The Mind - Body Connection
Recent years have proven to be a renaissance for the integration of Mind-Body medicine. The idea that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect how our body works is finally finding some traction. What is interesting though is that doctors have deliberated over the connection between our mental and physical health for centuries. During the 17th century, the Western world started to see the mind and the body as two distinct entities. This perspective looked at the body as a machine with replaceable parts, independent parts, with no connection at all to the mind. Even though the Western viewpoint had definite benefits by advancing traditional medical models, it also reduced scientific inquiry into humans’ emotional and spiritual life. This viewpoint downplayed humans’ innate ability to heal.
Thinking has come full circle on this however. Recently, scientists have reflected on the idea that even behavioral disorders have a biological basis. At the same time, they have been rediscovering the links between stress and health. It is not illogical anymore to accept that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect our health.
How Is the Mind Different From the Brain?
How is the mind different from the brain? Mind and brain are sometimes used interchangeably but there is a difference in function. By definition, the mind consists of mental states such as thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes and images. The brain is the hardware that allows us to experience these mental states. Mental states can be fully conscious or unconscious. We often have emotional reactions to situations without ever being aware why we were reacting. Each mental state has a physiology associated with it – a positive or negative effect felt in the physical body. This occurs since the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems share a common chemical language, which allows constant communication between the mind and body through messengers like hormones and neurotransmitters. For example, emotions like anxiety can trigger increased stress hormones, which may suppress the immune system and set the stage for the development of infections or cancer.
What healers knew centuries ago are now being researched and recognized as powerful connections through which emotional, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly impact health outcomes. Research in mind-body medicine is finding that emotions and thought patterns can contribute to imbalances within the body. The beliefs you hold about yourself and your world, your emotions, your memories and your habits can all influence mental and physical health.
Let’s see how this mind-body connection really works. What you believe can lead to disease. Due to the mind-body connection, the way you think and feel, as well as the deep-seated belief patterns you hold can all contribute to the development of disease, according to Jennifer Weinberg of the Chopra Center. If you do not explore and deal with painful emotions, they can create an underlying sense of anxiety, depression, or anger that can physically disrupt the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
The Interaction of Belief and Physical Sensations
One common way you may experience this interaction of belief and physical sensations is when dealing with chronic pain. Pain is a combination of the physical sensations you experience, the emotions you feel, and the meaning of the pain for you (mind, emotions, attention). Emotional suffering, physical pain, and other sensations share similarities in their neural pathways. For example, feelings of anger or insecurity can disrupt the regular beating of the heart and the calm flow of the breath. This further activates the sympathetic nervous system in the same way that occurs when you are facing a threat, creating an even greater sense of unease and pain. (Jennifer Weinberg, Chopra Center) Stress, fear, and depression amplify pain, and mind-body approaches can be be effective in treating some pain.
With all of that said, how do you heal and prevent disease? The mind-body connection is complex and requires a combination of physical, spiritual and emotional approaches. There are a variety of mind-body therapies that can help you process your emotions and develop inner peace and physical wellness. Mind-body therapies use the body to affect the mind, such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and some types of dance. Mind-body and body-mind therapies are interrelated: the body affects the mind, which in turn impacts the body. Here is a list of mind-body therapies:
· Patient support groups
· Cognitive-behavioral therapy
· Creative art therapies (art, music and dance)
· Tai Chi
· Guided imagery
Mind-Body Medicine: The Power of Thoughts and Emotions to Influence Health
Mind-body medicine uses the power of thoughts and emotions to influence health. Clinical trials have indicated that mind-body therapies can be helpful in managing chronic pain and other chronic conditions. Evidence reveals that they can help to improve psychological functioning and quality of life, and may help ease the symptoms of disease. Remember that our bodies are built to heal itself. We have all the parts – but we normally don’t take advantage of the therapies that will release this healing power. We are one, whole being – not separate operating systems. Pay attention to your health – physically and emotionally and be proactive in your own quality of life.
Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health. Retrieved October 10, 2017 from https://familydoctor.org/mindbody-connection-how-your-emotions-affect-your-health/
NIH Medline Plus. (winter, 2008). The Mind-body connection: emotions and health. Retrieved October 9, 2017 https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/winter08/articles/winter08pg4.html
University of Minnesota. What is the mind-body connection? Retrieved October 9, 2017 from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-is-the-mind-body-connection
Weinberg, J. Mind-body connection: understanding the psycho-emotional roots of disease. Retrieved October 9, 2017 from http://www.chpra.com/articles/mind-body-connection-understanding-the-psycho=emotional-roots-of-disease