Mind-body medicine requires that we ground information about the science of mind-body approaches in practical, personal experience; that we appreciate the centrality of meditation to these practices; and that we understand—experientially as well as scientifically—that the health of our minds and the health of our bodies are inextricably connected to the transformation of the spirit.
~Dr. James Gordon
Center for Mind/Body Medicine
If we look at ourselves holistically, including all parts of ourselves – mind, body and spirit – we each have a team within at all times. This team is there to help us manage our lives, overcome challenges and achieve results that perhaps we may have not thought possible. Coach Denise Hedges speaks of every cell in our body as being an integral part of that team. The implications of this concept are profound, because our overall health and wellbeing begins at the cellular level. When you think about it, if you relax and quiet the mind, as in meditation, you can begin to allow the wisdom within to rise to the surface. In such practices as meditation, our body, mind and spirit work unconsciously to strengthen and heal.
As I began to write about the “mind/body/spirit” connection, I recognized that we are fortunate to be living at a point in history where many accept the interconnectedness of this trinity. The truth is that all three aspects of ourselves are inseparable and should be regarded together when seeking optimum health and wellness.
Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, emphasized the importance of the mind/body/spirit connection in the healing process. This recognition existed in the 17th century; however, traditional western medicine later overtook the way modern society looked at health. Medicine shifted toward treating the symptoms and diseases that the body already manifested, without consideration of the psychosomatic or lifestyle causes of the physical illness. In the 20th century, this view began to change, and in the new millennium, we are now showing signs of a shift back to a more holistic versus allopathic course of thinking when addressing illness. This is evident as now we seek both Western and Eastern forms of medicine to heal all levels of human existence: mind, body and spirit.
There are many important contributors to this growth of mind/body/spirit medicine. The following are a few that I’d like to highlight.
In the 1930’s, Hungarian-born scientist Hans Selye, MD, pioneered the field of stress research by detailing how constant stress could affect our physical health. His focus was the whole organism, and he advanced the theory that stress plays a role in every disease. His views on health helped to change the way the body and mind were viewed in the decades after World War II. He often spoke of the value of love, and of the essential importance to our own wellbeing in helping others.
Based on a Buddhist meditation practice and on yoga, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts, developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a technique that has successfully reduced physical and psychological symptoms in many medical conditions, including pain syndromes.
The American psychologist Neal Miller discovered that we could be trained to control certain physical responses, such as blood pressure, previously thought to be involuntary. This discovery gave birth to biofeedback, which has now been found to be effective in the treatment of such conditions as anxiety, attention deficit disorder, headaches, and high blood pressure.
Integrative psychiatrist James Lake, MD, of Stanford University, writes, “Extensive research has confirmed the medical and mental benefits of meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, and other mind-body practices.”
Our bodies respond to the way we think, feel and behave. If we’re feeling anxious or upset due to some stressor, and we ignore or don’t recognize these feelings in ourselves, our bodies begin to send us signals that something isn’t right. It might be a stomach or backache, indigestion or a headache. If we don’t recognize the source of the problem and work to get our emotional health back in balance, it could become a serious or chronic health risk.
Most of us are aware that eating healthy and exercise is good for us. But how many ignore that knowledge and continue a sedentary lifestyle and/or eat fast food or high calorie diets low in fruits and vegetables?
An article in the Mayo Clinic newsletter states that “regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.”
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Regular exercise can improve muscle strength and boost endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to our tissues and help the cardiovascular system work more efficiently.
If we look at the mind and body as a circular relationship, it makes sense that creating a sense of mental wellbeing can impact the body in a similar way and visa versa. Feeling strong, healthy, balanced, and physically vibrant affects our psyche in a positive way so that we might feel motivated, energetic, and optimistic. Conversely, being physically ill can make us feel depressed, lethargic and inspire feelings of negativity.
Repetition of negative or self-critical thinking can literally change our brain chemistry to make us depressed. If we treat only the symptoms of depression—say with antidepressants–we may feel better, but we don’t heal the root of the problem, and it’s likely to persist.
Poor emotional health actually weakens the body’s immune system. It takes a broad view of all this to balance the health of the body, mind, and spirit. Below are some of the many ways with which we can prevent illness, heal ourselves, and continue to thrive.
Creative arts therapies
In essence, total wellness requires attention in all areas to stay in balance. In this day and age, our senses are constantly bombarded with stimuli. With access to so much information and so many resources, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and distracted from what’s truly important to us. I believe that creating an individual construct for ourselves to stay in balance, on all levels, is crucial to our overall health, happiness, and fulfillment in this life journey.