Previously, we addressed some of the ways that the mind and the body interact to create physical and mental health. Now, it’s important to explore some ways that the mind and body can be connected so that optimal overall health and wellness can be cultivated.
Meditation and Mindfulness
There are over 800 meditation studies listed in the NIH’s database of clinical trials.1 Researchers from across the globe are evaluating different types of meditation practices and how they may help cancer patients, individuals with anxiety, breastfeeding moms, and more.
There are many types of meditation, but they all start with the general principle of quieting the mind while in a comfortable posture. Meditation may help relieve stress by increasing the production of relaxation hormones including serotonin and reducing the levels of cortisol in the body. Even 10 to 15 minutes of meditative practice a day may help calm the mind and body.
The Chopra Center’s Five Types of Meditation
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Focuses on breath awareness and body scanning.2
- Primordial Sound Meditation: Mantra-based meditation practice that creates a mantra based on the time and place of birth.
- Zen: A seated meditation where breath awareness is guided by a coach or teacher.
- Transcendental Meditation: A mantra-based meditation that uses a series of Sanskrit words or other mantras in harmony with breath awareness.
- Kundalini Yoga: A meditation that incorporates breath awareness, focus, mantras, and specific hand positions.
According to the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health meditation may:3
- Reduce pain
- Maintain healthy blood pressure
- Reduce psychological distress
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce anger
- Increase coping ability
- Boost sleep quality
- Reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, stress, sleep, and mood
- Help regulate the immune system
- Reduce stress-induced inflammation
- Slow, stall, or reverse brain changes due to aging
Yoga is a meditative mind-body movement art that has been practiced for thousands of years. It couples controlled breathing with precise physical movements designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles, improve range of motion and balance, and connect the mind and body.4
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As a bonus, research shows that cortisol levels drop significantly after practicing yoga and that regular yoga practice also improves general well-being.5 In addition, yoga has been shown to provide a wide range of other health benefits such as assisting with blood glucose levels, relieve physical and psychological symptoms of menopause, relieve anxiety, and promote weight loss.6
Tai Chi is a mind-body practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This discipline combines mental focus, breathing, and gentle movements that spur a unique sense of awareness and connection. And, research shows that Tai Chi may:
- Ease pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee7
- Improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease including balance and mobility8
- Improve fibromyalgia symptoms9
- Improve the quality of life and mood for individuals with heart failure10
- Help preserve bone mineral density for postmenopausal women11
- Boost immunity to the shingles virus12
- Boost cognitive function in individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease13
- Improve chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms14
Gratitude may be the ultimate mind-body practice. Practicing gratitude may help trigger the body to heal itself, improve psychological health, release toxic emotions, increase happiness, and reduce sadness. Further, practicing gratitude may improve sleep, increase mental resilience, reduce aggression, and reduce physical pain.15
Harvard Medical School acknowledges that practicing gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves and that gratitude is associated with improved physical health, strong relationships, and strength in the face of adversity.16
A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And, physical activity reduces stress, lowers cortisol levels, and may improve brain structure and cognitive function. Exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day at a moderate level to reap physical and mental benefits.17
In addition, exercise may alleviate long-term depression, prevent anxiety, and improve mood.18 Aerobic activities like sparring and kickboxing are great outlets to reduce cortisol levels by releasing pent-up frustration and aggression. Other great options including swimming, walking, running, and even a friendly game of tennis may increase serotonin levels, resulting in a greater sense of joy and peace.
Dr. Candace Pert believed that the body recognizes memories through touch. She hypothesized that physical or emotional trauma causes emotions to be stored in the body and that massage could trigger a relaxation response and instigate a flow of endorphins altering the breadth of the “remembered” trauma.19
Of course, the benefits of massage therapy extend beyond trauma and emotional release. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health summarizes the bountiful research on massage and notes that massage may:20
- Relieve chronic low-back pain
- Relieve chronic neck pain
- Relieve pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee
- Relieve pain for women in labor
- Reduce pain in cancer patients
- Promote relaxation in cancer patients
- Elevate mood during cancer treatment
- Induce relaxation in older adults
- Temporarily reduce pain, fatigue, and other fibromyalgia symptoms
- Spur weight gain in preterm infants
Listening to music may spur feelings of joy, happiness, sadness, and reflection. Music therapy has a vibrational quality that resonates inside the brains and body. Often the music you choose reflects your current mood but what if you choose music to reflect the energy you desire?21
Listening to music may enhance mood, relieve stress and anxiety, and it may reduce agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.22 Perhaps even more exciting is that researchers also found evidence that music therapy may decrease the risk of heart disease and brain disease in elderly dementia patients.
