Have you noticed that when you think stressful thoughts you begin to feel stressed? And when you feel stressed you dont function well? This might sound trite, however, when carried on over a significant amount of time, the body begins to notice. What I am suggesting, simply put, is that thoughts and emotions can cause disease.
Conventional wisdom tells us that physical disease has physical causes. Disease is understood to be caused by germs or viruses. This is probably because Western medicine was developed through the study of cadavers and shows a bias toward the physical, or "hard" sciences. Only in recent years, through the development of the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), have we begun to better understand the relationship between mind and body.
If we look at the wordpsychoneuroimmunologywe notice that it contains three root words. The first word, psycho, refers to the psyche or the mind. The second word, neuro, refers to neurology or the nervous system. And the third word, immunology, refers to the immune system. Thus, the field of psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interrelationship among the mind, the nervous system, and the immune system. This field first developed in the 1970s and has been growing fast ever since. Its development has had significant impact on both medicine and psychology.
In medicine, body/mind integration has given rise to a branch of medicine called Behavioral Medicine. Through this study, we are beginning to understand the impact of particular behaviors on health and well being. In psychology, body/mind integration has given rise to a field called Somatics or Body Oriented Psychotherapies. In this field, therapeutic approaches include awareness of the body and movement and are not just head centered "talk" therapies.
With the advanced study of the relationship between mind and body, we have come to understand that there is little separation between the two. In fact, we could go so far as to say that the mind is located throughout the body, not just in the head. This idea has been substantiated by molecular scientist Candice Pert, Ph.D. Her recent book, "Molecules of Emotion," documents how the body is filled with neuropeptides that act as tiny "brains" located throughout the body. They communicate via chemical messages and act as a "psychosomatic network" through which emotions have physical effects.
Research suggests that our bodies constantly mix new batches of peptides as our feelings change. The emotions themselves cause the peptides to materialize. Particular peptide "cocktails" can either help people by improving immune functions or seriously hurt them. Just as negative thoughts and emotions have been linked with suppressed immune systems, thoughts and feelings of self-love and affirmation enable the body to produce immune-enhancing peptides.
In his pioneering book, "The Biology of Consciousness," former Stanford researcher Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., describes how each of our 75 trillion cells is a tiny conscious being, capable of responding to beliefs and behaviors. Lipton suggests that to change your beliefs is to actually change your physiology, right down to the level of DNA and genes. This is a radical notion, to say the least.
In light of this revolution in biology, we are called upon to care for our body/mind by thinking positive thoughts, feeling good feelings, and doing right action. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This does take discipline and practice. However, it not only feels good but is good for health. The bottom line is, love really is the best medicine. And its free.
(This article was published as "The Interrelationship Between the Mind and the Body" in the Maui News, January 28, 2002)