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The Mind-Body Connection Is Too Critical To Ignore

Emotions have a bigger impact on physical health, and a strong mind can help heal the body.

11/10/2017 9:05 AM IST | Updated 11/10/2017 9:05 AM IST
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Till recently, modern science refused to acknowledge the connection between the mind and body. While physical ailments were seen as causing stress and anxiety, Western doctors considered a direct correlation between the mind and the body as being implausible for want of compelling evidence.

This has since undergone a change, thanks to the significant body of scientific research that demonstrated how emotions, or the state of one's mind, can impact physical health. It is now acknowledged that emotionally stressed persons, for instance, are more vulnerable to a major physical ailment. It is argued, in other words, that if the mind is not at ease, it could invite disease.

Traditional Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, has always seen a strong mind-body connection and stressed on the healing power of the mind. In their view, a physically healthy person need not, necessarily, be emotionally balanced, whereas, a mind at peace with itself can lead to a healthy body and a better quality of life.

The externally imposed demands of contemporary living that all of us have internalised make it truly difficult to cultivate a mind that is at peace with itself. We live in a highly competitive world and are constantly being called upon to prove ourselves, to be better than the others, to make more money, buy bigger houses and cars. This is the criteria of success.

While no one does anything in order to fail, very few actually succeed in achieving externally imposed yardsticks. Consequently, our everyday biography is filled with stress, anxiety, and urgency. We are in a constant state of either rage or frustration, envy and depression. It's almost as if this were the age of despair, despondency and dissatisfaction.

Scientific evidence has established that modern society suffers from a sharp increase in hypertension, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, with an increased risk of hospitalisation, even death because we suffer from 'lifestyle diseases'. More importantly, this is not an ailment that is restricted to the developed world but has increasingly found its way across the globe, even in poor and emerging economies.

A mind is at peace only when we are able to disengage while being part of the here-and-now.

There is a qualitative difference in the approach of Western and Eastern philosophical traditions that is worth recalling. In Western thought, for instance, an individual who is disengaged from his environment is seen as suffering from alienation, thus likely to suffer from morbid thoughts, and possibly suicidal, or homicidal tendencies. The suggested remedy is to integrate the individual with the external space they inhabit.

In Eastern thought, disconnect or distancing is not perceived in a negative manner. Indeed, a mind is at peace only when we are able to disengage while being part of the here-and-now. This is dispassion or the ability to stand apart rather than be consumed by one's surroundings or one's state of being. The 'Eternal Now', as Hindu philosophy sees it, is when time loses its temporal quality and is perceived only as part of a continuum. Only then would opposites be seen in context. Such as, black and white, day and night, happiness and sorrow, life and death. You need one to understand the other. What follows is equanimity or being at peace with one's mind.

Eastern philosophy also advises us to tame the mind, as the mind is known to plays tricks. Mindfulness is thus, the ability to be conscious of Maya or illusion and not to mistake it for reality. Only then would the individual cultivate a mind that is at peace with itself.

Mental peace is critical to living a life of quality and value. At the same time, the sole objective behind mindfulness is to recognise the importance of experiencing with the whole body and mind rather than to see and to feel with either the body or the mind and never with both together. It is this 'wholeness' that we will experience when we, to borrow a quote from the Dalai Lama, 'awaken the mind'.

When the mind is awakened, it shifts how we see ourselves. It determines our behavior, attitude and response to people and situations. Stephen Covey puts it wonderfully: 'The way we see a problem 'is' often the problem.' Indeed, when the mind is at peace with itself, our entire being is at peace with our external environment. It is helpful to recognise this, especially in today's day and age.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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