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Thoughts on the physical aspects of emotion

have been reflecting on the influences of the physical structures of the body, on emotion – i.e. body-mind or somato-psychic connections.
The on-line dictionary, mondofacto, defines this as follows:“Relating to the body-mind relationship; the study of the effects of the body upon the mind, as opposed to psychosomatic, which is mind on body”
These thoughts emerged after having recently had the clinical experience of – quite dramatically and unexpectedly – seeing a patient’s chronic anxiety state moderate, following minimal physical interventions that addressed diaphragmatic and thoracic restrictions.
It’s all too easy nowadays to see the mind-body connection as a one way stream of influence. Why indeed should there not be a body-mind flow as well?
And of course there is.
I conducted a brief data search, using Scopus, and the search term “body-mind”
Some fascinating results emerged.

For example there was a paper by Besar (2008) “Oscillations in “brain-body-mind”-A holistic view including the autonomous system” that emphasizes the importance of “developing a common overview, by considering sensory and cognitive inputs”.
What we ‘feel’ is arguably as important as what we ‘think’

Shanon (2008), writing in the journal Philosophical Psychology, has clearly been wrestling with this issue – and summarises his thoughts as follows:
“The mind-body problem concerns the relationship between mind and body, or nowadays – between mind or consciousness and the brain. As a relationship, this can be viewed from two perspectives: from body to mind and from mind to body. In this note I point out that the two readings of the problem are not symmetrical and that there are categorical differences between them. In particular, whereas the body to mind problem constitutes a mystery (cf. the contemporary hard problem), the mind to body problem may be approached from a psychological (as contrasted with philosophical) orientation that allows for concrete phenomenological investigation.”
It is clearly ‘the mystery’ that currently interests me.

Loga (2008), writing in a Psychiatria Danubina, seems to have decided – logically – that the body actually matters in treatment of the mind!:
Psychiatry is a medical discipline addressing the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Psychiatric disorders, which may be seen in people of all ages, involve the emotions, the will, and intellectual processes, verbal and non-verbal behaviour. According to current knowledge we cannot speak about only one cause but of the interaction of several etiological factors, mutually pervading and causing the mental illness. Because of this the treatment of mental disorders involves the complex implementation of biological, psycho-therapeutic, and sociotherapeutic methods of treatment. The contemporary principle of integrative psychiatry immanently requires simultaneous treatment of three human components: body, mind, and spirit. The holistic approach emphasizes the importance of the wholeness of the human person, and the inter-dependence of his components.

As I considered these thoughts, in which those familiar and comfortable with the psychosomatic paradigm, struggle with the somatico-psychic one, I recalled that in a chapter in the book that I coauthored last year Naturopathic Physical Medicine there was evidence for just such (somatico-psychic) effects resulting from various forms of manual therapy.
The problem with these approaches is that they are also usually one sided….they focus on the body, and influence the mind, but in the main the practitioners/therapists involved in delivering manual therapies are ignorant of how to handle mind-issues.
This is true in reverse as well, of course, with very few psychiatrists or psychotherapists familiar with handling the body.
An exception to this resides in the body-centered psychotherapy methods, used by some….and it would make sense for such ideas and methods to be more widely taught/available.

Sagar et al (2007) have evaluated the biomechanical and psychological influences in cancer patients receiving massage.
They write:
“Some cancer patients use therapeutic massage to reduce symptoms, improve coping, and enhance quality of life. Although a meta-analysis concludes that massage can confer short-term benefits in terms of psychological wellbeing and reduction of some symptoms, additional validated randomized controlled studies are necessary to determine specific indications for various types of therapeutic massage. In addition, mechanistic studies need to be conducted to discriminate the relative contributions of the therapist and of the reciprocal relationship between body and mind in the subject. Nuclear magnetic resonance techniques can be used to capture dynamic in vivo responses to biomechanical signals induced by massage of myofascial tissue. The relationship of myofascial communication systems (called “meridians”) to activity in the subcortical central nervous system can be evaluated. Understanding this relationship has important implications for symptom control in cancer patients, because it opens up new research avenues that link self-reported pain with the subjective quality of suffering. The reciprocal body-mind relationship is an important target for manipulation therapies that can reduce suffering.”

