Mental Fitness Why is it so vital to physical health and well-being
Introduction There are many benefits of practicing mental fitness. Research implicates mental fitness beneficial to physical health and well-being. The research studies that provide evidence of the benefits of mental fitness. Relaxation activities and breathing exercises that one can practice to become more physically healthy by improving your mental fitness.
Benefits Ultimate Health and Well-being Absence of premature illness and disease Positive emotions Less anxiety and stress Ability to overcome negative emotions and replace them with positive emotions Calm abiding, witnessing mind and total peace and serenity
Research StudiesRobert Ader Dr. Robert Ader, in the 1970’s performed an experiment with rats. During the study rats were given a mixture of sweetened water and nausea causing drug called Cytoxan. This drug also an anticancer drug that suppresses the immune system. The rats began to associate the drug with the sweetened water and would become nauseous from the taste of the water. Then later the rats began dying from infectious diseases. This study is significant because the rats nausea and suppression of the immune system were in their minds. The study showed that the rats causing the physical symptoms in their minds. Basically, the mind was responsible for the nausea and immune suppression (Dacher, 2006).
Candace Pert Candace Pert filled in the missing connection between the mind and body in a research study in the 1970’s. It was already known that there is the autonomic nervous system; controlling the automatic physiological mechanisms of the body like the heart beat, breathing and pulse and the central nervous system; controlling the muscles, and bones existed. These systems connect the brain to the body with nerve connections. Pert discovered neuropeptides; natural body proteins that constantly circulate throughout the body carrying messages back and forth between organs allowing this mind body communication. Later Pert also discovered that thought, feelings, and visual images caused changes in the neuropeptides, causing the mind to be able to alter the body. Basically changes in the mind causes changes in the body. The body will alter itself to reflect the way in which a person thinks, feels and what they imagine. If an individual had positive feelings thoughts and emotions the person would be physically represented this way as well (Dacher, 2006).
Peter Schnall Professor of medicine at the University of California, Peter Schnall studied how midlevel business managers working in a stressful business environment. Job strain is the inner experience of high demand and low control. This job strain affected individuals differently though, according to this study some individuals felt helpless, powerless and developed associated mental stress. Other individuals did not develop these feelings, they saw it as a challenge but had the inner resources to deal with the workload. The ones who developed these disturbing emotions also developed physiological issues such as hypertension and an enlarged heart. The stress of negative emotions once again was shown to reek havoc on the physical body (Dacher, 2006).
Dr. Richard Davidson At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Richard Davidson studied electrical brain activity and variations in the blood flow and metabolic activity. He mapped out the areas of the brain that were activated by positive and negative emotions. He was comparing individuals used positive emotions and related to well-being and those who were disturbed by negative emotions. He identified which sides of the brain were activated by positive emotions and negative emotions by showing the individuals images varying from very happy to very disturbing. This study showed that positive emotions activated the right prefrontal cortex and the negative disturbing emotions activated the left prefrontal cortex. He also discovered that after the image was gone whether it was positive or negative the individual would return to their original more permanent trait. This shift in mental state was only temporary and depended on the person’s baseline disposition (Dacher, 2006).
Dr. Richard Davidson Dr. Richard Davidson continued his work to study a group of employees at biotechnology firm. He separated the employees into two groups, and gave them all the flu vaccine. He used written assessments to determine their emotions, anxiety level, brain activity, and immune response to the flu vaccine. One of the groups took an eight week course on stress reduction and relaxation techniques while the other group waited their turn. The individuals who took the course showed a reduction in anxiety, and negative emotions and enhanced their well-being, as well as a greater immune system by responding better to the flu vaccine than the other group awaiting their turn. The right prefrontal cortex corresponded with these positive emotion (Dacher, 2006).
Dean Ornish As a medical student, Dean Ornish, wanted to see if it was possible to reverse heart disease by changing the habits of the patient. He took ten patients with heart disease and housed them in a hotel for on month. During that month and put them on a program. This program included diet change, stress management, and other lifestyle changes. The course of this study was to determine if these changes would reverse heart disease. The conclusion of this study not only should improvements but the oldest and patient in the worse condition improved and reversed his heart disease the most (Schiltz, Amorok, Micozzi, 2005).
Relaxation Practices Loving Kindness is a practice designed to teach the individual to love himself and others and be kind to himself and others. Taking 5 to 15 minutes each day to practice this will diminish the number of problems you have and encourage you to continue the practice. This practice will become easier as you become more comfortable and the sessions will begin to last longer Dacher, 2006). Find a comfortable spot either lying down or sitting. Focus your mind and organize your life. Take deep breaths in and out and let go. Imagine the love that you feel the most for an individual close in your life. Breath in an out while you take that love and turn in on yourself. Fill yourself with this love. Breath in an out. Fully embrace yourself for the precious gift you are. Then take time and turn this love towards others (Dacher, 2006). Take this love while breathing in and out and visualize someone you deeply care about that is suffering. While breathing in take their suffering and pain and let it dissolve completely in your heart. Do not be overwhelmed by their suffering, let is dissolve. Then breath out love happiness, health and wholeness to that same loved one. Continue this exercise for several minutes and think about how you can help this loved one. What can you do to relieve their suffering temporarily of for longer periods of time? On your next out breath offer what you think may be most helpful to them.
Loving Kindness Next focus on a circle of strangers beyond your immediate circle of loved ones and breath in their suffering. On the next out breath send out the peace and well-being you are feeling. Continue this for a few minutes. Next embrace all living beings including those who are considered your enemies. Breath in their suffering and your negative feelings and breath out the peace and love inside you. Experience the changes that take place in your heart. When the practice time has passed remain in this peaceful, stillness that your mind and body are experiencing for a few minutes. Remember this activity is supposed to create loving kindness in yourself and others that lessons your self centeredness and quiets your mind.
The Subtle Mind This practice is much like Loving Kindness. Take the same time and practice it. Find a comfortable place and breath in an out (Dacher, 2006). Your breathing will be your focal point. Focus on either the rising and falling of your chest, or the movement of the breath in and out of your nostrils with each inhale and exhale during your breath cycle. Choose whichever works best for you. Start with ten breaths in and ten breaths out and settle in to the natural ease of you mind and body while continuing to concentrate on your focal point (Dacher, 2006). When your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images begin to distract you notice them and turn back to your focal point. Every time your mind wanders gently but firmly bring it back. This is a highly mindful, and intentional and forceful process, but a required activity to tame the busy mind (Dacher, 2006). You will begin to ease your focus on your breath and notice that you are spending more time witnessing your mental activity instead of being immersed in it. Stay in this place for several minutes and practice this focused concentration technique. This is an opportunity to observe how your mind works and how you are involuntarily pulled toward mental movements (Dacher, 2006).
References Dacher, E.S. (2006) Integral Health: The Path to Human Flourishing. Basic Health Publications: United States of America. Schlitz, M., Amorok, T. & Micozzi, M.S. (2005). Consciousness and healing: Integral approaches to mind-body medicine. Saint Louis, M.I.: Elsevier, Inc.
Conclusion Mental Fitness is never fully achieved. We can always grow in our abilities of mental health. With mental health comes peace, well-being and physical health. With practice our mind can calm the body making it healthy and free of disease and illness. Our mental fitness determines our abilities to cope with and manage stress.