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26 April, 2008


Intelligence is much more flexible than the mask of matter that hides it. Intelligence can express itself either as thoughts or as molecules. A basic emotion such as fear can be described as an abstract feeling or as an tangible molecule of the hormone adrenaline. Without the feeling there is no hormone; without the hormone there is no feeling. In the same way, there is no pain without nerve signals that transmit pain; there is no relief from pain without endorphins that fit into the pain receptors to block those signals. The revolution we call mind-body medicine was based on this simple discovery: Wherever thought goes, a chemical goes with it. This insight has turned into a powerful tool that allows us to understand, for example, why recent widows are twice as likely to develop breast cancer, and why the chronically depressed are four times more likely to get sick. In both cases, distressed mental states get converted into the bio chemicals that create disease.

In my medical practice, I can see two heart patients afflicted with angina pectoris, the typical squeezing, breathless pain that is typical of heart disease. One patient will be able to run, swim, and perhaps even mountain-climb, totally ignoring his pain or not even having any, while the other nearly faints with pain when he gets up out of his armchair.

My first instinct will be to look for a physical difference between them, but I might or might not find anything. Cardiologist expect anginal pain to appear when at least one of the three coronary arteries is 50 percent blocked. This blockage is almost always in the form of an atheroma, a lesion on the inside of the arterial wall built up by dead cells, blood clots, and fatty plaque. The 50 percent blockage is only a rule of thumb, however. Some angina patients are disabled by pain when they have only a single small lesion barely obstructing blood flow in one artery, while other patients suffering from massive, multi blockages of up to 85 percent have been known to run marathons. (Angina is not always caused by physical blockage, I should add. Arteries are lined with a layer of muscle cells that can go into a spasm and squeeze the vessel closed, but this is a highly individual reaction.)

In mind-body terms, my two patients are expressing their different interpretations of pain. Every patient stamps his condition with a unique perspective, and pain (or any other symptom) emerges into awareness only after it interacts with all the past influences at work in the mind-body system. There is no single response for all people or even for the same person at two different times. Pain signals are raw data that can be turned to many purposes. High exertion athletics, such as long-distance running, subject an athlete to pain that he interprets as a sign of accomplishment (“no pain, no gain”); but the same pain, inflicted under other circumstances, would be completely unwelcome. Track runners admire a coach who pushes them to their limits; they might hate the same treatment in boot camp.

Medicine is just beginning to use the mind-body connection for healing—defeating pain is a good example. By giving a placebo, or dummy, drug 30 percent of patients will experience the same pain relief as if a real painkiller had been administered. But the mind-body effect is much more holistic. The same dummy pill can be used to kill pain, to stop excessive gastric secretions in ulcer patients, to lower blood pressure, or to fight tumors. (All the side effects of chemotherapy, including hair loss and nausea, can be induced by giving cancer patients a sugar pill while assuring them that it is a powerful anticancer drug, and there have been instances where injection of sterile saline solution have actually led to remissions of advanced malignancy.)

Since the same inert pill can lead to such totally different responses, we must conclude that the body is capable of producing any bio chemical response once the mind has been given the appropriate suggestion. The pill itself is meaningless; the power that activates the placebo effect is the power of suggestion alone. This suggestion is then converted into the body’s intention to cure itself. Therefore, why not bypass the deception of the sugar pill and go directly to the intention? If we could effectively trigger the intention not to age, the body would carry it out automatically.

We have extremely exciting evidence to prove that such a possibility exists. One of the most dreaded diseases of old age is Parkinson’s, a neurological disorder that produces uncontrollable muscle movements and a drastic slowing down of bodily motion such as walking, eventually resulting in a body to stiff that the patient cannot move at all. Parkinson’s has been traced to an explained depletion of a critical brain chemical called dopamine-producing cells of the brain have been destroyed chemically by certain drugs. Imagine a patient afflicted with this type of Parkinson’s in an advanced stage of frozen motion. Trying to walk, he can only take a step or two before halting in place, as stiff as a statue.

However, if you draw a line on the floor and say, “Step over that,” the person will miraculously be able to walk right over it. Despite the fact that the production of dopamine is completely involuntary and its stores are seemingly exhausted (as shown by the fact that his brain cannot signal his leg muscles to take another step), merely by having the intention to walk, the brain is awakened. The person may freeze again after only a few seconds, but again you can ask him to step over an imaginary line, and his brain will respond. By extension, the infirmity and inactivity exhibited by many old people is often just dormancy. By renewing their intention to live active, purposeful lives, many elderly people can dramatically improve their motor abilities, strength, agility, and mental responses.

Intention is the active partner of attention; it is the way we convert automatic processes into conscious ones. Using simple mind-body exercises, almost any patient can learn in a few sessions to convert a racing heartbeat, asthmatic wheezing, or free-floating anxiety into a more normal response. What seems out of control can be brought back into control with the proper technique. The implications for aging are enormous. By inserting an intention into your thought processes, such as, “I want to improve in energy and vigor every day,” you can begin to assert control over those brain centres that determine how much energy will be expressed in activity. The decline of vigor in old age is largely the result of people expecting to decline; they have unwittingly implanted a self-defeating intention in the form of a strong belief, and the mind-body connection automatically carries out this intention.

Our past intentions create obsolete programming that seems to have control over us. In truth, the power of intention can be reawakened at any time. Long before you get old, you can prevent such losses by consciously programming your mind to remain youthful, using the power of your intention.




1 comment:

David said...

You got it, Arasakumar. Great blog, thanks for posting.