An examination of the qualities of mind-body therapies such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, breath therapy, massage, Feldenkrais® or the Alexander Technique suggests that a new paradigm of “embodiment” as an innate tendency of our organism for emergent self-organization and wholeness, rather than “mind-body,” should be considered to better understand how mind-body therapies work, says a study published in the Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine (2011; doi:10.1186/1747-5341-6-6). Researchers from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), undertook this qualitative study to gain insight into the concept of body awareness in a variety of mind-body disciplines and to examine how an improvement in body awareness—gained through these practices—confers benefits.
Researchers identified a consistent theme among people participating in the therapies—a progression toward greater unity between body and self that is very similar to a four-level conceptualization proposed for the past several decades in philosophical and nursing literature:
1. In the “lived body” state, patients are unaware of the body.
2. In the “objective body” state, the body and self are in disunity accompanied by pain or loss of function.
3. In the “cultivated immediacy” state, patients begin to accept and experience their bodies without objectification.
4. In the “subjective body” state, the body is a source of learning and meaning and is an integral and equal part of the self.
Study authors noted that developing a new paradigm of embodiment within which to understand and evaluate how and why mind-body therapies are effective can overcome limitations that arise when interpreting data based on an artificial separation of mind and body and how one may affect the other.
Wolf Mehling, MD, lead study author and associate professor of clinical family and community medicine at UCSF, says, “The goal of the studied mind-body approaches is the embodied self. This is understood as the experience of an integration of all levels: body, mind, breath, emotions and personality, realized in action and interaction with the environment and world. Patients enter these therapies in a less developed, less integrated mode of embodiment and progress through multiple discernable dimensions, motivated and driven by our . . . innate tendency for emergent self-organization and wholeness.”
To read this study, go to www.pehmed.com/content/6/1/6.