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Healing With the Mind

Using the mind/body connection

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Healing With the Mind

In the 17th century the philosopher and scientist Descartes ("I think, therefore I am) proposed the separation of the mind from the body.

In the 17th century the philosopher and scientist Descartes (“I think, therefore I am”) proposed the separation of the mind from the body. Descartes suggested that the study of human anatomy was the domain of science, leaving the study of the soul or mind to church scholars.

So began the western world’s separation of the body and mind. That disconnection is now being remedied by modern science, however. Today, studies by researchers in the emerging field of mind/body medicine, known as psychoneuroimmunology (thankfully shortened to PNI) have hard data explaining the body/mind connection.

Making the Connection

How does the mind/body connection work? It is explained in the complex pathways that run between the brain and the body’s nervous, endocrine, circulatory, and immune systems. We are literally wired by the brain, but it is our emotions and thoughts that trigger the complex chain of activities that create physical manifestations such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, depletion of immune functions, and disruption of the body’s homeostasis (resting state).

Science has shown that the brain signals the immune system via receptors on the surface of immune-system cells, which accept chemical neurotransmitters released by the nervous system. These breakthrough studies have traced the body/mind connection to the level of cellular biology. Some cellular communication has been translated, but the full (body)
language has yet to be unlocked.

A Two-Way Street

How does this information affect us in our everyday lives? Stress is one area in which we can clearly see the body/mind connection. Subject a person to enough stress, and that stress will manifest in the body through nerve-fibre chemicals that tell immune cells what to do. The body expresses the stress as headaches, rashes, irritable bowel, hypertension, insomnia, or pain. Eventually, the physical effects of long-term stress may lead to cancer, heart attack, or other chronic conditions. The reverse is also true as chemicals released by immune-system cells affect the brain. For example, when the body is fighting an illness, our minds often become drowsy.

It’s All in Your Head

The good news is that while our thoughts and emotions can play a role in making us sick, we can also use them to help make us well. Better still, our minds can potentially keep us from getting ill in the first place. The mind has tremendous power to heal or harm. How you use this power is up to you; your body does respond to the way you think, feel, and act at every moment of every day.

Ways to Use the Body/Mind Connection to Benefit Health

  • Pay attention to your inner life. Don’t dwell on fear and negative thoughts. Your perception or belief about your environment is more important than its reality.
  • Express yourself in appropriate ways. Learn to recognize your emotions and what’s causing them. At times we may need the assistance of therapists, doctors, or spiritual advisors to help us understand ourselves better.
  • Establish social relationships. People involved with family, friends, and community seem to live longer, healthier lives.
  • Develop a positive mental outlook and sense of humour–Pollyanna was right! Laugh heartily at least once a day. Judge less and love more.
  • Seek spiritual fulfillment. Examine and draw upon what gives you meaning in life.
  • Connect with animals. Our pets can keep us in touch with our basic selves. Numerous studies show connecting with pets is a significant factor in good health.
  • Learn meditation, visualization, prayer, yoga, hypnosis, or biofeedback. Find which of these is right for you.
  • Repeat positive affirmations to yourself (“I am in perfect balance. I bless my body with love”). These can reverse the changes brought on by stress.
  • Get regular exercise, enough sleep, and maintain good nutrition. Why? Aside from the obvious health benefits, societal beliefs list exercise, sleep, and proper nutrition as the way to be healthy. When we engage in these activities our perception is that what we are doing is good for us. These practices change our attitudes and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Do not self-medicate with excess food, alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Short-term relief can lead to long-term problems.
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