The Mind Power
Mind/body medicine is a term used to describe a number of disciplines that study the healing body by engaging the conscious or unconscious powers of the mind. Though “mind/body medicine” is the formal term used to define a new age in modern day Western medicine, it is also used to study other ancient Eastern disciplines such as yoga, meditation, traditional Chinese medicine, subtle energy therapies. The different disciplines that are under the mind/body medicine ‘umbrella’ all combine a theory of the relationship between the mind and the body that provide a link with body and mind that parallel the ancient Eastern disciplines with Western scientific models of chemistry and biology. These are characterized by an emphasis on individual motivation in the healing process and a closer relationship between patient and practitioner. These practices have used to treat conditions that are brought on by stress, such as chronic pain, allergies, chemical and emotional dependencies, and performance anxiety.
Both ancient and modern approaches to mind/body medicine posit that the cause of disease is not restricted to the physical body. For ancient disciplines, there are spirits, emotions, or the mind, which are non physical components of disease that connect the spirit to the body. Modern Western methods of mind/body medicine try to understand the root cause of disease by investigating the effect of thought or emotions on behavior and the physical working of the body.
An ancient method of healing known as Shamanism is based on the belief that illness is a result of disharmony between the spirit world and the material world. Traditional shamanic practices include trance stance and mental focusing techniques that are similar to the modern methods of guided imagery and hypnotherapy.
Hatha yoga, a highly disciplined form of Indian yoga, is driven by the belief that matter is comprised entirely of a materialized form of a great spirit motivating the universe. It includes numerous health-enhancing physical exercises, self cleansing techniques, and breathing practices that help people refine the physical body and experience its spiritual nature. Hatha yoga practitioners develop a control of the body that is similar to the modern methods of biofeedback.
Chinese healers practiced within the foundation of Taoism, the ancient Chinese religion, which reached for a harmonious, balance existence between humankind and nature. In a span of many centuries, Chinese herbal treatments where developed by correlating the observed interactions of nature elements with the physical, emotional, and mental characteristics linked with human disease. The relationships Chinese healers noted between elemental balances, emotional states, and physical health are very similar to those recognized by psychoneuroimmunology today.
Mind/Body Medicine in Western Civilization
Ancient Greek medical practices, though were originally holistic, started to separate the observation and treatment of the body, or matter, from the observation and treatment of the mind, or spirit. This trend in Western thinking and healing was later reinforced by the medieval Christian church, which promoted the devoted mind of humankind as the true path to the spirit of God. French philosopher, Rene Descartes established the philosophical foundation of the Enlightment which proclaimed the mind as a non-material, transcendent aspect of human beings, which was a separate and infinitely more valuable entity than the physical body.
Though eventually splitting off from philosophical or spiritual inquiry, Western medical science was developed to study the physical body as more mechanical instrument, broken down into smaller components. It was not until Sigmund Freud (1865-1939), a neurologist, developed a theory of the unconscious mind that opened new ways of considering the mind’s effect on behavior and physical health. The research that inspired Freud’s theories uses many of the techniques that are part of hypnotherapy.
Since then, there were many developments in the mind/body science. It has even enveloped in other areas such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Hans Selye, a Canadian psychologist, termed revealed the destructive effects of traumatic experiences, which he first termed stress in 1956. Drs. Elmer and Alyce Green, pioneering researchers in biofeedback helped provide more specific clues to the mind body connection. Elmer and Green studied the profound ability of advanced yoga practitioners to consciously control their autonomic system such as heart rate, body temperature, and brain wave pattern. As time wore on, scientists in the field of psychoneuroimmunology presented evidence linking substances such as endorphins to human emotions such as pleasure. It was demonstrated how certain levels of endorphins in the body can protect against foreign invaders such as viruses or germs.
Presently mind/body medicine practices are a respected part of treatment in many hospitals and clinics throughout the United States. These methods are used for various things such as pain relief before or during surgery to aid in the postoperative process. Individuals that are seeking help for various physical conditions, such as cancer and AIDs, or trying to correct changes in destructive behaviors, such as chemical addictions and eating disorders, see mind/body medicine as supplement or enhancement from the traditional Western methods of treatment.
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- Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
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Guided imagery is the practice of focusing the imagination on particular symbols or scenes in order to promote physical, psychological, or emotional changes. Usually, these images relate to an individual’s illness, accident, or personal issues. Using guided imagery may unearth previously unknown feelings and personal insights, as well as aid in the reduction of stress. Often, the individual is asked to imagine health and happiness in place of the original painful or unhappy image. Additionally, guided imagery may be used to help individuals cope with health conditions that are taxing in both a physical and emotional sense.