The Body Cares What the Mind Thinks

In Western cultures the mind and body are largely treated as separate entities – our thoughts, moods and emotions are felt to be separate and apart from the physical body. We either go to a doctor to treat physical symptoms or we go to a mental health provider to treat emotional issues but rarely are there holistic approaches to treat both. While most agree that emotional distress contributes to physical symptoms, treatment of disease and dysfunction only rarely take into consideration psychosocial issues.

In Eastern cultures, the mind-body connection is well accepted. Eastern medicine provides a language to understand the energetic body – that is our emotions, thoughts and moods – and gives guidance on balancing the energies within our-selves. While we are born with a disposition that cannot be changed, we can balance our energetic body to bring forth the most positive attributes of our personalities.

Physiologically, the mind influences the body through the nervous system and through the endocrine system. Every thought we have transmits electromagnetic impulses down the spine, and releases secretory droplets of neuropeptides coursing through the body. If the mind is in a constant state of negative rumination – worry, anxiety, fear or anger – the body remains tense and poised for danger. Over time, inflammation occurs. The body needs rest to heal; the parasympathetic nervous system needs to predominate. Healing can only take place when the mind is calm.

Anatomy and physiology are used to frame a language for the physical body. Bones make up the skeleton. The skeleton moves by action of muscles. Muscles attach to bones by tendons. Nerves run up and down the spine sending electromagnetic impulses between the mind and the muscle. The endocrine centers secrete neuropeptides that signal action in end organ targets.

Energetic systems such as koshas, chakras, doschas, meridians and nadis are used to frame the language for the energetic body. The subtle (energy) body vibrates outside of the visual range of the human eye but can be seen as an aura and felt as our thoughts, moods and emotions. Communication between the physical and energetic bodies occurs through the pathways of the energetic system each with specific spheres of influence.

Many of us are unable to stop the constant rumination of the mind. These ruminations activate the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system resulting in an increase in stress in the body. The specific psychosocial issue causing the mind distress can result in problems with specific parts of the body. Listening to our bodies can help us identify emotional blocks that need to be resolved in order for healing to begin.

Calming the mind through breath work relaxes the body and allows the parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system to predominate. Breath work includes three part belly breathing or “dirga breath”, longer exhales & shorter inhales (2:1 breathing) and adding a sound like the ocean “ocean breath” to the exhalation. These techniques increase activity in the vagal nerve, increase vagal tone, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and anchor a busy mind completely on the breath. It sounds easy but it takes practice and patience. Our yoga classes open with a few minutes of guided mindful breathing to help your practice.

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