What is Mind-Body Medicine?

Mind-body medicine reveals the connections between the mind, body and spirit and the individual’s ability to stay healthy and cope with chronic disease. According to the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, up to 80% of all non-communicable illnesses are related to chronic stress. Techniques such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation have been proven to successfully treat illness and stress – and to keep us well.

There are different methods of mind-body medicine, but they all share one commonality: they use some sort of mental-behavioral training and involve modulating states of consciousness to influence bodily processes toward greater health, well-being and better functioning iv.

What Does The Science Say


This transition of focus from treating the disease to fostering health empowers patients and their families to take an active role in their care. By offering multiple treatments to combat pain and illness and promoting overall health, physicians are giving patients choices that focus on the creation of health rather than merely the elimination of the disease.

banner mind bodyDr. Jonas discusses making integrative pain management the standard with Dr. Robert Bonakdar, the Director of Pain Management at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, and the Director of the American Academy of Pain Management.


Mind-body skills are activities that help to integrate biological and psychological responses. They work by helping to regulate the nervous system and induce the relaxation response—the opposite of the stress response (fight or flight). Mind-body skills counteract the physiological and psychological effects of stress, enhance cognitive and physical function, and improve psychological, stress-related and chronic conditions.

Most mind-body therapies evoke a relaxation response that directly counters the stress response.


A systematic review of 116 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of multi-modal mind-body-spirit training programs (e.g., guided imagery, breath work, progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation response, mindfulness, yoga) found statistically significant improvements on stress, distress, anxiety, coping, burnout and trauma-related thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms (Crawford et al., 2013)

The clinical populations that were helped include adult and pediatric patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic headaches, cancer, heart disease, HIV, heart surgery, anxiety, depression, PTSD and schizophrenia.


Mindfulness is one of the most effective and well-researched mind-body skills. More than 2,500 studies in the past 20 years have demonstrated the positive impact of mindfulness on physical, emotional, cognitive and psychological well-being.


A meta-analysis of 20 controlled and observational studies of MBSR in diverse populations found significant effects for mental and physical outcomes in both clinical and nonclinical populations. Effects included decreasing emotional distress and anxiety, improving pain perception, and increasing well-being and quality of life. Clinical communities that were helped included patients with fibromyalgia, cancer, heart disease, depression, chronic pain, anxiety, obesity and binge eating (Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).

In another study, a review of 21 RCTs found MBSR is a useful method for improving mental health and reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. The authors recommended it in medical disease management to improve health-related quality of life (Fjorback, Arendt, Ornbøl, Fink, & Walach, 2011).


18th Century

French chemist Antoine Lavoisier discovers the relationship between metabolism and breathing.

The 1890s

The practice of yoga and naturopathy – a holistic approach to care in which the physician considers nutrition, emotional wellbeing and other aspects that make up the mind, body, and spirit of a patient – is introduced to the U.S. Hans Selye establishes the stress response.

The 1950s

Psychosomatic medicine, an interdisciplinary approach to treating patients, practiced by physicians. The practice examines the relationships among social, psychological and behavioral factors that impact the body and is a step toward mind-body medicine.

The 1960s

Yoga gains popularity as individuals starts to see its effect on wellbeing.

The 1970s

The term “mind-body medicine” gains traction for physicians. Dr. Herbert Benson studies the “Relaxation Response.”


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is established at the National Institutes of Health.


NCCAM changes its name to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) to reflect the inclusion of alternative practices in traditional medicine.

How Does It Work

Mind-body medicine is the treatment of the whole person. Various techniques are used in concert with conventional medicine or are used independently to treat or prevent illness.


Mindful Eating/Nutrition – the interpretation of the interaction of nutrients about maintenance, growth, reproduction, health, and disease

Psychology – the study of mind and behavior

Acupuncture – a component of traditional Chinese medicine involving the insertion of thin needles into various points in the body.

Meditation – a practice in which an individual induces a mode of consciousness

Mindfulness – is a type of meditation focused on paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, with a non-judgmental attitude. It is derived from Buddhist practices.

Yoga – a physical, a mental and spiritual discipline that has gained popularity in the U.S.

Biofeedback – Bodily processes are measured and displayed for the patient who learns to control these functions such as heart rate or blood pressure.

