12/23/2011 08:43 am ET Updated Feb 22, 2012

Does Your Mind Impact Your Health?

Do you believe your mind impacts your health and wellness?

In a discussion of health, wellness and well-being, an important concept is the relationship between the mind and the body. There are two primary ways of looking at the mind-body relationship. Monism views the mind and body not as distinct entities but as one interrelated system. From a health and wellness standpoint, this approach means that what is going on in your body impacts your mind and emotions, and what is going on in your mind and emotions impacts your physical body. The mind produces changes in the body, and the body produces changes in the mind.

The other way of looking at the mind and body is called dualism. This model was articulated by Rene Descartes, a French philosopher in the 1600s. According to the dualism model, the mind and body are totally independent entities that do not impact one another. Our emotional and psychological status and our thoughts have no impact on our physical health; similarly, our physical health has no impact on our mind, emotions, thoughts or mood.

The predominant Western view is that of Descartes: there is a split between the mind and body, with the body viewed as separate and distinct from the mind. The implication of this approach to health and wellness is that you need to treat only the body and the physical symptoms -- you do not need to take the whole person into consideration.

Eastern cultures, by contrast, believe that the mind and body are not separate but are related and have an impact on each other. The view of Eastern cultures, Native Americans and other indigenous cultures throughout the world is to recognize the unity of the whole person. We are not machines composed of totally independent parts. Humans are complex, interrelated wholes with all aspects of our existence impacting other aspects of our being.

From a health and wellness standpoint, the Eastern approach is a whole-person approach because the mind and body are seen as directly related. What goes on in your mind -- what you think and how you feel -- directly impacts your body, which in turn affects your thinking and emotions. The Eastern model does not deny that external factors can impact disease and illness, but it recognizes that there are internal factors that are equally important. To maintain health and wellness requires treating and considering the entire mind-body complex.

Observe how this relates to you. When you're upset, is there a change in your body? How does it react to your mental state? When you're experiencing stress, what physical changes do you notice in your body? How about when you're excited and happy? In addition to the physical effects you notice, there may be other changes in your various body systems that you're not aware of.

When you exercise, what do you notice about your thinking and emotions? When you've gotten a long night of sound sleep, how does it impact your thinking and emotions? After you take a long deep breath, what changes are you aware of? How does your mood impact your body?

If the monism principle that the mind and body impact one another is correct, you likely notice changes in your body that correlate with what you think and the emotions you experience. Since your mind and emotions impact the conditions in your body and the conditions in your body are a factor in the manifestation of disease and illness, your mind and emotions are a major player in determining your health and wellness.

Many healing traditions around the world and throughout the ages embrace the holistic model of the interrelationship of the mind and the body. Shifting and reframing your perspective of the mind and body relationship as it applies to your health and wellness can lay the foundation for making changes to enhance your life.