Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Mind-body medicine refers to the interconnectedness of one’s mind and body and how each influences the other. As more research is aimed in this direction, it is becoming more and more apparent that health or disease of the physical body is interdependent on the state of a person’s mental, emotional, and even spiritual health. A disturbance in one layer can cause repercussions in the other “downstream” layers.
This is how a spiritual crisis can turn up as cancer. This is how deep grief can manifest as digestive issues. This is how a belief that one is inferior to others can result in generalized anxiety. The onset of physical health problems can be preceded, often by decades, by a belief, attitude, thought pattern, or strong emotion. But interestingly, we are usually not conscious of these thoughts nor are we cognizant of the effect they are having on our health.
A strong emotional stress or trauma (like being assaulted or having a loved one die) may occur before someone’s stomach distress, depression, or neck pain begins. Likewise “lesser” stresses may also contribute, e.g. “My migraines started right after my husband left me” or “My rheumatoid arthritis flares every time my mother comes to town.”
However, there isn’t always a memorable event that people can tie the beginning of their symptoms to. For example, a person whose father repeatedly implied that they were stupid as a child may experience chronic back pain that they have no (conscious) idea is related to a belief that they carry deep in their subconscious that they are not smart enough to “bear” their life.
Why do we push things into our subconscious?
According to John Sarno, MD, the subconscious hides away strong emotions that it perceives as dangerous or threatening. He says that symptoms are created in the body to distract the conscious mind from discovering the painful, scary emotions (e.g. rage, inferiority, worthlessness) that are stored underneath in the subconscious.
How do we access our subconscious?
One way to reach the subconscious is through a practitioner-client dialogue in which the practitioner asks questions designed to follow the trail of thoughts deeper and deeper into a person’s “story” which eventually uncovers a basic belief about how they perceive themselves. Alternately there are many therapies and techniques that aim at neutralizing or eliminating negative thought patterns – emotional freedom technique, Psych-K, hypnosis, etc.
What can we do with this “hidden” material?
Once the beliefs are brought up from the depths of the subconscious, they can be worked through by the conscious mind. We are able to examine them and make decisions about whether we want to keep believing them or not. Are these beliefs true anymore? Are they serving us? Do they reflect who we are deep down? Empowering, a choice can be made.
How does this affect our physical health?
It is becoming more accepted in medicine that in order to effectively treat physical disease, especially chronic disease, the mental, emotional, and spiritual spheres must be taken into account.
The etiology of much disease is found in the subconscious in the form of a volatile emotion or a staunch belief about the true nature of the Self. Until this is brought to light, we cannot be truly free of our ills.
The True Self
We are all born into this world in a pure state of goodness. Let that sink in. At our cores, we are all beautiful intentional beings. Through life situations, relationships, trauma, accidents, etc. we take on layers that tend to shield or hide our true selves. Oftentimes we forget entirely about the True Self as we go through life. We forget that at our core we embody one or more of the following possibilities: love, creativity, joy, humor, light, peace, beauty, connectedness, hope, goodness, etc.
We instead start to believe that we are bad, ugly, incapable, inferior, or that we need to be aggressive, tough, cruel, uncaring in order to survive. In essence, we take on ways of being that run counter to who we actually are. But if we allow ourselves to shed those things and return to our true way of being, unfettered by falsehoods, we will become healthier in mind, body, and spirit.
The work of mind-body healing helps us to get there.
Dr. Julie Verfurth focuses her naturopathic practice on mind-body medicine, holistic diabetes care, and support for menopausal women. 5105 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503.886.8622. julieverfurth.com