The mind-body connection wasn’t accepted by western science until the 1970s, although the phenomenon was widely assumed to be certain for thousands of years in eastern cultures. Today, the reality of interdependence between our mind and body has caused a shift in medical treatments throughout the west. Recently, science has helped to show how our thoughts and emotions affect our physical health, and how our physical well-being affects our mental states. There are ways to improve the quality of our lives by using the knowledge of the mind-body connection to our advantage.
The Mind-Body Connection
It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that western medicine fully embraced the connective nature between mind and body. This doesn’t however mean that the mind-body connection wasn’t understood long before. Thousands of years ago, Indian sages understood how our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs greatly affect our biological well-being. Similarly, these sages realized that how we take care of our physical bodies, in the form of food and exercise, can affects our mental states either positively or negatively.
Today, nearly every medical approach, whether scientific or holistic, has components of the ancient Indian tradition of Ayurveda medicine within it. Ayurvedic practitioners 1000-years-ago were helping individuals not only survive, but thrive, by prescribing natural healing methods that revolved around the mind-body connection.
So what exactly is this connection? According to Dr. James Gordon, a Harvard educated psychiatrist and Founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, “The brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed, all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.”
The messages that are sent using this chemical language, that is shared between our bodies and minds, serves as the basis for our well-being. The thoughts that we think will have a direct impact on our physical health and well-being, and how we treat our physical bodies will have a direct affect on our inner thoughts and states-of-mind. If we have a mind pure of negativity and fear, this will result in life-affirming decision-making, a healthy outer appearance, and stable physical health. If, however, we contaminate our bodies with drugs, alcohol, and bad food, our inner states will become agitated with destructive emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to show how the reality of the mind-body connection affects our overall state of well-being, and then explore 3 ways to use the mind-body connection to our advantage.
Studying The Mind-Body Connection
In the United States there has recently been a massive shift in the way healthcare professional view holistic medical approaches and concepts such as the mind-body connection. For example, The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a United States governmental agency that researchers holistic lifestyle approaches, has seen their funding increase from $2 million in 1992 to $124.1 million in 2015. Numerous funding increases at large medical research institutions, such as this one, and the creation of university departments dedicated to studying alternative medicine, has helped to show the benefits that holistic medicine can provides.
A large portion of this newly funded holistic research has been focused on studying the mind-body connection. Lets look at 2 studies that show how our minds and bodies affect each other.
Recently there has been a push to treat military personnel, for medical issues stemming from the harsh realities of active duty, with ancient mind-body connection therapeutic techniques. In one such case study, 4 active-duty marine infantry platoons, who were preparing for diplomat, were assigned to undertake mindfulness training in hopes of determining if regularly calming the mind would result in an increased ability to deal with, and recover from, stressful environments. Over an 8 week period, doctors measured indicators of physical stress levels for individuals in these 4 platoons and compared them against member of 4 different platoons, who went through standard pre-deployment training. All 8 groups were assed at the start of the study, after the 8 week period, and during a stressful combat training session, which took place in the 9th week. The study found that individuals in the platoons receiving mindfulness training showed greater reactivity, enhanced recovery, and better breathing rates. The study was able to conclude that physical stress mechanism can be positively modified in healthy individuals prior to stress exposure.
In another study, piloted by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, 2nd year medical students, at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, participated in a study to determine the affects that mind-body relaxation techniques can have on anxiety levels. Willing students were given the option to take an elective course to learn, study, and practice ancient mind-body therapy techniques. Students anxiety levels were assessed on the first day of the course, the last day of course, and 3 months after the course. In comparison to a control group, who did not learn about the mind-body connection, or practice the calming techniques, the students, who participated in the elective, saw a major decrease in anxiety levels, which remained consistent 3 months later.
Using the Mind-Body Connection to Your Advantage
There are a number of ways that we can use the reality of the mind-body connection to improve our health and overall quality of life. Let’s look at 3:
- Meditation: The ancient practice of meditation dates back beyond recorded time, and has been used by generation after generation to improve psychological, emotional, and psychical well-being. Working with, and calming, our minds has the ability to calm anxiety, lower blood pressure, reduce physical pain, lower cholesterol levels, and even slow the aging process. Countless studies have shown the positive psychical benefits practitioners receive by working with their minds, and in the process verify the mind-body connection.
- Monitoring Your Information Intake: The information that you are exposed to greatly affects your thoughts and emotions. Whether it is through television, radio, internet, or newspapers, much of what we are exposed to is geared towards violence, infidelity, and unethical behavior. Continuously subjecting ourselves to negative media causes us to approach life with a mindset of fear and separation. When our thoughts are based upon negative qualities such as these, our physical body becomes susceptible to disease. Make a focused effort to read inspirational material, watch uplifting television programs, and consume as much positive information as you can.
- Physical Activity & Diet: Just as it is important to nourish our minds, it is equally important to take care of our physical bodies. You should strive to maintain a regular exercise routine and eat food that brings true nourishment. Fitness activities such as yoga, brisk walking, hiking, and swimming have been proven to improve our psychological well-being, while also limiting the negative effects of more strenuous physical activity. A healthy diet composed of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help us remain balanced and improve our mental functions.
The mind-body connection is obviously a very real phenomenon and one that we should take seriously. You can easily improve your life by making small changes to your daily routine that are based upon the principles of the mind-body connection.