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.