How the Mind-Body Connection Relates to Our Health

Mind-Body Connection and Our Health

Have you ever felt nervous about something and then your stomach hurt or you had to run to the bathroom?

Or felt the lethargic crash from a sugar high?

I think most of us can answer yes to these questions, at least one time in our life. 

Why am I pointing these things out?

To show simple and tangible examples we can all relate to of how linked our mind and body are. And to help us gain a better understanding of how the mind-body connection relates to our health and healing. 

In fact there is no separation between our mind and body. Research has grown and evolved over the years to prove how strong this connection is.

Every one of our physiological systems is connected and informs one another through our mind-body connection.

There is no more dispute that what we eat also affects our brain, our thinking and nervous system. Vice versa it has been proven over and over how much stress plays a role in our physical health. 

Nature’s ecosystem is inextricably connected. We are also nature, so why would we be any different?

When We Fail to Recognize the Mind-Body Connection

When We Fail to Recognize the Mind-Body Connection.

Viewing the Body in Parts

Many of us were raised in a society that views the body in parts, rather than holistically. For example, a patient goes to the doctor for acid reflux, is given medication and referred to a GI doctor. This same patient is also suffering from anxiety and depression and is having panic attacks. They are given meds for that as well and may or may not be referred to a therapist.

This person went from no meds to 2 significant ones for their separate complaints. Before we know it, we can end up on several meds for different symptoms without blinking an eye.

I’m not against medication. Sometimes it is needed to help symptoms improve while an issue is figured out. But so much of the time patients are put on multiple medications and sent on their merry way.

I’ve seen this type of patient over and over in my acupuncture practice. 

They are so tired of being on so many medications and wonder how they got to that point. Some wonder if the medications are even helping that much, and others are concerned about side effects. And most clients just don’t like the idea of taking so much medication.

When a patient is put on several meds for different symptoms, how does that help them heal at a root level? Or are they just symptomatic bandaids?

When we don’t look at a person through the mind-body connection lens, the root of an ailment is often overlooked.

Recognizing the Mind-Body Connection

A Holistic Approach

When symptoms are looked at holistically from a Chinese medicine perspective we can see that they are related. Patterns of imbalance are revealed through the mind-body connection. From there we can see a relationship between the symptoms, and that they are not isolated. By addressing the patterns of imbalance, the symptoms improve.

Through the holistic lens patients gain a greater understanding of the mind-body connection and how it relates to their health. Many are empowered by this knowledge and start to realize the impact food and lifestyle choices have on their health.

How Stress Can Make Us Sick

How Stress Can Make Us Sick

The majority of people I encounter on a daily basis are dealing with more stress than their nervous system can handle. We all have our personal stresses, but global and societal stresses weigh on us too. 

If we don’t find ways to work through and manage our stress levels, they will catch up with us. And will eventually manifest as symptoms and illness. 

How does this relate to the mind-body connection?

Digestive Issues Stemming from Long Term Stress

An example I see frequently in my practice are clients suffering from digestive issues including constipation, diarrhea, bloating and/or stomach pain. They often can’t understand where it’s coming from. All diagnostic tests are negative and the doctor can’t find anything physically wrong, however this person’s digestion is struggling.

Connecting the Mind-Body Dots

After doing a Chinese Medicine assessment, there are several patterns of imbalance we can find with this type of presentation. I’m going to focus on one simple one here, which is liver qi stagnation invading the spleen.

This pattern usually stems from chronic stress and held tension. The treatments are aimed at helping the digestive symptoms by alleviating the stagnation in the body from the held stress. 

As the client improves, they are able to fully grasp the mind-body connection and how it relates to their symptoms. In this case, how a significant stressful period led to physical symptoms of illness.

Food Affects Our Emotional Health

How Food Affects Our Emotional Health

Just as stress can make us sick, the food we eat has a great impact on our mental/emotional health. More research is proving that our gut is our second brain and produces over 90% of our serotonin receptors. Most of us know these receptors are found in our brain and are responsible for mood regulation.

