Bodymind vs. Mindbody, Integral vs. Integrative
An Interview with Michael Mayer, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and Certified Tai
Chi/Qigong Master Instructor
Michael Mayer, Ph.D. is
a licensed psychologist and
Tai Chi/Qigong Master Instructor certified by American Tai Chi and Qigong
Dr. Mayer pioneered the integration of Qigong and psychotherapy, and was the
first person in the United States to train doctoral psychology students in these
methods. He co-founded, and is a practitioner at, the Health Medicine Center, a
multi-disciplinary medical clinic practicing integrative health-care.
Dr. Mayer presents his integral approach to body-mind healing at professional
conferences, national/international workshops, universities, and hospitals. He
is the author of twenty publications on body-mind healing including six books
and various articles. His books have received endorsements from industry
leaders, including Dr. Wayne Jonas, a former director of the National Institute
of Health, Office of Alternative Medicine. Dr. Mayer has served as a peer
reviewer for The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,
Complementary Therapies in Medicine, and Annals of Internal Medicine.
More info can be found on his website:
ATCQA: Tai Chi and Qigong are commonly known as two kinds of mind-body
practices. For your integration of Qigong and psychotherapy, you call it a
bodymind healing approach. What is the reason that you use "bodymind" instead of
The term "bodymind" was first coined by a highly achieved psychologist, Ken
Dychtwald, in 1977. This term addresses the need for modern
psychology to resolve the split between mind and body in our overly mental
culture. It expresses the core Eastern
belief that the mind, body and spirit are one inseparable whole; and it places
the body in the forefront, which goes along with research in the field that
shows the importance of the body in psychotherapy. As a
psychologist I prefer using this term to refer
to my approach, which integrates methods derived from Qigong into psychotherapy.
But in essence, it means the same as what "mindbody" means to most people.
ATCQA: Another unique word we noticed you use to describe your approach is
"integral", while most people usually use "integrative" or "integrated". Is
there any significance in picking this word?
Yes, there is major difference between an integral approach and an integrative
approach. In an integrative approach that people usually refer to, healthcare
providers from multiple disciplines, such as a medical doctor, a psychiatrist
and a Tai Chi instructor, work together in a program to help the patients, using
Tai Chi or Qigong movements as a behavioral healthcare practice. At times I use
this approach at our clinic and in my private practice; but in the last decade
or so I, also use an integral approach.
An integral approach weaves together the essences of combined approaches, and
don't necessarily show the distinction among the multiple disciplines to the
patients. The principles from the multiple disciplines are absorbed as the
elements of a single healthcare approach to the patients.
ATCQA: Can you give us a few examples of how your integral approach works?
Sure. I often teach patients to use breathing methods from Qigong (microcosmic
orbit) to help reverse sympathetic nervous system overload. Enhancing this
breathing method for psychotherapeutic purposes is an integral method I
developed called "The River of Life," which uses the image of a river coming
down the body (the central channel, Ren Meridian). It helps enhance the
relaxation response for anxious patients, reverse sympathetic nervous system
arousal for traumatized patients, and helps people who are somewhat dissociated
from their bodies get in touch with feelings. The guided visualization, other
psychological methods such as "Focusing" on arising feelings, and cognitive
restructuring are interwoven with Qigong breathing.
A second example is a method I use to ease patients' pain, which I call the Yin
Yang Balancing method. I derived it from a hypnotherapeutic technique called
"pain transferal", which involves a person imagining
the transferal of their pain to another part of the body. I added the Yin and
Yang of Taoist theory to this technique. It gives me and the patients the
benefit of a thousand year-old understanding of the pathways of energy in the
body, thereby allowing the person to transfer the energy to another body part by
coming into alignment with a ready-made stream. Whether we want to believe that
this stream is "real," when we visualize it or imagine that it is real, our mind
activates our healing powers. In this integral method, you can't really say
which part is the hypnotherapeutic technique and which part is the Yin and Yang
theory. They are blended into one.
A final example is using Tai Chi and Qigong movements that spontaneously arise
at the moment of "felt shift" in psychotherapy. The term "felt shift" was
invented by Eugene Gendlin. He discovered that success in psychotherapy was
linked to how clients focused on the physical sensations relating to the issue
they were bringing. When new transformative meanings arise from the felt sense
of the body, it is a moment of "felt (energetic) shift". I noticed that the movements/postures that oftentimes
arise at the moment of "felt shift" in psychotherapy resemble the
movements/postures practiced by Tai Chi/Qigong practitioners. So with my
integral approach, my patients' awareness is brought to those naturally arising
movements at the moment of "felt shift" in therapy, and those postures are used
as a hypnotic anchoring method for that life stance to be called on at other
times when the past pattern arises.
ATCQA: Can you share with us a story of how your integral
approach helped your patients?
Absolutely. One patient had not seen her
narcissistic father for five years because reportedly he always interrupted her
in spite of her continued complaints about this; so she had mixed feelings about
seeing him again. After much work in therapy, she decided to take another try at
a relationship with him. When I asked her how she wanted to approach him when
she saw him again, the hand gesture of "repulse monkey" spontaneously emerged
with one hand welcoming and the other hand setting a boundary. As I brought her
attention to this unconscious gesture, she told me that had never done Tai Chi
before yet this gesture perfectly captured the state she wanted to embody when
she saw her father again.
After seeing him, she reported that this "mudra" was helpful when she finally
met with him to gain the strength to set a limit with him and find the verbal
strength to say, "Dad, I haven't seen you in five years, can you give me the
space to say something?"
So in an integral approach blending of psychotherapy technique and the Tai
Chi/Qigong movements are seamless.
In my two books, Bodymind Healing Psychotherapy: Ancient Pathways to Modern Health, and
Energy Psychology: Self-healing Methods to Bodymind Health, I give many more
examples of how this integral, mind-body, Qigong-psychotherapy approach applies
to hypertension, trauma, anxiety, etc.
Dr. Mayer, thank you for sharing the insights of your unique body-mind approach with us and our readers.