Mind Body Therapies

About this Therapy

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“The greatest discovery of any generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds.” – Albert Schweitzer (theologian, philosopher, and physician)

Have you ever had a particularly stressful week at work, only to find that you come down with a cold the very first chance you have to relax? Perhaps you had an emotional conflict with a boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, or spouse, and noticed that you got the flu soon after. Maybe you even told a friend, “I think I’ve made myself sick worrying about this situation.”

If either of these scenarios sounds at all familiar to you, then you already have experience with the mind-body connection. The relationship between our body and mind shows that how we feel, what our attitudes are, and how much stress we are under can impact whether or not we stay healthy.

Conventional medicine tends to view the body and mind as distinct and independent, and focuses on treating disease within the body. Integrative medicine views the body and mind as inextricably linked, and also addresses the mental, emotional, and stress-related conditions that can lead to illness in the first place.

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The Mind-Body Connection

To understand what mind-body therapies are, we should first explore the mind-body connection. Dr. Patricia Hart at the University of Minnesota says that when we talk about the mind-body connection, we mean that our “thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning.” In other words, our mind can actually affect the level of health we experience from a physiological standpoint. And because the relationship is reciprocal, Dr. Hart points out that “what we do with our physical body – what we eat, how much we exercise, even our posture – can impact our mental state (again positively or negatively).”[1] The relationship that exists between our minds and bodies is therefore a vital, albeit undeniably complex interplay that directly impacts our health.

Dr. James Gordon, the founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, describes the relationship between the mind and body this way: “the brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed, all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.”[2] Therefore, therapies that impact the mind may have the potential to induce measurable effects on the body.

Related Video: Dr. David Rakel gives an overview of mind-body medicine on ABC News.

Examples of Mind-Body Therapies

Mind-body therapies seek to take advantage of the mind-body connection. According to the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine (NCCAM), mind-body therapies focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, and on the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect health.[3] The following is an abbreviated list of techniques or practices defined as mind-body therapies by NCCAM:

  • Support groups
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Meditation
  • Spiritual prayer
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Relaxation
  • Hypnosis
  • Guided imagery

Each of these therapies listed above may potentially benefit individuals suffering from a range of medical conditions, including Crohn’s and colitis. The mechanism by which each therapy works is somewhat different. In general, though, each of the techniques in some way reduces the amount of stress and anxiety we feel. Stress results in our sympathetic nervous system releasing stress hormones to arouse certain organs, which increases our heart and breathing rate, tenses up our muscles, and decreases our intestinal activity.[1] Put differently, it makes us feel wired and pretty lousy.

Stress can have all sorts of negative effects on our body. Over time, heightened levels of stress can even lead to chronic high blood pressure and digestive disorders. Mind-body therapies teach individuals to relax more effectively, to think positively, and to focus on the belief that they will get better and heal. These techniques then reduce our stress level, which might favorably impact the frequency of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis relapse.

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