There are dozens of studies on the effect that music therapy has on patients with depression. Researchers note that there is a statistically significant reduction in depression and motivation, self-esteem, and confidence may improve with either active musical participation or passive listening.23
Emerging in popular culture is a music therapy known as “binaural beats.” Binaural beats may lower stress and improve sleep and cognition according to Psychology Today.24 This technique uses two sound frequencies to create a single new frequency. The theory behind this is that the brain perceives it as a single tone, causing dramatic increases in melatonin and DHEA and a reduction in cortisol.
Artistic mediums like dance, music, painting, and sculpture can reduce stress, enhance problem-solving, decrease anxiety, and help resolve internal emotional conflict.25 However, creative expression can take many forms—including cooking.
Culinary therapy is growing in popularity, and mental health practices are starting to include food preparation as part of their healing protocol. The idea is that chopping of foods and general food preparation is an almost meditative experience.26
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils distilled from herbs, flowers, or other plants to improve mental, physical, and spiritual wellness. Aromatherapy can be used with other mind-body techniques on this list or as a standalone practice. Essential oils can be applied topically during a massage, added to a bath, released through a diffuser, or breathed in through a personal aromatherapy device.
The Mayo Clinic notes that using essential oils stimulates smell receptors that in turn send messages through the nervous system to the areas of the brain that control emotions.27 Scientific studies indicate that aromatherapy may:
- Produce antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal activity
- Change response to stress and pain28
- Induce relaxation
- Prevent anxiety during and after cancer treatment
- Decrease salivary gland damage for cancer patients undergoing radioactive iodine therapy29
- Enhance the immune system and reduce stress in pregnant women30
- Lower cortisol levels and increase immunity immediately after aromatherapy massage31
- Relieve stress
The importance of eating a healthy diet can’t be overlooked when discussing the connection between physical and mental health. Chronic stress, antibiotics, and a poor diet all adversely affect the healthy bacteria in the gut; when populations of healthy bacteria die off, the immune system may become compromised.
Poor gut health and a lack of healthy bacteria are associated with increased levels of anxiety. But there is hope. When you increase healthy bacteria in your gut by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, or sauerkraut, social anxiety potentially improves.32
Much like music, color affects mood and triggers behaviors and emotions. The psychology of color is used in marketing and advertising, and businesses know how to harness color to influence decisions. It is time individuals started incorporating color theory into everyday life. Sometimes, even just a coat of paint can change the energy of a space.33
- Red is the color of physicality, courage, strength, energy, and “fight or flight.”
- Yellow is the color of optimism, creativity, and confidence.
- Blue is the color of intelligence, trust, serenity, and efficiency.
- Green is the color for harmony, balance, love, restoration, and peace.
- Violet is the color of spirituality, vision, authenticity, and luxury.
- Orange is physically comforting, passionate, and linked to appetite.
- Brown is serious, warm, and reliable.
- Pink signifies tranquility, femininity, sexuality, and love.
- Grey is a color that is psychologically neutral.
- Black speaks of glamor, security, and sophistication but can also signify oppression or emotional coldness.
- White induces a sense of clarity, purity, hygiene, and efficiency.
Individuals can eat healthy, meditate, manage stress, practice aromatherapy, take yoga and Tai Chi classes, and still feel disconnected. Researchers estimate that 88 percent of American consumers use a mobile device while watching television and 71 percent sleep with a mobile device next to their beds.34,35
It’s important for individuals to learn to power-down themselves and their devices and to stop worrying about missed calls, job reports, health crises, and politics. Think about how to reframe your life by unplugging, and remember life is still about fresh air, eye contact, flesh, and blood.
Start by powering down every day for 20 to 30 minutes. As you start to relish in the peacefulness of this practice, work up to an entire afternoon or even a weekend. Time without the constant bells, buzzes, and chimes from your phone just may improve stress levels and sleep quality and help you live a fuller and more engaged life.
As mentioned previously, balancing both physical and mental health is important for living your healthiest and happiest life possible. To achieve this, making the mind-body connection is especially important, and the tips highlighted above should get you there. One of the best ways to connect the mind and body as you go about all of the steps mentioned above is with the use of aromatherapy. Essential oils can help get you in whatever mood you need to tackle a certain mind-body task.
Whether you’re looking for enhanced focus or increased relaxation, there’s an essential oil that can help. Try using these essential oils topically or aromatically in a room diffuser or personal diffusers like Zen or Focus.
Photo credits: @taylorvolkens, @frecklesyoga, Markgraf/shutterstock.com, KristinaKokhanova/shutterstock.com, @jessicasteddom, AsiaImagesGroup/shutterstock.com, AfricaStudio/shutterstock.com, SemenKuzmin/shutterstock.com, AnnaKucher/shutterstock.com, SFIOCRACHO/shutterstock.com, NewAfrica/shutterstock.com, JPC-PROD/shutterstock.com