What is Mind-body Medicine?
by Christina Lombardo, PhD, MCC, NBC-HWC
Mind-body medicine is one of the fastest growing evidence based areas of healthcare. According to Moss et al. (2003) mind-body medicine is a revolutionary 21st century approach to managing one’s health that includes combining a wide-range of behavioral and lifestyle interventions including wellness coaching, along with traditional medical interventions. Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment interventions focus on the whole patient in totality of mind, body, and spirit. Mind-body medicine employs the use of a partnership among medical and healthcare practitioners and results in an integrated care team addressing patient health and disease.
The foundational principles of mind-body medicine are:
1) A focus on healing the whole person versus treating symptoms,
2) collaboration between the healthcare provider and the patient,
3) partnership among various and diverse healthcare providers for the individual patient,
4) empowerment of the patient specifically in their healing and treatment decision-making, and
5) a focus on the whole person including the relationships among the physical, emotional, social, environmental, mental, behavioral, and spiritual.
These foundational principles have a primary focus on the whole person and emphasize healing and curing versus treating symptoms. A critical asset of mind-body medicine is the partnership among an integrated team of caregivers who work well together, respecting each other’s practices in an effort to identify the root cause of distress and disease. Treatment addresses the mind, body, and spirit for all patient conditions. This integrated team often includes care-givers of from many specialties, for example, physicians, nurses, various mind-body medicine specialists, massage therapists, physical and respiratory therapists, nutritionists, and even wellness coaches, counselors, chiropractors, and yoga teachers, etc. (Moss et al., 2003).
Mind-body medicine’s collaborative partnership between the patient and the healthcare provider places the patient at the center of the treatment based decision-making. Much like in wellness coaching, Moss (2003) describes the relationship between the patient and physician as a collaborative process where patient autonomy is a crucial aspect of the treatment decision-making process.
As I write this, I recall an uncomfortable interaction I had with my ex-physician and her staff many years ago. I had pain in my abdomen that had been bothering me for about eight months. I had a full physical exam and many laboratory tests. Everything came back normal. Even though this pain was not causing me any difficulty eating, sleeping, or carrying out the habits of daily living, (it was simply a dull but quite annoying pain), my physician strongly encouraged me to have a CAT scan. Not wanting to be exposed to the radiation, I decided to pass. Even though I said, no to the CAT scan, the physician office continued to call me to schedule. During the third nagging phone call I received from the physician office, I more firmly told them not to call me again and requested that my medical files be transferred to my new doctor. Pressuring me to schedule the CAT scan and the physician office taking ownership of the decision-making for my health problem was not the integrative medical care I wanted. In this example, there’s a lack of partnership and patient autonomy in my personal health care decision-making. This example is the opposite of a patient’s experience in mind-body medicine. Thinking my pain could be stress related, instead of the CAT scan, I decided to join a yoga studio. Within two weeks of practicing yoga three times each week, my eight month pain was gone.
Another important mind-body medicine principle is the focus on the whole person, including relationships among one’s physical, emotional, social, environmental, mental, behavioral, and spiritual health. Gilbert (2003) highlights many studies that show how for example, environmental, social, mental, spiritual, and emotional facets directly impact our physical health. Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Mind Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital says “mind-body medicine is interested in the interaction of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, faith, and an individual’s relationship to the environment and how those factors affect mental illness” (Gilbert, 2003, p. 568). If we ignore the relationships among these parts of our whole self, this will get in the way of our health and healing. In addition to the principles and philosophy of mind-body medicine, there are hundreds of mind-body medicine exercises and interventions that have been used with patients with various diseases and health conditions that have shown positive results in research studies.
What’s ONE THING you do that helps you clear your mind and boost your resilience?
Published research has shown positive findings for mind body medicine practices for various diseases and chronic health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, anxiety, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and the list goes on. You can find much research on the websites and resources listed below including the Center for Mind Body Medicine and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Mass General Hospital.
