Utilizing the power of the mind-body connection
You can connect the mind and body by using your thoughts to positively influence your body’s physical responses, to reduce stress and anxiety. When we recall times when we are happy, content, and calm, our body and mind are connected and relaxed.
The Ancient Greeks such as Plato and Aristotle recognized the connections between mind and body and believed that they were not separate but existed as a unit working together. They didn’t believe the body should ever be neglected; not even to pursue higher education in order to increase the power of the mind.
The Greeks believed physical activity helped not just the body but the development and growth of the mind. Therefore exercise was highly encouraged and described as “bodily exercise”. Plato talked about, “A sane mind in a sane body” and believed harmony could be established between the mind, the body and the psyche. He felt human perfection could be attained by way of understanding and putting to use the mind-body connection.
Stress is a part of almost everyone’s life these days. Work, relationships, and parenting – all invoke stress in our daily lives and can dictate not only our emotions but our health. How we cope with stress can change our lives. We can’t expect to eliminate it completely but we can definitely reduce it and learn to cope in healthier ways to be able to achieve a sense of well-being and a more relaxed state of mind and body.
Research has shown that when you imagine an experience, you often have similar mental and physical responses to those you have when the event actually happens. For example, if you recall a scary experience, you may feel your heart beating faster, you may begin to sweat, and your hands may become clammy.
A variety of calming and empowering mind-body exercises have been proven to help people:
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease pain
- Enhance sleep
- Decrease the use of medication for post-surgical pain
- Decrease side effects of medical procedures
- Reduce recovery time and shorten hospital stays
- Strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal
- Increase sense of control and well-being
The exercises below provide a powerful way to actively participate in your own health care, minimize pain and insomnia, reduce stress and anxiety, and take control of your life.
The goal of calming and relaxation exercises is to help change the way you perceive a situation and react to it — to help you feel more in control, more confident or secure, and to activate healing processes within the body. Stress can cause changes in breathing and increased tension and anxiety. The exercise allows you to recognize these changes and become conscious of symptoms. It only takes about 15 minutes a day to practice these exercises to help calm and quiet the mind and help your body become more relaxed. As it becomes more natural to tune into breathing and relaxation it will take a shorter amount of time to incorporate during stressful times.
Relaxation Breathing Practice
- Be aware of your current breathing pattern and learn how to change your breathing rate from fast, shallow chest breathing to slow, abdominal breathing.
- Focus on your breath while you place one hand on your chest, the other over your belly button. Imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen. As you take a slow, deep breath, focus on inflating the balloon in your abdomen. You will notice that your abdomen will rise much more than your chest. As you exhale, just let your abdomen fall naturally, imagining the balloon deflating.
- The goal is to learn how to breathe at 6 breaths a minute, about 3 or 4 seconds inhaling and 6 or 7 seconds exhaling. Once you have the slow, deep breathing accomplished, don’t worry about counting and imagine breathing out any tension in the body or thoughts that get in the way of comfort and relaxation.
- If it helps, you can imagine a spot located on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Breathe into and through that spot, filling your abdomen with air, allowing it to expand. Imagine the air filling you inside from your abdomen, and then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
Try this exercise that incorporates a few different relaxation techniques:
- Begin by interrupting your normal daily thoughts. Think about what is going on around you. Then switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. This is conscious breathing and thinking. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly.
- Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped, such as your neck or shoulders. Loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Imagine the tension leaving your body.
- Slowly rotate your head to the left in a smooth, circular motion, leaning your left ear to your left shoulder. Rotate your head to the right in a smooth, circular motion, leaning your right ear to your right shoulder. (Stop any movements that cause pain.)
- Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax.
- Recall and focus on a positive memory. Imagine the scene and the emotion induced.
- Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel more relaxed.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Progressive muscle relaxation involves sequentially tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in the body, one at a time, and progressing throughout the entire body.
- The key to this exercise is to tighten a specific muscle group for at least 5 seconds until you feel the tension, and then release the muscles for 10 seconds, noticing the difference in how the muscles feel before and after the exercise.
- You can start by relaxing the muscles in your legs and feet, working up through each muscle group to your neck, shoulders, and scalp.
Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word “one,” or any other short word such as “relax,” or a phrase such as “I feel calm”. Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady.
Research shows that guided imagery and relaxation can decrease anxiety and pain and play a role in a faster recovery. Guided imagery is often presented on an audio program in which you are guided in using your imagination to induce peace, calm, strength and control. The calming music accompanying guided imagery can be helpful in quieting the mind.
Healing Services and Touch Therapies
Massage Therapy – Massage can help reduce muscle tension, relieve stress and soothe pain. A light, 10-minute massage can assist your experience of well-being as you are healing.
Healing Touch and Reiki are relaxing, nurturing energy therapies where gentle touch assists in balancing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being to promote a deep sense of relaxation. These therapies work with your energy to support your natural ability to heal.
Mind-Body Coach – A Mind-Body Coach is a trained professional who can teach you multiple ways to use your mind to reach a higher level of peace, calm and comfort. You’ll also learn the “tools” to aid in healthy recovery, including guided imagery.
Self Help Relaxation Techniques
These techniques will help you release muscle tension and relieve pain. Practice these techniques as often as necessary.
- Fold and Hold: If a muscle in the shoulders or neck is tight, you can release it without rubbing it. Just bend toward the tight side and hold it for 90 seconds. The muscle should be soft after doing this. If you feel any strain, stop immediately. This method is best on the shoulders and neck and not the legs.
- Chucking/Jostling: If a muscle is tight, brush lightly over the muscle with your hand and it should release in 30 seconds.
Centering meditation and prayer are some of the oldest methods of relaxation involving a specific mental focus. These techniques induce a deep state of relaxation and well-being. Many people find spiritual practices helpful in achieving total mind-body relaxation.
Music and Art Therapy - Under the supervision of a board-certified music therapist, music therapy combines music and therapeutic techniques and aids in the physiological, psychological and emotional well-being of the individual during treatment of an illness. Art therapy utilizes art media and the creative process to help patients in their healing and recovery. Art therapy can help patients decrease anxiety, manage stress, and deal with emotional issues.