The Power of the Mind to Heal

Each day we are learning more and more about the interconnection between our thoughts and our health. From the power of suggestion to the body’s response to those suggestions or beliefs, the message is provocative. We have more control over our health and body than was once believed. It is clear that the mind and body are not separate as dualists believed, but that our mind and bodies share an intimate relationship of interconnection. Dualism, or the belief that the mind and body are separate, does not accurately describe what we now know and we need to update our knowledge about the important role that we each have in our own health and well being. With this knowledge, it behooves us to take a more proactive role to learn all that we can about the bodymind connection and how we can facilitate our own healing and health. Once we understand that we are in the drivers seat, we empower ourselves. We are a total system that is holographic in nature. It is as if what we suggest to ourselves creates our body’s ability to respond with health or illness.

breakingtitleAnother way to look the power of consciousness is to think of the self-fulfilling prophecy, or the power of suggestion and the effects it has on our view of reality. It is a popular notion in psychology. Many studies have demonstrated that if we believe something to be true about someone, continually remind them of this “truth”, eventually they will prove us correct if they have internalized what they have been told. Children who were identified as being more highly intelligent than others in a classroom rose to the occasion and actually outperformed the other children who were “believed” to not be as intelligent. In actuality, the children were randomly assigned intelligence scores and this list was given to the teacher. This suggests that we may be limiting ourselves because we have only been told one thing or another. When we hold negative beliefs about ourselves, such as “I never get anything right!” or “I’m a failure”, we often find these beliefs come true. We create our own reality.

What is reality? Is it already “out there” waiting to be discovered by our senses or do we play a part in creating the reality we perceive? If we can identify the negative thoughts and beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others, or the world, we are a step closer to changing that reality. Is it possible to create change in our lives simply by thinking differently? What if we expand our consciousness by realizing that the filters we use to see the world, the beliefs that we hold about our selves, both positive and negative, actually impact our mind, bodies and spirit?

buttesWhen we catch ourselves in a negative thought, we can counteract those effects by developing a counteracting affirmation–a positive affirmation, if you will. We can begin to be kinder to ourselves. To test out this idea, I would like for you to identify any negative statements or beliefs that you may be telling yourself. Become aware of what you feed into your belief system and therefore, your reality. Remember the power of suggestion and the self-fulfilling prophecy. When you have identified something, bring it into consciousness and ask yourself what it is that underlies the belief that you have. Is it really “true?” How do you know it is true? Is it YOUR truth? Is it you or simply something that someone has imposed upon you or that you have incorporated into your own perspective of yourself and your world?

Now how can we change that reality? After you identify a negative belief, create a positive, counteracting belief or affirmation that you will tell yourself every time that negative thought or emotion arises. For example, imagine that you are having difficulties with your significant other or another important person in your life. What do you say to yourself about the tension you are experiencing? Do you tell yourself negative things over and over, or can you simply step back from the situation and allow it to just “be”? If you are saying to yourself, “This always happens! He doesn’t care about me because he is self-centered and selfish. All he cares about is himself!” You get the picture. Can you imagine how these thoughts are interacting with your physiology? Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, your breathing becomes shallower, your blood pressure rises and you have set the stage for illness! But what if you stop the negative thoughts before they start, step back and just observe yourself. It doesn’t ALWAYS happen, but it just feels as if it does. You can then instead focus on what is positive about the relationship. It is important to address the feelings of not being cared for, but by not reacting and instead, responding through consciously looking at the gestalt, or the whole picture of the relationship you can put things in better perspective. This keeps you from reacting from past trauma because you are present, in the moment with the experience you are having. There is no need to add any “stories” to your perception—old stories from past traumas that are triggered in this event.

