Many of us know that there is a strong connection between what we think and how we feel, but just how can something as abstract as a thought have such a powerful affect on our bodies? Perhaps an answer can be found by looking at the mind and body as part of a complex information system.
First of all from a scientific perspective a thought consists of the transmission of electrochemical impulses throughout a network of brain cells called neurons. The neurons talk to each other by making connections with other neurons and secreting little packets of chemicals called neurotransmitters. The brain is so complex that it has been said to contain nearly ten billion neurons. Each of these ten billion neurons can connect with up to ten thousand other neurons. The possible connections actually exceed the number of known particles in the universe!
Each packet of neurotransmitter can be thought of as a tiny set of instructions telling another neuron what to do. The instructions can tell the next neuron to fire an impulse to another neuron or to hold the impulse back by inhibiting it. The billions of instructions going on in our brains represent a vast information network.
So how does the information network of the brain communicate with the body? Or to put it another way, where does the mind end and the body begin? This is a tough question to answer because depending on how you look at it there is no definitive dividing line between mind and body. Both are intimately interconnected. The body is also a complex information system.
The body has thousands of feedback systems that rely on a constant flow of information and these systems are connected to the nervous system. For example the nervous system constantly monitors blood pressure. The nervous system senses an increase or decrease in blood pressure and responds by sending information to the heart and blood vessels to stabilize the pressure.
This complex connection between mind and body not only keeps things working properly but can also have negative effects on your health. For example, in times of stress a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system takes over and secretes neurotransmitters such as adrenaline. Adrenaline causes your heart rate and blood pressure to increase as well as your digestion to shut down. The sympathetic nervous system is so interconnected with the organs in your body that the effects of stress can be profound. For example, prolonged periods of stress can affect the digestive system so much that an ulcer can develop.
Another pathway between mind and body is called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. The hypothalamus is located deep in the brain and is affected by thoughts and emotions. It connects with the pituitary gland that secretes a number of hormones some that target the adrenal gland. One important hormone secreted by the adrenal gland in times of stress is cortisol. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels and blood pressure. High levels of cortisol can put stress on other organs and contribute to disease.
The important point is that the stress coming from the nervous system originates as a series of thoughts in the brain. These thoughts are physical things and can elicit a physical effect on the body. The thoughts come from our perceptions. Stress is something that is perceived. You can choose to perceive a certain situation as stressful or not.
This mind-body connection can be used to heal. The science of psychoneuroimmunology studies the effects of the mind on the body. Mind-body healing has been shown to be effective in a host of illnesses and diseases such as high blood pressure, stress, increased immunity, pain control, and many others.
One effective mind-body technique that anyone can do is called guided imagery. In guided imagery you are guided through a process of relaxation followed by creating an image of your pain or disease. The image is then replaced by an image of health or healing. The technique is performed frequently, often daily and lasts anywhere from ten minutes to an hour. Some people become very adept at imagery after practicing the technique and can experience benefits from just ten minutes a day.
Guided imagery is a simple yet effective tool in a healing regimen. I have used this technique frequently and found it to be very beneficial in helping with a variety of health problems. Mind-body healing is one way to help support your body's many information systems and help you to heal by maintaining a positive flow of information.