(continued from previous post)
The connection between mind and body is still very much in the early stages of our understanding. One of the most frequently cited examples, the placebo effect has been widely studied. It is estimated that the efficacy of more than 50% of all pharmaceuticals is of a placebo nature, as the mechanism of action cannot be determined. How the brain convinces the body to act in a certain way, based on often erroneous belief, remains a mystery. There have also been many cases of a person actually dying of “a broken heart”, or a deeply felt emotional loss. Biofeedback, meditation, and similar methods have been used to control bodily processes, such as lowering the heart rate and blood pressure or controlling brain waves or pain perception. Hypnosis has been used in childbirth and acupuncture in surgery, both in place of chemical anesthesia. Psychotherapy methods such as Experiential Focusing or Bioenergetics, use the physical body to identify and treat emotional or psychological content.
Stress is considered one of the most deadly aspects of modern life, and at the core of many illnesses and disease. It is a highly subjective response to external stimuli, one in which our emotions create a negative impact on our physical health, and science is only beginning to understand its effects on the physical body. One thing we know for certain: the reduction of stressful stimuli, and the management of our internal stress response, goes a very long way toward keeping us healthy.
How can we understand the wisdom of our bodies? Primarily, by listening to and respecting them. For example, an athlete’s goal of “working through the pain”, when pain is a signal that something is wrong, is counter-intuitive. Ignoring our body’s signals of hunger and thirst, or need for sleep – or worse yet, ignoring it so often that we actually lose our awareness of it – will lead to ill health and poor mental functioning. Sometimes, medicating our symptoms – thus, deadening our ability to listen to our body, and actually working against its homeostatic and defense mechanisms – may not be in our best interest. An example of this might be, taking cold medicine to reduce the mucus production in order to make ourselves more comfortable and less inconvenienced, when the mucus in this case is produced for eliminating dead viruses and leukocytes, or toxic waste. On the other hand, listening to symptoms rather than ignoring them is part of understanding the wisdom of the body and the messages that it is attempting to convey to the brain. Gaining additional knowledge about the general structure and function of the human body can be a very worthwhile pursuit – for indeed, we all possess such a glorious structure but few actually have much understanding of it.
There is an exercise for expanding our sense of self to include the body, and even beyond, rather than merely the cerebrum or frontal lobes of the brain. This also enhances our awareness of our physical body. Step by step, this involves putting oneself into a meditative or hypnotic-like state, and then first becoming aware of the “self” as identified with the conscious part of the brain; one must then allow for an expansion of this self-awareness to the entire brain, then to the brain and head, then to include the torso, followed by the entire body…and finally to extend beyond the individual body so that personal physical boundaries are no longer perceived. This sort of exercise has been practiced by mystics of every tradition around the world, and experienced spontaneously by average persons in a way often referred to as transcendent. It is a practice which can be learned, and refined.
For those of us who live in our heads – who tend to experience the world largely via our intellects – our ability to listen to our bodies, and trust in the wisdom found there, may be under-developed. Like any other, we must work at this skill in order to strengthen and enhance it. In the case of our body wisdom, our very life may depend on it.