The mind is a powerful tool for healing, but knowing what to do with your mind and how to harness its abilities is another story altogether. When I first decided to study the mind-body connection and truly turn my mind into a healing tool, I read book after book, devouring the words of as many wise writers as possible. The more I read, the more I realized that the mind-body connection is one that truly cannot be severed - in fact, to call it a connection is in itself inadequate. The mind is actually within the body, throughout the body, and fully integrated into every cell of the body. To try to heal the body without looking at the mind is like trying to finish a puzzle with half of the pieces missing. Perhaps you can see the outline of the lake, the tops of the snowy mountains, and a cloud or two, but you will never fully grasp the picture as a whole.
To truly begin to unravel the complicated puzzle of my own physical illness, I had to open my mind to a new way of perceiving my whole being. I liked what I was reading from all these various books, but I had yet to fully grasp the truth of it within my own self. Luckily, experimenting with techniques that come from the mind and result in mental strength is a win-win proposition. I decided it couldn’t hurt to explore the power of my own mind and venture into new areas of understanding - it wasn’t like I was mixing medications. I set out to experiment with my own body and my newly awakened mind.
Needless to say, as you might have surmised from the general message of my blog, the results were astoundingly successful. From where I sit now, on the other side of the process, I can fully see and understand the true power of mind-body healing. I have more than just my excitement, conviction, and hope. Now, I have the final piece of my own learning puzzle: experience. From this perspective, I can share clear and hopefully helpful information with you. Having blazed the trail in front of you, I hope to shorten your journey by sharing the tools and understanding I gleaned from my own experience.
The whole equation begins with emotion. Many of us, my past self included, do not deal with negative emotion in a helpful, effective way. I spent most of my life trying to avoid negative emotion as much as possible. I hated hearing about misfortune, tried not to cry or “break down” in public, kept my emotions on a very short leash, and in general ran like hell from facing anything emotionally uncomfortable. Unfortunately, what I did not realize was the impossibility of truly escaping negative emotion. Emotion is part of the human experience, and negative emotion does not leave me just because I don’t want to face it. In fact, by trying with all my might not to feel it, I actually trapped it in my body.
Now before you shake your head and label me crazy, let me promise you this is not just a theory. Many very scientific, smart people are studying this concept and incorporating it into their understanding of healing. One of these is Les Fehmi, PhD, author of the book The Open-Focus Brain. He gives an excellent description of how emotions remain in the body, which I’ll summarize here. To keep from feeling an emotion, to keep from letting it enter your consciousness, there is only one thing you can do. You must tense and tighten a muscle or group of muscles somewhere in your body. Though this works like a charm - you won’t be dwelling on the negative emotion anymore - it has a major drawback. The very muscle where you are holding that tension becomes a holding spot for the emotion. You can think of emotion as having an energy - it is not “nothing.” If processed, that energy flows through your body and leaves. If it is not processed, that energy has nowhere to go. It remains locked within you, usually in the region of the body you have unconsciously chosen to clench.
As you might imagine, after many years of doing this, day in and day out, your body reaches a limit. First of all, holding a muscle in a contracted position for extended periods of time is clearly not healthy. Nerves lose precious blood and oxygen flow, muscles fatigue, skin does not receive the nutrients it needs to remain healthy, and pain settles in to stay. Your body has to work hard to keep up the emotion avoiding pattern because it actually responds to the negative emotion as though it is under attack. If you are afraid to feel a negative emotion, you are signaling your body to move into fight-or-flight mode to escape this perceived predator. So, muscles tense, heart-rate increases, hormone production is altered, and the nervous system remains on high-alert. None of this is conducive to health and healing - in fact, this is your body in breakdown mode. It takes massive amounts of energy to maintain the fight-or-flight state. Every system of the body can be affected from hormones to nerves to skin to muscles to mental acuity.
When I finally understood this connection, I could immediately see evidence of it everywhere in my life. To avoid negative emotions I spent every waking moment of my life in fight-or-flight mode, which, while adversely affecting my health, also led to constant anxiety. The negative emotion did not leave my body but remained trapped, building up to toxic levels. My body was begging me to accept negative emotions, allow them to be a part of my life, and in doing so, let them go. I was already working with Kathleen Barratt (see her website in the blogroll) and learning how to re-train my breathing patterns to allow full, oxygen-rich breaths back into my body. I discovered that breathing these full, complete breaths helped me draw my focus into my body, realize the places where I was holding tension, and release myself from the anxiety and fight-or-flight trap. Breathing also helped me to allow those emotions to surface, move through me, and leave my physical self at long last.
When I reached this level of understanding regarding my mind, body, and emotions, it was literally only a few weeks before my body began to show signs of healing. I knew my experiment was a success - I could feel it in every cell of my being. I could feel the healing in every breath I took, in every anxiety, tension-free moment, in every emotion that came bubbling up and out to be released. Soon, the vulvar pain and burning sensations faded away, the constant itching disappeared, the urinary frequency lifted, the unusual skin problems vanished, and my hormones returned to normal levels (my previous test results showed up as menopausal even though I was only 26). Now, I am equipped with the knowledge that remaining intimately connected with my emotions, my physical body, and my inner sense of self is the perfect formula for long-lasting health. The experiment continues and I constantly fine-tune my ability to be a whole person, not a mind distanced from its body. I can’t imagine living any other way now that I’ve discovered the fulfilling, energizing, and vivid life available to me.