Yoga Therapy and the Mind-Body Connection, Part 2
The Body-Mind-Body Connection
Thus we can use our minds to calm (or stress) our bodies and our bodies to calm (or energize) our minds. Of course, when you use your body to energize then calm your mind, as we are often doing in yoga practice, the resulting sattva in turn causes numerous beneficial changes in the body, which may in turn facilitate dropping more deeply into relaxation.
Perhaps a better term than "mind-body" to reflect the back-and-forth nature of the interconnections between mental and physical health would be "body-mind-body." It's my belief, supported by some scientific evidence, that combining practices that target the mind with others that address the body is likely to yield greater benefits than single-pronged approaches.
A good example of body-mind-body medicine is the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of the bestsellers Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are. His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) approach, which combines gentle hatha yoga with mindfulness meditation, has garnered impressive results in scientific studies and is now taught at hundreds of hospitals and clinics worldwide.
In his work with patients with a wide variety of medical conditions, including chronic pain, cancer, arthritis, anxiety, and depression, Kabat-Zinn has observed that particular patients seem to respond better to some elements of the MBSR program. He has found that those with primarily physical complaints, such as joint pain, often do best when they use meditation to go through what he calls the "mind door." Others, particularly those with mental problems such as anxiety or panic attacks, may do better with "body door" approaches like asana.
Of course, not all patients will fit this rule of thumb, which is why it's good to have yoga's vast toolbox so you can choose among those practices or combinations of practices that seem to bring your students the best results. Yoga also allows you to use both the body and mind doors, either sequentially or in combination, as when you have students practice Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breathing) during their asana practice or chant a mantra as they move into a twist or forward bend.
Ultimately, yoga is about union, the underlying unity of things that, on their surface, appear to be separate. So while it can be useful to speak of the body and the mind and the mind-body connection, through our yoga practice we come to understand that the mind and the body are not just connected. They are two manifestations of the same thing.
Dr. Timothy McCall is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine, Yoga Journal's Medical Editor, and the author of book Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam). He can be found on the Web at www.DrMcCall.com.
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