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Experiment and keep track of the negative thoughts you identify and the counter them with positive affirmations. Then take note if the positive affirmation becomes a truth instead of simply a statement. Don’t expect instant results. If you have told yourself negative statements over and over, and others have done the same to you, it will take some time for the belief to change the reality you perceive. But, don’t be surprised if the positive affirmations actually cause you to behave differently than you did before. If I act “as if” I am confident, or if I smile more, will I actually be more confident and happy? Hmmmmm….I wonder? For many years these Tibetan monks practice this form of meditation, advancing when they have gain proficiency to raise their body temperature sufficiently so that this heat can dry soaking wet sheets draped over their bodies in a freezing room!

With the rising cost of medicine and medical care, the dissatisfaction with traditional medicine is driving people to seek alternative ways of being healthy. The Yoga Posture site that you can access through the Web Links on the Homepage is an example of what one can do to have better health. Traditional medicine often only provides symptom relief, but people want to be healed. There is a growing interest in psychoneuroimmunology. This is a big word that when divided up, indicates the focus–psycho (how the mind affects)–neuro (the nervous system)–immune (which in turn affects ones immune system–ology (The study of…). There are many alternative approaches to health emerging in our country that are allowing people to take a proactive approach to their own health. There is support from the government to continue this type of research as well.

treeThe National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), a government funded research agency has a branch dedicated to alternative approaches to healing called Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM). When the government begins to spend tax dollars on these approaches to understanding the nature of illness and health, it becomes evident that the people of our society are seeking ways to do more than “pop pills” or to have surgery performed.

In 1998, I attended The First International Congress of Tibetan Medicine, sponsored by the George Washington School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. This was a joining of the East with the West so they could put their heads together in hopes of meeting the medical challenges presented by modern day living. The western doctors knew that western medicine was very good at addressing bacterial infections but did poorly when it came to viral infections. The eastern doctors were good with viruses, but not so good with bacterial infections. It was a great combination of innovation and openness where eastern and western approaches to medicine were presented, discussed, explored and questioned. There were numerous workshops, lectures, symposiums and presentations that explored the interface of western and eastern approaches to healing and health.

At that conference I got to watch the research film on what is know in Tibet as Toumo meditation. This is a form of meditation where the meditator can raise his or her body temperature through the power of the mind. It demonstrates our ability to control what we always thought was uncontrollable – our autonomic and physiological systems. For many years these Tibetan monks practice this form of meditation, advancing when they have gain proficiency to raise their body temperature sufficiently to dry soaking wet sheets in a freezing room! This was an amazing documentary where you can witness the steam rising from the drying sheets. When the monks have mastered this skill, they then trek up the Himalayas to spend the entire night in the elements as a rite of passage, wearing only their thin robes and sandals. Upon attainment of a mastery level of this ability, they ascend into the freezing temperatures for the night only to descend in the morning without frostbite or harm.

shastaOur society is ready for new knowledge, especially knowledge that empowers us as individuals to take charge of our own health. The growing practices of massage therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, natural medicine, chi kung, Rolfing, martial arts, and yoga indicate that individuals are striving to move beyond a “band-aid” approach to health and well being. Integrative strategies blending these alternative approaches are pointing researchers in a direction that will add to the body of knowledge regarding the bodymind connection. As we learn more about consciousness states and our ability to use this interconnection between the body and mind, it is possible that we will gain greater control over our own lives and health. Larry Dossey, one of the leading practitioners in alternative medicine suggested that if we will “focus toward a principle of relatedness and oneness, and away from fragmentation and isolation, health ensues.”

If you are ready to learn more about the power of our mind to heal, read The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. In it Talbot provides us with many plausible cases of healing against all odds as well as recounting studies that have demonstrated that imagery is more powerful than actual practice when it comes to shooting and making free throws in basketball. He writes about of the use of imagery for basketball practice and skill building. What does this tell us of the power of thought to shape reality? Or the power of our imagination to use imagery to heal from illness? These examples suggest that the body “responds not to the reality of a situation, but to what one believes or images to be so.” He warns us to be mindful of “the images upon which we meditate, our hopes and fears, the attitudes of our doctors, our unconscious prejudices, our individual and cultural beliefs, and our faith in things both spiritual and technological.” These ideas bring much power to the effects that we can have upon our own experiences of “reality.”

Namaste.

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