Last month, some of the team at Allay set up shop at the Body Mind Spirit Expo in Portland, Oregon, an event dedicated to promoting businesses working in natural and alternative health all across the States.
Inspired by BMSE’s ethos- their commitment to promoting personal growth through holistic medicine, metaphysics, and alternative health all while benefiting small businesses (like ALLAY☺)- we wanted to write something about the body-mind-spirit connection. What is it, and why does it matter?
In this post, we’ll go over some of the fundamental problems with Western Medicine (or allopathic medicine), and the importance of understanding the unity of mind & body.
First, a little history
In the 17th century, Descartes theorized that the mind and body are two entirely separate and independent entities, capable of existing apart from one another.
This theory, commonly called ‘mind-body dualism’ was immensely influential- we see mind-body dualism in every-day popular thought, religion, as well as modern science and medicine.
Being a Philosophy graduate, I have to add that the story is a little more complicated than this (if you have time, read Descrates’ letters to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia). The takeaway, however, remains the same- that the Western model of medicine adopted mind-body dualism.
Our scientific and medical model has staked itself on a faulty and largely questionable philosophical point of view. The mind, as the seat of our reason and thought, is thought of as the thing which differentiates us humans from the rest of the animal world. We live now in the age of reason- where truth and the validity of an idea is determined by rationality and thought, while other means of knowledge (i.e. bodily knowledge, emotional knowledge, or observation) are considered unreliable, invalid, and inferior. Reason is king- for now.
The effect that this mindset has had on our healthcare (not to mention countless other aspects of our lives) is profound. Modern medicine has been structured in a way that denies, or at best ignores, the interrelation between mind and body, while bodily and emotional forms of knowledge are often disregarded or undervalued.
Of course, a lot of this is changing. Alternative medicine is on the rise, and the team at ALLAY is doing what we can to be at the forefront, educating consumers, helping other businesses grow, and offering conscious products for holistic health.
Allopathic medicine, or modern medicine, is an evidence-based model which treats or suppresses the patient's symptoms or pathophysiological processes. It treats diseases and patients in parts- looking at symptoms and individual diseases and things which can be treated on their own, without looking at the holistic whole of the individual.
I want to be clear that I’m not condemning modern medicine. We have made incredible strides in our ability to treat serious diseases and conditions, and our current model of medicine has tremendous benefits.
The problem arises when people turn to modern medicine without looking at whatever else might be out there. We turn to pharmaceutical and symptom-based treatment without ever considering that there may be better options. And there often are.
Holistic, ‘whole-person’ medicine
Holistic medicine, on the other hand, strives to treat the whole patient. This means not only treating the specific disease, but the underlying factors which may be causing, catalyzing, or worsening the condition.
It treats the person instead of the disease.
Holistic medicine not only considers physical causes and symptoms, but also social, mental, and spiritual causes. The foundational belief is that all of these factors are profoundly and unequivocally interrelated- if one part of your psyche (be it physical, mental, spiritual, or social) is off balance, it can affect your entire system.
One fascinating example of the way the social and mental can affect the physical is the condition of nostalgia, or homesickness. A severe bout of Nostalgia in the Union Army during the Civil War caused a handful of soldiers to die of gruesome symptoms, including strange sores, fever, and intense fatigue- all because they were feeling homesick. The social standards of the time (which valued family connections and community) along with the added stress of war gave rise to a condition where people could actually die of homesickness.
This type of psychosomatic experience, although strange to us today, is not rare. Psychosomatic illnesses caused by stress or other emotional factors can range anywhere from IBS, to migraines, to fever.
Moreover, The levels of specific hormones in our bodies, caused by our emotional and mental responses to stimuli, can also work to effect our immune system, the function of vital organs, and more.
Countless studies demonstrating the inter-relatedness of one’s mind, social setting, and physical health have been published, but large systems (like the modern health system) can be slow to change.
Mind over Matter- Rationalism vs Bodily Knowledge
Another consequence of Cartesian mind-body dualism is the idea of rationalism, mentioned earlier in this post. Rationalism is the idea that the mind, being not only separate from the body, but also truer and purer in essence, can control the body. Rationalism argues that what separates humans from animals is our ability to reason, to act and think with our mind alone.
The tragedy here is that it ignores other ways of thinking and knowing within our bodies. It poses the mind and reason over other more corporeal forms of knowledge.
There are other non-lingual, non-rational ways of understanding the world. We understand and know through emotion, through visceral feeling. This may sound overly esoteric. And yet studies are cropping up showing the countless ways we know and understand the world through our bodies, not just our brains. The ‘master-slave’ relationship between mind and body promoted by Cartesian rationalism is false.
Take, for example, your gut. Your gut has it’s very own neural network, called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS plays a large role in regulating, producing, and receiving neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. So the common colloquialisms, ‘gut-feeling,’ ‘gut-wrenching,’ or having ‘butterflies’ are more than just metaphors. We feel, perceive, and understand things through our gut. We feel what is going on in our bodies, sometimes more accurately than we are able to think it.
You may know something is wrong in your body- not because you have any specific set symptoms or rational cause for belief- but because you can feel it. You sense that things aren't quite right. In the same way, you can often sense what treatment might be needed to get better. Our bodies know how to heal themselves, we just have to learn how to listen.
When we learn to listen to our body- to lean on our inherent corporeal and emotional knowledge, as well as our reason- we get a more complete, holistic picture of the problems that might be ailing us.
When we treat diseases and conditions, we cannot limit ourselves to the scope of rationalism and dualism. Understanding the unity of our mind and body is essential to seeing (and treating) the whole picture.
The team at ALLAY is proud to be part of a community striving for better, holistic, conscious health. Keep reading our blogs to learn more about holistic health and the power of CBD, and check out our own CBD Infused Body Butter.