A very long time ago I went on a yoga retreat. The yogi who ran the retreat was incredibly zen, so much so I thought he was faking it! This man had worked his way into a very high position in an advertising company in his thirties; he confessed to me during that these years he felt his life was worthless. He resigned from his blossoming career and became a yoga teacher, he had always practised yoga and loved it. It seemed like the ideal solution and it certainly seemed to suit him. He was possibly the happiest person I had seen in a long time!
One day I sat on the deck with him having herbal tea and he told me that he could see lightness and find pleasure in everything around him. He strongly believed in the mind body connection and told me he had seen healing of the physically body take place with the use of meditation. I seriously thought he was a little crazy at the time! I myself was the type of person to focus on the negative and I couldn’t believe anyone really felt that ‘at peace’ with life and I certainly didn’t believe in the mind body connection!
A few years later I suffered a severe bout of depression, I was so depressed I ended up on anti depressants. I had a lot of trouble ‘facing the day’ let alone facing the month, year or the long-term future. I started to see a psychologist and over a period of months I told her my story. I was unhappy, life hadn’t delivered and I felt there had been a huge injustice done. One of the most profound and quite life changing things she said to me was ‘I can’t change your situation but I can help you to change your perspective’
At the time I had no idea that my negative temperament was affecting my physical self so much. I was allowing my thoughts to create my reality and I was drowning in a sea of self-pity, I was feeling this on a very physical level. I didn’t want to eat, I had fatigue and I couldn’t get out of bed.
Slowly she helped me to become someone with a healthier outlook on life and a more positive attitude, with this the fatigue subsided, my appetite returned and slowly I started to exercise again and feel better. Don’t get me wrong it didn’t happen over night and I certainly still have days when I feel my inherent negativity character creep in but now I am able to pull myself up and get myself in check before it gets out of hand.
The way I was thinking was creating many chemical changes in my body; changes that made me feel severely depressed. It was the mind body connection at play and I had no idea.
The mind is the most powerful thing we have and if we ‘train’ it properly it can be our best friend and help us heal. Today, we understand that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioural factors can directly affect our health. If we know this, and not just know it, believe it then we can use this to our advantage. We can use the mind to help us feel more in control with our physical body. Some of the therapies, which tap into the mind body connection, include cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, prayer, yoga, biofeedback, meditation and guided imagery. It was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) that I was taught during my time in counselling.
This idea of the mind body connection has been accepted for hundreds years in some cultures but westerners may find it hard to come to grips with.
So is there any research to back this theory up?
In 1987 Jon Kabat Zinn did a study on mindfulness meditation for patients with chronic pain. 90 chronic pain sufferers in Kabat Zinn’s study showed dramatically decreased levels of pain, and a reduction in depression after a 10-week course in mindfulness meditation. Of course measuring things like pain are not easy because it is hugely subjective but studies do appear to back up this theory.
Going back to my yoga retreat, when I was on the deck with that yoga teacher all those years ago I had no idea that he was so right, it really is about perspective. In addition to this I now know (and I really didn’t believe this back then), that our thoughts can affect our body on a cellular level and that what we think can determine how our body functions. The mind body connection is very real!
This is a fascinating area of study, if we can adjust our mindset the possibilities are endless.