The Connection Between Mind And Body

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The New Medicine premieres nationally on March 29th, 2006.  Check your local PBS listings for more information.


Our minds and emotions play a critical role in our health.

Many ancient healing systems emphasize the connection between mind and body in healing.  Today, modern scientific research is proving that this age-old tenet of medical wisdom is true.  What we think and feel has a powerful influence on our bodies.



Western medical science began to accumulate hard evidence for this connection in the 1920s, when the fight-or-flight response was identified. When we are frightened or in danger, the body secretes hormones (such as epinephrine, formerly known as adrenaline), which produce changes in the body.  Our heart speeds up and our breathing gets faster.  This put us in a better physical state to escape or confront the danger.

While this is good, being in an extended state of fight-or-flight, or any stressful state, causes wear and tear that affects us biologically.

Scores of scientific breakthroughs have since illuminated different aspects of the mind-body connection.  Neal Miller, PhD, helped discover that we can train ourselves to control some of the physical activities that we previously thought were involuntary, such as our blood pressure and skin temperature.  His research led to the creation of biofeedback, a mind-body intervention that has proven effective in the treatment of anxiety, attention deficit disorder (ADD), headache, hypertension, and TMJ (temporomandibular disorders).

Herbert Benson, MD, identified the flip side of the stress response, which he called the "relaxation response."  We now know that relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, and other techniques can bring about many beneficial changes including a lower heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension, and positive changes in brain waves.

Research by Robert Ader, PhD, showed that there was a link between our brains, our behavior, and our immune function.  Therapies that boost immune function include meditation, support groups, visualization, qi gong, and prayer.



You can use your mind to improve your health.


Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, developed The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  This program, which is based on Buddhist meditation, has successfully reduced physical and psychological symptoms in many health conditions. In a medical study, patients with psoriasis, a painful skin condition, who listened to meditation tapes while receiving the ultraviolet light treatments, healed approximately four times faster than those receiving the light treatments without meditation.

“Mindfulness–paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally–immediately restores us to our wholeness, to that right inward measure that’s at the root of both meditation and medicine,” explains Kabat-Zinn.

Guided Imagery

Another mind-body technique, guided imagery, uses images and the power of imagination to heal. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and pain in people with a wide range of medical conditions, including asthma, back pain, and headache, and to help patients better tolerate medical procedures and treatments.

“Imagery utilizes the natural language of the unconscious mind to help a person connect with the deeper resources available to them at cognitive, affective and somatic levels,” says Martin L. Rossman, MD, co-founder of the Academy for Guided Imagery.  In this process, people are asked to visualize healing within their bodies.  Examples might be seeing the skin cells repairing themselves or cancer cells being washed away by water.  This natural way of thinking draws on a person’s inner wisdom, becoming a powerful force for healing.



Ask your doctor for information on the mind-body connection.

Today, virtually every major medical center has a stress management or mind-body clinic, and such practices as meditation, yoga, and group support are woven into the medical treatment of heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses.

The bottom line: by understanding and using the connection between mind and body, you can improve your health.