The Mind-Body Matter

Happy International Day of Yoga! "What?" you might wonder. "International Day of Yoga?? Who came up with such a thing?!?" I'm so glad you asked! This is not one of those commercial holidays created by the marketing industry to sell cards and flowers. June 21 was designated as International Day of Yoga by the United Nations (UN) in 2015. Since then, this date has remained on the UN calendar of international observances in recognition of the wellness benefits of yoga.

So what better day to ponder wellness and the role of the mind-body connection in our overall health? First, let's clear up an occasional misconception about yoga: Although it has its origins in various world religions, yoga isn't limited to religious practice. It isn’t one-size-fits-all; it can be practiced in many ways--from simple and gentle to more intense--to connect the mind and the body for scientifically-researched results on everything from stress to strength. The word "yoga" originated from Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-European language; it shares its Sanskrit root and similar meaning with the English word "yoke," with both being related to joining or uniting. One might think of yoga as exercise to help the mind and body join forces to help each other.

But this post isn’t about yoga. Yoga is just one of a number of activities that can be used to tap into the mind-body connection for improved health and well-being. Others include prayer and meditation, acts of kindness toward others, puzzles and other mentally-engaging activities, and connections with other people. Just as those practices engage the mind in promoting the wellness of the body, various physical activities are beneficial for the mind. Maintaining a healthy amount of movement and getting sufficient sleep, for example, help to keep not only the body but also the mind fit and well. Even small steps toward a balance of physical and mental activity can make a big difference in overall wellness.

Wisdom about the mind-body connection goes back to ancient times. In addition to the ancients who came up with yoga, you might have heard another bit of ancient wisdom that goes something like, "a cheerful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22, New International Version). As it turns out, those are more than just flowery words from a poetic king. A significant body of contemporary research supports the validity of the mind-body connection. In a clinical review, researchers from the California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco; the Veteran’s Administration, Palo Alto, California; the Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County concluded that, "There is now considerable evidence that an array of mind-body therapies can be used as effective adjuncts to conventional medical treatment for a number of common clinical conditions" (Astin, J. A., Shapiro, S. L., Eisenberg, D. M., & Forys, K. L., 2003, p. 131). In layperson’s terms, what that means is that science is proving out what the ancients knew long ago: The mind and body can work together in powerful ways to stay well.

Now, don't get me wrong. We aren't going off on some tangent that says we should ditch the doctor in favor of downward dog (for those who might not know, that's a yoga pose). We're talking about a well-rounded, integrative approach that respects a variety of valuable knowledge and research about health and wholeness. True well-being is about making the most of a range of resources and techniques to care for the mind, body, and spirit.

We'll be posting more about these topics in the future. In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more come out to our workshop tomorrow, 10:00 a.m., at the Mooneyham Library in Forest City. We look forward to sharing together the journey toward healthfulness and wholeness.

Astin, J. A., Shapiro, S. L., Eisenberg, D. M., & Forys, K. L. (2003). Mind-body medicine: state of the science, implications for practice. Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, 16(2), 131-147. DOI: 10.3122/jabfm.16.2.131

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