Here are some discussions from recent graduate coursework…
What is your understanding or philosophy/beliefs of the mind/body connection?
I consider the brain and body to be one interconnected system. Our physiological functioning influences our conscious and subconscious mind, and vice versa. Research demonstrates that the vagus nerve is one physiological mechanism that facilitates bidirectional communication between the brain and body (Porges, 2018). With respect to the mind/body connection, our systems are intimately interconnected, with our thoughts being psychoactive in some respects and capable of altering neurochemistry, and our physiology also influencing our mental activity (Chopra, 2020). Studies in the neurobiology of trauma have revealed how conscious and subconscious traumatic memories and beliefs are uniquely stored in the left and right hemispheres of the brain respectively (Fisher, 2017), as well as in our physical bodies and bodily tissue (Ogden & Fisher, 2015), which illustrates this bidirectional mind/body connection. Such teachings in western evidence-based practices complement my studies in eastern yogic traditions which maintain similar fundamental beliefs. These perspectives inform my holistic view of the mind/body connection.
How might a person’s daily mental practices influence and/or affect their physical health and longevity?
The mental and physical activities we consistently practice grow respective neural and physiological systems to support such activities, which we now understand due to neuroplasticity (Shapiro, 2020). Mental activities, such as thoughts, can have psychoactive effects and can influence the release of neurotransmitters (Chopra, 2020), especially in cases of consistent mental events such as meditation or rumination. Research has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation positively influences neural mechanisms involved in attention and emotion regulation, awareness, memory, sensory integration, and executive cognitive functions (Lavretsky, 2020). Just as meditation can restore telomeres –the encasing of our genetic strands, thus having a protective, anti-aging effect, so too, rumination reduces the length of telomeres, thereby advancing the effects of cellular aging and increasing the risk of disease (Goldstein, 2020). Such findings reflect the impact mental events have on one’s physical health and longevity. Thus, mindfulness, “talk therapy,” and other healthy mental habits have the potential to be much more impactful than they may initially seem.
This appreciation of the mind/body connection influences my heartful approach to psychotherapy.