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What Is the Mind-Body Connection?

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This paper will discuss the mind-body connection and it's relevance to health care professionals and to the public. It will explore the history of the mind-body connection, as well as state research that has been done on the subject. The reader will gain an understanding of the various techniques used in mind-body therapy, as well as their effectiveness.

What is the Mind-Body Connection?

It is the idea that the mind and body are not separate entities. Rather, they are intricately connected, interacting with each other in many ways. The body's three main regulatory systems are the central nervous system (which includes the brain), the endocrine system (which produces hormones), and the immune system. These three systems work together and affect one another. Researchers who study the mind-body connection examine these interactions, and are particularly interested in the effects of emotions and thoughts on physical health.

History of the Mind-Body Connection

The concept of the interconnection between the brain and body has been around for quite a while. Ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine emphasized important links between the mind and body. Hippocrates once wrote: "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." This statement reflects the belief of ancient philosophers that emotions and health are deeply connected.

In later centuries, however, this belief was cast aside. Medical professionals focused on identifying and treating symptoms through physical means such as drugs and surgery, and mostly ignored the role of mental states in the prevention and treatment of disease. To most doctors, the immune system was regarded as an autonomous entity, operating independently of the mind and behavior. Since the 1960's, however, researchers have realized that these ideas are incorrect, and have since been looking at the mind-body connection more closely and with more respect.

In 1964, George Solomon, a psychiatrist, noticed that rheumatoid arthritis worsened when people were depressed. He was fascinated by this connection, and began to investigate the impact of emotions on inflammation and immune function in general. His studies were the beginning of the new field of psychoneuroimmunology, which examines the relationships between the mind (psyche), brain (neuro), and immune system (immunology).

Research progressed further in the 1960's and early 1970's when a physician named Herbert Benson studied the effects of meditation on blood pressure, and when psychologist Robert Adar showed that mental and emotional cues affect immunity. Since then, mind-body science has been advancing as research continues to prove the impact of thoughts and emotions on physical health.

Proof of a Connection

Scientists have been finding increasing evidence which proves the close connection between the body and mind. For example, in 1989, David Speigel, an M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine, did a landmark study which illustrated the power of the mind to heal. He observed a group of 86 women with late-stage breast cancer. Half of the women received standard medical care, while the other half participated in weekly support sessions in addition the the standard medical care. Speigel observed that the women who were involved in the support group, and were able to share their feelings of grief and triumph, lived twice as long as the women who did not participate in the group. A similar study was conducted in 1999, which showed that breast cancer patients who felt hopeless and depressed had a lesser chance of survival.


The idea of psychological factors affecting physical health is further proven by research done on the common cold. For centuries medical experts have believed that stress can make one more vulnerable to minor infections such as colds and flu. Today, this belief has been confirmed experimentally. In one study for example, a psychologist, Richard Totman, and his colleagues assessed the psychological profiles of healthy volunteers, and then infected them with cold inducing rhinoviruses. The individuals with more stressful lives had significantly greater incidences of infection, as well as greater severity of cold symptoms. The results of this study and many others show a direct link between mental state and disease. (Martin, P. (1997). The Healing Mind. St. Martin's Press.)

What techniques are used in mind-body therapy?

Mind-body therapy understands the direct link between one's emotional and physical health. It focuses on the conscious use of the mind to affect the process of healing. Although many techniques are used in mind-body therapy, we will discuss four of the most commonly used techniques.

One technique used is biofeedback, in which people learn to control certain internal bodily processes that are normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate or blood pressure. These activities are measured with electrodes and displayed on a moniter. The moniter provides feedback to the participant about the internal workings of his or her body, and the person can then be taught to use this information to gain control over these involuntary activities.

A second technique is imagery, which is thinking that involves the senses. Imagery can have a strong effect on a person's emotions and physiology. It is often helpful in relaxation, pain relief, stimulation of healing responses in the body, and for accessing insight and understanding about health problems and their solutions. Interactive guided imagery is a specific way of using imagery which is particularly effective in helping patients discover and improve attitudes about health.

A third technique is relaxation. Relaxation techniques are perhaps the most widely used and generally useful since stress is very often a significant factor in illness and other health related issues. Reducing stress allows the patient to feel better and regain a sense of control. Meditation, which involves concentrating on a neutral or meaningful focus, is a common form of relaxation

Last, hypnosis is a common technique used in mind-body therapy. During hypnosis, the person's body relaxes, and his or her thoughts become more focused. The person enters a state of deep concentration, and becomes highly responsive to a hypnotherapist's suggestions.




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