What are you? Are you all the physical processes in your brain, or are you something more with an immortal soul? Does your mind exist inside of space or outside of space? How you answer this question has a lot to do with your health.
Would you agree: you are a composite of a mind (the mental realm of thoughts, beliefs, pains, sensations, emotions) and a body (the physical realm of matter – atoms, neurons, chemicals)?
Most important, how would you answer the age-old question: what is the relationship between mind and body?
Science now has a definitive answer that can be proved using the scientific method: events of the mind can cause events in the body; and, events in the body can cause events in the mind. There is clearly a mind–body connection.
I’ll briefly discuss the science behind this statement in a moment, but first I want to get you thinking about the mind-body connection. Look at the picture at the top of this post. On the right of the picture are two physical objects – a girl and a vase. These two objects exist in physical space. Now look at the space between the girl and the vase. Can you see the silhouette of a man?
Next, look at the left side of the picture. You can see the shadow of the vase. Look closely at the white area on each side of the shadow and you will see the silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip. This illusion gets better in person because the vase has been mounted on a turntable, so as the vase turns the shadow of the faces look like they are actually talking to each other!
This real vase creates an excellent example of the Rubin’s vase illusion. For those unfamiliar with the Rubin’s vase illusion, it is named after the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, who discovered that the eye is unable to process two images at once, but can shift between figure and ground, or silhouette faces and vase.
I am using the Rubin’s vase illusion as an analogy to show that just as there is a link between the perception of a vase and the silhouettes, there is a link between the mind and the body. Each is part of the other.
Has Western medicine incorporated mind-body healing into its practice?
A whole new science has emerged called “psychoneuroimmunology” – Psycho-Neuro-Immunology (PNI).
PNI is the result of groundbreaking research by Cadence B. Pert, PhD. Dr. Pert made a major discovery as a neuropharmacologist when she was doing research for her doctorate dissertation. Dr. Pert’s research provided scientific evidence that the mind and the body are one, and that our emotions are the bridge that link the two.
Dr. Pert discovered neuro-peptide opiate receptor sites on the surface of immune cells, These are receptor sites where immune cells receive messages directly from the brain. Since Dr. Pert’s discovery of these receptor sites there has been a vast amount of additional scientific research that has proved the mind-body link. For an explanation of the research, I refer you to Dr. Pert’s book, Molecules of Emotion, the science behind mind and body medicine.
Paraphrasing Dr. Pert: Your thoughts and emotions are converted into information carrying molecules called neuro-peptides. These chemical messengers cascade throughout your body and they can help or hurt your health. Your conscious thoughts and emotions can heal you or make you sick.
A neuro-peptide is not a thought – it springs into existence at the touch of a thought. A thought of a fear and the neuro-chemical that it turns into are somehow connected in a process of non-matter turning into matter.
What effects do your thoughts have on your immune system?
Stressful thoughts and emotions (in your mind) of anger, fear, or betrayal are registered in your brain (your body). These stressful thoughts trigger the brain to release a stress signal. As a result of the stress signal the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol causes the redistribution and change in the activity of immune cells:
- Cortisol causes immune cells to move differently throughout the body – this is called “trafficking.” Immune cells are directed, by cortisol, to station themselves in the lymph nodes throughout the body, as if the immune system is readying itself to be wounded. The immune cells are directed to wait in these lymph “battle stations,” ready to fight off a potential infection.
- Cortisol suppresses the rapid reproduction of killer T-cells. Killer T-cells are the immune cells that proliferate to build a vast army of immune cells that fight specific antigens – including cancer cells.To see a video of killer T-cells attacking a cancer cell click here.
- Cortisol suppresses the production of Natural Killer cells. Natural Killer cells are the immune cells that track down and attack tumor cells (cancer). To see 2 videos of Natural Killer cells attacking a cancer cell click here.
- Cortisol suppresses immune signaling molecules – cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers that immune cells use to communicate with each other.
- There is substantial research linking psychological stress with immune suppression.. Stress can alter important defenses against malignant disease. Stressful thoughts change immune cell behavior and down-regulate the immune system.
- Dr. Pert’s answer to the original question: “What are you?” – “You are a spiritual being in a physical body…and the mind-body are one.”