Sunday, March 1, 2009

East Meets West: Body Symmetry and Mental Health

In terms of practicality we find the old time tested ways are the best. The past 30 years of medical science has witnessed the infusion of far eastern health practices. Most of these practices are in the form of self-help as opposed to being strictly medicinal. They are considered as corrective and preventative and require the affected person's participation on a nearly daily basis.

One good example of enhancing physical health in this manner are body cleansing practices. The deliberate use of specific foods, nasal irrigation and enemas have been gaining acceptance in traditional allopathic medicine. The flushing out of toxins in specific regions of the body has been found to reduce the onset of degenerative disease in several studies.

So how does this relate to mental health, anxiety and mood? One aspect that can be borrowed from eastern medicine in enriching our emotional well-being is the concept of body symmetry. When we feel balance in our body this manufactures confidence and an air of self-content. We maintain a physical posture and development of evenness throughout our body. A recent study (Prokosch,Yeo, Miller,2005) has now indicated that environmental factors have an effect on the even development of one side of the body compared to the other. That is to say the way we move and the conditions we are exposed to effects this even sided development. The prominent and distinguished use of right-handiness, for instance, will cause a relative atrophy in the left arm and hands. Do keep in mind that perfect symmetry is an absolute, a perfection that we can all strive for but never perfectly obtain.

There are several discovered correlations between body symmetry and depression, intelligence and cognitive skill (see Prokosch et all, 2005 and Thornhill, 2002 for instance). Other studies find a correlation between body symmetry and posture and how positively we are received in courtship and in business presentations. When others around us perceive us in a positive manner, we feel better about ourselves.

Other studies by M. Sathiamurthi measure the symmetry of body auras (the Yoga and Tantra term is "chakras") by examining electromagnetic fields around our body. He has found a correlation with people who are mentally disturbed or physically ill and a significant asymmetry of these auras.

Correcting the asymmetry and finding better mental health can be achieved through some simple day to day practices. Two of the SRT exercises I discuss in the three part 'Treating Anxiety," incorporate the use of body symmetry. Body awareness and movement emphasized the smooth and deliberate movement and posture with an emphasis on balance and equal distribution of weight. This day to day, moment to moment practice will help promote and maintain body symmetry. Transcendental meditation exudes the importance of sitting in a symmetrical position to promote that relaxed state and peace of mind. This posture during meditation is thought to correct the distorted body auras and physical manifestations of asymmetry.

Another exercise to help achieve body balance can be done laying down, in bed. Lay on your back in the "dead man's position," with your arm extended fully along your side. Try your best to make everything "equal" on both sides, the slight bend in your knees, the formation of your fingers in your hands (preferably slightly bent with your palms facing outwards). Attempt to equally align and distribute your weigh along your back and spine. Feel the balance of both sides of your body being at the same time equal components forming that feeling of "oneness."

In this position, begin to examine specific dualistic elements of your body, Start with the top of your head. Feel the muscle tension on your forehead and the sinus tension below. Say to yourself "as one side feels, does the other"? Make slight adjustments by moving your neck to try to achieve the feeling of sameness on both sides. Another technique to achieving this balance is a bit more difficult to describe. It is simply focusing or "willing" that sameness and symmetry. Use your mind's strength to achieve this balanced feeling.

Continue the checklist down your head, include your eyes, nostrils and mouth. Work down your arms and hands. Try to mimic the exact position and muscle tension in your biceps, forearms and hands, for both sides, left and right. Do the same with the various facets of your legs and feet, saying "as one side, so the other side."

You will feel this amazing balance and harmony and a state of content and relaxation you have never felt before. With practice you will drift into a semiconscious state while still maintaining this personal balance. The healing of body and mind will be profound.

With current research data supporting the importance of symmetry to improved mood and adjustment, the benefit of striving for the perfect bodily state can only have a direct impact on your overall happiness and feeling of confidence and self-worth.

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