Monday, November 18, 2013

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Mind-Body Medicine Part 1

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

            “So what exactly is mind-body medicine?”
            I’m so glad you asked!
            In a nutshell, it’s an aspect of integrative medicine that helps you control your physical and emotional responses to the world around you.
            Mind-Body Medicine has been defined by Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Amit Sood as “a program that will help train your attention and refine your interpretations so that your attention becomes focused and strong…”
            The Center for Mind Body Medicine defines it as medicine that “focuses on the interactions between mind and body and the powerful ways in which emotional. mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect health.”
            As I keep repeating, the brain is connected to the body, and vice versa, so if we want to have overall, optimal health we must stop ignoring this critical fact and think more along the lines of being whole body connected.
            The take-home point is: “You might be taking care of your body but what about your mind?” 

            Maybe you aren’t taking care of your mind, or paying much attention to it outside of knowing what you’re thinking or worrying about at any given moment. Many of us know it’s up there, somewhere above our shoulders, but some of us don’t know what to do with it. Instead of trying to take some measure of control over it, we’re more likely to let it control us—rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, anger, frustration, depression, fear and all!

           As Dr. Sood goes on to say, “Impressive advances in neuroscience research have brought to our attention a startling and exciting discovery—the mind can change the brain.”
            Our brain can be soothed and more completely engaged. We can become more resilient, happier, more thoughtful and purposeful or intentional. (Remember the neuroplasticity I described in a previous blog?)

            Many of these activities I learned ages ago as an undergraduate and grad student. I’ve tried them, applied them, researched them and know they work—when you practice them properly and faithfully. (Where I have doubts and concerns, I’ll point that out too.)
            There are 11 I’m going to address. So let’s get started today on the first four: Biofeedback, Guided Imagery, Meditation, and Muscle Relaxation.


Physical therapists, athletic trainers, coaches and psychiatrists have used this technique for years. Exactly what is this technique that’s been effective in 150 medical conditions?

Biofeedback is used to help your mind control your body. But just what in your body are you trying to control?

You’re trying to control involuntary (reflexive) responses: blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate. My physical therapist is using it on me to help control abdominal and pelvic muscle tension. And, a lot of tension translates into pain. It takes work, but I’m seeing rapid, positive results, which means less pain!

How does biofeedback work?
Electrical sensors are placed on different body parts/areas. (I won’t tell you where my PT places the sensors on me right now!) These sensors then give you audio or visual feedback on your heart rate or how much muscular tension you have in that particular body part.

Then you’re taught how to “feel” the tension, cause the tension to occur (through contractions), and then release it. I used to make it a game in class. And I got really good at. I still lower my breath, heart rate and blood pressure using this technique.

You learn to recognize exactly where you “hold” tension in your body. When you encounter stressful situations outside the treatment clinic, you recognize the tension and are more able to control and overcome it.

If you’re interested in giving this a try, find a trained biofeedback therapist in your area. You shouldn’t go at this alone, unless you want to snag a book at your local library and try it without the feedback bells and whistles. You won’t do any harm trying it this way. 

Guided Imagery

Think of a personally pleasing scene, vision, or pleasant memory, imagine yourself plunked down in the middle of it, engage all 5 senses to “experience” this intentional daydream, and you’re engaged in guided imagery, or visualization!

Try laughing or smiling during your visualization exercise and notice the relaxed, happy (or happier), and contented feeling you’re experiencing. That’s those happy hormones (endorphins) being released into your body, just like they’re released during exercise or crying.  Mayo Clinic calls it “an important tool in treating a variety of health problems.” (If you want to give the smiling or laughing affect a try, go ahead and smile or laugh right now, as you’re reading this, and see what kind of feelings that result.)

This is what else Mayo has to say about it: “Researchers using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning have found that the same parts of the brain are activated when people are imaging something as when they’re actually experiencing it. For example, when someone imagines a serene image, the optic cortex is activated in the same way as when the person is actually seeing the beautiful vista. Vivid imagery sends messages from the cerebral cortex to the lower brain, including the limbic system, the emotional control center of the brain. From there the message is relayed to the endocrine and the autonomic nervous systems, which affect a wide range of bodily functions, including heart, expiration rates, and blood pressure.”

How’s It Done?
First: Relax Put on loose, comfortable clothing and sit or lie in a comfortable, quiet spot. Start with deep, slow breaths in and out through your nose. It’s important that you have no distractions, so leave your cell phone in another room and put an “I’m Visualizing Right Now” sign on your closed door!

Second: Breathe
Now really concentrate on your breathing. Fill up your lungs and pay attention to the stress leaving your body when you exhale. Think of exhaling your stress away. Don’t allow random, distracting or negative thoughts to permeate your mind or interfere. (This will undoubtedly occur, but it will get better or easier to control with each session.) When you’re done dispelling thoughts, return to focusing on your breathing.

Next: Visualize
Now comes the fun part! Intentionally choose a desired image and focus on it. It could be an event, location or person. If your mind wanders, bring your focus back with a slow, deep breath. (If you have difficulty conjuring up a scene, choose a pleasing photograph or picture to look at.)