Consuming unhealthy processed foods lacking in nutrient density will eventually affect our gut microbiome and neurotransmitters. When they’re not working optimally, we’re much more prone to mood lability, anxiety, depression and even insomnia.

Support the Gut, Support the Mood

I frequently see people with digestion issues such as IBS and colitis who are also suffering from anxiety and depression. Once that gut is supported and functioning better, they most often report feeling better, calmer, and happier.

Ways to Cultivate Our Mind-Body Connection

The more we understand our mind-body connection, the more we can take control of our health and healing. But how to get in touch with this connection?

Acupuncture and other bodywork

Acupuncture and other bodywork

Acupuncture and other forms of bodywork are great modalities to help us better understand our mind-body connection and our health.

Physical, Mental, and Emotional Balance

Patients coming for physical pain so often look and feel more relaxed after an acupuncture treatment. Not only does their pain improve but many feel better in general – mentally and emotionally.

Acupuncture is also a great modality for people suffering from anxiety and depression. Many report that they feel calmer, less irritable and are sleeping better after a series of acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture can also help release emotions and old traumas that get energetically stuck in the body. 

Our body and tissues store our stress, old emotions and trapped traumas that we’re often not aware of. Many unprocessed emotions and traumas manifest as stuck energy in our body. Acupuncture, massage and other bodywork are great tools to help release this stagnant emotional energy.

Exercise, Movement, Dance, Yoga

Exercise, Movement, Dance, Yoga

Ever notice after exercise or physical movement that you feel calmer, less anxious, more focused and even more energized?

One of the simplest ways we can understand the mind-body connection is through moving the body.

Physical movement brings more blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and also releases endorphins, our feel good hormones.

Dancing or shaking can also be a great way to move stuck qi in our nervous system. So many forms of dance are mood enhancers.

Try checking in with your body and mental state before and after exercise, yoga, or other physical movement. Notice the shifts, big or small. 

Breathwork for Mind-Body Awareness

Breathwork, Meditation, Visualization and Mindfulness

Breathwork, meditation, visualization and mindfulness are all helpful tools that help unravel stuck patterns and strengthen our mind-body connection.

Calm the Nervous System

These modalities put our bodies into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) as opposed to a sympathetic state (fight or flight). The more we can get ourselves into a parasympathetic state, the more balanced and calm our nervous system will be. Which is needed for optimal health and healing.

Breathwork for Mind-body Awareness 

So many of us walk around shallow breathing throughout the day. I encourage everyone to take breaks throughout the day for some breathwork, even if for just a few minutes. It not only opens our lungs, but it moves our qi and helps relieve built up stress. Many report feeling calmer or more energized after purposeful breathing.

Simple Breathing Practices

Two effective breath work techniques are box breathing and the 4-7-8. They are both simple and easy to integrate into a busy day. Box breathing entails breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 4, breathing out for 4, then holding again for a count of 4. This cycle should be repeated 4 times.

The 4-7-8 technique is similar. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 7, then breathe out for a count of 8. Repeat this cycle 4 times as well.

Meditation Mind-Body Connection Tool

Meditation and Visualization for Physical Tension and Pain

Meditation and visualization are also great mind-body connection tools that over time can help alleviate held tension and pain. 

A Regular Practice

Taking even 5 minutes a day to check in with areas of discomfort or stuck tension is incredibly helpful. Just by noticing and breathing into those areas helps move the energy and shift the pain and tightness.

Over time a regular meditation practice quiets our nervous system by inducing a parasympathetic state. The more we can allow ourselves to enter that state, the faster our healing will be. When we’re constantly in fight or flight, our body doesn’t have a chance to focus on the areas that need attention and healing.

Not only do we heal better, but we become more resilient to life’s on going stressors. We are more mindful in our daily life and navigate challenges more thoughtfully. Belief patterns that may be holding us back start to shift.

