Clevermind Part 1.5

Clevermind Part 1.5

Apologies for taking so long to get this up, the last couple of weeks have been a little hectic for me and my routine has been well and truly challenged. Now onto the topic at hand…

I don’t want to go too deeply into the science of the mind – body connection, partly because digging up all of the references would be tedious and time consuming, partly because it’s already been explained for me in many books, blogs, podcasts, papers, etc., and partly because I don’t want to bore you with all the technicalities.

The essence of it is this: the brain cannot tell the difference between doing, watching, and imagining. Of course if you do a thing then your brain will receive messages from your muscles to say that they are moving, and if you watch a thing your brain will receive light signals to interpret, but the neuropathways that are created inside of the brain itself are the same.

And since your brain is the all-powerful computer that is in charge of all the chemicals and electric signals that cause changes in your body, messages in the brain cause physical effects elsewhere. This doesn’t only count for hormones and the immune system, but also the motoneurons of your muscles.

In fact, there a many studies that show muscle rehabilitation, after surgery or injury for example, can be accomplished far quicker when physiotherapy is combined with visualising physiotherapy techniques, and watching the others perform the movements. This can be measured by increased muscle mass and flexibility etc. It’s even been shown that sports ability can improve in the same way using the same techniques. Interestingly, these studies showed that you get better at replicating the thing that you are watching, so if you watch someone who is bad at golf, you will get better at golfing badly.

My questions are; if you have never played the sport before, and don’t know how it feels to swing a club (for example), will you still improve your game by watching and imagining, or does the brain need a baseline to build on. Similarly, if you are born without the use of your legs, can you still build muscle mass in your legs by watching someone do squats, or does your brain not know how to interpret that information.

Sometimes I wish I had the resources to carry out all the experiments I can think up.

Clevermind Part 2

Clevermind Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

The first book that I’ve listened to is “How your mind can heal your body” by David R Hamilton PhD. He uses referenced studies in his book, which I love, and then includes at the end of the book letters from people who have used the visualisation techniques that he recommends, successfully. Unfortunately, although there were many stories of people shrinking tumours, improving lung function, reducing arthritic inflammation etc., there was only one M.E patient story. She saw a massive improvement in her symptoms in the months running up to Christmas, by making up her own Christmas Carols with lyrics that described her own good health. She claimed that she was so well that she went for a boxing day swim in the sea and had no repercussions. I would argue that her symptoms lessened because she was happy and excited about Christmas so noticed her pain and fatigue less because she was focused on other things. I would also argue that her dip in the sea may have actually helped to treat her condition. There is a certain amount of inflammation that occurs in the M.E body and cold water treatment has been known to relieve symptoms. I would be curious to know if she had gone into the sea another time and had a flare up, or if she’d just never attempted it before.

I wish there had been more stories on my own condition, since that is the one I will be most skeptical about, but I decided (like the true scientist I am) to try out the techniques to see if I saw any differences myself. So, I used a combination of suggested methods. First, I saved 3 Youtube videos that I would listen to before bed. They explained the structure of mitochondria, the proteins that reside within it, and how those proteins work to create energy. Being a Human Biology student, I already know and understand how this works so, theoretically, that will increase the effect that it has on my body. I also created an imagined routine where I have a battery slot in my back and, before I go to sleep, I remove the batteries and plug them into my battery recharger to charge overnight. In the morning I’d put the fully charged batteries back into my back so I’d be ready for the day. The final technique I used was just to periodically tell myself that I was well and I felt fine. I also tried to stay as present and mindful as possible throughout the day, focusing on whatever I was doing at any given time in stead of letting my mind wander or using music or TV to distract my consciousness.

I didn’t fully commit to all of these techniques and generally just did which ever one I felt like at a time when I remembered to do it. But, surprisingly, I began to feel better almost immediately. This was especially shocking to me because, even though I was doing the techniques, I didn’t really believe that they would work at all. Within a week I felt amazing, more well than I have been since before the pandemic started. I was doing all kinds of chores and projects throughout the day, some mental, some physical, and never seemed to run out of energy. My feet started to ache because I’d been on them so long, but I still had the energy to keep going, and I didn’t have any flare-up symptoms at all. I could sit and rest my feet for a little while then get up again and carry on.