Finally: Affirm.
Select a positive word or phrase to connect to your vision. This will serve to create a positive image that will be stored by your brain, easily recalled later, and provide your brain and emotions with positive thoughts and feelings. Attaching a word to your feelings “may help to engage both sides of your brain.”

One of my favorite places to visualize is Waikiki Beach, hearing the waves crash onto the beach, envisioning the moonlight on the water, holding my husband’s hand as we stroll along the beach at night. The scene in my mind becomes so real to me that I feel I'm back there. 

I've also been conjuring up images of my precious cat, Tibbs, who breathed his last breath this past Monday. Even though it was a horrifically painful day, and Chris and I shed buckets of tears over the loss of our little furry family member, bringing up pleasant, joyful memories and images of him have soothed our souls and helped us in our grief. Lying on the floor, I can almost feel the weight of his warm body on my chest, the silken fur beneath my stroking fingertips, the rumble of his purr in my ears. It slows my breathing and brings a content smile to my face. Writing a story about something funny he did—at the suggestion of my friend, Judy—brings laughter and healing to my hurting heart and soul.    

And, odd as it sounds—for those of you reading this blog because you’ve lost a baby—envisioning, "feeling" or remembering the baby kicks my daughter Victoria treated me with in utero now bring a smile to my face. It may be too soon after your loss to do that one— without breaking down into hysterical sobs—but there will come a time when it can produce a smile.


Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “to meditate” as: “to spend time in quiet thought for religious purposes or relaxation.”

Other definitions include: to engage in contemplation or reflection; to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness; to focus one’s thoughts on, to reflect or ponder over; to plan or project in the mind.

One of mediation’s many synonyms is “to chew over” which is what its definition is in the Bible, when we’re told to meditate on God’s word. We’re being told to chew on it, like an animal chewing its cud, regurgitating it over and over; or to work on it like a lion shredding its prey so we can possess it, understand it, be changed by it.

How To Start
Like Guided Imagery, meditation begins with a quiet place, controlled breathing, and dispelling distracting thoughts. Then choose a word or verse on which to concentrate.
When I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom’s sitting room, in front of a lighted candle that emits a subtle scent of hyacinth, and which is carved into a shape that reminds me of God, my favorite thing to concentrate on is actually a person.

When I repeat the name, “Jesus,” and think of all of His beautiful attributes, my heart, body and mind are filled with joy, peace and love. (A mind-and-body-transforming, heavenly love.) I’m brought to a state of physical relaxation, mental calmness, alertness, (yes, you can simultaneously be calm, relaxed and alert!), and psychological balance. These are all benefits of meditation! (Concentrating on and repeating a word from Scripture also gives me the same effect.)

So, when people tell you that in meditation you need to first “empty your mind,” that’s not necessarily true. (At least it shouldn’t be.) You need to first lay aside distractions and banish those from sneaking in your mind’s door, then intentionally choose that which you will allow in to that delicate, impressionable space.

You don’t want to just empty your mind and then allow any old thought to come in. You want to think deliberately, try to gain control over your thoughts.

Meditation has received rave reviews by researchers because it’s been shown to reduce anxiety, reduce blood pressure, improve attention, improve sleep, decrease chronic pain, improve blood sugar level control, and decrease job burnout. At the very least, it helps you manage a hectic, stressful life!

(I’ve also achieved great results from just concentrating on my breathing for meditation. Often that activity alone puts me to sleep at bedtime.)  

If you desire a meditation training aid, like directions or music-to-mediate-by, go to and search for “mediation.” Or simply google, Mayo Clinic Meditation. That will lead you to videos, tablet and smart phone apps.

Progressive Relaxation Therapy

I love this one! It’s easy, quick and helps reduce depression, anxiety, muscle tension, stress, panic disorder, high blood pressure and improves concentration. (Now who among us depression sufferers doesn’t need that!)

Getting Started
First, choose a chair or floor in a quiet place and remove your glasses or contacts and loosen any tight clothing. Remove your shoes.

Starting with your feet, deliberately tense the muscles and hold the tension for 5 seconds. Then slowly relax the muscles and keep them relaxed for 30 seconds. Feel the tension leave the muscles as you relax.

Repeat this tense-and-hold one more time with your feet and then move up to the legs (calf area). Repeat the 5 seconds of tensing and follow with the 30 seconds of relaxation two times, as you did with your feet. Then move up to the thighs, pelvis, abdomen, chest, hands, forearms, arms, neck, face and head, following the same 5-second tense and 30-second relaxation structure.

Aim for a 10-minute session. Muscle Relaxation can be done anywhere. It helps reduce stress and relax the mind in seconds! It’s also often used in conjunction with Biofeedback.

Have fun trying these mind-body exercises out! Be consistent and persevere. Discover which ones work for you. I think you’ll be pleased with the positive effects you’ll receive, and they’ll become an integral part of your depression-fighting medicine toolbox! If you have any questions about or difficulty with them, please don’t hesitate to ask by responding in the reply box or sending me an email at:

NEXT WEEK: Fighting depression with Music Therapy, Pilates Relaxed Breathing and Tai Chi.

Until next week,

Thanks for joining me!



(Some information and quotes for this post were taken from Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine, published by Time Home Entertainment.)