We all have the mind-body connection whether we are consciously aware of it or not. If you have ever had a stomach ache when you were stressed out, you have experienced the mind body connection. In today’s society where so many people suffer from anxiety, stress, lack of motivation, and a general sense of not being in control, practicing the mind, body connection is extremely impactful and can ultimately renew our spirits.
This article will cover
- What is the mind-body connection?
- A history of the mind-body connection
- How does the mind-body connection scientifically work?
- Ways to Practice the mind-body connections
- Benefits of tapping into the mind-body connection
What is the mind-body connection?
The mind-body connection is the relationship that describes how our minds affect our bodies, and our bodies affect our minds. It is the interconnectedness of the body and brain. With the mind, body connection, our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. There are multitudes of opinions about whether the mind and body are related, if they can affect each other, and how this interaction is even possible. More and more research and evidence is being released that supports the notion of a mutual relationship between the two. But this is not a recent phenomenon. Philosophers have long hypothesized about the mind, body connection. In particular, Eastern philosophy has traditionally seen the body, mind, and spirit as a wheel and takes a holistic approach to healthcare. Holistic and integrated medicines uphold mind, body concepts as integral to their medical beliefs. Holistic medicine believes that causes, development, and outcomes of physical illness are determined from the interaction of physiological, social factors, and biological factors. Conversely, mainstream western science and healthcare practices tend to treat the mind and body as separate, isolated entities. Until recently, Western culture has viewed the body as a machine-like entity, completely isolated from thought and emotion. Emotions may seem non-material but they are in fact very physical. Research shows increased activity and sensations in the body with different moods. Science has now proven that the body can respond to emotions and emotions can respond to the body. What we do with our body, what we eat, our posture, how much we exercise, all impact our mental states.
Main principles of the mind-body connection
- We all have the mind-body connection whether we are consciously aware of it or not
- Our bodies react to how we think
- Our mind reacts to how our body feels
- We can make ourselves sick or well
- Fear and stress compromise your immune system
- Food, sleep, and exercise affect both our minds and bodies
- We are what we think, eat, drink, say, and breathe
- Developing empowering beliefs about your body and its ability to function is essential
A history of the mind-body connection
The mind-body connection is by no way a new concept. Until about 300 years ago, virtually every system of medicine treated the mind and body as a whole. Let’s take a look at the history of the concept to understand how it has changed and modernized.
1000 BCE: Ayurvedic Indian Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine recognized the mind as a powerful and essential healing tool. These two forms of medicine remain the most ancient, yet living traditions practiced today.
400 BCE: The Buddha, founder of Buddhism, described the mind and body as depending on one another. His beliefs stated that both the mind and physical forms like the body are constantly and conditionally qualities of an ever-changing universe.
400 BC: Ancient philosopher Hippocrates recognized the moral and spiritual aspects involved in healing. He believed treatment could only occur with consideration of attitude, environment, influence, and natural remedies. His ideas were embraced by Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioners.
1637: Descartes’s reductionism theory, which states that the world is like a machine and could only be understood by looking at the individual parts, considering the mind merely as part of the body’s machine. He saw two distinctly separated parts to man, the mind and body. This is also known as the “Cartesian mind” or “body split.”Descartes claimed that the body could affect the mind but not in the opposite direction. After this theory was popularized, new beliefs began to separate human spiritual and emotional assets from the physical body. The western world started to see the mind and body as two distinct entities and accepted Descartes’s view that the body was merely a machine composed of replaceable independent parts with no connection to the mind. Descartes’s theory was the first break in the mind, body connection.
1600s: Also during this century, technological advancements like the microscope and stethoscope uncovered an undiscovered cellular world that appeared far removed from emotion and spirituality. In 1609, Galileo Galilei perfected the first device known as a microscope which revolutionized science and medicine. Then in 1676, bacteria was discovered, further dispelling the notion of spirituality influencing health. These scientific discoveries have their clear benefits as being foundations for advanced surgery and pharmaceuticals. At the same time, these inventions also reduced scientific inquiry into human emotions and downplayed man’s innate ability to heal.
1700-1800s: Fixing illness became a matter of strictly science and technology. The popular perception prevailed that mental health issues were not real because there was no biochemical evidence. However, during this time, holistic approaches were still maintained in the east.
1905: The first crack in reductionism theory can be traced back to the introduction of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which shook the foundations of Physics.
1927: Walter Cannon’s theory of stress, also known as the Cannon-Bard theory, revealed a direct relationship between stress and neuroendocrine responses in animals, He coined the phrase “fight or flight” response to describe primitive relaxes and adrenaline activation in response to perceived danger.
1955: During World War 2, an army medic Henry Beecher discovered the placebo effect when he ran out of morphine for the wounded soldiers he was treating. He replaced the morphine with a simple saline solution but continued to tell the soldiers it was morphine. Almost half the soldiers reported reduced or eliminated pain. In 1955 Beecher published his work in “The Powerful Placebo” and since then, the placebo effect has been considered a scientific fact.
