"...the ankle bone's connected to the leg bone, the leg bone's connected to the knee bone..." etc. These are some of the lyrics from a traditional song sometimes called Dry Bones/Dem Bones/Old Bones. A chiropractor, Scott Heun, once recited the words of that old song to me, illustrating that when you had an injury in one part of your body that it also affected other parts. The Feldenkrais method also talks about this idea that symptoms are not isolated situations.
This connectivity or feedback loop is also true of the mind and the body. When you are not well, it often affects your state of mind and your general attitude. It is also sometimes difficult to think as clearly as usual. When illness goes on for a long time, people's perceptions sometimes become inaccurate and they get confused. Emotions are sometimes generated by being ill: Perhaps you got sick just as you were about to leave on a vacation trip and you feel frustrated. It can be disappointing to prepare for something with a lot of time and effort only to have to bow out due to sudden illness. Sometimes being sick can provoke the feeling of fear. One of my patients recently had to be briefly hospitalized for pneumonia and after recovering told me how helpless she felt in the hospital, not being able to manage her own care nor even advocate for herself. Indeed, being sick can evoke emotions and alter thinking, so I think we can safely say that illness affects the mental functioning.
(The concept of inner interconnectedness is touched upon in the post titled, Circumambulation)
However, the other end of that feedback loop, how the mind influences the body is not as often discussed. "The lifespan of severely and persistently mentally ill persons is, on average, twenty years shorter than the rest of the population." John Hollender. How do we understand such a statistic? The mind and the body and not separated and, in fact, there is a constant dual communication or feedback loop between the two. It has been my observation and experience that psychotherapy affects general physical health in a positive way. Not only do people in counseling often begin to take better care of themselves (see post on related topic titled, "I've Lost 38 Pounds!"), automatically make better choices for themselves as their sense of self strengthens, but, the mind seems to be better able to direct the body as it gets clearer psychologically. "Data from the...field of PNI...increasingly indicate a mind-body continuum and discredit the anachronistic split of Cartesian dualism. Concepts and models from quantum physics, as well as theoretical speculations from key researchers, indicate that human consciousness...may, in fact, exert a superordinate organizing function over...biological functions." Kenneth Pelletier & Denise Herzing
It pays off in better immunity, improved digestion, and less muscle tension to tend to your emotional health, your spiritual life, your personal relationships and your mental habits. "Electrical signals sent by the neurological system, including the brain, are turned into chemical signals in the immune system, and vice versa. In fact, it is believed that this translation takes place in the region of the brain known as the limbic system. This is also the part of the brain where emotions are 'processed'." Wendy Ruthstiver, RN, BSN, MA. Therapists have known for a long time that there is a mind-body connection but now other branches of science have become interested in proving this.
Some of the idioms in the English language such as, having "butterflies in my stomach" or a "gut feeling" or "a pain in the neck" indicate that not just therapists have made this observation. Really everyone knows that the idea that body and mind are not linked is untrue and have known it for a long time. For some reason though, there is a resistance in many cultures to the notion that the mind can impact the body's health. So, even though the wisdom of this interweaving of our functioning appears in our common language, we think we can deal with these aspects as separate parts of ourselves. I submit that we do ourselves a disservice when using that model to self-evaluate. Why not take advantage of that wisdom that is in our culture and in our emerging science and thus help ourselves to feel better, be healthier, and support our wellness?
And by the same token, a regular meditation practice, a good, on-going therapy experience, and a balance between mental stimulation and rest can elevate your overall health.