How our thoughts can heal us through the mind-body connection

( The “new biology” is challenging many long-held beliefs that affect us in the areas of psychology,
physiology, and spirituality. As the quote below indicates, mind-over-matter was an idea advocated by
Kabbalists of the 18th century, but it came to be regarded as a fantasy, a theory that received very negative reviews in “modern” times. Once DNA was discovered, genetic paradigms gained influence over every phase of our lives. When a large number of illnesses and disorders were blamed on genes inherited from parents, it provided an excuse for our distress.

“The basic cause of illness is unhappiness; therefore the great healer is joy.”(Rabbi Nachman, late 18th century)

There was a time recently when many doctors would imply to their patients that their illness was all in their heads. Patients did not like this, as it put the responsibility for maintaining health on the person’s own shoulders. Many thought their doctor said this only because he or she could not figure out the source of symptoms. Now, however, science is making strides in brain studies which are providing proof that our thoughts can indeed affect our brain chemistry and thus our physical and mental health.

We have learned that negative emotions such as fear and stress not only make our bodies more susceptible to disease, but can actually cause the disease. Conversely, the same biochemical mechanisms that work against us may also be utilized to work for us.

The placebo effect has been shown to heal a fair percentage of patients whose belief in the cure was enough to actually rid their bodies of disease. This effect works by the power of suggestion; patients have believed they had surgeries for cancer when they have not had any and the cancer cleared up, or they have been given sugar pills that cured them.

The new biology takes this further. It is not just the power of suggestion, but the actual thoughts and words chosen by the person which changes brain chemistry. We have 50 trillion cells in our body which communicate through neurochemical and vibration signals. Bruce H. Lipton, PhD, has done a large amount of work in this field, which is called epigenetics.

The word epigenetics literally means “above the genes”, i.e., the mind controls the genes. Dr. Lipton says our minds can re-write our genes. He compares the cell to a computer chip, as each is a bit of information. Both can receive information through different routes and cause a reaction.

Epigenetics changes our paradigm of control. The old physics believed the universe is based on matter. The new biology is based on the idea that the universe is governed by energy.

Even though the programming of the cells begins in infancy or before birth, they can be reprogrammed to act differently. The process which the information goes through to affect the cell determines the programming of the cell. Cells become cancerous because they are instructed in some way to do so. If we realize this and change our beliefs, thus changing our messages to our cells, Lipton says we can heal ourselves.

With genes off the hook as the cause of cancer, for example, people won’t have the negative worries and thoughts about cancer that plague them just because their mom, dad or other relative had it. This in itself should eliminate a large number of incidences of cancer.

However, this is still not all of the power of the new biology. The main chemicals which play a role in our brain chemistry are Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine and Endorphins. Each of these affects a different area. Most recreational runners know the endorphin effect, or runner’s high. Messages sent to the brain tell it to produce more or less of a certain chemical, depending on what the body needs at the time.

These messages can be stimulated by bodily processes which tell our mind what we need, or mental processes by which our thoughts originate the signaling message.

It is the thought-as-originator concept which is harder for people to understand. Consider these examples:

* We know how easily our emotions, and resulting chemical changes, can be manipulated by visuals from TV or movies;

* Even reading a suspenseful novel will elicit changes in our brain chemistry;

* Consider how a coach gets adrenalin pumping in his football players before taking the field.

If we subject ourselves to a heavy menu of negative stimuli, we will probably suffer from stress-induced illness. When the mind is stressed, the level of immune protective cells goes down. The opposite is also true: when the emotional state is relaxed, the number of protective cells goes up. So if a person practices meditation, positive thinking and other methods to create a relaxed mood, immunity against disease improves.

Tipping the scales toward peaceful relaxed moods should keep the chemistry in balance and ensure a more healthful physical environment for cells.

These positive mental practices help to change confidence levels — by first changing chemical levels.
Repeating the same words over and over can create new paths between chemicals. Once the new paths are
created, new thought patterns become habitual. For example, to provide more will power, a person can change “I will never lose this weight.” to “I can lose weight.”

Since the 1960’s, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, has developed based on the premise that thoughts can change behavior and overwrite the cell’s memory. Learning new rational, self-counseling skills are the focus of the client, under the teaching of the therapist. This type of counseling can achieve results quite quickly, but it is necessary that the client be able to articulate his thoughts and feelings and be willing to change them.

Comparisons have been studied by mapping brain activity in patients taking antidepressants and in patients undergoing the CBT. With CBT, brain changes occurred in later-evolving regions of the brain, those that deal with cognition, memory, and planning, such as the hippocampus and frontal cortices.

The pharmacological treatment appeared to alter the brain regions associated with the basic functions of breathing and gross motor control, such as the brainstem and cerebellum. So it appears that similarly felt changes in behavior and mood are caused by the different mechanisms of drugs and therapy without drugs.

It is a great advance that we now have this information, which was not known by science in the 18th century. Yet the techniques of meditation and visualization to improve healing were being taught. Meditation, the conscious control and direction of one’s thoughts, has been shown to be effective in many diseases. Avraham Greenbaum states in his book, The Wings of the Sun:

“A number of studies have indicated that regular meditation can reduce hypertension (high blood pressure), which is implicated in the vast majority of heart attacks and strokes, and that it can also lower abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the blood…

“Other studies indicate that regular meditation may substantially increase blood levels of certain important immune-system hormones, while reducing levels of the stress hormones that have been linked to many diseases. In addition, meditation is said to be of benefit for migraine, various kinds of back pain, digestive disorders, arthritis, diabetes and thyroid problems.”

In visualization, the patient vividly imagines the outcome he or she wishes to achieve, such as the white blood cells swallowing up the attacking bacteria or virus cells. It is believed that the imagination actually influences the physiological processes, some of which include salivation, muscle tension, respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, gastrointestinal activity, blood glucose levels and blister formation.

Rabbi Nachman emphasized “Thought can bring about many things… When thought is intensely concentrated it can exert great influence. Every faculty of the mind, both conscious and unconscious, down to the innermost point, must be focused without distraction. To accomplish this, the concentrated thought must spell out every step of the desired result in detail.”

He even described how a patient could speak to his body parts to affect change. According to Greenbaum, “There is indeed evidence that for certain types of physical conditions, sounds or vibrations of various kinds can be used to promote healing. Sounds, chants, prayers and music play a role in many healing traditions. Sound waves may well have a direct effect on certain aspects of bodily functioning.”

The human body is a wonderful thing, and now we know that the mind is even more incredible! What mystics knew two hundred years ago, we now know evidentially: the mind has the power to bring mental, emotional and physical healing. Changing thought patterns is not always easy –- in fact, it can be excruciatingly hard. But if one is able and determined to improve his or her health, methods are now close at hand that are free without nasty side effects. Upgrade thought –- upgrade health!

By Cathy Sherman,

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