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FROM THE EDITORS

Connecting the mind and the body


Amid Sood, M.D.
General Internal Medicine


A simple definition of mind-body medicine reads like this: "positively influencing the mind to improve the health of the individual." 

The belief that mind and body are intricately connected goes back centuries. But with the development of Western medicine during the 17th century, this basic "connected" approach to health and wellness fell by the wayside. As scientists explored the inner workings of the human body with increasing fascination, they discovered and introduced such fundamental concepts as germs as a source of disease, and medications (antibiotics) and surgical techniques as a way to treat disease — practices that remain central components of modern medicine.

The study of human biology paved the way for great strides in medicine and continues to inspire innovative treatments. However, treating disease strictly on a biological level has its limitations, as reflected by the growing number of individuals turning to treatments outside of modern medicine.

Today, we're faced with several diseases, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, that aren't curable with potent drugs or surgical procedures. This recognition  combined with increasing scientific study implicating the mind as one of several factors in the development of disease — has led to a resurgence of mind-body medicine and to increased interest in "holistic" health and healing.

The power and speed of the mind is phenomenal. And there's no reason to believe that a mind that can sample the soil of a distant planet would not have the capacity to initiate processes to heal its own body. An intriguing part of mind-body medicine — which is undergoing increasing study — is how mind and body respond to the healing effect of other minds. The positive benefits of interventions such as support groups may relate in part to the comfort and sense of security that comes with being part of a "tribe."

Mind-body practices have two core components. The first is to restore the mind to a state of peaceful neutrality. This is the focus of our cover story on the practice of meditation in the October 2009 issue of the Health Letter. In this state, the mind achieves a state that's nonjudgmental, efficient and adaptive to the needs of the individual. To reach this state, the mind has to shed negative experiences acquired over the years.

The second component of mind-body medicine is to use this "ready" mind in a manner to achieve beneficial health effects. This might be through spiritual intervention (prayer), spoken intervention (transcendental meditation), or through practices involving breathing and posture (yoga) or soothing imagery (guided imagery).

As we learn newer and more refined mind-body techniques, it's important to recognize the simplicity of their underlying concepts. Interventions that at their core are based on the values of peace, forgiveness, sharing, selflessness, integrity and love help us achieve the outcomes we seek.


Adapted from "Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine."


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