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Mind Body Wellness: The Key to Unlocking a Healthier You

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

The human body is a complex and interconnected system - each part affecting the other. Taking care of our entire being, and not just focusing on one aspect, is the fundamental principle behind mind body wellness.


Holistic health practices have been around for centuries, and for good reasons - they work! From reducing stress and anxiety levels to promoting better sleep and digestion, embracing mind-body wellness can unlock a healthier and happier you.


What is mind body wellness?


Mind-body wellness refers to the integration of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Each aspect of our lives affects the other. For example, the stress from work can impact our mental wellbeing, which can lead to poor sleep and ultimately affect our physical health.


Likewise the food you eat contains the energy for life, the ingredients for every aspect of your body including the molecules of thought and emotion. Additionally it can nourish body and mind, conveys memory and evokes emotions such as joy, delight and disgust.


Mind-body wellness practices emphasize taking care of our entire being, rather than just treating individual symptoms.


What is mind body medicine?


Mind-body medicine is the practice of using a holistic approach to health and wellbeing that does not separate the mind body from the body.


It’s a holistic approach to health care, that does not reduce a person to an illness or organ system, focuses on optimizing well-being by understanding how our thoughts, beliefs and emotions affect us both mentally and physically and how the wellbeing of the body is reflected in emotional and mental wellbeing.


Studies have shown that mind body medicine can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, improve sleep quality, balance hormones, lower inflammation and ensure overall better health.


mind body medicine, mind body wellness, psychoneuroimmunology, dr deb brunt, otepoti Integrative Health

What is the science of mind body medicine?


The field of study that examines mind body medicine in the west is known as psychoneuroimmunology.


Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) explains how the mind and body are one highly connected unitary system.

"Psychoneuroimmunology is a convergence of disciplines - namely the behavioural sciences, the neurosciences, endocrinology and immunology intended to achieve a more complete understanding of the way the intereaction among these systems serve homeostatic ends and influence health and disease."
Robert Ader

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is also referred to as Pyschoimmunoneuroendocrinology (PINE) as hormonal systems are importantly connected as well.


The History of Psychoneuroimmunology


The “separation” of mind and body originated with Rene Descartes alongside cultural shifts in the separation of religion/spirit/mind and science/matter/body.


Prior to this ideological separation in the West, mind, body, emotions, sexuality and spirituality were commonly considered aspects of the whole person.


Indigenous health systems as well as Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic systems recognise the this integration.

Western scientists began to piece mind and body back together with some simple experiments in the 1970s. Rats were given water containing both saccharin (a sweetener) and cyclophosphamide (an immune suppressant) that induced nausea (Ader 1975).


After the rats had been conditioned, they were given water that only contained saccharin, and some of the rats died due to ongoing immune suppression and deterioration of the immune system.


This study contributed to the beginigns of modern science that showed the immune system is as responsive to emotions, thoughts and beliefs as it is to physical immune triggers such as viruses, bacteria or other substances foreign to the body.


The Messengers in Psychoneuroimmunology


There are 3 types of messengers in mind-body-medicine.

  • Neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, noradrenalin, dopamine

  • Hormones such as cortisol, thyroid hormone, melatonin, estradiol and progesterone

  • Cytokines such as interleukin 6 (IL-6) Tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1 (IL-1)

In continuously stimulated states these mediators can move the body into a pro-inflammatory, unbalanced (dysregulated) physiological and emotional state.


The 4 Main Systems in Mind-Body Medicine


In mind-body medicine or psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) there are 4 main systems that link together to influence physiology and emotions.


The limbic System

The libmic system is the emotional brain. It’s the space where survival behavior occurs. It’s the place in the brain that coordinates emotions, fear, aggression, basic inner drives, and episodic memories.


Hypothamalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis)


The HPA axis is a complex system involving the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands.


It’s responsible for the production of cortisol (a stress hormone), and interacts with other hormonal systems such as those that regulate production of other hormones like testosterone and estrogen.


The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system consists of both the vagus nerve and the sympathertic nervous systems. Working together, they help regulate physiological functions that don’t require conscious effort, such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and sweating.


Immune system


The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against foreign substances.


It includes white blood cells, antibodies, and other proteins that help fight infection or disease.


Studies have shown that stress can weaken the body’s immune system in the following ways:

  • increases susceptability to illness and disease,

  • it promotes the creation of antibodies that attack the body and

  • it promotes the immune system to create inflammation in the absense of injury or infection.

Each of these system interact to determine if the body is safe and capapble of rest and digest or unsafe and therefore needs to have the immune systems, hormonal systems and autonomic systems mobilised in the body's defence.


How does the mind-body influence disease?


Stress to the self no matter when it occurs or whether physical or emotional, can cause imbalance in the mind body contributing to disease and ill-health.


There are windows of vulnerability:

  • The maternal environment during pregnancy

  • The early years of development.

There are sex differences due to hormonal exposure which biologically predisposes risks of disease such as autoimmune diseases which are more common among females.


Stressors can trigger an ongoing immune and inflammatory response. When the PNI systems are upregulated, it has a negative effect on emotion, mood and cognition, resulting is symptoms described as depression, anxiety or brain fog.


What are key features of mind-body medicine


Common themes in mind-body medicine are self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-care.


There is a focus on paying attention, and listening to what the body is saying, what it needs, where it needs nourishment, rest, support.


It involves taking notice of the stories and narratives we have come to understand, the meanings we have made of relationships and events in ou lives that are translated onto the body.


It can involve co-creating new meanings and possibilities with your health practitioner to transmute these understandings into the fabric of your body.


Mind-body medicine is slow medicine because there are no shortcuts to bringing the nervous-immune-hormonal systems back into balance, and recreating stories. Mind-body medicine is the science and art of medicine at it's best.

What are the benefits of mind body wellness?


Mind-body wellness is a holistic approach that focuses on the interconnectedness of the mind and body. Here are nine benefits of practicing mind-body wellness techniques:

  1. Stress Reduction: Mind-body wellness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga, can significantly reduce stress levels. These practices help activate the body's relaxation response, leading to a decrease in the production of stress hormones like cortisol.

  2. Improved Mental Health: Mind-body techniques can promote emotional well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Mindfulness and meditation, in particular, have been shown to positively impact mood and emotional regulation.

  3. Enhanced Immune Function: Mind-body wellness practices have been linked to improved immune function. Lower stress levels and improved mental health can positively influence the immune system, making it more effective at defending against infections and illnesses.

  4. Better Sleep Quality: Regular mind-body practices can improve sleep quality and help with insomnia. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery can calm the mind and promote restful sleep.

  5. Increased Focus and Concentration: Mindfulness and meditation techniques can enhance cognitive abilities, such as focus, attention, and concentration. Regular practice can lead to improved productivity and mental clarity.

  6. Pain Management: Mind-body approaches have shown promise in managing chronic pain conditions. Techniques like biofeedback and relaxation exercises can help reduce pain perception and improve coping mechanisms.

  7. Blood Pressure Regulation: Mind-body practices, such as meditation and yoga, can have a positive impact on blood pressure regulation. They help lower blood pressure and contribute to overall cardiovascular health.

  8. Enhanced Self-Awareness: Mind-body wellness fosters a deeper connection with oneself and increased self-awareness. Regular self-reflection and mindfulness practices can help individuals better understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

  9. Empowerment: Mind-body wellness practices can empower us to take control of our health and lead a more balanced life. Practicing self-care, taking breaks, and prioritizing our health can ultimately improve our productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life.


10 Beneficial mind-body wellness practices


  1. Meditation: Meditating is a great way to reduce stress and bring peace to the mind. It helps you practice being in the present moment and can help improve concentration, clarity of thought, and decision making.

  2. Yoga: Practicing yoga combines physical poses with breathing exercises and meditation for an all-encompassing wellness experience. It can help reduce stress, improve flexibility, and boost mental clarity.

  3. Mindful eating: Mindful eating is the practice of slowing down to enjoy meals with intention and awareness. It can help you be more present while you’re eating and make better decisions about what to eat.

  4. Deep breathing exercises: Taking a few moments throughout the day to focus on your breath can help reduce stress and improve overall wellbeing. Deep breathing activates the body's relaxation response in addition to helping you stay focused on the present moment.

  5. Aromatherapy: Essential oils are derived from plants and have many health benefits when used properly. They can help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote restful sleep.

  6. Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to gain insight into yourself. It can also help you process difficult emotions and reflect on the events of the day.

  7. Tai chi: This ancient Chinese practice combines slow, gentle movements with meditation for an incredibly calming effect. It’s a great way to reduce stress, improve balance, and promote relaxation.

  8. Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese practice involves the insertion of small needles into specific points on the body to promote healing and relaxation. It’s been used for centuries to treat conditions like pain and anxiety.

  9. Guided imagery: Guided imagery is a form of meditation that focuses on creating mental images of peaceful, calming scenes in order to reduce stress and anxiety.

  10. Massage: Massage can help relax the body and mind while reducing tension and improving circulation. It’s a great way to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall wellbeing.

Just like different people enjoy different forms of exercise, different people enjoy and find different practices useful to down-regulate their nervous systems.

By incorporating one or more of these mind-body balancing practices into your daily routine, you can create an environment of wellness that supports optimal health and wellbeing.


The Mind Body Wellness Takeaways


Mind-body wellness emphasizes the importance of taking care of our entire being and treating each aspect of our lives as interconnected.


Incorporating practices such as meditation, yoga, proper nutrition, and exercise into our daily routine can improve our physical, mental, and spiritual health.


By prioritizing our mind-body wellness, we can unlock the potential for a healthier and happier life.

Dr Deb Brunt @ Ōtepoti Integrative Health would love to support you through your whole health journey, supporting all aspects of your health and wellbeing.


Dr Deb Brunt is a specialist GP practising mind body medicine in Dunedin, New Zealand and also provides mind body health coaching internationally to support optimal health habits so you can thrive.


Schedule a free discovery call with her to learn more.

References

Ader R, Cohen N. Behaviorally conditioned immunosuppression. Psychosom Med. 1975 Jul-Aug;37(4):333-40.


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DISCLAIMER: As your friendly doctor, I'm here to guide and inform, but please remember that this article is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider before starting any herbal treatments or making changes to your health regimen. Your unique body deserves personalized care to achieve the best results.

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