You might be familiar with the advice to take a deep breath (or ten) when you’re feeling angry in order to help calm yourself down. Implicit in that advice is the belief that “the physical,” which, in this instance, is breathing, can affect “the mental.” Likewise, if you’ve ever felt nervous, such as before a public speaking engagement, an exam, or a first date, and noticed that your heart seemed to be beating so furiously that you thought the person next to you could both see your chest thumping and hear said thumping (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience), then you’ve probably noticed that your mental state can affect your physical state in profound (and potentially embarrassing) ways.
People have often termed the relationship in the above phenomena as the “mind-body connection.” Ultimately, such phrases are trying to express that the “mind” and “body” have bidirectional influences on each other. For health nerds like ourselves, the research on this relationship is abundant, fascinating, and growing. And, as we have written before, knowledge is power (or at least it’s purported to be). In other words, science is providing us with better knowledge about how to understand physical and mental well-being, as well as how we might be able to improve them. For instance, did you know that the bacteria that populate your gut can affect how you feel in response to stressors (e.g., “chilled out,” worried, etc.) and alter expression of neurotransmitters in the brain, and that you can relatively easily change the bacteria in your gut? Or that breathing therapies have been found to be effective treatments for conditions such as asthma, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease? I could go on and on. And, for better or worse, Peter and I plan to discuss these topics ad nauseum in future posts (and have in previous posts).
An important caveat to address, however, is that the increasing knowledge also highlights how little we actually knew (or thought we knew) in the past and how little we still know. It’s possible that current popular practices are ignorant of important bidirectional relationships in the human organism and are thus much less effective than they could be. For instance, it’s possible that future treatments for depression might include doing a fecal analysis of the depressed person to determine their microflora in order to prescribe a probiotic and prebiotic regimen to complement their normal therapy treatment. Or maybe a person’s posture and subsequent breathing mechanics increase their anxiety symptoms, such that postural interventions could alleviate their symptoms better and more lastingly than anti-anxiety medications. I realize that the previous sentences might be wild speculation, but they might not be entirely inaccurate. At the very least, I hope they underscore the possible relationships that exist between the “physical” and the quality of consciousness, piqued your interest, and give you an idea about what Peter and I plan to write about in future posts.
Before I write and publish those future posts (and bombard you with awesome, life-changing content), I highly recommend watching the videos below, all of which have profoundly changed my understanding of the mind-body connection and how we can improve our well-being. The first is a video that features Dan Harris, the author of the recently published book, “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story,” which details his experience with mindfulness meditation and describes the large amount of research that supports the efficacy of this meditation practice. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s high on my to-read list. Regardless, the video inspired me to investigate the research on meditation and to, duh, increase my adherence to my meditation practice.
On a related note, Sam Harris’ new book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” discusses, among other things, the effects of mindfulness meditation and other types of meditation on mental and physical well-being. I just started reading this book and so far, it’s phenomenal. You can watch a some excerpts from an interview he did on the book in the video below:
Last, but not least, is a video that has strongly inspired me to create this series on the mind-body connection. In twelve minutes, Dr. Matthew J. Taylor explains his “Three Diaphragm Model,” which explains many of the bidirectional influences in the body (e.g., how posture affects breathing, how breathing affects the autonomic nervous system and vice versa, how thinking affects the ANS and vice versa, etc.). I don’t know if I agree with everything Dr. Taylor says, but, for only twelve minutes, he explains a lot of important information in an understandable manner.
Anywho, I hope you’ve learned something that will help you enjoy better physical and mental well-being. Stay tuned for future articles in this series in which we’ll discuss in detail particular aspects of the “mind-body connection” and what you can do to improve your physical and mental well-being.
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2. Effect of relaxation therapy on cardiac events after myocardial infarction: a 5-year follow-up study. J Cardiopulm Rehabil. 1999 May-Jun ;19(3):178-85.
3. Buteyko breathing techniques in asthma: a blinded randomised controlled trial. Med J Aust. 1998 Dec 7-21 ;169(11-12):575-8.
4. Influence of breathing therapy on complaints, anxiety and breathing pattern in patients with hyperventilation syndrome and anxiety disorders. J Psychosom Res. 1996 Nov ;41(5):481-93.