What is mind-body medicine?
Mind-body medicine, or what is known as psycho-neuroimmunology, focuses on ways we can harness the healing capacities of our mind-body communication channels. It recognizes the impact of emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors on our health. Health resides in the totality of being human – body, mind, emotions and spirit. If our emotions are not in balance, our physical body suffers. We can exploit these connections to support optimal health and quality of life as we age.
We can look at proven ways to harness the healing capacities of the mind-body connection, and the impact of mental, emotional, spiritual and behavioral interventions on our health and aging. Mind-body practices have been shown to have powerful and direct effects to slow aging.
The potential benefits of mind-body practices are many, including relaxation and the successful management of stress. Some of the benefits of mind-body practices come about simply by making us feel better about ourselves and our lives. And with happiness comes all its benefits: enhanced feelings of creativity and improved concentration, alertness and vitality, as well as the confidence to make better lifestyle choices.
Today, we recognize that a wide variety of mind-body techniques can affect our health. Breathing techniques, biofeedback, meditation, guided imagery, yoga and mindfulness practices are just some of the many different methods we can use to focus our minds and bodies and bolster our resilience. The following pages cover the principles and practices of some of these more common methods.
While mind-body techniques can produce profound and lasting change, they are slow processes. To make an impact in our lives, they each will take time and require engagement, goal setting, willingness, long-term commitment and most importantly individualization. As with all slow things, if regular mind-body practices become embedded in the fabric of our lives, they will become progressively more sustaining and invigorating as the years go by.
The anatomy of the mind-body connection
The links between mind and body have been known for thousands of years and they form an important part of many traditional healing techniques. Until recently, we have known very little about how this communication occurs.
We know one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. It was originally thought that this was through mystical forces transferred through the ether into the other apples. We now know that it is not magic, as bad apples produce an array of hormones and other chemical signals. Although originally regarded with skepticism as a similarly mystical phenomenon, the complex connections between the mind and body are also grounded in fact.
Some mind-body connections are hard-wired, like the nervous system, through which the brain receives and sends signals that control the health and function of our tissues.
Some connections between our mind and body are soft-wired. Our brain controls the release of hormones and chemicals that influence the growth, function and aging of almost all organ systems. At the same time, our body sends chemical signals to our brain about the state of its health and any pressing needs. One example is the release of inflammatory cytokines – protein messengers secreted by our immune system that affect the way our brain functions. Another example is how the release of chemical signals from excess fat can affect our appetite, mood and desire for physical activity.
The full nature of all the interconnections between mind and body are only now being discovered and many – probably most – remain uncategorized. As in the apple barrel, this does not make these connections any less real.