It was so surprising to me, that I went over everything else that I had done during the week, and the ones leading up to it, to see if anything else had changed that could explain my sudden wellness. Two things had changed aside from the visualisation techniques. Firstly, I was being more active because I felt I had more energy (again the chicken or the egg question beckons), secondly, the house was cleaner because I’d been cleaning it, but it wasn’t a cesspit before, there were just more dirty dishes and laundry about. Other than these things everything was still the same. My diet, my fluid intake, my hygiene routines, my sleep, my stress levels, no change in anything I could think of.

Then it was our anniversary. On special occasions we indulge in all the sugary, carby food we usually deprive ourselves of. We had two days of donuts for breakfast, pizza and sushi for dinner, plus snacks. I always expect a flare to follow these occasions, but it’s worth it for the celebration (like a hang-over is a risk worth taking for a good night out).

As expected Monday morning I was in a bad flare. I was in an immense amount of pain, my temperature was going up and down like a yoyo, and my body convulsed and muscles spasmed. But, even with all of that going on, I could still walk. I was tired because the pain had woken me up at 5:30am but I didn’t feel fatigued. I spent the day in bed because I know that my body needs rest to recuperate, and because that was where I was most comfortable but, after the pain killers had kicked in, I was still able to go downstairs and put together some (carb free) lunch for myself. This is unprecedented during a flare this bad, usually I’m lucky if I’m able to get to the toilet and back by myself. I suspected that it was because I had been so well previously, that I must have some left over energy that was keeping me going.

Normally a flare like this would last a minimum of 4 days, but more likely a full week is needed before I’m able to get up and out of bed properly, and then it usually takes another half a week or so before I’m able to go back to normal daily activities. Since I was feeling surprisingly good for the amount of pain I was in though, I decided to spend some more of my lying-completely-still-in-bed time to do some more visualisation.

I began with a modified version of something I heard in Dr. David’s book. It’s a breathing technique where you breathe deeply, into your stomach, then back out again slowly. As I did this I imagined my pain as a black tar inside of my body. The air that I breathed in was like a cleansing water, it went in, grabbed the tar and pulled it out. The first exhale was thick, black and sticky, but each breath resulted in a more fluid, lighter colour being excreted as it cleaned my pain away. Finally, clean water went in and clean water came out, and for a little while, my pain was minimised.

I also did a yellow-light-waterfall meditation that I used to do to manage my stress. You imagine a stream of yellow light flowing into you through the crown of your head and you watch as it slowly fills you up. You imagine the light to be warm and comforting and it helps your body and mind to relax. This is a favourite of mine if I can put aside the time to do it, and having done it many times before it didn’t take much concentration to achieve a state of calm in myself.

Another one I used when little pockets of pain just popped up out of nowhere, was to use an imaginary iron to flatten them back out again. Often the pains felt like swollen inflammation and made me think of a boxers face. In a similar way, I used an imaginary old fashioned iron to push the swelling down. The iron was cold too, so that helped to ease the red hot tissue.

Finally, I used the simple affirmations; “I am okay. I am not dying. My mitochondria are multiplying even now. My body knows how to deal with all that sugar.” I spoke directly to my body with love saying; “Thank you for trying to look after me, but we don’t need an immune response. Nothing is attacking me, I don’t need to be protected. Focus your cells on processing the sugar and all will be well again.” I repeated these frequently throughout the day.

By the end of the day I had taken half the amount of pain killers that I had expected to in the morning. I felt a definite improvement although I was still in a bad way. I slept well. The next morning, I still felt pain but it was day 6 pain, not day 2 pain. And still no fatigue, just a little tired. I felt so much better that I cooked myself breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs) and cleaned out the cat’s litter tray. I still took a ‘rest day’ because I didn’t want to accidentally trigger my body again, but I didn’t really feel like I needed to. My brain got a little foggy in the evening, but that was about all. By day 3 I was up and about and back to doing chores and working on projects again.

