Engaging the power of the mind to help heal the body
Our body is naturally designed to heal itself. Every moment of every day, without us ever being aware, thousands of biochemical reactions take place within the body as our cells and organs continually recreate and repair themselves when they’re damaged by either trauma or disease. Take the simple, but all too frequent, example of when we cut ourselves. Our body immediately launches a complex response to repair the wound and ward off possible infection. Skin cells instantaneously begin to divide and grow to fill the wound and restore the integrity of our skin. Cells adjacent to the wound are automatically stimulated to multiply. DNA in the nucleus of each skin cell is reproduced. As these cells begin to multiply, our blood supply is also enhanced to address the unique characteristics of the wound with vitamins and minerals that are required to help skin cells grow. And once skin cells have filled in the formerly wounded area, replication is turned off so that skin cells don’t keep multiplying beyond what is needed – avoiding the creation of skin tumor. Our body’s cells know exactly when to grow and when to stop, to mend the skin as though the wound never happened.
The body’s ability to heal itself is remarkable – and automatic. We don't have to direct blood to the wound, command cells to start replicating, or decide when cell replication should be stopped. That's because the body is a powerful self-healing organism that heals itself innately without our conscious awareness or involvement. Much of it happens while we sleep, in fact. While our conscious mind is dreaming, our innate body wisdom commands the biochemical and energetic transformations necessary to repair our tissues. The ability to heal our self is so powerful that we couldn’t stop it even if we wanted to.
Yet, we don’t always heal. And we aren’t always in perfect health. While we cannot stop the body’s innate healing capacity, many of us erect barriers that interfere with it and slow it down. Poor lifestyle choices, exposure to chemical toxins, and a reliance on pharmaceuticals all act to impede the body’s natural drive toward good health.
Instead of hindering our natural healing power, what if we chose to amplify it? Contemporary research is increasingly revealing the power that our mind – and our conscious involvement – has to enhance our health and wellness. How is this possible?
The cells in our body react to everything that the mind thinks. Our mind, body and spirit are fully integrated, forming a single indivisible unit. Each of the 50 trillion cells that compose our body is an intelligent, all-knowing reflection of our thoughts and emotions. And because our thoughts and feelings are reflected in our physiology on a moment to moment basis, the mind represents the doorway to enhancing our healing capacity.
The separation of psychology from the premises of biology is purely artificial because the human psyche lives in indissoluble union with the body
- Carl Jung
The truth is, we do not have to get sick. Rather, how we live – and what we think, feel and believe – plays the most significant role in the kind of health we ultimately enjoy. By arousing our body’s capacity for self-healing and regeneration, and activating our innate healing response on every level of our being – mind, body and spirit – holistic medical practices such as Chinese medicine seek to reverse early imbalances as well as more advanced disease processes.
We can help to heal ourselves by engaging and accelerating our body’s powerful, innate wisdom through active participation in their expression. That means engaging and directing our conscious intention – our mind, body and spirit – to restore the balance that is necessary to open the floodgates of healing. This requires that we involve our whole person – all aspects of our being – to create optimal wellness.
There is an increasing body of clinical research that demonstrations the power of the mind and spirit to positively – as well as adversely – influence the body and our physical health. For instance:
More heart attacks occur on Monday morning (as people face the prospect of returning to jobs that rob their spirit) than any other time of the week
Chronic stress upsets the body's hormone balance and depletes the immune system
Forgiving people we resent lowers our risk of having a second heart attack, while tai chi and yoga can lower our blood pressure
Blood sugar levels in diabetics can be reduced through meditation and breathing exercises
Optimists are healthier than pessimists
Helping a stranger improves our immune response and overall health
Group support can increase longevity among severely ill cancer patients
The mind can reverse the aging process
Our body holds – and reflects – our emotions. For those who insist that our physical symptoms are completely unrelated to the content of our hearts and souls, consider “broken heart syndrome” – the sudden heart failure that is brought on by emotional trauma. Different from a heart attack, broken heart syndrome is caused by a flood of hormones that impedes the ability of the heart muscle to pump. According to a 2005 Johns Hopkins study, a number of emotions — including joy and surprise — can cause it, not just sadness.
