Nurturing Mind-Body Connection: A Key To Good Health

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Nurturing Mind-Body Connection: A Key to Good Health

Modern scientific research supports the knowledge that the mind and the body are intricately connected.  What is important to recognize is that just as the mind can influence the body so can the body influence the mind.  The relationship is a two-way communication. 

We have known for some time that when you meditate or use your imagination to conjure up pleasant scenes in your mind your body, seemingly automatically, relaxes.  When you use your mind to consistently visualize the healing of an injury, the injury heals more quickly.

Equally, when you mobilize the body in specific ways, it affects your mind.  The pencil experiment in the 1970s and 1980s showed that when you hold a pencil between your teeth, which uses the same muscles as used with a genuine smile, you will experience a happier mood just as you would if you actually smiled.

In an experiment, Erik Peper, at Ohio State University, demonstrated that ‘good’ posture has an impact on your thoughts and emotions.  Sitting up straight and walking tall increases your sense of confidence and makes it easier to have positive thoughts and expansive emotions. 

It also decreases your sensitivity to pain.  The opposite, a slumped posture, increases feelings of helplessness.  Peper suggests sitting up straight and walking tall for increasing energy and uplifting your mood. 

Isabel Allende, in a TED Talk, reports that Sofia Loren, an Italian film actress and world renowned beautiful woman, credits “good posture” for looking remarkably svelte at the age of 80.

Dana Carney, a social psychologist at UC Berkeley, and Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, have demonstrated the link between “power poses” and increased confidence and lowered stress response.  In Carney’s words “it starts as a neural impulse and ends up acting like a drug.” In Cuddy’s words “fake it ‘til you become it.”

The highest power pose, called ‘pride,’ is innate – people who have never seen it do it naturally when they are victorious. 

When Cuddy had her participants’ hold a “high power pose” for just 2 minutes their testosterone rose by 20% and their risk tolerance soared while the testosterone level of participants who held a “low-power pose” fell by 10% and their risk tolerance diminished.  The reverse changes were observed for cortisol – the stress hormone.  When holding a high power pose, cortisol levels drop and when holding a low power pose they rise.  When cortisol levels drop you are better able to handle stressful situation.  Changes in posture affect body chemistry which in turn affects mood.  

We communicate considerably more through our non-verbals such as facial expressions, gestures, voice qualities, the way we sit, etc., than the words we use and the thoughts and opinions we express.  The ratio has been estimated as high as 85% being attributed to the non-verbals.  And we know that our non-verbal communication affects how others perceive us but what is most interesting is that our non-verbals also affect how we feel about ourselves.

These breakthroughs in our understanding of the mind-body and body-mind connections help us develop effective therapies that support a person’s journey through healing diseases and injuries be they physical, mental, or emotional.  Comprehensive approaches to learning, healing, and growing that make use of the knowledge of these connections are very effective.  For example, combining medical treatment with yoga, mindfulness, meditation, or body movement enhances the effectiveness of each.  Similarly, psychological therapy also benefits from being complemented by yoga, dancing, and power poses.

“The health of our minds and the health of our bodies are inextricably connected to the transformation of spirit” says James Gordon, Director and Founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

This article first appeared in The Daily Gleaner on July 22, 2015.

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