Tai Chi – a Chinese martial art that is practiced for defense training and health benefits.

Guided Imagery – the use of words and music to evoke positive imaginary scenarios in an individual

Breathwork – involves a variety of techniques that use patterned breathing to promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Relaxation techniques are helpful tools for coping with stress and promoting long-term health by regulating the body’s autonomic nervous system and quieting the mind.

Progressive muscle relaxation – is a method that reduces tension in the body by tensing and then relaxing each muscle group of the body, one group at a time

Yoga Nidra – A meditation practice that focuses on reducing physical, emotional and mental tension. The technique promotes deep relaxation through body scanning and deep breathing. Samueli Institute’s evaluation of Yoga Nidra and its impact on Servicemembers experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms

Mind-body techniques have been shown to be helpful in the treatment of cancer symptoms, high blood pressure, asthma, coronary heart disease, obesity, pain, insomnia, diabetes, fibromyalgia and a host of other ailments.

In the Real World

For the Military: Resetting the Stress Response

“I had lost all feeling. I was numb…to crying, deaths in the family, children’s needs, my wife’s needs…Before Reset, I was waiting for each minute to pass. But now I’m at the point where I don’t want each minute to pass. Now I want more minutes.”

This quote from a participant in the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program (Reset), an intensive outpatient Behavioral Health program at Fort Hood, Texas shows the impact of mind-body medicine. After taking part in the program, Service members experience significant reductions in symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), pain, anxiety, and depression.

The program provides integrative care for Service members for the treatment of combat stress and PTSD symptoms. During a three-week outpatient treatment period, Soldiers participate in activities that include individual and group counseling, self-regulation and biofeedback, coping skills education and training, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), neurofeedback, and integrated alternative modalities including acupuncture, massage, yoga, reflexology and Reiki, as well as eight weeks of follow-up counseling and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments.

Mind-Body Techniques for Trauma Spectrum Response (TSR)

The past decade of multiple deployments and prolonged exposure to chronic stress has triggered the onset, development, or progression of many disease processes including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, drug and alcohol abuse, and dysfunctions in sleep, appetite, and energy. These co-occurring symptoms make up the Trauma Spectrum Response. Through mind-body approaches such as meditation, yoga and guided imagery, Services members can teach their bodies to turn off the stress response.

Acupuncture for Battlefield Pain

Battlefield Acupuncture leverages ancient healing techniques into a basic pain relief alternative that can be easily taught to frontline medical staff. Traditional acupuncture is based on more than 2,000 points along 20 pathways in the body called meridians. Battlefield Acupuncture simplifies the treatment by focusing on five easy-access points within the ear to provide pain relief during medical transport and reducing the use of opioids in the care of injured Service members.

For First-Responders: Decrease Anxiety, Increase Performance

Traumatic stress manifests itself in both mind and body. A recent study showed that we have the inherent capacity to regulate how our bodies manifest our stress response.

Upon receiving training on mind-body self-regulating skills, study participants showed:

  • decreases in anxiety
  • improvements in performance including scene time and critical errors
  • quicker return to baseline heart rate after stress
  • more restful sleep

The training was designed to teach individuals to recognize and stabilize their own and others’ physiological and emotional responses to traumatic stress. This type of skills training is especially applicable to those at the most risk of being exposed to traumatic events like military personnel, combat medics, first responders, paramedics, and EMTs.

For Athletes: Harnessing the Power of the Mind

A mind is a powerful tool. Brain imaging studies reveal that our thoughts produce nearly the same mental instructions and physiological reactions as actions. The body can’t tell the difference. The brain and body react similarly whether an experience is imagined or real.

Using mental practices such as guided imagery can enhance skill development, motivation, increase confidence and self-efficacy, improve motor performance, relieve pain and increase states of “flow” (Martin, Moritz, & Hall, 1999; Murphy & Jowdy, 1992).

High jumpers who used visual rehearsal therapy improved performance by 35 percent. Those who combined guided imagery with movement (such as mimicking the arm movements during the jump) increased performance by 45 percent. The two activities engage overlapping neural networks and together activate brain connectivity and muscle memory to optimize peak performance (Guillot, Moschberger, & Collet, 2013).