Bringing the body back into mind-body research
Peter Wayne, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, USA
Mind-body practices have evolved to target and take advantage of the interconnectivity between the body and mind, with the goal of enhancing system-wide health. Significant progress has been made in exploring the impact of mind-body therapies on brain structure and function, clinical measures of cognition, and patient reported outcomes related to affect and quality of life. However, surprisingly little research has explored the use of practical, body-based functional outcomes to inform more holistic concepts of mind-body health. Research supports that body-based outcomes (e.g., gait speed, gait rhythm, and postural control) are effective biomarkers and predictors for multiple domains of health including cognition, affective disorders, fall-risk, heart disease and all-cause mortality. This talk will draw on key principles from the field of embodied cognition to make a case for including measures of physical performance and shape to characterize overall health and to better understand the contributions and relevance of top down processes such as executive function, attention, and affect to physical function and whole person health. Research related to the impacts of multi-modal mind-body exercises (e.g., Tai Chi and Qigong (TCQ)) on functional outcomes will then be summarized within an embodied cognition framework. This research includes studies employing dual tasking (cognitive challenges during gait and balance tasks) which support that TCQ enhances cognitive-motor integration during activities of daily living, and studies that demonstrate that TCQ's impact on anxiety and affective disorders can be observed through quantitative and qualitative changes in gait and posture. Opportunities afforded by new technology to assess gait and other embodied outcomes in both laboratory and ecological settings, including wearable sensors and gait monitoring systems are highlighted. Challenges inherent in using multi-modal interventions for studying cross-systems outcomes are also discussed.