Mind Your Health

Mind Your Health By Research Professor Paul Taylor
Course: Mindfulness
Next Intake: 6th August

Life Coaching incorporates many different aspects of achieving goals, success and personal development – Mindfulness allows you to clear the clutter and focus on highlighting important areas in your life.

The article below provides interesting reading:

Around 2400 years ago, the Philosopher Socrates was reported to have said, “You ought not to attempt to cure the body without the soul, for this is the great error of our day, in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.”

What the ancient Greeks referred to as the soul, we now call the mind. It is clear that Western Medicine was becoming more focused on the bodily aspect of health back in the time of the ancient Greeks, and this focus was enhanced in the mid 1600’s when the French Philosopher and Mathematician Renee Descartes came up with the concept of Dualism – essentially that mind and body were separate entities. From this point onwards, Western and Eastern approaches to Medicine diverged even more.

However, things are gradually changing in Western Medicine. The power of the mind in healing is demonstrated by the fact that the ‘placebo effect’ can account for 30% or more of the success in controlled clinical trials. In such trials, half of the group believes they are getting a treatment (usually a drug), when in fact they get nothing more than a sugar pill – but at least 30% still have health improvements.

This number increases greatly if the practitioner has developed a good rapport with the patient, which partly explains some of the success of alternative medicine, whose practitioners get to spend much more time talking to clients/patients than Doctors do.

Further evidence of the power of the mind comes from reviews of published trials, which show that placebos are just as effective as antidepressant drugs in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, and only slightly less effective in severe depression1.

There is one traditional Eastern approach to health that is now extremely well recognized by more forward thinking western researchers and practitioners – meditation. There are literally hundreds of research papers on the benefits of meditation to both body and brain health and the best-studied form of meditation is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is also very simple to do – it simply involves being consciously aware of your attention and ensuring that your attention stays focused on one thing – this thing may be breathing, walking, eating a raisin or washing dishes. It is purely about spending some time completely engrossed ‘in the moment’ and turning down the ‘noise’ or mental chatter. Some researchers and practitioners are now referring to Mindfulness practice as ‘Attention Training’, which seems to be more palatable to Westerners, particularly in the corporate environment.

Mindfulness practice has been shown to be beneficial in helping people cope with a broad range of clinical and non-clinical problems2. It improves many aspects of mental health, such as in the treatment of depression3, anxiety, stress and addiction. It also creates structural changes in the brain, thickening areas involved with attention and self-regulation, and has recently been shown to increase grey matter density.

So why would Mindfulness practice have such a wide range of benefits? In terms of structural brain changes, this is explained by thinking of the brain as being like a muscle – it will adapt to whatever stimulus you give it. This process is known as neuroplasticity.

In terms of the impact on physical health, it is probably due to the calming effects on the nervous system. Most people are familiar with the ‘fight or flight response’, which is our sympathetic nervous system’s way of reacting to perceived threats. The opposite side of this seesaw is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is sometimes referred to as our ‘rest and digest’ system.

It is known that if the fight or flight response is turned on for too long (very typical in modern life), it creates wear and tear on the body. We now have a way of measuring that, referred to as Allostatic Load. Too much Allostatic Load destroys both the body and the brain, which is why I perform that testing on the executives who I deal with.

One thing that is important to understand is that we can activate our fight or flight response just by our thoughts – this is the route by which negative thoughts and emotions can destroy your health over time. Mindfulness practice, on the other hand, turns off our fight or flight response and activates our rest and digest system – powerful medicine, indeed.

References 1. Fournier, J.C. et al. Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: a patient-level meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010 Jan 6;303(1):47-53

2. Grossman, P.J. Psychosomatic Research 2004;57(1):35-43
3. Ma, SH, Teasdale JD. J Consult Clini Phychol. 2004;72(1);31-40
4. Pagnoni G, Cekic, M. Neurobiol aging. 2007;28(10);1623-7