Editor’s Note: Andrew Weil, M.D. is a world-renowned leader, best-selling author, and...
One of the guiding principles of mind-body medicine is the interconnection of all things, including the mind, the body, and the environment in which we live. Each of us is an inseparable part of an infinite field of intelligence, and in this very moment, with every breath, we are exchanging millions of atoms with the universe.
From this holistic perspective, health isn’t merely the absence of disease or symptoms; it is a state of optimal wellbeing, vitality, and wholeness. We are healthy when we’re able to fully digest everything we take in, extracting what is nourishing and eliminating whatever doesn’t serve us. This includes our food, our relationships, our jobs, and all our life experiences. Illness, in contrast, develops when there is a disruption ― a blockage in the flow of energy and information in our bodymind. Symptoms and sickness are the body’s signal that we need to restore balance, eliminate whatever is causing the blockages, and reestablish the healthy flow of intelligence.
Since the body and mind are inextricably connected, every time we have a thought, we set off a cascade of cellular reactions in our nervous system that influence all the molecules in our body. Our cells are constantly observing our thoughts and being changed by them.
Each day at the Chopra Center, we see guests who reinforce our view that our thoughts and choices and experiences influence our tendency to be healthy or become ill. A man in a toxic work environment has incapacitating headaches that don’t respond to multiple medications. A woman decides she will no longer accept her boyfriend’s demeaning behavior, and her debilitating panic attacks “mysteriously” subside.
Of course, this is not to say that all illnesses are “caused” by our thoughts. The relationship between the mind and body is complex, and sometimes things happen at a physical level for which we don’t have a plausible explanation. We have to acknowledge that we may have an inherent tendency for health or imbalance, and in some cases, genetic inheritance is the major factor underlying an illness. At the same time, we have amazing potential to heal and transform ourselves through our thoughts, perceptions, and choices. The body is a magnificent network of intelligence, capable of far more than current medical science can explain.
Establishing a healthy dialogue between our thoughts and our molecules helps us shift from imbalance to balance. And when we’re in an optimal state of dynamic balance, we naturally tend to listen to our body with love and reverence and make choices that support balance, happiness, and wellbeing. The following seven mind-body prescriptions will help you create this positive feedback loop:
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools for restoring balance to our mind and body. In meditation, you experience a state of restful awareness in which your body is resting deeply while your mind is awake though quiet. In the silence of awareness, the mind lets go of old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to heal itself. Scientific research on meditation is accelerating with the growing awareness of meditation’s numerous benefits, including a decrease in hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and addictive behaviors.A groundbreaking study by Massachusetts General Hospital found that as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people feel calmer but also produced changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in the areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation.
Meditation brings us home to the peace of present moment awareness and gives us an experience of profound relaxation that dissolves fatigue and long-standing stresses. In our experience at the Chopra Center, the most powerful benefits of meditation come from having a regular, daily practice.
The Chopra Center offers instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation, a mantra-based meditation practice that is easy for anyone can learn. You can receive instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation and your personal mantra at any Chopra Center program or event – or click here to find a Chopra Center–certified meditation teacher in your area.
Next to breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function. To create a healthy body and mind, our food must be nourishing. Ideal nutrition comes from consuming a variety of foods that are appropriately prepared and eaten with awareness.
A simple way to make sure that you are getting a balanced diet is to include the six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in each meal. The typical American diet tends to be dominated by the sweet, sour, and salty tastes (the main flavors of a hamburger). We do need these tastes, but they can lower metabolism especially if eaten in excess.
The pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory and increase metabolism. These tastes are found in food such as radishes, ginger, mustard, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, tea, lentils lettuce, and so on. You can find more information on the six tastes here.
In addition to including the six tastes in each meal, focus on eating a variety of fresh and freshly prepared foods, while eliminating or at least limiting items that are canned, frozen, microwaved, or highly processed. These are “dead” foods that weaken health and accelerate aging.
Regular exercise offers incredible benefits for your body and mind. Drs. William Evans and Irwin Rosenberg from Tufts University have documented the powerful effect of exercise on many of the biomarkers of aging, including muscle mass, strength, aerobic capacity, bone density, and cholesterol.
Not only does exercise keep the body young, but it also keeps the mind vital and promotes emotional wellbeing. In his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Harvard University professor John Ratey, M.D. describes research showing that physical activity sparks biological changes that increase the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and perform other cognitive tasks. Exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of stress and lift depression.
A complete fitness program includes exercises to develop flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning, and strength training. Find an aerobic activity that you enjoy and will be able to three to four times each week for twenty to thirty minutes. After your body is warmed up, spend five to ten minutes stretching. Be sure to include strength training in your program to systematically exercise the major muscle groups of your body. The key is to start off slowly, find physical activities you like, and do them regularly. You will be surprised how quickly you increase your endurance and enthusiasm for moving and breathing.
Restful sleep is essential key to having health and vital energy. When you're well-rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly, yet sleep is so often neglected or underemphasized. There is even a tendency for people to boast about how little sleep they can get by on. In reality, over time, inadequate sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens our immune system, contributes to weight gain and depression, and speeds up the aging process.
Human beings generally need between six and eight hours of restful sleep each night. Restful sleep means that you’re not using pharmaceuticals or alcohol to get to sleep but that you’re drifting off easily once you turn off the light and are sleeping soundly through the night. If you feel energetic and vibrant when you wake up, you had a night of restful sleep. If you feel tired and unenthusiastic, you haven’t had restful sleep.You can get the highest quality sleep by keeping your sleep cycles in tune with the rhythms of the universe, known as circadian rhythms. At the Chopra Center, we find that if people can commit to a consistent sleep ritual, they can usually retrain their mind to experience healthy sleep patterns. Find recommendations for a restful sleep routine here.
Many of us harbor emotional toxicity in the form of unprocessed anger, hurt or disappointment. This unprocessed residue from the past contributes to toxicity in our body and needs to be eliminated. You can begin by asking yourself, “What am I holding onto from the past that is no longer serving me in the present?”
Once you have identified what you want to release, spend some time journaling about how your life will be different when you change. Then you can do a specific releasing ritual that declares to yourself and to the world that you are letting go of whatever it is you’ve been holding on to. If you need more help in this area, consider attending the Healing the Heart workshop at the Chopra Center. In a nurturing, supportive environment, you will be guided intensive, loving process to release emotional pain and then fill the newly created space in your heart with love and self-nurturing behaviors.
Research shows that a good social support network has numerous physical and mental health benefits. It can keep you from feeling lonely, isolated or inadequate and if you feel good about yourself, you can deal with stress better. Friends and loved ones can be a good source of advice and suggest new ways of handling problems. But they can also be an excellent distraction from what's bothering you. If your network of friends is small, think about volunteering, joining an outdoor activities group or trying an online meet-up group to make new friends.
From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system. Researchers in Japan found that people with rheumatoid arthritis who watched “rakugo” or comic storytelling experienced a significant decrease in their pain and stress hormone levels as well as an increase in two immune-enhancing