“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activities.” John F. Kennedy
In 1963 President John F. Kennedy changed the name of his predecessor’s youth fitness program to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. He redirected the council’s role to serve adults, as well as American youth addressing the connection of the body and the mind in modern times. However, most of us in the western world did not understand the significance of his statement as medical science dug deeper into research, development and treatment in separate specialized fields. While the specialized approach to health made enormous contributions to our physical health and longevity, as well as our mental health, recognition of the mind-body connection lagged behind. Fortunately, studies have been catching up in more recent years and volumes of results have been published regarding the benefits of the mind-body connection including the research in the science of happiness, Positive Psychology.
My Personal Path to the Mind-Body Connection
Decades after JFK’s statement, my young husband, shockingly, died of a heart attack. For several years prior to his death he’d had outbursts of anger in situations that I, and our family and friends, saw as normal and reasonable. Eventually he became quite violent and abusive as his raging increased in frequency and intensity. When he died I was convinced that his anger and hostility had played a huge role in his heart attacks. I believed his mind and body had been linked inextricably, albeit destructively, and that if his unhealthy mind had been treated as a major contributor to an unhealthy body, his heart, he might have lived a longer and healthier life and we, as a family might have grown. So began my search. I won’t say it was easy and that I never waived, but that search continued for years as my life went on.
In my search, I attended discussion groups and workshops, talked to physicians and psychologists, and read endless scientific publications and books about heart health and mental health, but body and mind it seemed were similar to east and west-- never the ‘tween shall meet. I continued to attend lectures at hospitals and courses at colleges. Finally at a lecture at Johns Hopkins University I heard a clue I had been waiting to hear.
“Psychoneuroimmunolgy”, the physician said. It’s the study of the possible link of cognition, emotions and the state of health and it was on the rise in medical research. I’d hoped the proof of the mind-body connection would soon be well known and published so everyone would understand what had happened to my husband, our family and in other untold households.
Shortly thereafter, as I browsed the psychology section of my favorite bookstore, there it was. I stared . . . fixed on the book, the cover, the title . . . the words glaring back at me. Anger Kills, – the groundbreaking study of the link between anger and heart attacks, by Dr. Redford Williams. There it was . . . the answer! I knew it! I’d known it! I’d lived it! He’d died from it! I snatched the book from the shelf, and suddenly, a massive cloud of sadness swept over me once again. Anger Kills, Anger Kills, Anger Kills. The words repeated on the spine of every book on that shelf.
As I became more aware of scientific accounts of the mind-body connection, and its role in diseases, I began to think about the possibility of a positive mind having a positive effect on the body. Right about that time, and perhaps not so ironically, yoga classes were being introduced at fitness centers including the center where I sweated through my workouts. Yoga studios popped up everywhere with chit-chat in coffee shops about the mind-body connection, true or false. Articles about gurus ran in newspapers and magazines. Some said yoga was hokey, just a resurgence of the communal hippies of the sixties, a fad. It was, so some said, about turning your body into a pretzel like a contortionist in a Las Vegas show bar, or sitting on a cushion humming for hours waiting for spirit to tell you to get up, sniff something, anything, and breathe in another orgy. But . . . it was 1997, a new millennium was moving in, I had a computer in my house, a phone in my car and I was ready for a new dawning! So why not roll out a mat on the gym floor and see, just see? Besides, it seemed to me that the medical community was still very much into germs, genes and specialization and I needed to know the mind- body connection as the interwoven intricacies of a whole human being.
So here’s what happened . . . at the closing of my first yoga class, on the gym floor, lying on a spongy, blue mat, a blanket not exactly effective in covering the sweat of hundreds of humans before me, I was happy, completely happy. As I lay there aware of nothing else, I felt the sadness fall away from my body. I accepted that I would never know for sure the origin of my husband’s deadly anger. What I did know for sure was that his mind and body had been connected and others could choose to be healthier and happier with that knowledge. I knew the inextricable connection—the positive link the yogis had known for thousands of years lived and cared for my own body, in my own mind along with the power of spirit.
“Perhaps the most fundamental development in behavioral medicine is the recognition that we can no longer think about health as being solely a characteristic of the body or the mind because body and mind are interconnected.” John Kabat-Zinn
Yoga, Positive Psychology and Coaching
I learned that “Yoga” meaning “Union” is a science of self awareness that teaches us to know ourselves as whole beings. I practiced steadily in local classes and at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center in Massachusetts which is a modern school that incorporates tradition with the whole of the physical, mental and spiritual being. In 2003, at Kripalu, I was certified to teach yoga.
Nine years later, I received an email from Kripalu staff asking if I’d be interested in another program that was being offered for the first time anywhere in the science of Positive Psychology. I was more than interested, I was ecstatic. So I went to Kripalu to discuss it and, of course I enrolled in the program.. One year later, in 2013 I was Certified in Positive Psychology by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, of Harvard University and who later founded the Whole Being Institute (WBI). As one good thing leads to another, subsequently, I studied at WBI and was certified as a Positive Psychology Coach by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. Today the science of Positive Psychology, the mind-body connection (philosophy of yoga), along with my career in Retirement programs and many life experiences guide my approach in coaching.