Mind-body approaches use the conscious mind to directly affect the workings of the brain and the rest of the body. The techniques exert their effect on the hypothalamus, the switching station in the brain, which exercises control over the autonomic nervous system (which controls heart rate, blood pressure etc.), the endocrine (glandular) system and the immune system.
The scientific literature on these approaches is now rich and robust. Studies dating from the late 1960’s have shown the power of mind-body techniques to balance the over-activity of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (“the fight or flight” and “stress” responses) which is implicated in many physical and emotional diseases and conditions, with parasympathetic nervous system stimulation that promotes relaxation.
More recently, these techniques have been demonstrated to create beneficial changes in many of the body’s physiological responses (including blood pressure, stress hormone levels, pain response and immune functioning) and to make a significant clinical difference in conditions as diverse as hypertension, HIV, cancer, chronic pain, and insomnia as well as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.