Tag Archives: mind-body connection

How to See a Beautiful Person in the Mirror

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Society has allowed our notion of beauty to go awry. Countless women–and not just women–look in the mirror and see a reflection of inadequacy. They have fallen short of an ideal that was defective to begin with. But conditioned since childhood to equate a “perfect” body with being beautiful, they blame themselves for being the defective one.

The situation is filled with cruel ironies. Children are naturally beautiful until they are taught to stop thinking that way and to start measuring themselves by an unnatural standard. Even the small percentage of women who are super-model thin suffer anxiety over gaining a pound. The first gray hair and wrinkles create panic. The worship of perfection belies the epidemic of obesity that constitutes reality for millions.

The problem has been diagnosed many times without a workable solution. One study after another has proven without a doubt that fad diets don’t work; in fact, the chances of becoming obese are higher for chronic dieters. Billions of dollars spent on cosmetics and plastic surgery have done nothing to solve a prevailing sense of not being beautiful enough. All of this points to a single underlying issue: a woman’s sense of lack. Continue reading

Spiritual Solutions #17 – Get in Touch with Body-Mind

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By Deepak Chopra Deepak Chopra and Annie Bond Annie Bond

Connecting to Body-Mind

To become familiar with the miracle of the human body-mind is to acquire awesome power. This power is magical because it allows you to experience the body-mind as more fluid, more flexible, and more dynamic, and more creative than you have ever imagined. But first you have to understand your true nature; you have to know the body-mind as it really is. The field of pure consciousness creates, controls, and constantly becomes the body-mind. Get in touch with this field, and you have a completely new reality of the mind and a completely new experience of the body. You realize that you can change your body more effortlessly, more rapidly, more efficiently than you can change your clothes.

Adapted from Power, Freedom, and Grace, by Deepak Chopra (Amber Allen Publishing, 2006).

 

Being in Body-Mind

Looking for cause and effect is another way of choosing safe products. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve allowed consumer products to deplete the earth’s resources or to be so toxic because the products don’t look like the raw materials used to make them. We don’t see the connections. A can of pretty robin’s egg blue paint in a hardware store isn’t visibly connected to its ingredients of fungicides and petroleum or to the smokestacks of the factory where it was made. Seeing the loss and damage that occurs in its creation might incline us to purchase a more ecological brand or to buy a little less. Or having access to the old-timers’ recipe for milk paint might inspire us to try it out ourselves.

Adapted from Better Basics from the Home, by Annie Bond (Three Rivers Press, 1999).

Mind Body Medicine: Can What You Think and Feel Affect Your Physical Health?

 How you think and feel emotionally can contribute to your physical health and well-being — it’s just that simple. The list of scientific studies demonstrating that point comes from diverse fields of study including medicine, neuroscience, immunology, genetics, psychiatry and psychology.

Integrative medicine is fast becoming the examplar of approaches to healthcare based on the importance of treating the whole person — taking into account body and mind — in health promotion, disease treatment and prevention. The mind influences the body, and the body influences the mind.
 
It is now well known that chronic stress is a significant contributor to illness and the leading cause of death worldwide. Psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression are on the rise in adults and children, and they are estimated to affect as many as one in two adults at some point in the lifespan. Science shows that stress affects a wide range of physiological states in the body, particularly the immune response, but also factors important in aging (like telomere shortening). A recent study of social anxiety conducted at UCLA illustrates the powerful role such anxiety can have on our body’s inflammatory response, and other research is showing how body illnesses like irritable bowel disease have associated brain states.
 
Thus the mind is a powerful vehicle for reducing body health. But conversely, it may be a powerful vehicle for enhancing it, as well.
 
Yet modern medicine provides very little in the way of a doctor’s prescription to treat our mind states when dealing with health issues. We may be told to relax or be less stressed, but very often there is no remedy to do so (aside from momentary release in prescription meds when severe enough). It is where the role of mind-body practices like meditation, tai chi, yoga, or other forms of tailored exercises for mental health is needed.
 
Research, albeit still limited, is indicating that mindfulness practices (exercises that increase present-moment awareness) are very beneficial to health and well-being, influencing a wide range of physiological and subjective states including:
  • Boosting the immune response in cancer and HIV patients.
  • Reducing pain in chronic pain patients, including sufferers of arthritis, back pain, and headaches, among others.
  • Improving the effectiveness of behavioral change programs like smoking reduction, weight loss, and substance abuse.
  • Enhancing heart health when coupled with an integrative health care.
  • Reducing the risk for relapse in clinical depression by half compared to a standard treatment protocol.
  • Reducing anxiety and stress across a wide range of physical and mental health disorders.
The mechanisms of how mindfulness alters brain and body physiology is under investigation by labs around the world, but preliminary findings demonstrate changes in brain function and structure, immune cytokines, stress hormones and gene expression patterns, to name a few.
 
The means by which mindfulness influences health and well-being will be a topic of science for decades to come, but what is already suggested is that it alters our relationship with thoughts and emotions so that there is a level of "decentering" that arises, where our experiences are seen as less attached. In a way, there is a greater sense of awareness that these experience are part of the human condition and less personal or attached to oneself. By practicing mindfulness exercises (a whole host of practices is available from books, courses and free downloads) on a regular basis, we can learn to relate to life’s experiences (whether that is an illness, a pain or a negative mental thought) with greater ease and equanimity.
 
