In a society where everyone defines themselves by labels, I often get the question: What is mind-body medicine? What is Integrative Medicine? Wait, are you a real doctor?
Aren’t you a neurologist? Aren’t you a yogi? Aren’t you a speaker who meditates and blogs? I am all of those things. I belong to a growing community of physicians, nurses, psychologists, and allied health care workers in Integrative Medicine. We understand that it is important to treat each person as a whole individual while getting to the root cause of the illness.
Who says we only have to choose one modality of healing?
As a patient, it was the combination of shifting my mindset, creating healthy lifestyle changes, and life-saving surgery that brings me to a place of balance and health today.
What is Mind-Body Medicine?
Mind-Body Medicine is a scientific system and clinical practice that achieves mental, physical, and spiritual health by balancing and connecting the mind, body, and spirit as one unified life unit. Medications, procedures, surgeries are necessary to heal diseases of the physical body. Mind-body medicine therapies help to heal the mind and the soul. One without the other creates imbalance. My sincere desire is that my role in mind-body medicine brings both together. By choosing one modality of healing, we limit ourselves from healing at the fullest potential. Furthermore, once disease is treated, what measures are in place to promote wellness, health, and balance?
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is a division sponsored by the NIH (National Institute of Health) that studies the science behind many of the “alternative” labeled modalities of healing. NCCAM defines mind-body medicine as: “Mind and body practices include a large and diverse group of procedures or techniques administered or taught by a trained practitioner or teacher.” Examples are yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage, movement therapies, and relaxation therapies.
Western Medicine Meets Eastern Modalities of Healing
These therapies have existed in the Eastern world for centuries. When Western-trained scientists label these therapies as “quackery” or “pseudoscience,” it denies the ancient healing wisdom of more than half the population of the globe. More than 60 medical schools in the United States now have departments of Integrative Medicine studying and teaching the role of these techniques in helping patients to heal.
Mind-body medicine practitioners play a role in promoting health, wellness, and balance. This balance is achieved by promoting healing in the physical body, the mind, and the spirit. When the body is out of balance, disease can occur.
Acute health crisis is not the time to deny medications, procedures, or surgeries that have been shown scientifically to help heal the body, save lives, and bring comfort. There is a wealth of scientific data showing that a change in mental attitude to positive thoughts will augment healing with conventional therapies. Mind-Body Medicine (MBM) is the broadly encompassing field with a rich history that continues to evolve.
The Powerful Connection of the Mind and Our Bodies
It is possible that mind-body medicine can be a doorway into the more subtle, less quantifiable realms of the human experience. MBM arguably supports the principle of interconnectedness of mind, brain, body, and beyond, perhaps in a similar manner to psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and psychoneuroendocrinology (PNE).
A core principle of MBM is helping patients to access inner resources for relaxation, healing, and balance and to learn ways to let go and be in the present moment. It also involves learning that in life there are things outside of one's control.
A big part of a MBM approach is experiencing enhanced awareness to achieve changes in attitude that reinforce healthy choices and self-care behaviors. No less important is that through MBM we can become aware that our breathing state is connected to our emotional state. We can learn to modulate our breathing pattern to impact our emotional state to give rise to the experience of inner control.
What are examples mind-body medicine modalities used in healing?
The following modalities alone will not cure disease, however as a part of comprehensive holistic treatment plan they alter the course of the disease.
2. Yoga Therapy
3. Guided Imagery
4. Relaxation Techniques
5. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
6. Mindfulness-based stress relief
8. Cognitive behavioral therapy
What are disease benefit mind-body medicine therapies?
Medical evidence grows daily in the powerful role that mind-body medicine modalities augment healing in all areas of the body. This means that when combined with
1. Brain health disorders like headaches, insomnia, chronic pain
2. Mental health: anxiety, depression, ADHD
3. Endocrinology: blood sugar stabilization in Diabetes, adrenal fatigue, thyroid disorders,
4. GYN: menopause, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles
5. GI: heartburn, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome
6. Oncology: reduction in side effects of chemotherapy, chronic pain.
I Told You So
Mindfulness teaches us to detach from labels. We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines watching two camps divided into the argument of what treatment modalities work. Instead mind-body medicine is a part of integrative medicine that looks at the person as a whole. By bringing together Western medicine and Eastern medicine the chance of getting to the root cause of an illness is better for an individual.
If you are a health care practitioner reading this article, I hold intention that you will have an open mind the next time your patient walks into your office talking about how meditation or yoga "changed their life."
If you are a patient reading this article, you may feel like telling your health care team, "I told you so." Instead practice compassion in place of vindication.
Together we must all come together to offer healing and be healed. This is the spirit of mind-body medicine.