The Mind-Body Connection

Although Western medicine viewed mind and body as being separate for hundreds of years, many of the top universities around the world now study and teach mind-body medicine: using the fact that your thoughts and emotions impact on your physical health and wellbeing. Mind-body medicine includes looking into and using practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation.

One way in which mind-body approaches including mindfulness help you to heal is that when stress is reduced, your immune system works more efficiently. But mindfulness is about more than just stress reduction; it’s a journey to knowing yourself better — an opportunity to get in touch with your own body and mind in a more accepting and kind way.

Certainly mindfulness helps to reduce stress, but it also generates a positive relationship with yourself. Therefore, even if you do find yourself ill, you’re able to respond to that challenge in a healthy, helpful way.

The mind and body impact each other all the time. Here’s a simple little experiment. Take a minute to think about something that you find scary, whether it’s giving a presentation in front of a big audience or the sight of spiders.

Really immerse your mind in recreating the experience — as if you’re present and it’s happening to you. It may be an experience you had in the past or you can make something up. Think about it or imagine yourself in such a situation for about a minute.

Now write down what effect this visualization had on your heart rate and breathing rate. Did you notice any other changes in your body?

The chances are that your heart rate started to go up and your breath became a little more rapid and shallow. Perhaps you even started feeling a bit warmer.

‘So what?’, you may think. Well, this small example has big implications. It shows that the thoughts and images in your mind impact on your emotions, which in turn have an effect on the physical mechanism of your body.

In addition and most importantly, it suggests that if you can manage your mind effectively, you can create a positive effect on your body.

One of the most powerful ways of showing the effect of the mind on the body is called the placebo effect. A placebo is a dummy pill (for example, a sugar pill) or treatment (such as an injection, a liquid or a procedure) that a person believes will help treat a particular condition.

The placebo has no medicine in it and so taking it should have no effect. But incredibly, in about a third of all cases, people recover! Sometimes believing that a pill is going to make you better works just as well as a real drug!

Have a go at using the power of your mind to lower your stress. Try the mindful exercises in the following worksheet and note down their effect on your heart rate. This exercise is just for fun, so don’t take it too seriously. You’d need to do the test many times to get an accurate result, but play with it and see what happens!

Measuring the Effect of Mindfulness on My Heart Rate
Mindfulness Exercise Heartbeats per Minute Before Heartbeats per Minute After How Relaxed You Felt Before How Relaxed You Felt After Did the Exercise Help to Reduce Stress?
Practice mindful breathing for ten minutes.
Do breathing space meditation for ten minutes.
Listen to the sounds around you in a mindful (non-judgmental) way for ten minutes.
Practice the mountain or lake meditation (listen to the guidance on the audio to help you).

If you find that your stress level goes down after the mindfulness exercise, that’s great! But don’t worry if it didn’t. In mindfulness, you can never make relaxation the goal (you probably have enough goals in your life to worry about). Mindfulness exercises are a time to put aside all aims and goals, and instead just to be with your experiences, no matter what happens. It’s a time to just be.

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