asking questions is something that’s typically frowned upon. Yet, an open dialogue between physician and patient should be integral in the overall decision-making in regards to treatment.”

As she recovered from her illness and utilized her spiritual tools she has taught others, Mramor decided to write a book. “Spiritual Fitness” details the mind-body techniques she uses in her practice and those that helped her survive leukemia.

The book features practical exercises so that readers will learn how to break old patterns and learn how to access intuition for a renewed sense of self, purpose, and well-being.

“Spiritual fitness places the spirit at the center of your life and gives practical tips, tools and techniques to take care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally,” Mramor said. “I was raised Catholic and I did feel very committed to spirituality growing up. Then when I was 21, I took a meditation and healing class and what I learned through that class heightened what I had already been experiencing.”

As part of the spiritual fitness aspect of her practice, Mramor teaches her clients relaxation and self-hypnosis techniques.

“Once they can relax their bodies and let go of all their issues, healthier ideas emerge,” Mramor said. “For many people it’s about stuffing old beliefs and adopting new practices.”

Scientists have also taken up the mind-body cause and began work on identifying the body’s pathways that link emotion to health. According to an article in the Sept. 27, 2004, issue of Newsweek, the federal government’s 5-year-old Integrated Neural Immune Program will spend $16 million this year on mind-body research, and private foundations will spend millions more. HIP USA, a managed-care organization, has started covering mind-body practices, and Medicare now reimburses patients for certain relaxation techniques administered by psychologists.

The Newsweek article also pointed to a recent government survey that showed nearly half of all Americans in 2002 used mind-body interventions, including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, hypnosis and guided imagery. Close to half of them also said they prayed, the oldest and most basic form of mind-body medicine.

“There are studies that have suggested that prayer seems to promote healing,” Srodes said. “It is my belief that prayer and dealing with the spiritual is important to a person’s well-being.”

Nancy J. Wintner, president of GWN Consultants, Pittsburgh, likens Mramor’s spiritual fitness to a personal training program that works from the inside out.

“Millions of Americans are devouring self-help books and tuning into the television makeover shows. To feel truly comfortable with yourself over the long term you have to look at yourself from the inside and that’s what Dr. Nancy is focusing on,” said Wintner, Mramor’s publicist and friend. “I find her to be very compassionate. She is sincere and is truly dedicated to helping people. She has an extreme dedication to children.”

Mramor began her career as a special education teacher in 1976. She then turned to working as a psychologist in the public schools teaching stress management to teachers and children. Mramor’s nonprofit corporation, Inner Spaces Network Inc, is dedicated to stress management for children and include relaxation training, conflict resolution, bully prevention, self-esteem building, disability awareness and relationship building. Her multimedia program, “Mastering Relaxation: A Stress Management Curriculum for Children,” is endorsed by the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association.

“Today, as a result of her work with children, she is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in children’s stress management,” said Wintner.

In addition to her work with children, Mramor has been on staff at Shadyside Hospital since 1999 and has presented more than 200 lectures and workshops in hospitals, clinics, schools, conferences and corporations on the mind, body, spirit and spiritual fitness. Her book is a culmination of 30 years’ experience as a clinical psychologist in the classroom, in psychotherapy sessions, workshops, seminars and conferences.

“People need to know that the spirit is a real part of the self and that there is a spiritual path to life,” said Mramor. “The exercises in my book will teach people how to let go of pessimism, disbelief, negativity or blocks within themselves that interfere with optimum health and wellness. But achieving spiritual fitness is much like becoming physically fit. You have to practice and build up your system.

“People are working hard at becoming happier but they aren’t looking on the inside. By improving your spirituality, you will improve your mind and body. If you aren’t at peace with your soul, anything that you do on the outside won’t matter.

“Everyone has a spirit. It does live eternally, so why not nurture that part of you that will last forever.”

“Spiritual Fitness” is available at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Journeys of Life in Shadyside, Open Mind in Sewickley, through or her Web site at

Mramor will be talking about “Spiritual Fitness” during two upcoming book signings — Barnes and Noble at the Waterfront on March 5 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and at Borders in Monroeville on March 12, also from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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