A Healthy Mind Equals a Healthy Body

Dualism

Ever since the French philosopher Rene Descartes uttered I think therefore I am’. we have been encouraged to identify ourselves with our conscious minds. We are good at chess. or have a ready wit, or can recite the kings and queens of England without prompting: our cleverness defines us. Descartes philosophy of Dualism prompted us to view our minds as distinct from our bodies: the former was an organ of reason and imagination, the latter an engine.

This did not happen to the same extent in the East, where a more holistic, integrated approach to the human mind and body, as in acupressure and acupuncture, which relate to the emotions as well as physical pressure points, was observed. In the West, however, medicine approached the body rather as mechanics approached the car. The symptoms of physical ailments were treated with little reference to what circum stances caused them to manifest themselves. Well, who would worry about how a car’s tyre became punctured? Even worse perhaps, the human body was regarded as a series of sepa rate parts, each to be treated by a different specialist, with little reference to the rest of the body.

This specialist approach has lead to enormous medical and surgical achievements. Many diseases have been virtually obliterated due to vaccines, diseased organs need no longer threaten life if a donor can be found, even in the field of mental illness, drugs have been developed that can suppress some of the distressing symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia and manic depression. The rub is that Western medicine has all too often ignored

the fact that many complaints have their root in the mind, We call it psychosomatic if someone thinks they are ill just because they are depressed or out of sorts, but in fact we often become ill just because of those very feelings. Con sider how different you feel on a Monday morning, when you don’t want to get out of bed and go to work, and on a Saturday morning, when you can do exactly as you like. Of course, you feel ten times better on a Saturday. And we are not the only ones. Racehorses suffer from Monday Mom ing Sickness’ too, becoming jittery and out of sorts immedi ately preceding a race. For an entire system of medicine, so advanced in many other ways, to have drawn a veil over this link between psyche and health is astonishing.

Mind and body

Holistic (from the Greek holos, meaning whole’) medicine has become increasingly popular in the West, especially amongst people who feel that the use of drugs can only help to a certain extent. The holistic approach regards the body and mind as one, where everything is connected to every thing else,

and nothing can happen to one part without eve rything else being affected. Thus, a patient of a holistic doc tor might be asked about every area of his or her life, from many cups coffee consumed personal worries where precisely backache starts from.

Illness never specific area organ. Rather prescribe drugs, holistic doctor may prescribe subtle change lifestyle, some nudging body back gear. Furthermore, perhaps most importantly, patient expected participate healing process. Pharmacology accustomed that tient’s passive one: expect the doctor work, from diagnosis selecting right chemical. Holistic medicine more honest acknowledges help stimulate body healing itself, which usually very capable doing, given right circumstances. Meditation, frequently prescribed holistic doctors, stack scientific evidence proving enormous physical health.

Stress

Stress essential fulfilled life. Without would never best, therefore never fulfil potential. would need loveless avoid friendless, opportunity-less. That does sound recipe happiness health! But course, much astrous, though how much much varies from one next. Some people, often drawn careers such speculating, fast-moving business, sport absolutely thrive high amounts stress, often desolate when their working lives over. others, even relatively minor stresses, such small money problems forthcoming social events, very distressing. Bore dom can also be very stressful, and many unemployed people are plagued by stress-induced problems. Stress triggers off the ‘fight or flight’ response, which pre pares the body for a burst of intense physical activity. The

heart rate increases, more oxygen is pumped into the lungs, sugars are released into the blood stream to provide energy for the muscles, while digestion stops. This is the perfect state to be in if you are about to race off into the sunset or knock someone for six, but when negotiating a new bank loan or sitting in a fuming traffic jam, this response is less than useless. Your body can neither utilise this response, nor recover from it if the situation persists, as is the case with a rush-hour traffic jam. By the time you reach home you are more than ready for a drink, a cigarette, a row with someone

– anything, to dispel that feeling of being ‘wound up. Stress is also very damaging in the long term. Too much too often can result in hypertension (high blood pressure), asthma and migraine, and be a contributing factor in major diseases such as cancer and bronchitis. Research suggests that being over stressed can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to viral and other infections. and prolonging the recovery time. Even unborn babies can become the victims of stress if their mothers suffer from it while they are in the womb: such babies may develop more slowly, and have more emotional problems in later life than they would have had otherwise, through a tendency to cave in under pressure. Some estimate that as much as 70 percent of illnesses are stress-related.

