Minding the Body
For the last three hundred years, orthodox medicine in the West has more or less ignored any connection between the mind and the body. However, in other parts of the world, health carers have been successfully treating the whole person - the body, the mind and the spirit - for thousands of years. It is only in the last few decades that a slow resurgence in mind-body medicine has taken place in the West. Mainstream medicine has perhaps been reluctant to embrace this paradigm largely because there was little scientific evidence to support the concept. Until recently that is.
We've known for some time that sustained stress can cause significant chemical changes in the body which in turn can depress the immune system and make us more susceptible to disease. Recent research however has taken things much further by identifying a whole new level of interdependency between mind and body.
It has been shown that some chemicals in our bodies (including the neurotransmitters, the neuropeptides and their receptors) are deeply affected and modified by our emotional state. Consequently that affects how we experience the universe around us - including our health.
Furthermore, evidence of a biochemical basis for awareness and consciousness has been uncovered and it is now claimed that the biochemical messengers in our body themselves act with intelligence. They do this not only by communicating information, but also by continuously organising a huge complex of conscious and unconscious activities - including the functioning of the immune system.
The mind-body model describes the immune system as being affected not just by our biology, as in the orthodox approach, but also by culture, socio-economic status, psychology and spirituality. In other words, emotions and thoughts have a significant physiological effect on the physical body.
Mind-body medicine, (more properly called Psychoneuroimmunology) uses a variety of techniques including meditation, visualisation, relaxation and breathwork to promote health. Additionally, by increasing self-awareness, other very important elements such as motivation and fighting spirit can be increased. When we start to alter our thought and emotional patterns we start to affect our immune system and consequently positively affect our health and wellbeing.
The whole essence of mind-body medicine is that by addressing the mind, emotions and spirit, as well as the body, we can achieve a wholeness which can in turn lead to healing. Many individuals and groups, including an ever-growing number of orthodox doctors, are achieving wonderful results with this approach.
Mind-body methods help patients to alter their emotional state and their thought patterns - which in turn change the signals flashing about their bodies carried by the neurotransmitters and neuropeptides - which in turn change the response of the immune system - which in turn affects our health. Gets repetitive, doesn't it? BUT it works.
However, remember that it works not only when we are ill but maybe even more importantly, it works when we are well and therefore has a vital role to play in keeping us healthy.
So Mind Your Body. Think healthy!