Understand the connection between the mind and body, and take charge of your wellbeing.
Our emotions and thoughts play a vital role when it comes to our health. Awareness and understanding of the mind and body may contribute to improving the quality of life in healthy individuals, and those struggling with long-term illness.
What is Mind and Body Dualism?
Mind and body dualism, stemming from 17th century Western culture, is a metaphysical attitude that mind and body are two distinct structures, which is the basis for the biomedical model in medicine.
In the 20th century, researchers challenged dualism, reconsidering the unity of mind and body in relation to human functioning. By 1947, the World Health Organisation defined health “as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”.
How might dualism shape our health behaviour? Several studies revealed that perceiving the mind as separate from the body was the ground for weakened health-sustaining behaviours relative to mental wellbeing.
Our thoughts and mindset can be considered as beneficial resources to support our health. Research suggests that the brain is likely to produce healing chemicals such as gamma globulin to strengthen the immune system, and endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, if thoughts are positive and hopeful, as opposed to negative thoughts which can stop the release of these chemicals and releases stress hormones that increase blood pressure and heart rate.
The Body On Stress
Stress is an example of the interconnected nature of the mind and body. In the short term, stress can be helpful to protect us from harm, but in the long-term this can be damaging by impairing nerve cells in the brain which can be damaging to organ systems. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which may have consequential health issues. Physical symptoms of chronic stress may include muscle tension, stomachaches, headaches, sleep problems, chest pain or fatigue. Our gastrointestinal tract produces 95% serotonin, and 50% of dopamine, in our bodies, which may also be connected to stress management and well-being.
Mind Body Medicine
Mind–body techniques, also known as psychological techniques or emotional therapies, have been designed from the understanding that our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can affect our biological functioning, and our physical symptoms can affect our mental state. For example, when we are in a state of stress or anxiety, our physical body can be affected, and these physical symptoms may impact our mental health.
According to Brower (2006), there is growing evidence to support mind–body medicine, with therapeutic interventions emerging in the late 1980’s encompassing stress reduction where women with breast cancer had an improved quality of life and longevity. This led to research in group therapy, stress-reduction techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Perhaps the prevention and reversal of disease can be achieved with lifestyle changes such as meditation, yoga, moderate exercise, nutrition, stress management and social support.
Do Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga and Nutrition really work?
There have been numerous independent studies conducted that support these theories I would like to share with you.
Ackerman (2020) discusses research on mindfulness and the brain, and the ability for our brain to adapt and function mindfully. These changes can be seen as increased grey matter in the brain stem, which has been linked to cardiovascular health, and changes in white matter can improve self-regulation. Mindfulness also contributes to stress reduction, the ability to handle stress, decreased anxiety and depression, reduced symptoms of burnout and improved health.
Physiological changes to the structure of the brain occur during meditation which was captured in a study where 30 to 40 minutes of meditation had increased grey matter in participants, compared to a control group who didn’t meditate.
Participants of a three month yoga and meditation retreat, accompanied by a vegetarian diet, were studied and researchers found positive changes to physiological and immunological markers of inflammation and stress.
Another study measuring the impact of 15 minutes of meditation compared to taking a vacation revealed that meditation and vacation both had positive outcomes on stress and wellbeing, and higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of negative affect were present on days participants meditated.
Finally, 100 elderly hypertensive patients who received mind body therapy including meditation, yoga and music, had a decrease in blood pressure, which also concludes that mind body therapy helps support the management of metabolic syndrome.
There is evidence to suggest the interconnected nature of our mental and physical health, despite the implications of separation of the mind and body. What we think can impact how we feel and vice versa.
“There is no real division between mind and body because of networks of communication that exist between the brain and neurological, endocrine and immune systems” (Ray, 2006).