Although we may think of our mind and body as separate entities, both are highly connected through multiple systems. Despite often treating mental health and physical health separately, it is valuable for our health and well-being to understand how closely related they are. Mind body connection is the knowledge of how your mind influences your physical body and how your body influences your mind. There are many health benefits of gaining an understanding of your mind-body connection.
What is mind-body connection?
The mind-body connection describes how our physical body is influenced by psychological factors and how our physical body affects our mental state. The mind-body connection can be seen on a human physiology level as many different body systems connect the mind and the body. The nervous system plays a significant role in the mind-body connection. Physical pain, detected by sensory receptors in the skin, is sent through nerve fibers and then processed in the brain. Therefore, it works through the mind-body connection.
In addition, this connection is seen in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system triggers the body’s reaction to stress, the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response demonstrates how emotions such as fear, stress, and anxiety can cause physical effects such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, etc. In addition, constant high levels of mental stress and anxiety can manifest into physical effects and conditions such as stomach ulcers, headaches, fatigue, and pain.
The brain area called the hypothalamus plays a prominent role in the mind-body connection as it connects the endocrine and the nervous system. It is a brain area that helps maintain homeostasis, which is the balance in the body. The endocrine system secretes hormones that play a role in the communication between the mind and body. Stress hormones are important for regulating the stress response, hormones that regulate hunger cues, and hormones responsible for many other body functions.
Inversely, research shows how our physical body can influence our mental states. For example, nutrition and gut health is very influential on mental health. Mental stress and anxiety can also be connected to negative symptoms in the digestive system. Finally, physical posture is connected to positive and negative emotions, feelings, and confidence.
How meditation improves mind-body connection
Meditation can help increase awareness of the mind-body connection and provide both mental and physical health benefits. For example, mindfulness meditation and meditative relaxation techniques tie together calming of the mind with calming of the body. This allows for a holistic mind-body state of relaxation. Other meditation techniques and exercises, including deep breathing and progressive relaxation, can also help calm the mind and the body together and regulate the body’s stress response.
There is also evidence that meditation can cause changes to brain structures that influence the physical body. Research suggests that meditation can result in changes to the anterior cingulate cortex and somatosensory cortex areas of the brain, which decreases pain sensitivity. Therefore its shown that meditation can positively impact pain levels. Research shows that meditative practice can result in changes to the Amyglada (fight or flight response), which can decrease the body’s heart rate and blood pressure.
Another meditation technique called guided imagery can work through the mind-body connection. Guided imagery can help with sleep, relaxation, and pain. It is shown that when doing guided imagery, the body reacts similarly as if it were to be physically performing the activity that is being imagined. Guided imagery can be used as a technique to help to decrease pain, anxiety, and stressful emotions and improve sleep.
Mindfulness training combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy also uses techniques of the mind-body connection. Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing thought patterns that result in positive changes in emotions and physical states. For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may reduce mental stress and also the physical manifestations of anxiety such as headaches or stomach upset. The National Institutes of Health are studying mindfulness training and improving the mind-body connection to help people struggling with substance abuse.
Psychological theories of mind-body connection
There are different psychological theories of the mind-body connection. For example, the embodied cognition theory looks at how the body and physical experiences influence cognition and thinking. For example, research has shown that people will lean forward when talking about the future and lean backward when discussing the past. This observation shows the connection between our subconscious mind and thoughts and our physical movement.
Another theory is the cognitive psychopathology theory which looks at how negative thought patterns result in negative behaviors and physical symptoms. Cognitive appraisal theory looks at how our mental evaluation of different situations and their consequences influences negative and positive emotions, feelings, and behaviors. Lastly, cognitive behavioral therapy is related to mind-body connection as it has been shown to change the brain areas related to fear responses.
Health impacts of the mind-body connection
One mind-body system that is very important for overall health is the digestive system. The digestive system is highly connected to the mind and can be referred to as the second brain. The digestive system is an example of how the body affects mental states. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is produced in the stomach. Serotonin is involved in many biological processes and is also important in mood and cognitive processing. Therefore maintaining digestive health is very important for maintaining mental health as well. Inversely, stress and negative emotions also commonly result in physical gut symptoms. Stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms of gut health conditions such as Chron’s disease. Therefore reducing stress and improving emotional health can improve digestive health.
Mental health and stress levels are also significant for maintaining heart health. The sympathetic nervous system is activated by stress in the body. There are often physical reactions when you feel stressed, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises can decrease the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which results in decreases in those physical reactions. This can help to improve overall cardiovascular health and decrease the chances of developing cardiovascular health conditions.
Chronic stress, which is high-stress levels over a long time, has many adverse effects on health. Chronic stress can lead to digestive health problems, skin conditions, hair loss, etc. Using meditation to decrease chronic stress levels, improve the stress response and improve emotional regulation can benefit overall health promotion. In addition, achieving a mind and body relaxed state can positively impact sleep. Improving sleep quality has many benefits for the physical body, including improving immune systems and immune response. An improved immune system increases the body’s ability to fight infections, viruses and diseases prevention. Improved sleep can also help someone engage in other healthy lifestyle activities such as exercise and healthy eating habits.
Mind Body Connection FAQ
Are there other ways to improve mind-body connection?
Yes there are, several in fact.
Other mind-body practices include:
Yoga practices include; Hatha yoga, Kripalu yoga, Power yoga, and more
Tai chi practices such as;
Dance movement, such as improvisation dance
Mindful activities such as walking, gardening, journaling
Mind-body therapies such as psychotherapy techniques and talk therapy
What body structures and systems are involved in the mind-body connection?
Hormones are chemical messengers that circulate in the body and affect both physical and mental processes, mental states and emotions.
Processes physical stimuli and bodily sensations and sends information back to the brain. In addition, it transmits signals from the brain to the body to control movement and body functioning.
The vagus nerve
The longest nerve in the body and connects to the central body systems, including the heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal system
Why is mind-body connection important?
Our physical health impacts our mental health and vice versa; therefore, it is an important focus for overall health and well-being to understand these connections.
Increased awareness of the mind-body connection can help to improve both mental and physical health
How long have the mind-body connection theories been around?
Mind-body connection in health care has been around for centuries
During the western world in the 17th century, healthcare began looking at the physical body more as a very separate
Now in the 20th century, studies have demonstrated the importance of mind-body connection in healthcare
Now it can be considered a complementary and integrative health tool