Scientific evidence suggests that this can and does enhance our health, regardless of the particular circumstances that may be hindering it.
 
For more information see, "Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness" (Smalley and Winston, 2010). To get free mindfulness practices, go to www.marc.ucla.edu and click on "Mindfulness Meditations."

How to be your own placebo (part 2)

In an earlier post I raised the question of the mind healing the body. We know that this is possible because of the placebo effect, in which patients obtain relief even though the doctor has given them only a sugar pill, an injection of saline solution, or some other innocuous substance. The placebo effect, contrary to widespread suspicion, is a “real” cure. Pain is diminished; symptoms are alleviated. But it depends upon deception. The doctor knows that he is giving a harmless substance; the patient doesn’t.

So the issue comes down to triggering the mind-body connection without being deceived. Is there a way for each person to influence his body consciously? We do this all the time, of course. You can’t lift a finger, throw a baseball, or drive a car without translating a mental intention into a physical response. But when it comes to disease symptoms, the mind-body connection feels weak or non-existent. Every sick person wants to get well. How can the mind help?

There are four conditions that would insure a stronger mind-body connection during illness, and all are inter-connected:
— The mind contributes to getting well.
— The mind doesn’t contribute to getting sick.
— The body is in constant communication with the mind.
— This communication benefits both the physical and mental aspects of being well.

When the placebo effect works, it’s clear that all four aspects are involved. The patient’s mind cooperates with the treatment and trusts it. The body is aware of this trust. There is open communication, and as a result, cells throughout the body participate in a healing response. The healing system as a whole is incredibly complex and all but impossible to explain as a whole. We only know parts of how it operates, such as our knowledge of antibodies and the immune response to infection.

Yet somehow, for all its complexity, the healing system can be triggered by a simple intention of the mind. To be your own placebo, then, requires the same conditions that apply in a classic placebo response:

1. You trust what is happening.
2. You deal with doubt and fear.
3. You don’t send conflicting messages that get tangled with each other.
4. You have opened the channels of mind-body communication.
5. You let go of your intention and let the healing system do its work.

Clearly, everyone finds it easy to let go when a problem is small, such as a cut finger or a bruise. The mind isn’t interfering with doubts and fears. But both play a major role in serious illness, which is why a practice like meditation or going to group counseling can be a great help. Sharing your anxiety with others in the same position is one way to begin to clear them.

It’s also helpful to follow your instincts. Most of us deal with illness through misleading processes like wishful thinking and denial. Our fears lead us into the blind alleys of false hope. In such cases, the mind isn’t really alert to what the body is saying, or vice versa. The atmosphere is clouded. To trust what your body is telling you implies that you will take action to give it what it wants. Each body wants different things at any given moment, but at the very least our bodies do best without tobacco, alcohol, excessive medications, and various chemical adulterants.

One way to become more aware of your body is to sit quietly with your eyes closed and simply feel the body. Let any sensation come to the surface. Don’t respond to the sensation, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Relax and be aware of it. Notice where the sensation is coming from. There won’t be one sensation or feeling only. You will find that your awareness goes from place to place, one moment noticing your foot or your stomach, your chest or your neck.

This simple exercise is like a mind-body reconnection. Too many people are in the habit of not paying attention to any but the most gross signals from their bodies, like extreme pain, stiffness, or discomfort. What you want to do is to increase your sensitivity and your trust at the same time. Your body knows at a subtle level where dis-ease and discomfort are. It sends signals at every moment, and these are not to be feared. Even if you consciously ignore what is happening in your cells, there is a level of conscious information that is being exchanged just below the level of awareness.

Indeed every cell in the body knows, through chemical messengers, what every other cell is doing. By bringing your conscious mind into the loop, you are adding to this communication. How? The body operates through two compatible aspects of the nervous system. One is involuntary and takes care of every process that doesn’t need your awareness. The other is voluntary, meaning that it responds to your awareness. These two aspects of the mind/brain are connected. You can switch from one to the other.

For example, if you are stuck in traffic and feeling stressed, your heart rate can increase involuntarily. Yet you can also choose to go running, which increases your heart rate as the result of your intention. We know from research experiments that advanced yogis can alter involuntary responses at will, such as lowering their heart rate and breathing to very low levels or increasing skin temperature in a very precise way. As it happens, you and I have the same abilities, although we don’t consciously use them. You can be led through an exercise to make a spot on the palm of your hand grow warmer, and it would happen even though you have never used that ability before.

One can venture that the placebo effect falls into the same category. It’s a voluntary response we could use if only we learned to. The healing system seems to be involuntary. You don’t have to think in order to heal a cut or a bruise. Yet the fact that some patients can make their own pain go away when given a sugar pill they think is aspirin implies, very strongly, that intention makes a difference in healing. We aren’t talking about positive thinking but a deeper mind-body connection.

One final note: Because this is a public forum read by all kinds of people with all kinds of health issues, let me be clear. I am not — repeat not — advising anyone to stop conventional medical treatment or to reject medical help. The placebo effect remains mysterious, and this article is exploring that mystery, not giving you a how-to for self cure.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle

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