Mind / Body Connection
"What the mind focuses upon, 'matters'. Every thought that we have is releasing a shower of chemicals
that becomes part of and directs the physical 'matter' of our body. We need the serenity of mind to
have the clarity of consciousness to support health in our bodies."
~ Darryl Pokea, Psy.D.
What used to be considered “out there” thinking is no more…the mind-body connection has gone mainstream. Studies show that our thoughts and mental state are as important to our health as physical fitness and weight control. Major medical universities are studying this mind - body connection, including Duke University, UCLA and Harvard. Even the US Government will spend $16 million on mind-body research next year, and private foundations will spend millions more. Why? According to a Newsweek Health for Life Report, “The relationship between emotion and health is turning out to be more interesting and more important than any of us could have imagined…the brain is a potential gateway to countless other tissues and organs – from the heart and blood vessels to the gut and the immune system. Mind-body techniques can improve almost anyone’s quality of life.”
There is actually a name for the study of the physiological link between the mind and the body, called Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). David Felten is a neurobiologist and head of the Dept. of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Rochester. According to Felten, “Our grandmothers knew all along that our minds and our bodies were connected, even if the scientific didn’t. We’ve simply provided irrefutable data showing that it’s true.”
We are all aware that physical or emotional stressors, whether real or imagined, can result in an accelerated heart rate, muscle tension, a rise in blood pressure and rapid breathing. What you may not be aware of is that this response also involves the release of hormones and inflammatory chemicals that can have more serious health repercussions.
Research has documented the ways in which the brain sends signals to the immune system. A stimulus such as emotional stress can trigger the release of the nerve fiber chemicals which then tell the immune system what to do. And the reverse has also been found to occur – chemicals released by the immune system have an effect on the brain, for example drowsiness and elevated temperatures when the body is fighting an illness.
The research being done is changing our understanding of the disease process with diseases such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer and many immune disorders and nervous system conditions. Enhancing immune function in a patient by behavioral means can lower the drug doses needed to manage some of these diseases. And don’t forget about the “placebo effect” – this is not an imaginary lessening of symptoms, but actually a measurable change in brain chemistry. A Harvard University study found that relaxation techniques like yoga, prayer, and deep-breathing can help counter the effects of chronic stress. At UCLA they found that HIV positive men who are optimistic have stronger immune cell function than those who are not. And Duke University found that religious observance is associated with lower rates of illness and hospitalization.
David Felten also suggests that “we probably still only know 10% of the molecules in the brain. There are so many we haven’t even thought of…we have no idea what might be out there lying around the next corner.”
This knowledge is changing the face of healthcare…Medicare is now reimbursing people for certain relaxation techniques administered by psychologists. And a leading managed care organization, HIP USA, has started to cover mind-body practices.
In the meanwhile, what can you do to benefit from creating a positive mind-body connection in your own life? First and foremost you must work at developing a more positive outlook on life, and secondly, learn to relax. It takes time and effort to make these changes, but if you are truly committed to living a healthier and happier life, you can make it happen. Visit the following sections on this website for more ideas and techniques: Exercise/Qi Gong, Feng Shui , Meditation, Spiritual Connection, Visualization.
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A Personal Note: I have no doubt that the mind-body connection is very real as I have seen the results that positive thinking and actions have had on the outcome of events in my own life. But as you begin to put positive focus and thinking into practice in your life, I caution you to beware of the disappointment you might experience if things do not manifest exactly as you have envisioned. I have also had this experience, and have had to work through it by reminding myself that although we can impact what we draw into our lives through our thoughts, there is a Higher Power whose plans and dreams for us may be greater than anything we could ever imagine or dream for ourselves...and that sometimes the path we travel may include struggle and challenge. So I do my best to keep my focus on where it is I want to be, or what I want to attract into my life, while adapting to the twists and turns life may throw my way. Remember what matters most is not where you have been, but in what direction you are headed. –Andrea