“Mens sana in corpore sano” – Juvenalis
What is the difference between body and mind? Are these connected and what interaction do they have with each other? This issue has been the subject of many books and can raise many interesting questions. For example; if we possess a spirit, where in the body can we find it? Or is the mind stronger than the body?
The separation of mind and body has been around for a long time, starting with the classical philosophers, but it was Descartes who gave the separation of mind and body a big push (Dreher, 2003). However, in recent decades we have come to realize that our bodies and minds are not only closely linked, but in reality are inseparable from one another, with changes in one able to directly affect the other. Because of this perception, new fields of study have emerged. Consider psychosomatics and psychophysiology. Both studies are at the intersection of body and mind.
Having gotten the answer to the question of whether the body and mind are connected, we run into another problem, namely, is the mind or the body stronger? In other words, who is wearing the pants? For example, does someone have a chemical imbalance that causes them to become depressed and have depressive thoughts, or do their depressive thoughts somehow cause a chemical imbalance? Does someone get stressed by physical pain or does someone get pain from stress? On the other hand, a well-functioning mind can help maintain a healthy body and vice versa.
Healthy signals from the body are received in the brain so that the brain does not have to worry, for example, in case of pain. This allows the brain to relax, devoting its attention and resources to efficiently engage in other activities (Barral, 2007). Conversely, we also know how negative emotional states such as anger or depression can affect our bodies and functioning being eating, sleeping or exercising. Based on the interaction between mind and body and the possible negative effects on each other, we can also assume that positive interactions can help maintain both mental and physical health (van der Kolk, 2015).
A positive belief system can help heal physical problems or speed recovery. We are well aware of the placebo effect where a fake medication can still have a positive effect on the body’s function via the brain (Harrington, 2009; Marchant, 2016). And conversely, we experience that a healthy, well-functioning body has a positive effect on memory, attention, or mood. Good nutrition and optimal exercise are not only good for the body, but also for the brain and mind. Exercise as medicine or therapy is not only effective for maintaining a healthy body, but also works against anxiety or depression.
As you can see, we can go very deep into this matter. In a practical sense, for us it means simply taking good care of our bodies and minds in everyday life, and here again nature can be a great teacher and nurturer in this!
- Barral, J.-P. (2007). Understanding the Messages of Your Body: How to Interpret Physical and Emotional Signals to Achieve Optimal Health. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
- Dreher, H. (2003). Mind-body unity a new vision for mind-body science and medicine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Harrington, A. (2009). The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Marchant, J. (2016). Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body. Edinburgh: Canongate Book.
- van der Kolk, B. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. London: Penguin Books.