Three examples of research showing benefits in psychological conditions resulting from manual treatment include:

Osteopathic manipulative therapy, depression and panic disorder:
Michaud (2004) tested the proposal that an osteopathic approach could be seen as an alternative treatment to the two types of presently proposed therapies, alone or combined (pharmacological, psychological).
It is observed that panic disorder (PD) is a mental health problem that takes too long to detect, tending to become chronic and lessening the quality of life.
• Step 1: Pretreatment evaluation (1st week): (a) PRIME-MD questionnaire to verify the diagnosis; (b) psychological evaluation with the six questionnaires; (c) osteopathic evaluation.
• Step 2: Osteopathic therapy: four sessions of osteopathic treatment according to protocol (around 1 hour each).
• Step 3: Post-treatment evaluation (13th week): re-evaluating the subjects with the same psychological questionnaires as in step 1.
• Step 4: Follow-up 3 years later: using the same psychological questionnaires in order to verify if the acquired conditions have maintained or disappeared.
Results: First, the results that were obtained show a significant improvement in the quality of life with regard to factors of depression, fear, anxiety, physical sensations and panic attack. Secondly, these acquired conditions were maintained or improved after 3 years.

Slow-stroke massage and depression: A randomized cross-over trial (Müller-Oerlinghausen et al 2004) evaluated the benefi ts of ‘slow-stroke’ massage in treatment of 32 depressed patients (24 women, 8 men; average 48 years).
The trial involved three massage sessions at set times and sessions in two control groups of relaxation and perception, lasting for 60 minutes, 2–3 days apart. Under the control conditions there was no touching. The effects of depression-specific variables were measured by both the patients’ own assessment and that of an independent observer.
Results: Under conditions of both massage and control, comparison of before and after effects, there was not only a moodenhancing
effect, but also some very marked changes in almost all criteria. The benefits of massage compared with control treatment were confirmed by both female and male patients.
Conclusion: Slow-stroke massage is suitable for adjuvant acute treatment of patients with depression, and should be available in both hospital and general practice settings

Massage and biochemical markers affecting both depression and anxiety: Biochemical markers of these conditions have been shown to significantly change following massage.
Field et al (2005) report that in studies in which cortisol was assayed either in saliva or in urine, significant decreases were noted in cortisol levels (averaging decreases of 31%). In studies in which the activating neurotransmitters
(serotonin and dopamine) were assayed in urine, an average increase of 28% was noted for serotonin, and an average increase of 31% was noted for dopamine. These studies combined demonstrate the stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and the activating effects (increased serotonin and dopamine) of massage therapy on a variety of medical conditions and stressful experiences.


  • Başar E. 2008 Oscillations in “brain-body-mind”-A holistic view including the autonomous system Brain Research 1235 (C):2-11
  • Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M et al 2005 Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience 115(10):1397–1413
  • Loga, S. 2008 Integrative treatment in psychiatry Psychiatria Danubina 20 (3):349-351
  • Michaud C 2004 Osteopathy – a very promising approach to improve the quality of life in persons suffering from panic attacks [Ostheopathie- Ein viel versprechender Ansatz zur Verbesserung der Lebensqualität bei Panikattacken]. Osteopathische Medizin 5(3):9–15
  • Müller-Oerlinghausen B, Berg C, Scherer P et al 2004 Effects of slow-stroke massage as complementary treatment of depressed hospitalized patients: result of a controlled study. Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 129(24):1363–1368
  • Sagar S et al 2007 Massage therapy for cancer patients: A reciprocal relationship between body and mind Current Oncology 14 (2):45-56
  • Shanon, B. 2008 Mind-body, body-mind: Two distinct problems Philosophical Psychology 21 (5):697-701

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