Adding visualization into a meditation practice is also a great way to shift blocked energy. Visualizing colors or more light into stagnant areas of physical or emotional discomfort can be powerful for many.

Meditation Quiets the Mind

Many if not most of us operate from our heads and mental state throughout the day. Even when we’re not involved with a task we’re often thinking or worry about something or someone else.

Meditation is a great tool for quieting our busy minds. It gives it a break from the constant to do list and chatter. When we give ourselves these mental breaks, we can gain clarity and perspective and even be more productive.  

Meditation Helps Reduce Cortisol Levels

Additionally, meditation reduces cortisol levels in the body. So many are walking around with elevated cortisol levels due to constant stress. These high cortisol levels are not sustainable, and eventually contribute to the development of illness and chronic disease.

Reducing cortisol levels through mindful meditation shows how we truly have the ability to heal ourselves through the strength of our mind-body connection. 

Meditation Helps Shift Belief Patterns 

Furthermore, meditation and mindfulness can help us work through old belief patterns and traumas. So many of us are unaware how these unconscious patterns hold us back and often lead to chronic illness and pain.

Quieting the mind through meditation and mindfulness can shift these stuck patterns that keep us from moving forward with life.

Practicing even one of these modalities can help strengthen our mind-body connection. It puts us more in tune with ourselves and our ability to listen and heal at a deep level.

Stress and the Mind-Body Connection

Long Term Stress

One of our biggest challenges to achieving and maintaining great health is how we manage our stress. When we go about our days in a sympathetic, fight or flight state, our stress response system is continually on alert.

Our bodies weren’t meant to stay in a constant state of stress. We were designed to have a short term adrenaline rush to deal with a saber toothed tiger. Remaining in a heightened stress response over time eventually wears out our adrenals and eventually leads to chronic health conditions.

Perceived vs. Real Threat

Even when we don’t think we’re stressed many of us are. Social media and our constant connectivity increases our stress levels. Even negative thought patterns can induce a stress response. It doesn’t matter if a threat or worry is real or imagined – our body interprets it the same way.

The Importance of Stress Management

Our world has become an increasingly stressful place, especially these past few years. Couple that with personal stress and it’s no wonder that people are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stress they carry.

Stress is a part of all of our lives, and we all go through more stressful periods at times. But there’s also a level of stress that people are carrying day to day that’s not sustainable. And we’re seeing it in the exponential rise of chronic disease.

Stress and stressful events aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So we have to find ways to work with and manage our stress, otherwise it is going to manage us.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, how can we find flow with our stress without it getting stuck in our bodies? How do we find peace amidst the turmoil Instead of fighting it, denying it or wishing it away? 

Mind-Body Activities for Stress

Practicing Self-Care for Stress

It seems we’re all moving at a faster pace trying to pack more and more into each passing day. Many feel they don’t have time to take time for themselves to settle and calm their nervous system.

But you and your health cannot afford not to.

Allowing for downtime is not only necessary, but when we’re calm, we are often more productive, creative and present with life. 

Mind-Body Activities for Stress

Developing a practice or habit for a minimum of 10 minutes a day helps settle the nervous system. Any mind-body activity whether it’s breathwork, meditation, painting, or yoga, induces a more parasympathetic state, thus lowering our stress levels. The more we cultivate our mind-body connection and lower stress levels, the more resilient we will be physically, mentally and emotionally.

Getting out in Nature for Stress Reduction

Getting out in Nature for Stress Reduction

Equally important in our ever growing digital age is to find a ways to reconnect with nature.

I can’t stress this enough. Studies have shown that getting out in nature helps lower inflammation and cortisol levels.

The Chinese medicine map of our body and meridians are derived from our study of nature and its cycles. The medicine works so well because we are nature and the Chinese realized that thousands of years ago.

Everything in nature is connected in some way and so are we. It’s time we try to fully understand and embrace this concept. There’s no denying the strength and power of the mind-body connection and our health.

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Heidi Botnick O’Hare, L.Ac
Rumney Acupuncturist