The mysterious connection between the mind and the body has been a burning question since the beginning of the mankind. Throughout history there have been many speculations regarding where our mind resides, whether it is in the heart as the ancient Egyptians thought, or in the brain, as the ancient Greeks learned later on. It has also been discussed whether the soul and body are connected at all, which led to dualism vs. holism debate.
As René Descartes stated, the body and the soul are separate entities. He argued that the great differences between body and mind make the two always divisible. The body (res extensa) is made of matter and is extendable, while the mind (res cognita) takes up no space and as such is infinite. Most importantly, one can exist separately from the other. Changes made on the body do not consequently change the mind and vice versa. The only part where mind and body meet is one small part of the brain called the pineal gland. While Cartesian dualism paved the way for modern physics, it has had a significant misleading effect on psychology and medicine like no other dualistic theory before. It took decades to reestablish the holistic model of the mind and see the benefits of discovering such connections.
Mindfulness is one of the modern concepts dedicated to exploring the mind-body connection. Coming from Buddhist tradition, it is a technique used often in yoga and psychotherapy. The mindfulness concept stands on the grounds of connecting your mind to your body and being completely present in the moment. The goal is to be fully aware of every part of your body, to feel each muscle as it moves and concentrate on every breath you take. Practicing mindfulness has been documented to have wide health benefits both for psychological and physical problems.
Another important aspect of establishing a good connection with your body is thinking about what nutrients your body needs. Most of us eat what we get and we tend to neglect our body’s needs, and this is why our body then answers with physical symptoms. Inflammation, muscle ache, lack of concentration, insomnia and major energy loss are just some of the symptoms. In order to change this, you need to detoxicate both your mind and body. Listen to your body needs by trying out different groceries and by changing your diet one ingredient at a time. Inflammation is easily solved with curcumin supplements and oat products. Energy loss can be recovered with vitamin B6 and proper exercise. You can improve your concentration with a cup of ginko baloba tea. For a full mind detox, try yoga or just pure meditation, since it has been shown to have the best effect.
Not only does your mind affect your body but your body has a significant effect on your mind, too. One of the examples of this causation is congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, or CIPA. People with this disorder are unable to feel pain. Consequently, they may suffer from major injuries because their mind doesn’t get the information it needs to signal painful experience. There is also the somatoform disorder in which patients develop the feeling of pain without the presence of actual physical symptoms. Another example is a phenomenon called the phantom limb where people who have lost a certain limb (or several limbs) still feel sensations in the place where the limb once was. Disorders like these are a good illustration of how body-mind mechanisms are cross-joined and inseparable.
One of the modern disciplines concerning the mind-body research is psychoneuroimmunology. As the name says, it is an interdisciplinary medical approach aimed at treating both physical and psychological diseases with consulting psychology, neurology and immunology. It also takes into account knowledge from other fields of medicine. It is becoming more and more evident that these systems have enormous effects on each other, but these mechanisms work in very complex ways. The key to understanding medical conditions is working out how these mechanisms work in order to prevent many diseases.
All of these approaches have made evident that Cartesians weren’t as right as they were convinced. Both natural and social science in today’s research is focused on integrating the vast amount of knowledge we have been collecting for centuries. Even so, you are your own best friend and worst enemy. If you refuse to be introspective and listen to your bodies needs there is not much anyone can do for you. If you’re feeling physically ill autosuggestion might help you feel better. If you are stressed out or anxious, do some exercise or eat a tasty, healthy snack. Your body and mind will always tell you if something’s wrong with them, but don’t forget that investigating the connection they share can tell you even more.