Mind, body and spirit have been recognized as integral parts of our being for thousands of years. In addition to the Chinese, ancient Greek physicians used holistic and natural healing practices that were passed down to them by the Egyptians. More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is considered the father of medicine, observed that certain personality traits were more common in people with cancer – and identifying these traits led him to devise an individual course of treatment. As the first holistic physician, he considered health to be a state of internal and external harmony within the self and the broader environment.
The mind, body and spirit represent an intelligent, integrated system that functions as one, in a dynamic state of harmony. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs, judgments and expectations are physiological expressions of our awareness and profoundly influence how we perceive, respond to and experience the world.
Optimal health and well-being cannot be achieved by only treating physical symptoms, while ignoring the underlying psychological and emotional issues that contribute to illness. There is an undeniable relationship between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of our being that each of us must acknowledge and embrace if we wish to significantly enhance our health and quality of life.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises in our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thought, unguarded.
- The Dhammapada
I believe that nearly every disease has an underlying emotional, mental or spiritual dimension that either directly or indirectly affects its course. Honesty and self-awareness are required to achieve optimal health and vibrant well-being. This requires that we authentically assess the areas of disharmony and disease within our life. Our personal responsibility and active participation in our health are essential if we are to live life more fully and abundantly.
Deep healing and optimal health require us to pay attention to our inner life. As such, illness and disease might be viewed as an important message signaling that we have imbalances and disharmonies in our life that we need to deal with and explore with awareness – not as a victim, but as a survivor.
Even our genes – once thought to be an immutable, predetermining factor of our health – now appear to be influenced and altered by the chemistry of our positive and negative emotions. The field of epigenetics has dramatically changed the way we view DNA (the underlying structure or building blocks of our genes), revealing that we are not the victims of our genes, but rather the masters.
Since 1953, when Watson and Crick discovered DNA, we have been led to believe – without proof – that our DNA is fixed. Furthermore, we have been told that it controls the traits passed down to us by our parents, including the likelihood we may develop certain chronic diseases. The implication of such genetic predetermination led to a fatalistic conclusion that we are powerless to affect our health to any great degree. In fact, the belief that DNA dictates entire destiny of our cells is not true.
Since the late 1980s, coinciding with the launch of the Human Genome Project, scientists have been developing a new view of how our cells function. Rather than being fixed, research has determined that environmental stimuli – including our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, emotions, beliefs and perceptions – are the primary regulators of our genes. Our cells read and respond to our internal emotional and intellectual environment by activating different protein switches. These switches, in turn, regulate our genes and control cell behavior. Ultimately, it is our lifestyle – and in particular, our emotional lifestyle – that plays a significant role in turning on or off the genetic codes that are responsible for maintaining our good health or contributing to disease.
Everyday, our genetic activity changes as a result of how we feel. Our mind’s perception is directly reflected in our biochemistry: neuropeptides released by our nervous system respond to our interpretation of the environment. This regulates our cellular environment, which means we can actually change our physiology and alter our genes by changing the way we think and feel. Positive emotions activate our genes in ways that protect and improve our health, while negative emotions can turn on genes that ultimately contribute to disease and illness.
Scientific research continues to prove that our thoughts and feelings are the keys to vibrant good health. Indeed, scientific evidence clearly shows that the choices we make in terms of our perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and emotions affect the body’s response to stressful situations. When we are down, upset, or angry, our cellular function is down, upset and angry. But when we’re happy, we are actually stimulating the production of chemicals that actually sustain our happiness on a cellular level. Such happiness literally permeates our entire body. That’s the healing power of the mind and spirit at work on the body.
According to Chinese medicine, optimal health is a state of harmony and balance. While we are all innately equipped to be self-sufficiently healthy, our ability to experience vital health and wellness depends in part on our own willingness to learn to use our emotional capabilities positively. Paying attention to our feelings and emotions, taking the time to honestly experience them when they arise, and then allowing ourselves to move beyond them, is at the heart of not just emotional healing, but our physical healing as well.
To improve our health, we must accept and honestly express our feelings. Becoming healthy again after an ailment or injury depends, in part, on our willingness to accept responsibility for healing the condition and to make a commitment to explore aspects of your lifestyle and mindset that interfere with our personal wholeness. Maintaining a positive emotional state prevents wear and tear on the body and helps avoid serious, chronic imbalances that set the stage for chronic illness. Living authentically and with awareness is a principle component of balanced, harmonious health and healing.