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Table of Contents > Articles > What is Mind/Body Medicine?
What is Mind/Body Medicine?

Mind/body medicine refers to the way our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors affect our health, and the therapies that use mind/body interactions to promote health. Blood pressure that goes up from stress can be reduced by meditation. Controlling anger may prevent a heart attack. Group therapy for cancer may extend life. Relaxation techniques can reduce chronic pain.

The National Institutes of Health sees mind/body medicine as a major category of complementary and alternative medicine. In the last 30 years, scientists have found surprising connections between the mind and the body. It is clear that the interaction between the mind and the body is complex and occurs at numerous levels, although there are presently more questions than answers. Still, research does support many mind/body techniques to prevent, relieve, or treat certain diseases. For example, the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (508-856-2656) offers a program modeled by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. This therapy uses mindfulness meditation for cardiac rehabilitation, high blood pressure, cancer, anxiety disorders, and chronic pain.

Much of mind/body medicine is designed as self-care. Its aim is to focus the mind on the body in the moment. Some of the most commonly used mind/ body techniques are biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, visualization, and spiritual healing. The services of qualified professionals are often required, yet some of the basic techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, require mostly an investment of practice time. Mindfulness practice, which can lessen our response to stress, can become a way of living. It can help us move with level-headedness and self-control through the constantly changing circumstances of our lives. The key to all mind/body interventions is the practice of slowing down and paying attention. In attentiveness comes mind/body healing.

If you would like to try a mind/body practice, Boston-based mind/body coach Apara Borrowes, M.S. recommends beginning with a simple exercise. This includes thoughtful breathing, a meditative focus in the body, and visualization. The result can be a state of health-enhancing relaxation. Try it yourself by following the five steps outlined below.

Instructions for a Simple Relaxation Practice

Take 10 or 15 minutes to yourself to relax and rejuvenate. With practice, your inner clock will bring you back right on time. In the beginning, you may want to set an alarm.

1. Sit or lie comfortably in a place where you will be undisturbed. Close your eyes or find a place to rest your gaze where you won't be distracted. Allow your awareness to rest in the center of your body.

2. Take 10 full, relaxed, deep breaths, counting from 10 to 1. Inhale deeply and slowly so that first your stomach rises, then your mid-chest, then your upper chest. Exhale fully. (Deep breathing may produce lightheadedness at first; if this happens, slow down.)

3. As you inhale, imagine your body filling with calmness. With each breath out, release any stress; you will feel your body relaxing and your thoughts calming down.

4. After 10 deep breaths, allow your breath to find its own rhythm. Call to mind a time or place when you felt at peace and filled with well-being, or imagine a future calming time and place. Visualize yourself there in detail. Allow your body and mind to relax more as you visualize your healing scene and focus on those good feelings.

5. When it is time to return from your meditation, take several deep breaths and stretch before you open your eyes. Congratulate yourself on time well spent and notice how you feel.

Suggested Resources

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Delta, 1991).

Living Beyond Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness, by David Spiegel (Ballantine-Fawcett, 1994).

Mind/Body Medicine: How to Use Your Mind for Better Health, edited by Daniel Goleman and Joel Gurin (Consumer Reports Books, 1995).

Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, by Herbert Benson (Fireside, 1997).

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advicefor Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron

Review Date: February 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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