Mind Over Matter
A healthy mind = a healthy body
By Michelle Botes
age-well.org > self-development section > mind over matter
A famous quote reads “As you think, so shall you become”. This quote contains a truth that we simply cannot ignore. Our brains are so powerful that we can literally think ourselves healthier. Unfortunately the opposite is also true, that we can think ourselves into an illness.
This is often referred to as mind over matter.
The word psychosomatic means “of or pertaining to a physical disorder that is caused or notably influenced by emotional factors.”
A simple exercise to demonstrate the effects of psychosomatics is to imagine a stressful situation such as giving a presentation to a large audience, going for a job interview or confronting your angry boss. In your mind sketch the situation as real as you possibly can, adding vivid colors, sounds and noises. Imagine the situation as if you are actually experiencing it. Take a moment to notice how you feel. Chances are your heart rate has increased dramatically, you are feeling anxious and tight chested, your breathing has become shallow and irregular. Now imagine something that makes you happy, maybe spending time with a loved one, a task you enjoy doing or a holiday you would like to take - again making the image as vivid and as real as possible. Notice how your physical sensations change. Your breathing has become slower and deeper, the tight-chested feeling disappeared and your heart rate slowed down. Not only did your body undergo physical changes, but have you noticed the contrasting emotions during the two scenarios? Imagine then how your thoughts and emotions can affect your state of health and well-being.
We function as a whole
Most of us think of our body and mind as two separate entities ,yet they function as a whole. You cannot remove your kidneys and expect them to function outside your body.
You cannot remove your kidneys and expect it to function outside of your body. Your body on the other hand cannot function without your kidneys and eventually your entire system will shut down. Why then would it be any different removing your brain (mind)?
In her book ‘your body speaks your mind’, author Deb Shapiro describes mind over matter as the link between our emotions and thoughts and our body. She explains how pain in the body is a message and details how certain thoughts and emotions affect different parts of the body. By dealing with hidden emotions and correcting thought patterns we are able to heal our bodies. We cannot exclude external factors that affect our bodies such as diet, lifestyle, environment and even genetics, but our mind is so much more powerful than we think. We tend to forget that our brain (mind) is the computer of our system and negative emotions like fear, resentment, anger and guilt are viruses eating its way through the entire system, destroying healthy parts.
Mind Over Matter
Professor Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has done studies to prove that happiness is not just a feeling, but a state of the brain that can be induced at will by practices such as meditation.
During his research he has also learned that happier people produce up to 50% more antibodies than the average, in response to flu vaccines.
For years doctors have believed that severe depression has a negative effect on patients and can worsen conditions such as diabetes, heart and pulmonary diseases. The opposite then should be true in that happy, optimistic and joyful people can greatly reduce the risk of developing these diseases. This was proved in a study at Harvard University where Prof. Kubzansky studied the effects of optimism on heart disease on 1,300 males over a period of 10 years. She found that the rates of heart disease among the optimistic men were 50% less than those of the others.
One of Prof. Davidson’s studies illustrates how the power of mind over matters can trigger hormone changes. His research shows decreased cortisol secretion when the ‘happy’ part of the brain is stimulated. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when stress is experienced and reduces immune function in the body. It is clear then that happier people are healthier people.
Practical ways to be happier and healthier
Mind over matter is a concept that sounds great, but how do we practice being happy and optimistic when the world is in turmoil, wars are raging and we’re on the verge of another recession? We can start by focusing on the positive, rather than the negative. A practical and proven way of doing that is to start keeping a gratitude journal. Each night, before going to bed, write down three to five things you are grateful for that day, whether it is a stranger that smiled at you, an unexpected surprise or even something small like the wonderful colors on an autumn day. This way you will force yourself to look for positive things during the day that you can write down at night.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet also seem small and insignificant, but when we fuel our bodies the right way, we can function at optimal level. When we feel good physically, it’s easier to feel good emotionally. A healthy diet is also essential for optimum brain functioning. Like working out the body, the brain should also be worked out regularly and this can be done by doing puzzles, reading stimulating articles or learning a news skill or language.
Meditation is a technique that uses the concept of mind over matter in a positive way.
It has been proven to increase feelings of joy and happiness.
There are many different types of meditation and many different ways to meditate. A few practical ones for improving health could include:
- Visualization: Powerful visualization has wonderful benefits. By imagining yourself healthy and strong, your body will experience you as being that way and fight off anything that is causing disease or discomfort. This will also lift your mood and increase your body’s immune function.
- Creative healing visualization: During these visualizations, you can give the pain or illness a shape and color and imagine yourself vacuuming it out of your body. When all the shapes are vacuumed out of the body, imagine breathing in healing energy from the earth filling the space where you experienced the pain or discomfort.
- Visualization – talking to your body: This will seem strange at first, but be open and patient and as you practice you will become use to it and it can be very powerful healing method. Imagine talking to the specific organ or body part that is experiencing discomfort. Ask it what it needs to feel better. It could be that it needs heat or some rest. Maybe it needs to be massaged or wants more water. Finding out what your body needs and then providing it, could go a long way in reducing pain.
- Guided meditation: This meditation method is the easiest and helps beginners become familiar with the practice of meditation. A person will guide you through a visualization exercise while focusing on your breathing. As you practice more, you will become more confident and be able to do the meditation without the guidance. ‘There are many free guided mediations available online or you could find meditation class or workshop in your area where you will be taught how to meditate.
- Sophrology: This method is widely used throughout France and Switzerland with great success. Most doctors in these countries prescribe Sophrology along with conventional medical treatment and have seen great results. Similar to guided meditation, a sophrologist will guide you through a meditative exercise in an effort to lessen pain or improve function to organs or body part.
As you begin to understand the intricate relationship between body and mind, and the concept of mind over matter, you can will yourself to be happier, healthier and more productive. A holistic approach to health is necessary if we want to adapt to the demanding era we live in.
Sources: Shapiro, Deb, “Your body speaks your mind”, Piatkus Books Ltd, 2007; Harvard School of Public Health, Prof KubzanskyTime magazine; Wisconsin lab for affective neuroscience, Prof Davidson
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