Our thoughts have a powerful influence on our health. We speak of our emotional, social, mental, and spiritual aspects separately, but truly we exist as a unified and interactive whole.
For decades research has validated the profound connection between the mind and the body and has offered us concrete examples of it. One study linked low-back pain to one’s emotional struggles at work or with employment (1). Another study found that hostility is a risk factor in heart attacks (2). According to other research findings, women who stay in unsupportive and non-nurturing relationships are more likely to get breast cancer (3). There are many more studies like these that connect our troubled thoughts, feelings and perceptions of our experiences to our physical ailments.
Yet, by the same token, positive thoughts can also promote our health. They can be powerful medicine.
Mind/Body therapies, like those listed below, help us recover from physical ailments, reduce our suffering from chronic problems like anxiety, and depression (4), and enhance our overall well-being, when we integrate them into our lifestyle and practice them regularly.
These Mind/Body Therapies can facilitate our healing and keep us well:
A central tenant of mind/body therapy is mindfulness, which seeks to make us more aware of what is going on within the complex richness of our beings. The goal of mindfulness is to help us become more present. When we ground ourselves and tune into our present felt experience, we let go of past and future thoughts and notice the now. The present is where we gain greater perspective; it is the only place we can produce real change in our lives.
Relaxation training uses the repetition of breath, words, sounds, phrases or “mantras”, prayers, or muscular activity to activate the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite of the flight or fight response, which is triggered during stress. Meditation, breath work, massage, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, Qi Gong, and prayer are examples of mindfulness/relaxation therapies we can participate in to reduce stress.
In guided imagery we focus on breathing and relaxing our muscles; then verbal guidance is used to create mind imagery to affect a specific goal. The goal could be to find clarity in a situation, to explore feelings or deeper meaning, or to help support healing an area of the body. Research has shown guided imagery to be effective in reducing depression and anxiety, and for helping one reach his or her personal goals (5).
Self care is a key component of the Mind/Body approach to wellness. Building self-esteem, self-love, and healthy belief systems, as well as giving due attention to one’s physical wellness through good nutrition, exercise, and rest, is priority.
Expressive Arts Therapy
Art, music, and dance therapy are all powerful Mind/Body therapies. They allow us to express ourselves from a deep and creative place, enhance communication, and can help us gain insight into our problems (6).
Connection to Others and to a Greater Purpose
We all want to feel connected to others and to belong. We feel safe when we are supported, and we thrive when we recognize a greater purpose for our lives. Participation in support or shared interest groups and involvement in community or cultural activities can help us meet these needs.
Laughter brings us into the present moment. Laughter, spontaneity, and playfulness encourage us to take a break from negative or unproductive thoughts about the past or the future and experience the joy of the moment.
Choose to incorporate as many of these therapies into your life as you like. Make your wellness a priority. See how these techniques will increase your resilience and recovery time and how they will help you counteract stress and uplift your mood. Turn your thoughts and feelings into powerful medicine.
1. Kasl, S et al. (1981) Structural and social psychological factors in the decision to seek medical care for symptoms. Med. Care, 21:693-709.
2. Kosekenhuo M et al. Hostility as a Risk factor for Mortality and Ischemic Heart Disease in Men. Psychososom Med. 50 (1988):153-64; Freidman M, Roseman R. Association of Specific Overt Behavior with Cardiovascular Findings, JAMA 162 (1959);1286-96; Donellet S, et al. Personality as Independent Predictor ofLong-term Mortality in Patients with Coronary Artery Disease, Lancet 347 (1996):417-21
3. Bacon, C et al. A Psychosomatic Survey of Cancer of the Breast, Psychosom. Med 14(1952):453-60; Wirshang M et al, Psychological Identification of Breast Cancer Patients before Biopsy, J Psychosom. Res 26, no 1 (1982):1-10.
4. Benson H, et al. (1978) Treatment of Anxiety: A comparison of the usefulness of self-hypnosis and meditational relaxation technique. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 30, 229-242.
5. Clammer G, et al. (2003) On the efficacy of hypnosis: a meta-analytic study, Contemporary Hypnosis, 179-197.
6. http://ww.musictherapy.org; http://artTherapy.org; http://adta.org