As wellness coaches, we have an opportunity to learn more about our role in mind-body medicine and how we contribute as members of an integrative care team. I had the gift of learning much about integrative medicine over the past decade especially as I worked to complete my Ph.D. in Mind-body Medicine and Integrative/Functional Nutrition. In addition to I completed a Mind-Body Medicine Workshop at the Center for Mind Body Medicine and I’d like to share with you a small section of my specific notes of the mind-body medicine exercises that I incorporate into my coaching practice:
– Shaking and dancing – James S. Gordon, MD of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine recommends dancing and shaking due to its significant benefits to the body, mind, and spirit including increases in energy, tension release, breaking habitual patterns, enhancing spirituality, self-discovery, and reprograming physical, mental, and emotional holding patterns.
– Drawing Exercise: Draw a picture of you now; draw a picture of you now with your biggest problem; lastly, draw a picture of you with your problem solved.
– Raising the Qi – Raise your arms up and down as you breathe in and out; nine times.
– Opening the heart – Raise the arms; open the arms wide; close the arms; lower the arms.
– Waking up the Qi – Clap, rub your hands together fast for one minute; stop and steady your hands; pull your hands apart ever so slowly and move them together slowly to feel the energy. Repeat.
– Self-empathy – Close your eyes and think of something stressful. Tell a partner about your thoughts and discuss what your feel showing up in your body as you think about and discuss your stressful situation. What does this feel like? You’re gaining awareness of the mind body stress response from the sympathetic nervous system; our fight or flight response.
– Stare at another person and smile, don’t speak, just smile. Barbara Fredrickson’s research has shown this practice decreases cortisol which contributes to belly fat. This also initiates our relaxation response and boosts our immune system.
– Breathe in positive emotions – Think of a stressful situation that currently has a hold on you. Now: Breathe in positive emotions (say positive words). Next, smile and consider how that felt.
– Writing exercise – Think of one physical or emotional issue you’re carrying right now. Does it have a name or image? Engage in a 15 minute conversation with it, write down each piece of the conversation as you go. Debrief –Read to a friend or loved one what you wrote. Be present to what you’re feeling in your body.
– Chaotic Breathing – Press your lips together, breathe in and out filling your stomach quickly through your nose while you pump your arms imagining they are a bellow. Bounce by bending your knees while you do this for five to ten minutes to fast music.
– Mindful eating of chocolate or grapes (your choice) as slowly as you can. As you’re eating consider: What was that like? What were your thoughts? What did it feel like in your body?
– Genogram – Draw four levels of your family tree and include all relationships. Then, share your genogram with a friend or family member by describing your picture with great detail.
– Body awareness – Engage in a body awareness meditation.
– Future Self – Draw a picture of how you feel now; draw a picture of how you want to be; draw a picture of how you will get there.
Also, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, guided imagery, visualization, yoga as medicine, and integrative and functional nutrition practices are all categorized as integrative medicine techniques along with health and wellness coaching.
While mind-body medicine practices help treat core clinical imbalances and promote healing of many different types of diseases, they also promote resilience and can help you to for example unleash your best thinking, bring your best selves to the care of others, establish clarity and calm during chaos and help you live a happier and more fulfilled life. Stress is linked to nearly every disease we know of so I invite you to consider: What might you want to try? How might you incorporate some mind-body medicine techniques into your self-care routine? What else might you want to learn about mind-body medicine? Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or email me directly at Clombardo@Wellcoaches.com or Christina@ChristinaLombardo.com.
Gilbert, M. D. (2003). Weaving medicine back together: Mind-body medicine in the twenty-first century. Journal of Alternative and complementary Medicine, 9(4), 563-570.
Mind-Body Studies. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2020, from https://www.mayo.edu/research/centers-programs/integrative-medicine-health-research/research-studies/mind-body-studies
Mind and Body Research—Information for Researchers. (n.d.). NCCIH. Retrieved May 30, 2020, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/grants/mind-and-body-research-information-for-researchers
Mind-Body STREAM. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2020, from https://mind-bodyhealth.osu.edu/
Moss, D., McGrady, A., Davies T.C., and Wickramasekera, I., (Ed.). (2003). Handbook of mind-body medicine for primary care. Sage Publications.
Teaching thousands to heal millions—The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2020, from https://cmbm.org/