In this article, I will try to describe, as succinctly as possible, what the mind-body connection is and how our awareness of it can improve our overall health. On a physical level, we are really talking about how our brain and central nervous system are intricately connected to our body, i.e. vital organs, muscles, skin, respiratory system, circulatory system, digestive system, etc. We understand this connection in many everyday situations such as sadness generating tears, fear creating a tight stomach, anger creating tension in our chest, shoulders, neck, and/or hands. But the mind-body connection is much deeper and pervasive than this. The medical specialization of psychosomatic medicine is trying to understand the mind-body connection and treat a number of illnesses that until now have gone largely untreated or the traditional treatments have been unsuccessful. I am talking about chronic pain syndromes, back, neck, and shoulder pain, joint pain, some digestive disorders such as IBS, Chrohn’s disease, GERD, migraines, and a host of stress disorders. The basic concept in mind-body disorders is that physical pain or disease is being experienced in the body but the cause is mental-emotional and not physical or structural. A pioneering doctor in the field of mind-body medicine, John A. Sarno MD, has worked with a number of patients and reports a high percentage of success in helping them recover from psychosomatic illnesses. Dr. Sarno has started to train a number of medical and mental health professionals in his methods, and all are reporting success in treating patients.
Before I began studying in this area, I had my own mind-body illness that was manifesting as lower back pain. I never injured my back so there was no structural abnormality that could have been creating the pain. I had been told by a chiropractor that I had mild scoliosis but he could not be sure that this was causing my pain. But I lived with this pain for over twenty years and stopped doing most kinds of physical exercise due to fear that I would bring on a pain episode. Finally, I read one of Dr. Sarno’s early books called simply, Healing Back Pain. Halfway through the book, my pain began to subside and when I had finished reading the book, I was convinced that I had discovered the cause of my back pain and was well on the path toward healing. Basically, I discovered that the cause of my pain was mental-emotional in nature. I had many repressed emotions about life experiences, both childhood and early adulthood, that I was ignoring, stuffing, or otherwise not aware of. In his work, Dr. Sarno shows how different parts of the central nervous system, largely the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems get activated by repressed emotions and lead to tension and mild oxygen deprivation in muscle tissues. This, in turn, causes physical pain. Once I understood this process and that the cause of my pain was not physical, the process responsible for creating the pain was interrupted and I experienced a complete healing. I have been pain free for many years now and I can assure you that this is not just a fluke or due to the placebo affect. My awareness of how I was manifesting an illness in my body was so eye opening and empowering that I started reading everything I could about mind-body medicine.
What most excites me about mind-body medicine is that it is holistic. It views a human being as an integrated organism comprised of physical, mental, and emotional processes that are intricately connected and interwoven. An imbalance or block in one area will definitely affect the entire organism. Presently, medicine and mental health are two separate and distinct disciplines. But with the continued awareness, growth, and expansion of mind-body medicine, the lines between the two are starting to blur. And I think this is ultimately a good thing because we need to treat the whole person, and the best way to accomplish this task is to have a holistic model that combines both medicine and psychology, physical and mental-emotional approaches to healing. I would recommend reading any of Dr. Sarno’s books to learn more about mind-body disorders, especially if you are experiencing any kind of chronic pain or unexplained illness.
Written by John Johnson