The Placebo Effect: How to Use Your Mind-Body Connection for Healing
There are four conditions that would insure a stronger mind-body connection during illness, and all are inter-connected:
- The mind contributes to getting well.
- The mind doesn't contribute to getting sick.
- The body is in constant communication with the mind.
- This communication benefits both the physical and mental aspects of being well.
How to use your mind to deal with illness
- You trust what is happening.
- You deal with doubt and fear.
- You don't send conflicting messages that get tangled with each other.
- You have opened the channels of mind-body communication.
- You let go of your intention and let the healing system do its work.
It's also helpful to follow your instincts. Most of us deal with illness through misleading processes like wishful thinking and denial. Our fears lead us into the blind alleys of false hope. In such cases, the mind isn't really alert to what the body is saying, or vice versa. The atmosphere is clouded. To trust what your body is telling you implies that you will take action to give it what it wants. Each body wants different things at any given moment, but at the very least our bodies do best without tobacco, alcohol, excessive medications and various chemical adulterants.
How to become more aware of your body
This simple exercise is like a mind-body reconnection. Too many people are in the habit of not paying attention to anything but the grossest signals from their bodies, like extreme pain, stiffness or discomfort. What you want to do is to increase your sensitivity and your trust at the same time. Your body knows at a subtle level where disease and discomfort are. It sends signals at every moment, and these are not to be feared. Even if you consciously ignore what is happening in your cells, there is a level of conscious information that is being exchanged just below the level of awareness.
Indeed every cell in the body knows, through chemical messengers, what every other cell is doing. By bringing your conscious mind into the loop, you are adding to this communication. How? The body operates through two compatible aspects of the nervous system. One is involuntary and takes care of every process that doesn't need your awareness. The other is voluntary, meaning that it responds to your awareness. These two aspects of the mind/brain are connected. You can switch from one to the other.
For example, if you are stuck in traffic and feeling stressed, your heart rate can increase involuntarily. Yet you can also choose to go running, which increases your heart rate as the result of your intention. We know from research experiments that advanced yogis can alter involuntary responses at will, such as lowering their heart rate and breathing to very low levels or increasing skin temperature in a very precise way. As it happens, you and I have the same abilities, although we don't consciously use them. You can be led through an exercise to make a spot on the palm of your hand grow warmer, and it would happen even though you have never used that ability before.
One can venture that the placebo effect falls into the same category. It's a voluntary response we could use if only we learned to. The healing system seems to be involuntary. You don't have to think in order to heal a cut or a bruise. Yet the fact that some patients can make their own pain go away when given a sugar pill they think is aspirin implies, very strongly, that intention makes a difference in healing. We aren't talking about positive thinking, but a deeper mind-body connection.
One final note: Because this is a public forum read by all kinds of people with all kinds of health issues, let me be clear. I am not—repeat not—advising anyone to stop conventional medical treatment or to reject medical help. The placebo effect remains mysterious, and this article is exploring that mystery, not giving you a how-to for self-cure.
How to be your own placebo
Start listening to your body's signals
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.