Monday, November 7, 2011

Mindfulness and Body

Laura Boggess has been hosting our book discussion at The High Calling, and we’ve been talking about Ellen Langer’s Mindfulness. We’ve now reached the tenth and final chapter, “Mindfulness and Health.”

It’s a long chapter, and leans to the dense. It’s full of academic and medical studies. It’s not a good chapter to read when you’re in bed at night, assuming you’re trying to stay awake long enough to finish reading. Or perhaps it is a good chapter to read if you’re having trouble falling asleep. My wife has held on to a sociology book from college for just that purpose.

Langer’s point is simple, and seems rather obvious – what goes on in the mind can affect the body. It can affect your health.

The trouble is that it isn’t obvious to everyone, including a lot of doctors. Medical schools teach doctors how to deal with physical health. Specialties like psychiatry exist for mental health. It’s only been fairly recently that the two have begin to step into each other’s territory. (And psychiatry itself has branches of practice – some looking for physical causes and physical solutions for mental problems, while others seek different kinds of approaches and treatments.)

As for Langer’s point – the mind can affect the body – I’m a textbook case.

As I mentioned before, for several months I’ve been dealing with a back issue – bulging disc likely pinching a nerve. It’s been unpleasant. For two weeks in August, I worked from home, because I was at maximum strength pain meds and driving wasn’t a good idea.

The problem has been slowly improving, with the help of a combination of both physical and mental exercises. I recognized fairly early on what was happening – I transfer stress straight to my back. So I’ve been in physical therapy and “mental therapy” – having daily conversations with my brain.

At work, when I see heavy stress coming, I begin talking with my brain. I essentially start preparing it (and me) for what I see happening and how we’re going to deal with it. And it works. I talk myself into calm and let the stress wash right over my head.

The proof is what happens when I get ambushed by stress – when I don’t see it coming. Bam! Straight to the back. And sometimes, both things happen – I see it coming and when it comes it throws an unexpected curve. The resulting pain falls somewhere in the middle.

I’m also talking with friends about it. My old way of dealing with stress goes back a long, long time. Change is difficult; old patterns have to be broken and new ones put together.

I’m actually putting into daily practice the kind of mindfulness Langer advocates. I haven’t agreed with everything she says; I’ve taken issue with some parts of her book that I think slip over into pseudo-science and opinion.

But here, despite all the dense academic stuff, she is making a good point. Problems in the mind can manifest themselves physically. That doesn’t mean all physical problems come from the mind, but it does mean the mind if a lot more powerful than we give it credit for, and problems in the mind, or even ways of behaving, can lead to physical problems.

To see more posts on Ellen Langer’s Mindfulness, please visit The High Calling. And thanks to Laura for leading the discussion groups these past several weeks, and putting up with my occasional rants about the book.


Laura said...

LOL, about the sleep aid, Glynn! This was a very long chapter and she did tend to meander a bit. That makes it difficult to write a concise summary, I must say. I'm glad to hear that being mindful is helping you handle the stress better--though something tells me you would have dealt deliberately with it even if you hadn't read the book. I've enjoyed your "contrariness", Glynn. Keeps things interesting :).

Lisa notes... said...

I agree with Laura that your "contrariness" has been a good thing in many ways, one being that it helped me be more mindful of what I was reading.

I also agree that the body/mind connection is much stronger than we give it credit for. I think we've come a long way in understanding that even since Langer wrote this book. Hope you continue to find success in reducing back pain by reducing stress levels.

Anonymous said...

it's all connected, isn't it?

heart mind body spirit soul God others...

i have had my back problems the last few days.
i think my back gets inflamed easily when i use certain muscles. advil and lots of relaxing in certain positions, and not one position for very long. it seems to be improving.

congrats on finishing this reading.
congrats on your book as well.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I agree totally- my thoughts and amount of exercise affect my back too. It also affect how many over-the-counter medicines I take : ) Which impacts my body. I like what Nance said too. Body, mind, spirit, and others. They all affect us.