“The Mindful Body” by Ellen J. Langer

Harvard psychology professor Ellen J. Langer‘s latest book, The Mindful Body: Thinking Our Way to Chronic Health, focuses on the importance of the mind-body connection. It is far from her first foray into this subject, however. With over 40 years of study in this area, Langer, often regarded as the “mother of mindfulness” as well as the “mother of positive psychology,” has authored several other related books. 

“It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us but rather our mindset about our physical limits,” she stated in her 2009 Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.

In The Mindful Body she expands on the mind-body unity concept. From the publisher: “Whether it is hotel chambermaids who lost weight when they simply came to see that their work constituted exercise, or patients whose wounds healed faster in rooms with accelerated clocks, she shows how influential our thoughts are to the state of our bodies. Her work has likewise proven that discouraging health news can have negative effects. Learning you are prediabetic, for example—even if your blood sugar reading is only a fraction away from ‘normal’—may actually play a part in the development of the disease.”

Kirkus Reviews offers additional info about the latter amazing finding: “…(T)here’s not much difference between A1C counts of 5.7 and 5.8, but one is held to be normal and the other prediabetic. Furthermore, telling someone they are prediabetic often leads to diabetes owing to the way people are inclined to read medical judgments as infallible and fixed.”

Other interesting research cited by Langer in The Mindful Body involves “several elderly men[who] roomed together in housing ‘that was retrofitted to suggest that time had gone backward twenty years.’ The men quickly began to behave as if they were 20 years younger: ‘Their vision, hearing, strength, and even objective appearance improved’.” 

A conclusion from the review at Publishers Weekly: “According to Langer, patients given grim diagnoses often adopt defeatist attitudes and other ‘stereotypical responses and behaviors’ associated with the illnesses, but when one recognizes that diagnosis criteria, cut-off points, and labels are made by people…we gain a newfound sense of freedom’ and ‘can learn to heal ourselves.’ Langer notes that even chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s can improve with psychological interventions, making decisions mindfully, and realizing that every choice offers opportunities for growth and education.”

The following are some of the ways Langer says we can use our minds more effectively (Greater Good Science Center):

  1. Question authority.
  2. Recognize that what counts as “risky” is different from person to person.
  3. Approach predictions with skepticism. The future is never completely knowable.
  4. Understand how our choices are never completely “right” or “wrong.”
  5. Avoid social comparisons or ranking yourself.

See GoodNet.org for the details.

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