The philosopher Aristotle eulogised, that, “Just as you ought not to attempt to use eyes without head or head without body, so you should not treat body without soul.” The ancient Greek physician Galen proposed that gloomy women were, for the most part, prone to cancer of the reproductive organs — the likely cause being prolonged depression. The Roman poet Virgil, likewise, postulated that ‘mind moves matter’ — a postulate that ancient Eastern philosophers and physicians emphasised upon and established no less eloquently.
Our body is as intelligent as our mind; the two, in unison, are our internal healing system’s most powerful allies. Our mind works through the brain and nervous system; in so doing, it sends powerful notes, or messages, to our body. This is fundamental to prompt, or plod, the functioning of our healing mechanisms. It is primarily through such communication networks, or feedback ‘loops,’ that sophisticated mechanisms work to send precise, split-second information from our body back to our brain. The best part is the mind is always in ‘personal’ contact with our body’s ever-changing internal environment. Besides, it functions in concert with our healing system. Put simply, it corresponds to a classical metaphor — where there are nerves, the mind can traverse at the speed of thought.
Every mental activity, whether conscious or unconscious, has a definitive power on our healing system. It can augment, or impede, its ‘act.’ When our mind is in a positive state, emoting love and affection, caring and compassion, health, happiness and harmony, there is optimal secretion of useful chemicals, such as neurotransmitters or neuropeptides, such as endorphins, in our brain. They actually ‘pump’ our body with positive, vibrant energy. It is this upsurge that packs the ‘healing punch’ within our body, leading to improved health and optimal wellness. On the contrary, when our mind is in a negative state, or loaded with cynicism, pessimism, distrust, envy, angst, hatred, fear, retribution, self-criticism, culpability, embarrassment, guilt, and hopelessness, our body gets marooned with negativity. This leads to a gush of equally powerful body chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which ‘flag’ our healing mechanisms, albeit they are obligatory with their innate ability to help the body function effectively under stress.
It is rightly said that our brain is our own resident physician — endowed with the ability to write prescriptions for our mind and body in health and illness states. This is precisely the reason why researchers, and not just philosophers, observe that when we understand the power of our mind and its colossal talent to work for us, or against us, one would no longer fritter away precious time or vigour, or point the accusing finger on superfluous factors, such as a colleague, scapegoat, genes, microbes, pollution, excess stress, illness, disease, or lack of good physique, or immunity.
While it is agreed that external factors can trigger illness or disease process, it must be remembered that our health and wellness are a result of our personal choices — not to speak of our ability to augment our enormous power of the mind and body to lend support to our healing system. We hold the key, or the ‘bank locker,’ to our health through our mind.
Our mind functions through our brain and nervous system. It creates and propels thoughts and converts them into electrical impulses. Such impulses travel through countless nerves distributed to every organ and tissue of our body, just like electricity through wires that lights up your home. Your electrical impulses, likewise, stimulate specific nerves to ‘direct’ the muscles in your arm, for example, to move or contract. This sequence relates to our voluntary nervous system, because the movement is of your own accord brought into action by your own conscious thinking.
There is another aspect of our nervous system, called the involuntary nervous system, or autonomic nervous system. This is more extensive in its distribution and powerful in its authority over your body’s internal environment. It regulates a host of key biological functions, viz., heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure, digestive processes, sweating, vision and elimination of waste products, among other functions.
The autonomic nervous system encompasses of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The former is responsible for the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which is triggered by thoughts of fear, worry, anxiety, panic and anger. It helps you to tide over crises and also ‘restrains’ the activities of your healing system. Prolonged periods of anxiety, stress and fear can cause harm to your mind and body, because your healing system is overloaded with negativity.
The parasympathetic framework is endowed with balance — you may call it ‘counter-balance’ to offset the ‘fight-or-flight’ response and bring about a relaxing effect on your body. You may connect the parasympathetic scaffold to rest, relaxation, repair, regeneration and healing. Just thinking of relaxation, meditation, peace, love, serenity, harmony, and tranquillity, can activate the parasympathetic system — this illustrates yet another exemplar of the influence of mind power and positive thinking on your body.
Research suggests that our brain can process 700-800 thoughts each minute — just think of the enormous impact your thinking and mental activity can have on your mind and the health of your body. This suggests, no less, that your mind and body are connected and ‘swing’ each other. This relationship impacts your mind and your body in several ways. It also affects your health. When you are happy, emotionally balanced, and socially well-adjusted, you have better inner and outer health. You feel sick less often than others who are overwhelmed by negative feelings.
When you are depressed, you will not be able to eat well, relax, or exercise — it affects your cardiovascular system. It also leads to weight gain as a result of indolence and illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and so on. In other words, when negative energy envelops your mind, it has a cascading ‘downbeat’ effect on your healing system.
Your mind is to your body what your body is to your mind. When you feel physically fit, consume good food, get adequate sleep or rest and feel relaxed, your mental and emotional faculties will be at their peak — you wear your positive attitude and your outlook to life, as a result, is vibrant, motivated and animated. The effect is just the opposite when you have illnesses, such as depression, thyroid dysfunction, nutritional imbalance and insomnia, or sleeplessness, for whatever reason. You are also prone to recurrent allergies; what’s more, even an infrequent flu can make you feel ‘stumpy’ and affect your mind-set.
Psychoneuroimmunology is an exciting, new extension of medical science. It studies the interaction between your mind and your immune system. It elucidates how your mind-body system works and how your immune system is correlated to your healing mechanism in the defence of your body — and, why your health and wellness depend on the strength of your immune system to function at its best. In simple terms, psychoneuroimmunology has emerged as a distinct discipline, advancing our knowledge of the relationships that exist between psychosocial factors, the central nervous system, the immune system and illness or disease. It also suggests that psychological states, including exposure to stressors and the presence of depressive states, may influence health and disease by altering immunological states.
It goes without saying that your healing system and immune system are decidedly different, and they also have certain similarities. One similarity is that they are affected by your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and activities of your mind. Psychoneuroimmunology enables us to understand in-depth the wonderful healing resources that exist within us. It puts to rest a host of hearsay, or flawed myths, about how our bodies’ functions are ‘not synchronous’ with our minds and vice versa. One major myth that has gone bust is what goes on in the mind has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in the body — a legacy that has dominated medical teachings for hundreds of years. There was also, for another, the much-believed, erroneous belief that the immune system functioned entirely autonomous of the brain. Psychoneuroimmunology has set the record clear and straight.
There is now indisputable corroboration that our mind speaks directly to our immune system in the following manner: 1] specialised receptor sites for neurotransmitters exist on specific white blood cells, or soldiers of health; 2] tiny nerves are connected to lymph nodes. This provides tangible evidence that the immune system and lymph nodes, which contain white blood cells, are directly connected to the nervous system and the brain; and, 3] powerful hormones are produced and secreted by specific white blood cells. This substantiates the credo that the immune system articulates with the endocrine system and directly participates in one’s emotional experience.
This is nothing short of a huge advance brought about by psychoneuroimmunology. It lends tangible scientific credence to what our ancient physicians, including Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, and several others, had observed for over thousands of years — that a positive mental and emotional state holds the key to our mind-body’s ability and vice versa to heal itself from the inside-out.