In previous decades, cognitive psychology has focused on the mind to the exclusion of the body. More recent research has begun to demonstrate the interaction between physical actions and mental processing through areas such as embodied cognition and psychoneuroimmunology (Markman & Brendl, 2005; Christian, Graham, Padgett, Glaser, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2006). While it is important to use discussions as a tool for understanding research on mind-body connections, a truly holistic approach to teaching in this field may require integration of physical class exercises with rigorous verbal discussions. In this class, the instructor adopted exercises that integrated the mind and the body, such as tai chi, authentic movement, and yoga, which were led during short 5- to 10-minute breaks. The instructor (with student input) also helped arrange three immersion experiences for students, where they participated in exercises such as yoga or movement awareness, and then reflected on their own experience afterward. These exercises helped students learn about mind-body integration in a holistic manner, and were coupled with hour-long class discussions on empirical research in the field of mind-body interactions.
Many students responded well to the inclusion of experiential exercises. The course allowed students to ‘breathe’ through the intense experience of reading research articles, reminding them that they were physical beings as well as thinkers. Calming the nervous system can have a positive effect on well-being, whether physical (Christian, Graham, Padgett, Glaser, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2006), mental (Easterbrook, 1959), or emotional (Benson, Kotch, Crassweller, & Greenwood, 1977). Students also enjoyed the class due to the ‘informal’ method of delivery: The instructor started each class with an informal check-in, treated each student as a scholar, allowed students to lead portions of discussions, and allowed the discussions to develop based on student interest. While it is important to teach the basics in any field, this class allowed higher-level students to integrate their cognitive capabilities with experience in physical movement, giving them a stronger understanding of the mind-body connection.
St. Catherine University
Benson, H., Kotch, J. B., Crassweller, K. D., & Greenwood, M. M. (1977). Historical and clinical considerations of the relaxation response. American Scientist, 65, 441–45. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27847966
Christian, L. M., Graham, J. E., Padgett, D. A., Glaser, R. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2006). Stress and wound healing. Neuroimmunomodulation, 13, 337–346. doi: 10.1159/000104862.
Easterbrook, J.A. (1959). The effect of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behavior. Psychological Review, 66, 183–201. Retrieved from: http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/10021033392/
Markman, A. B., & Brendl, C. M. (2005). Constraining theories of embodied cognition. Psychological Science, 16, 6–16. Retrieved from http://psychology.illinoisstate.edu/jccutti/psych480_24/readings/markman2005.pdf