1956: Hans Selye published his work “The Stress of Life” proving that when the body is under psychological stress, it responds with a series of biological and physiological changes.
1972: Candace Pert discovered the brain’s opiate receptor, a cellular site where endorphins bind with cells. Pert found that there were mobile chemicals called neuropeptides that regulate the immune system. This completely changed neuroscience by proving the brain communicates with the immune system and can make its own pain killers in the form of endorphins. Like other chemicals, she found that these peptides are found not just in the brain but also in the whole body acting as an intercellular communication between body and brain. Pert’s work became accepted as a biochemical explanation for emotions and revolutionized how society viewed the mind, body connection.
Today: Current research is still being done on the mind, body connection by it is now evident that it scientifically exists. Numerous studies have proven that our emotional health has an impact on our body’s ability to function. There is a growing acceptance of the mind, body connection but western healthcare systems still have a lot of work to do to integrate it.
How does the mind-body connection scientifically work?
It is now scientifically proven that the brain is connected to the body through a complex web of neural pathways that send signals back and forth. These brain chemicals physiologically impact the body. The communication between the mind and body essentially happens via chemical and hormonal messengers like hormones, endorphins, and neurotransmitters. Researchers have now identified the actual neural networks that activate the body’s response to stressful situations. The brain, peripheral nervous system, endocrine, and immune systems are in fact all organs of our body that regulate emotional responses via a common chemical language. The chemical your brain produces depends on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. For example, if you’re stressed, your body releases specific hormones that speed up heart rate and breathing, increase your blood pressure and make your muscles tense. This fight or flight stress response is good if you’re in immediate danger, but if you constantly feel stressed, this response will last too long and can increase your blood pressure long term and affect your emotions negatively. Studies now show that when people are stressed, they heal more slowly, have diminished white blood cell counts and vaccinations are less effective. On another note, a recent breakthrough study looked at a group of breast cancer survivors to see if the mind could play any role in healing the body from cancer. The study split the group into two sections, one that practiced mindfulness mediation or attended a support group and one control group that did nothing. They found that the groups that practiced mindfulness had longer telomeres, the protein complexes at the end of chromosomes. Longer telomeres protect the body against breast cancer. This study was incredible evidence that mindfulness influences biology. In other words, the mind, body connection is now scientifically viable.
Ways to Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection
Mind-body practices strengthen the connection between the emotional, mental, and physical aspects of ourselves. These practices help you develop skills that strengthen over time. The more you use them to calmly respond to stressful situations, the easier it will be for you to remain calm and centered in all situations. The first step in supporting a healthy mind, body connection is to build awareness of the connection. Ask yourself, how is my body doing? What am I feeling emotionally? How are the two connected? Taking care of the mind is just as important as taking care of the body. Practicing self-awareness and mindfulness is an important aspect of cultivating your mind, body connection. Being fully aware and present of where we are and what we’re doing, can help the mind and body in countless ways. Strengthening the mind, body connection can activate the relaxation response, a bodily response that counters our innate “fight or flight response.” In short, the relaxation response overrides the stress response. It does so by switching the body’s response from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that the production of stress hormones drops, muscles relax, and breathing becomes slower. Practices that strengthen the mind, body connection, will also strengthen your relaxation response. Having a positive outlook on life can also help you better handle pain, stress and stay healthy. Laughter has been proven to reduce the production of stress hormones and boost the immune system. Yoga and meditation are also great ways to practice. These practices will allow you to focus on how your body truly feels, what you can control, your breathing, and will ultimately reduce overall stress. Mindfully sleeping, exercising, walking, or even hanging out with friends are also great ways to strengthen the mind, body connection. Eating well and nutrition are key to the mind, body connection. There is a clear communication line between the gut and the brain. In fact, 95% of serotonin, the primary hormone involved in mood, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Information travels from the gut to the brain rather than vice versa. Mindfully eating healthy food is an important aspect of strengthening your mind, body connection. If you are feeling like you need extra support on this journey, visiting a holistic or integrated medicine practitioner can be extremely helpful. Their treatment directly stems from the mind, body connection.
Examples of mind-body practices
- Guided Imagery
- Energy Therapy ie. Reiki
- Tai Chi
- Daily Exercise
- Adequate Sleep
- Mindful and Healthy Eating
- Mindful Walking
Benefits of tapping into the mind-body connection
There are lots of benefits of strengthening your mind-body connection. Overall, recognizing and practicing this connection will lead to better health and wellbeing.
- Better heart health and lower risk of heart disease
- Better sleep
- Faster healing and recovery from illness
- Healthier blood sugar levels
- Healthier body weight
- Longer life span and better overall health
- Lower blood pressure
- Helps with sleep and insomnia
- Effective treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues