Western vs. Eastern medicine
For centuries, we’ve used medicine to treat disease, ease symptoms, and prevent pain for physical, mental, and emotional ailments. The practice and science of medicine has evolved exponentially over the years, and the progress toward curing disease and catalyzing healing made by the medical and scientific communities is arguably the greatest contribution of the human race.
Major advancements in medicine, like blood transfusions, chemotherapy, pasteurization, antibiotics, organ transplants, and even sanitation, have decreased mortality rates, improved our quality of life, created efficiencies in the medical system, and contributed to societal progression.
While there is no doubt these advancements are positive, they are replacing many ancient healing practices. In the West, it seems like there is a pill for everything, and many doctors have no reluctance when it comes to writing a prescription.
Eastern medicine, which originated in Asia and is the oldest codified system of medicine in the world, uses a holistic “root cause” approach via techniques and practices like acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition and dietary therapy, bodywork, and mind-body-spirit practice.
These healing practices emphasize that the healing one needs is within and the mind and body are an interconnected ecosystem with deep reliance on each other for true health. One relatively new field of medicine that takes an integrative approach is mind-body medicine. When you hear this term, you might initially think of meditation or breath work, but the field is actually quite robust and can hold the key to profound healing.
What is mind-body medicine?
According to Mount Sinai, “Mind-body medicine uses the power of thoughts and emotions to influence physical health.” The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback says that mind-body medicine is an approach to healthcare that includes a wide range of behavioral and lifestyle interventions equally with traditional medical interventions. This approach “creates a partnership among specialists in the medical and mental specialties who address mind, body, and spirit in each healthcare visit.”
While it might be hard to believe that our thoughts and emotions could have this much power over our physical health, an early study by Robert Ader in 1975 showed that mental and emotional cues could affect our immune system. This study continues to prove itself in the twenty-first century as we watch stress levels and lifestyle and preventable diseases increase exponentially.
What can mind-body medicine support?
While much of our health relies on an optimal immune system, the impact of mind-body medicine is much broader. Our emotions have been linked to other diseases and ailments, including:
- Abnormal cholesterol
- Coronary heart disease
- Depression and anxiety
- Insulin resistance
Three mind-body techniques you can do at home
The goal of mind-body interventions is to get the brain to focus and help you reconnect with your body. This connection allows for a deeper sense of meaning and presence in the world around us, which inspires feelings of calm and peace.
When we enter these states, the body can relax and rediscover the joy of being, supporting the healing process. Some mind-body techniques include biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, spirituality, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong.
Here are a few you can access at home to support your mind-body connection.
Meditation can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. Sitting in silence with your thoughts for minutes at a time can be challenging, but studies suggest that meditation can actually change your brain and body and lead to more positive behaviors.
How: Try starting with a short five-minute meditation and work your way up from there. You can do this on your own by just sitting in a quiet space listening to instrumental music. You can also use guided meditations to support your process. Try a meditation app – there are plenty to choose from!
2. Breath work
The practice of breathing is called pranayama and simply means that you’re breathing consciously with calm awareness. Breath work can help you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, activating more feelings of calm. By focusing on your breath, you can help facilitate more mindful experiences outside your session.
How: There are many types of breath work, so experiment and learn what works best for you. If you want to keep it simple and effective, try box breathing, where you inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for four counts.
3. Creative outlets
Creative outlets can be anything from art to music to dancing or even journaling. Getting your creative juices flowing will help you integrate your mind and body, create a more profound way of experiencing the present moment, and promote personal growth. At IIN, creativity is an area of primary food, the things off the plate that nourish your mind, body, and spirit.
How: Choose any creative outlet that feels good to you and get in the flow!
Tapping into the connection
In some cases, nothing can replace a pill, and modern medicine quite literally saves lives, but there is a community of practitioners taking a renewed interest in an integrative approach, combining the traditions of Eastern medicine with the advances of Western medicine for a practice that considers not only physical health but also the mind and spirit.
We live in a society that has never been more stressed, riddled with autoimmune disease and mental health issues. There is certainly room for our society as a whole to take better care of ourselves – our whole selves – which makes taking a root cause approach and looking at understanding each person as a unique individual crucial for healing and prevention.