A full understanding of the relationship between mental states and physical conditions and processes remains an unconcluded goal. Generally referred to as the ‘mind-body problem’, its solution would require going beyond a theory that explains this relationship. Both scientists and philosophers have pictured a more profound sub-problem: the understanding of consciousness; one of the most essential questions in philosophy. The ‘mind-body problem’ has derived in copious amounts of literature extended throughout centuries depicting the controversies between the scientific understanding from a reductionist perspective and the natural evolution of consciousness for millions of years (Scheffel, 2020).
Over the years, in Western philosophy, the ‘mind-body problem’ evolved undergoing different conceptual shifts. Attributed to the seventh-century French philosopher René Descartes, the dual ontological paradox was focused on a strict distinction between the territories of the mind and the body. Naturally, the practice of medicine at that age was strongly determined by this perspective, in which the biological aspects of human illness assumed a predominant role (Bornstein, 2020). However, in the twentieth century, this perspective revealed the fundamental concern motivating discussion about brains and minds with a new question regarding the relationship between mental and neural state (Nathan, 2020).
Well-being: From ‘mind-body problem’ to ‘mind-body practice’
Clearly, that simplistic view is not perceived as strong enough today, which suggests the need to dive deeper into the waters of consciousness and explore beyond the ‘mind-body problem’ with the clear purpose of well-being. Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, promptly alluded precisely to this separation of the spirit from the mind and body, with Patanjali’s explanation of viyoga, the first yoga technique embodied in the sutras (E. Griego, 2016). Under this conception, well-being is totally introduced under the fact that it is the mastery of this technique that begins to shine through the yogi’s life when embracing the concept of reality from feelings and emotions.
In an integration of both perspectives, we are evidencing a change in the lifestyle medicine paradigm, toward a connected mind and body well-being framework.
The ‘mind-body problem’ started to evolve toward the ‘mind-body practice’. The growing and shared interest in medicine in the description of a broad spectrum of neurobiological and physiological aspects, as well as genomic modifications associated with mind-body practices, including meditation and mindfulness, are evidenced in the clinical research. Indeed, the activation of specific brain regions increased heart-rate variability, and suppression of distress-induced inflammatory pathways, among various others, are all clinical observations that serve to demonstrate the impact of ‘mind-body practice’ in wellbeing (Dossett et al., 2020).
Healthcare & education: From ‘mind-body practice’ to ‘mind-body therapy’
Clinical trials validating improved health outcomes and quality of life in multiple physical and mental health conditions (distress, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, inflammation, cancer, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, etc.) are driven by the integration of ‘mind-body practice’ into healthcare systems. Preliminary results are also demonstrating a reduction in the healthcare utilisation systems, along with more cost-effective care delivery.
Therefore, the concept of ‘mind-body therapy’ starts to gain attention as a helpful add-on to deal with chronic pain management and some distress related to non-communicable diseases. Although this approach cannot provide radical eradication of an illness, it can significantly enhance the well-being and quality of life by reducing relevant symptoms, along with the physiological effects of distress. The next steps are associated with the development of models for integrating ‘mind-body therapy’ into healthcare institutions (Lalley et al., 2021) and education systems (Cozzolino et al., 2021), primarily focused on personalised solutions for the maximisation of public health potential.
A profound understanding of particular needs associated with temperaments and health conditions based on the study of psychological and genetic factors would allow predicting the response to certain practices, which help to design the best-suited solution.
The road ahead for more human-centric, compassionate, ‘mind-body therapy’ embraces the execution of robust, well-controlled prospective clinical trials, also comparing the effectiveness of the trials. The correlation of this data with genome and epigenome approaches is essential to leverage the cellular foundations of mind-body health effects.
I would like to thank all contributors from industry involved with the development and delivery of this article from Frost & Sullivan.
Bornstein, S., 2020. The Challenges of Behavioral Health Integration: The Persistence of the Mind-Body Problem. Annals of Internal Medicine, 173(2), pp.151-152.
Cozzolino, M., Vivo, D.R. and Celia, G., 2021. School-Based Mind–Body Interventions: A Research Review. Human Arenas, pp.1-17.
Dossett, M.L., Fricchione, G.L. and Benson, H., 2020. A new era for mind- body medicine. N Engl J Med, 382(15), pp.1390-1391.
Estévez Griego, F., 2016. What is Samadhi? Book of Yoga. International Yoga Federation.
Lalley, N.A., Manger, S.H., Jacka, F., Rocks, T., Ruusunen, A. and Barron, L., 2021. The Mind-Body Well-being Initiative: a better lifestyle for people with severe mental illness. Australasian Psychiatry, p.1039856220978864.
Nathan, M.J., 2021. The Mind-Body Problem 3.0. In Neural Mechanisms (pp. 263-282). Springer, Cham.
Scheffel, J., 2020. On the solvability of the mind-body problem. Axiomathes, 30(3), pp.289-312.
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