The mind/body connection - transforming health with the mind

  • 2 Aug 2016
  • Reading time 7 mins
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As important as good nutrition, exercise, reducing stress, not smoking and creating a toxin-free environment are, our state of mind and spirit also have an enormous effect on our ability to recover our health. This should not be underestimated. Everyone knows someone who has beaten the odds of a life-threatening disease with amazing focus and willpower.

Case study

A case in point is that of Sophie Sabbage. In October 2014 Sophie was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had lung cancer that had already spread to her bones and brain and her doctors agreed she didn’t have long to live.

My turning point was shortly after being diagnosed with multiple metastases in my brain, a devastating day and my darkest hour by far. That was the day I nearly gave up and actually prayed for God to take me fast rather than let me lose my lucidity and clarity of mind. I knew I could do this cancer journey if I had my mind. But without it I was done. I have never known such despair.

But then they told me I had to take steroids and have my whole brain irradiated. And something shifted. A force of will? Courage? Utter stubbornness? Perhaps even blind stupidity? But it rose up my tumour- ridden spine like an electric charge and the fog cleared. I knew I needed to say no. I knew steroids would take me downhill faster than a teenager on a skateboard – that I would get fat (and depressed), not sleep well (when we heal) and increase my blood sugar (which cancer loves). It made no sense to me. I also knew people said, ‘I’m not the same person,’ after whole-brain radiation. And, above all, I knew I needed to trust my own intuition above anything any expert was telling me to do.

That was the day I took charge of my treatment and my choices. I had more lesions in my brain than they could count. Five months later my brain was cancer free. I never took a steroid and they never irradiated it! The radiologist still talks about it at the hospital. He had never seen a result like it. The chemo helped. And other stuff I do. But refusing those treatments was the way I boldly empowered myself and the despair left me. I haven’t felt it since."

She is clearly beating the odds, having written an inspiring book, The Cancer Whisperer, about how to work creatively and constructively with a cancer diagnosis and how to let cancer heal your life. Her approach includes many of the aspects I explore in my book The Chemistry of Connection: feeling your feelings; asking for help; establishing your boundaries; knowing your purpose; and clearing your mind of negative beliefs.

Of course, there is also a need to face the facts about your health, learn about your illness and take the right course of treatment, but Sophie’s story illustrates the power of taking control of your life and working with your body, not against it.

Sophie now helps others navigate the course of their treatment and recovery by offering workshops, online courses and coaching. See www.sophiesabbage.com.

The Power of Positive Intention and Creative Visualization

First championed by Carl Simonton in the 1970s, the power of positive and creative visualization in promoting health, and especially in boosting the body’s immune system, is now well established. Wikipedia’s entry for ‘creative visualisation’ cites numerous studies showing that it can help with ‘the healing of wounds to the body, minimizing physical pain, alleviating psychological pain including anxiety, sadness, and low mood, improving self-esteem or self-confidence, and enhancing the capacity to cope when interacting with others’. This has given rise to the field of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI), a perfect example of the mind–body connection.

In The Chemistry of Connection I use creative visualization to enhance feelings of connection, be it with ourselves, others and our community. If you are dealing with a health issue, there is a creative visualization process that you can adapt according to your circumstances to help yourself recover. This kind of exercise can also be done for others, to help them heal.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

As science evolves, it becomes ever clearer that our intention and attitude have a profound effect on our body and life. For example, in one study, those with a high level of optimism had a 55 per cent lower risk of death from all causes and a 23 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular death.

Another study found that the risk of dying in the next two years was halved in those with a positive attitude. A study on Catholic nuns found that the happiest nuns lived an extra nine and a half years.

The most extensive study of the effects of psychological profile on health and ageing is the Longevity Project, which was begun by Dr Lewis Terman in the 1920s and written up in a book called The Longevity Project by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.

Terman selected 1,500 bright boys and girls, all born around 1920, and his researchers studied their lives in meticulous detail at 10-year intervals right up to their deaths. The main findings were that conscientious, purposeful and hard-working people lived longer. Other key factors were doing something you loved and having a high level of social connectedness, with stable relationships, frequent contact, and interactions that cared for others.

The emotions associated with a longer, healthier life were positivity, optimism, resilience, self-esteem, happiness, life satisfaction, love, friendship and hope.

Cynicism is Bad for You

The worst emotional state for health and longevity is not depression or stress – it’s cynicism. Cynicism is a shutdown state of being, a negative outlook on life. It comes from a lack of trust in life, rather than a background of optimism and openness. It has become a way of being in this age where science, for some, has replaced God as a major belief system.

Part of the scientific maxim is ‘Prove it to me’: people feel that nothing is real until it is proven. The trouble with this kind of thinking is that a cynic is more likely not to engage emotionally in activities, and, through questioning everything, to close down opportunities for new experiences.

Cynicism also shortens our telomeres which become shorter each time a new cell is made until they are too short and cells stop dividing and hence replacing themselves. This initiates rapid ageing. The length of our telomeres is a very good predictor of our healthy lifespan.

The Form of Connection

Many studies have found that people in prolonged stress situations, such as caring for a sick child or parent with dementia, have shorter telomere length. So do those who have suffered childhood trauma and chronic depression. And those with ‘hostile’ cynicism have not only shorter telomeres but also an increased level of inflammation in the body.

Conversely, studies that show that meditation is associated with longer telomeres. The more open our heart and the more open we are to life, the more likely we are to live longer.

In summary

In summary, the mind has a profound effect on the body. In truth, the two cannot be separated. By recognizing this connection, you can develop a way of life that is good for you and your body. Here’s how:

• Respect your body and treat it well, with good nutrition, exercise and enough rest and sleep.

• Develop a positive attitude towards your own health and stay open to new ideas.

• Live conscientiously with good intentions, both for yourself and others.

• Engage in life, enjoy yourself and make a difference to the world around you.

• If you do get sick, use it as an opportunity to examine where you are mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Do what you need to resolve conflicts, take charge and align yourself with getting well.

This article is adapted from The Chemistry of Connection, available to order now. For more information on The Chemistry of Connection and to take our Connection Quiz visit this page. 

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