A Program, Not a Pill Part 3: Mind-Body Connection for Wellness

EVERY CASE IS UNIQUE

The most difficult aspect of treating my patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndromeand Fibromyalgia is that each patient’s story is so different, in other words, no two are cases are identical. This is different than many other medical illnesses where the presentation can follow a similar story line or pattern, which always helps in making the diagnosis. However, I do find there is one common thread among all the patients I treat with both these conditions: there is a dysfunction in the Mind-Body Connection.

The scientific name for the field of Mind-Body medicine is psychoneuroimmunology — a very long word that basically means that there is a connection between the brain, the peripheral nervous system (outside the brain) and the immune system. I have been fortunate to train with some of the best Mind-Body researchers and clinicians in our country, and I will provide you insight into what I have learned and what I ask my patients to do to improve their lives.

A QUIET MIND, A HEALTHY BODY

Meditation, or quieting the mind, is a critical technique to calm the body, as well as the mind. Dr. Herbert Benson, a well-known researcher in Mind-Body Medicine proved that through 20 minutes of daily meditation patients could put the brakes on the “fight or flight” response that a person under stress is constantly experiencing. While I attended Dr. Benson’s program in the 1990’s, he showed me that anyone could learn to meditate. You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to master the technique. He coined the term, “Relaxation Response,” whereby you simply repeat a mono-syllable word (such as One) while you focus on your breathing. By doing this you can attain a feeling of relaxation–the opposite of fear and anxiety.

I see so many patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia that are in a constant state of fear and anxiety. This causes their nervous system and immune system to be in continuous overdrive which eventually causes energy depletion, inflammation and increased sensitivity to pain.

A UNITED BODY, A HEALTHY BODY

Yoga is another technique that I’ve found can be so helpful to get back in touch with your body. Chronic pain or chronic fatigue can make a person feel their body is dysfunctional. Yoga, which means “yoke” or to unite, is an ancient method that allows the body to learn to relax and become in sync with the mind. I know patients in pain can be intimidated by yoga, because they think of those pictures of a yogi master standing on his head. I don’t ask anyone to stand on their head!

I recommend gentle poses along with breathing exercises to enhance the feeling of well-being. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn used to run the University of Massachussetts Pain and Stress Reduction Program. I was fortunate to take one of his professional training programs where I learned to use mindfulness meditation, along with simple yoga poses to relieve stress and pain. Meditation doesn’t have to be done just in a seated-position. You can meditate while walking, or even during exercise, like while running or swimming. Dr. Kabat-Zinn created a recording called the Body Scan (no X-rays involved) which leads you to use your mind to take a “tour” of your body in order to move energy for healing.

YOUR BODY AS YOUR MIRROR

healing-backpain

As we all know (but don’t like to often admit) the most powerful force in our perception of pain, discomfort or illness is the psychology part-just the brain. One of the worst things a doctor can tell a patient is that their illness is “all in their head”. However, failing to deal with the psychological component of any illness–from cancer to heart disease to Fibro and Fatigue–would also be an grave oversight. Dr. John Sarno, the former Professor at Rusk Institute of Medicine at NYU, wrote in his book Healing Back Pain , of TMS-Tension Myositis Syndrome. In his long clinical career, he recounts his failure to help chronic back sufferers with physical therapy solely. He learned from his experience the patient has to deal with his or her psychological issues as well, either through self-examination or with the help of a psychotherapist, to be truly healed from back pain. I believe the same is true for Fibro and Fatigue.

I had a patient, a hard-nosed attorney who thought he was invincible. In his mid-50’s he suffered from debilitating fatigue and headaches. He tried every pill a doctor would prescribe without success. Then he embarked on my recommended program: meditation, yoga, and the support of a therapist. Later, he commented to me:

“My whole life I was focusing on my physical health, when I should have been giving equal time to my mental well-being.”

The body and the mind work together and depend on each other. Give both your attention and care and your will see the difference in your total wellness and experience of life. We are here to help.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

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