By Tomas-Antonio Rodrigues – Providence, Rhode Island
The term “Mind-Body Connection” is thrown around pretty often these days, but what does it mean? As someone who uses it pretty often myself, I can tell you what it means to me, as a product of independent study into the subject as well as years of course work; I can tell you what it means generally as well. Since my view on it is directly related to how it is defined in general society I will start by describing the latter briefly to the best of my ability.
The term that emerges most often among health and wellness circles when this topic is brought up is Holistic health, which is loosely defined as an integration of all the dimensions of health (physical, emotional, mental, social, environmental and spiritual). This implies that ones ailments are caused not just by physical factors and variables, thus by only attempting to heal the physical dimension one cannot truly heal the individual. Taking the holistic approach requires a focus on what other dimensions of health may be inflicted and healing the “whole” individual.
I combine this idea of holistic health with my experiences of the powerful connection between exercise, nutrition, and mental states; and I come up with my version of the mind body connection. It all comes downs to harmony, for I view the human being like a guitar, and each of the six dimensions of health one of those strings. If even one string is off the guitar is out of tune, and cannot be used most efficiently. But when all strings are played skillfully, they can provide both the player of the guitar and those who are fortunate enough to be part of the experience tangible positive emotions.
So how does one use this harmonic concept, as both the person trying to get well, in addition to the wellness professional attempting to facilitate a positive health change in their client?
Well first let’s talk a little science; during exercise specific hormones are released that are designed to reduce stress and induce positive emotions from the brain; that is a short term effect which is a clear indicator in the interdependence between mind and body. A person who is physically active frequently can experience these positive effects long term as well. This improves mental health, and emotional health.
The connection between physical activity and emotional health has other ties as well. A person who meets their health and wellness goals will gain an increase in self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy (knowing you are capable of achieving). In my experience the effects can be even more powerful, for someone who achieves goals in which they once thought impossible can gain a sense of “empowerment.” Empowerment is very close to self-efficacy, but in my opinion is a step above, self-efficacy is a feeling of achieving reasonable goals, and empowerment is the feeling that you can achieve any goal you set your mind to.
“Often depression is a response to events or circumstances that are felt to be deeply troublesome or distressing, or which seem to threaten our personal identity. Usually these circumstances seem too hard or even impossible to change. There can be a sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and an all-pervasive gloom.” (University of London)
See the connection here? Empowerment is the opposite of powerless. Improve the physical, which improves the mental, which improves the emotional. Social health is improved as a byproduct of being a happier, healthier person. Environmental health is improved both by having a healthier body to withstand environmental physical hazards, as well as an increased self-efficacy to positively change the environment around them to decrease hazards, and spiritual health (the act of having direction and meaning in life.) is also improved by the increased value one gains of themselves as they progress physically, emotionally, and mentally.
However, a person’s health, much like the strings of a guitar is dynamic, and cannot just be tuned once and be expected to play harmoniously whenever played. It has to become a focus, a priority of a person to maintain a certain level of physical activity to stay in tune. Find an activity you love, find a person you love doing activity with, hire a personal trainer, or ask Santa for some workout DVDs. Find a way to keep that “feel-good” cycle going via the Mind-Body Connection.
Tomas-Antonio Rodrigues has been an ACE certified personal trainer for about 2 years now and runs a blog on his website www.TomRodTransformation.com