Meditation and stress

Physical exercise can help to burn off a lot of this useless adrenaline, but a more lasting and effective antidote to stress is to tackle it at source – in the mind. The fight or flight’ response is caused initially by thoughts that produce the re sponse of fear, which then triggers off the biochemical reac tion. Once this chain reaction starts it is very difficult to stop. Think of working to a deadline and realising that you are way behind schedule. The best thing you can do in this situ ation is get to it and try to make up for lost time. However, there is every possibility that your body is getting geared up for a boxing match: your heart is racing, your throat feeling tight, your palms sweating. Rather than setting to your work, you may be forced to sit back and let the stress reaction run its course. Which may very well leave you feeling even more

stressed. Suppose, however, you realise you are way behind sched ule and instead of panicking, take control of your thought processes and thereby avoid the stress reaction. Regular meditation, because it enables you to recognise and there fore take charge of thought processes and how we are ma nipulated by them, can eventually enable you to take con trol, even in the most desperate of situations.

Meditation and smoking

Although most smokers would love to be ex-smokers, most cannot make that transition because they fear the withdrawal symptoms, which often include depression, and because they feel that nicotine is essential to concentration and confidence. like the slimming industry, companies that make products that are designed to help us give up smoking thrive on our yoyo-ing habits, but most over-the-counter products only help in the very short term.

adrenaline, but a more lasting and effective antidote to stress is to tackle it at source – in the mind. The fight or flight’ response is caused initially by thoughts that produce the re sponse of fear, which then triggers off the biochemical reac tion. Once this chain reaction starts it is very difficult to stop. Think of working to a deadline and realising that you are way behind schedule. The best thing you can do in this situ ation is get to it and try to make up for lost time. However, there is every possibility that your body is getting geared up for a boxing match: your heart is racing, your throat feeling tight, your palms sweating. Rather than setting to your work, you may be forced to sit back and let the stress reaction run its course. Which may very well leave you feeling even more

stressed. Suppose, however, you realise you are way behind sched ule and instead of panicking, take control of your thought processes and thereby avoid the stress reaction. Regular meditation, because it enables you to recognise and there fore take charge of thought processes and how we are ma nipulated by them, can eventually enable you to take con trol, even in the most desperate of situations.

Meditation and smoking

, most cannot make that transition because they fear the withdrawal symptoms, which often include depression, and because they feel that nicotine is essential to concentration and confidence. like the slimming industry, companies that make products that are designed to help us give up smoking thrive on our yoyo-ing habits, but most over-the-counter products only help in the very short term.

Hypnosis has proved to be successful, but again only in the short term: after a few months, many people feel that they are just as vulnerable to temptation as they were the day after they gave up. Meditation is a very different way of going about it, because it is an internal, rather than external approach, and goes right to the very heart of what prompts you to smoke in the first place. As the layers of who you thought you were, a clever person, a working mother, a good boy, start to melt away in your mind, leaving you with a clearer picture of yourself, you will also discover that you are not a ‘die hard smoker’ either.

You will probably dis cover that you no more need a cigarette to get by than some one who has never smoked in his or her lives. Alongside this growing self-knowledge, which is also helping you to cope with a lot of the things you would instinctively light up in the face of, is a growing sensitivity to your own body. Even tually the desire to stop poisoning your body with nicotine will override your desire for a smoke. Studies of smokers who learned Transcendental Meditation showed that, after 24 months, 51 per cent had quit, and a significant number of them began the course without even a desire to stop smok ing.

Meditation and general wellbeing

Meditation, because it allows us to take stock of our inbuilt ideas about things, is also effective in combating health prob lems other than those that are stress-related. Negative emo tions, such as suppressed anger, guilt or resentment, can be the starting point for digestive disorders, tension headaches and lowered immunity to infection. By contrast, visualisa tion techniques, such as visualising a diseased organ transforming into a healthy one, have proved remarkably suc cessful in the treatment of cancer patients in the USA, as discussed in Dr Carl and Stephanie Simonton’s book Get ting Well Again (Bantam, 1986).

Yoga and stress

Yoga also works effectively in the war to reduce stress be cause it requires absorption, diverting the mind from sources of anxiety. With regular practice you will begin to know your true self, not the one who attends meetings or has clocked up 10,000 air miles, but the essence of your being. This self knowledge will lend you a deep-rooted confidence that will enable you to reorder your priorities in such a way that you are not permanently exhausted or missing out in the good things in life. It will help you to be assertive, but not aggres sive, generous but not a doormat, and content without being complacent.

It can also bring about increased communion with, and respect for your body, the desire for artificial stimulants less ens (after a few months of yoga, many smokers quit with relative ease), as does the tendency to eat whatever is con venient and skip exercise because you are too tired. Yoga will help you to be less tired as its ability to reduce anxiety will result in more restful sleep. This new wellbeing is lasting, and can help to reverse the effects of even serious complaints, like heart disease, and can reduce the signs of aging. As one centenarian responded when asked the secret of long life: ‘It’s simple. Good food and no worries.