To me, this feels miraculous. Never in the history of my M.E have I recovered so quickly from such a bad flare. Again, I went over the previous few weeks to see if there were any other changes in my life that could have prompted such a thing, and I came up with nothing. As I said before, it is likely that had I not been so healthy previous to the flare, I would not have recovered so quickly, but that good health in itself is still a mystery to me.

The flare-up happened last Monday. This Monday, I feel the same wellness that I did before the flare. I will continue to look for other explanations, but for now, I have to conclude that the visualisation techniques actually work.

P.s, I intended to use this blog post to briefly explain the science around why this works and other applications for it (like building muscle mass), but then I had the flare and I couldn’t not talk about that. I might still write the intended post in a fortnight but if you are interested, I would recommend reading the book I mentioned in the intro, it is well written and talks about actual experiments that have been run, rather than just talking theoretically.

Clevermind

Clevermind

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the mind-body connection. We all know about psychosomatic illnesses, the placebo effect, and how a stressful life can lead to heart disease and vegan yogis can live to be over a hundred years old. So it is well established, with medical science as well as observational sciences, that positive mindset improves health and boosts the immune system, whereas negative mindset contributes to poor health and shorter life span.

I have a number of questions surrounding the studies that have been done on the mind-body connection though. For example, I wonder if mindset actually has more of an effect on behaviours that influence health, rather than a direct effect. I.e, if I feel more positively about my prognosis then I’m more likely to take my meds on time, eat better, exercise, look after my hygiene etc. Whereas if I feel hopeless and like I’ll never improve, then I’m more likely to lie in bed, eat junk food and feel sorry for myself. I’m not saying that there isn’t a direct effect, but I wonder if other variables are being discounted in certain studies.

I also wonder about the chicken or the egg aspect, i.e, are people sick because they’re depressed or depressed because they’re sick. I wonder about children who are born with certain illnesses, and who are the happiest, most positive people on the planet but still end up declining and dying regardless.

I wonder how much of the mind healing the body happens innately, and how much of it requires focused cognition. If we stop complaining, repeat daily mantras and visualise ourselves as healthy, happy people, will our bodies feed off of those signals and begin to improve? Or do we have to meditate on the specific area of the body that is damaged and will it to function correctly?

I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have experience with this, and I’m planning to listen to some books that focus on the topic more in depth (including neurological studies on the Vagus Nerve and its effect on the immune system). But, as anyone with a scientific mind would do, I also want to carry out my own experiements.

I frequently practice reducing my pain with my breath and visualisation techniques. I often find that ignoring or distracting myself from the pain only makes it worse over time, whereas if I take a few moments to sit with the pain, observe it, and breathe through it, then it can either lessen in intensity or dissipate entirely. Similarly, there are times where I’m stood at the bottom of the stairs, clinging to the bannisters, looking up in despair as my legs tell me that they are just too tired to take me up, then I take a long, deep breath, imagine the remaining strength in my body and lift myself up one step at a time. So, I wonder what else I can apply this technique to? Pain and fatigue are neural messages being passed from your limbs to your brain, so it stands to reason that I can send messages back the other way to over-ride them, but could I convince a rash on my hand to heal faster? Or an ulcer in my mouth?

I have no doubt that over time the body will heal from an improved immune system and better functioning organs and more regulated hormones, but how much time is required? How much energy is required? How much focus? These are all things that I’m hoping to learn more about.

I have been told that there are people out there who have cured themselves of M.E with the ‘mind over matter’ technique. But my skeptical mind tells me that if they have truly been ‘cured’ then they probably didn’t have it in the first place, and were in fact just suffering from general fatigue. If they have been ‘cured’ in the sense that they no longer have symptoms, then I say, yeah, I did that too, but it’s reliant on my continued treatment regime. I believe that if those people stopped doing all the other things they are doing to keep themselves well, but kept their positive attitude, their symptoms would come back. After all, is it possible to destroy tumours with positive thinking? Or regrow pancreatic cells?

These are things I’ve been thinking about recently. I want to believe but I can’t help but be skeptical.