[Posted on 22 May, 2018 by Maj-Britt Posserud]
There is a growing interest for so called Mind-Body techniques, e.g. yoga, Tai-Chi, meditation, for use in therapy for both somatic and psychiatric health issues. Is it just a hype or is there something to it?!? There have been claims for amelioration of a wide range of problems and health issues, and many training centres now have classes including mind-body techniques as part of the repertoire.
There are quite a few interesting studies and encouraging findings, among others a study from Swedish prison studying the effect of “Krimyoga” that found that yoga improved impulse control, focus and emotional control for inmates in prisons (Kerekes, Fielding, & Apelqvist, 2017). Psychologists at one of our CAMH centres in Bergen had a relaxation and mindfulness group for adolescent patients. The girls with ADHD often fell asleep during the sessions, but they came every week! They loved it and begged us to continue with that group, so at least they had great subjective gains from the intervention!
Mind-body therapies could be important treatment alternatives/treatment supplements that could be particularly relevant to patients suffering from pain, stress and sleeping difficulties. But we need more research to learn more about how mind-body techniques can improve mental and physical well-being. We know too little about what it is that works and for whom it could work. From what we know so far, it seems probable that mind-body techniques can have beneficial effects in many different ways. Breathing deeply and consciously strengthens the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nerve system, improving heart rate variability, which in itself has an important impact on maintaining good health. Mind-Body techniques also seems to improve cognitive control and focus as well as emotional regulation. Mind-Body techniques may also improve “introspection” – perceiving signals from within. Introspection helps us know when we are tired, cold, hungry, in need of rest or a break, and even though our lives are filled with situations when we must or choose to overlook these signals, perceiving them is the first step to deal with them. An important spin-off of the Mind-Body movement/hype is that people are becoming more aware of how mental health and physical health are intrinsically connected to each other. Mind and body are one; the one cannot exist without the other. Hopefully that insight can help us reduce the fear and stigma associated with mental health problems!
Even if we know too little to recommend or implement mind-body techniques as standard therapy right now, learning to relax better and take a deep breath is probably good for all of us! If nothing else it makes you feel better, so just take a deeeeep breath, exhale slowly and let your shoulders down. Repeat as many times as needed.