I talk a lot in my consultations about Intention and how vital it is to engage the mind in any healing process. Why? Mainly because Chinese Medicine believes mind and body should be treated as a whole and that our mental state can directly influence our physical state. Setting one’s intention isn’t a new concept, it’s the basis of mediation, prayer and even placebo effect. One of the many benefits of 21st century living is that Western science is proving that intention works, largely in the field of PNI (see below).
Chinese Medicine has always employed focus of the mind as part of healing through practices – like Tai chi for example. Tai chi encourages the mind and body to work together. The grounding nature of the moves and emphasis on bringing awareness to the lower body can help people who are mentally strung out after, say, a day in the office.
This mind/body approach is increasingly accepted in Western science. The relatively new scientific field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the connection between our brains and our nervous, immune and endocrine systems. PNI is proving in Western terms what the Chinese have believed for thousands of years, namely:
1. Mind and body should be treated as a whole
The Chinese approach is that disease, both mental and physical, begins and can be rectified at an energetic level. This energy or “Qi” circulates through the entire body and forms a sophisticated matrix that connects all the parts into a whole.
This is important because it enables us to address the root cause as opposed to only treating, masking or suppressing the physical symptoms. Once we understand where the issue lies, we are then empowered to rectify it
2. Our mental state can directly influence both disease and healing
Interestingly, the same part of our brain processes both physical and emotional pain. In other words, negative emotion can actually make us physically ill.
Numerous studies have concluded this to be the case, including a 2017 paper published in the European Heart journal. The major study found that Depression appears to double the chance of dying in any given year for patients with coronary artery disease. The researchers said such mental distress was a “stronger risk factor” than age, a previous heart attack, or diabetes.*
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology**, which focused on the physical and mental health of people with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes red patches and flaky scales to form on the surface of the skin. Depression is common among people with psoriasis, who often deal with discomfort and social stigma related to their condition.
Researchers found that psoriasis patients diagnosed with depression were 37% more likely to also develop psoriatic arthritis—a complication that involves inflammation of and around the joints—than those without depression.
Chinese Medicine has always understood that what we feel has a huge impact on our bodies. Chinese medical theory holds that any painful emotion must be felt and transformed, rather than suppressed or let out, or it will eventually manifest in symptoms and disorders. It prescribes that each of our positive and negative emotions are associated with an organ. If the organ is out of balance and the emotions overwhelming, specific symptoms can manifest.
For example, grief can manifest physically as well as emotionally. Alongside the overwhelming emotional symptoms associated with losing someone close, it’s common to experience physical symptoms too. Heavy pressure on the chest or in the abdomen, trouble breathing and heart palpitations are all commonly reported.
3. Stress and anxiety can make us physically ill
The field of PNI was co-founded by Robert Ader PhD in the 1970s. He discovered that, like the brain, the immune system could learn. His studies opened up new understandings of how experiences such as stress and anxiety can affect a person’s immune system.
Inflammation is crucial for wound healing and a useful mechanism in the body’s defences. It is a totally normal bodily function, generally triggered by the immune system on spotting an invader or damage to tissue that must be kept under control. The immune system stimulates different cells and proteins—like white blood cells—to help eliminate the threat of invasion and repair any damaged tissue. Inflammation is instigated by chemical mediators called cytokines that recruit other parts of the immune system to help with healing. Under chronic stress, the body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Inflammation is increasingly being linked to all the major diseases of our times.
system, raising the odds of catching a cold. In the first study, those under stress were twice as likely to develop a cold. A second experiment confirmed that the inflammatory response feeds off stress.***
In understanding that the body and mind are one, Taoists have used simple tried and tested methods for thousands of years to combat ill health and maintain balance in the body. Advances in Western science mean that we are now able to understand more about why the Taoist approach works so effectively.
Understanding the power and efficacy of these techniques, the Chinese government have been reinstating previously outlawed self-practices, such as Tai chi, into their corporations across China. Rather than seeing people in the parks across their super cities practicing this life changing technique, employees will meet for 30 minutes before the start of trading hours to protect their health and support the body during the course of the day.
If the Chinese are drawing on their ancient traditions and engaging the power of the mind into the healing of the body to this extent, surely it makes sense to follow suit and adopt this approach into our daily lives?
Given that most of us aren’t really able to do half an hour of Tai chi at our desks each day, I created the Rescue Breath and Reset Rituals to enable similar benefits in one-minute bursts throughout the day. The effectiveness of mindfulness or meditation lies in just being present and focusing inwards to calm the mind. Our Rescue Breath Ritual works because it gives the mind something to focus on and therefore is basically a minute of mindfulness. Do this just a few times a day and you’ll really start to notice the difference!