Why the mind/body division is no longer useful

Interconnecting neurons

by Penny Boreham

When we are emotionally distressed, numb and disconnected from others, when we are suffering from severe fear, anxiety or are deeply depressed we consider, and are often told, that these are signs that all is not well with our mental health, and our minds.

These symptoms are seen as separate from others, such as irritable bowel syndrome, arrythmia or asthma, which are seen as signs that all is not well in our bodies and the organs of our bodies.

Now with new breakthroughs in our knowledge about the interconnectedness of the brain and the body it is becoming clearer than ever that a mind/body division is no longer useful or valid.

We are learning now for example how the brain is an organ that is interwoven with the whole body and all its systems, how the body and its organs are constantly influencing the brain. There is a dense and complex system of interconnectivity that defies categorisation and separation.

Our whole nervous system is constantly in a state of flux, ever changing. As you are reading this blog new pathways are forming in your brain, there is an active dynamic continually in process.  This means that our nervous systems are susceptible to all influences, both negative and positive.

At two extremes our whole system can become either overwhelmed and manic, or shut down and rigid, but then when it is in a more balanced and integrated state we sense a feeling of peace, calm and spaciousness and of being really connected within ourselves and to each other.

The secret to finding our way to that more integrated state of being is to listen to our nervous systems. We have to understand that it is all connected and those symptoms always defined as “mental” and of the mind are indeed just as much part of our bodies and this is because they are one and the same thing.

As Peter Levine says (quoting DH Lawrence); “the body-unconscious is where life bubbles up in us”.

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  1. Comment by Teresa Hewett-Hicks on

    I agree the psychological is equally as important as the physical, to care for one without the other is fatal, without combination neither can exist fully.
    Thank you for such an inspiring blog.

    1. Reply by Penny Boreham on

      Thank you very much for reading it and we appreciate your comment.

  2. Comment by Peter Buckingham on

    Interesting blog about an important if ignored issue. I know a lot of people who talk about their ‘body’, usually negatively as if it where something they had bought from Tesco. I think that that viewing ourselves as a body and a mind is dangerous for our health. If I am stressed I can sit and worry or move about, walk dance make love whatever and the stress moves out of my mind through my body and away, allowing me to regain a normal balance. I to will be following this blog.

  3. Comment by Mu on

    I think it is useful in this sort of discussion to clarify what one means with the terms ‘mind’ and ‘brain’. Nowadays many of us already accept ‘brain’ to be a property (or a force) intrinsic to cells or rather to the cell wall (but not limited to this I would say) – (Bruce Lipton a former geneticist explains this cell wall property and came up with the research and reasoning for this) – and for that, environment is the essential influence. However he then talks of’ subconsious mind’ and ‘conscious mind’ in more colloquial ways and I have been unsuccessful so far in finding what precisely he is referring to. It’s unfortunate because the implication is that he comes away from the cellular ‘brain’ notion that would support the psychosomatic-being paradigm, and seems to locate the ‘power’ back into the ‘subconcious mind’ without establishing whether he is referring to some construction in the ‘head-brain’ where mind is commonly supposed to reside (!) or in the person as a dynamic energy-field (which is what I would argue). Phew. Sorry for the long post: it’s a no-brainer to my mind 🙂 that the lens through which one is viewing the topic needs to be thoroughly explored and the difficulty arises when we use ‘old’ terms in a ‘new’ way, perhaps?

  4. Comment by ros on

    Another interesting aspect is the power of the imagination and how it can be used in healing.
    To take a random example, some people believe that trees can provide a healing energy. I am not going to go into whether this could be true or not. What does seem true , however, is that when people believe it and act on it – for example, by sitting close to a tree in order to calm down – that they do indeed then feel calmer. The same kind of principle seems to be at work in hypnotherapy , shamanic work and forms of chanting and sound work. There may be calming or curative elements at work in these modalities but it is also true that the imagination can be used as a powerful source of good and of healing. If we can work with our minds to enter positive states and hold positive beliefs, these can in turn contribute to a form of healing.

  5. Comment by Gabrielle on

    Fascinating, thought provoking with profound implications. We start off life completely in touch with our bodies – I know that the worst periods of my life were where I lost touch with my body and in effect lost touch with myself. it’s very painful to live ‘split’.

    1. Reply by Penny Boreham on

      That is so true, very young children are so in the moment and so in their bodies, and in both ways have a lot to teach us.

  6. Comment by Alan Richardson on

    Interesting observations about an interesting subject. It seems clear to me that it is misleading to view psyche and soma as two separate entities and this so-called ‘Cartesian split’ (named after Rene Descartes, who famously said “I think, therefore I am”) can be harmful to our well being. My view after being a full-time a Rolfing practitioner since 1998 is that many emotional and mental problems have their root in people’s dissociation from their body – they ignore their body and suppress physical feelings because they believe they ‘are’ their mind, and the body is just a kind of appendage, machine-like. Having worked in bodywork for many years it has become natural for me to do away with the body/mind distinction and view us humans as ‘bodyminds’. We are psychosomatic beings, so psyche and soma should receive equal weight in any health treatment. I shall be reading more of your interesting blog.

    1. Reply by Benjamin Fry on

      I think this view is getting more and more sane given the evidence from modern ‘mental health’ treatments such as the body psychotherapies which we practice.

    2. Reply by Penny Boreham on

      Thank you for telling us the term you use, ‘bodyminds’ which makes such sense.

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