A baby is given its health by nature, as a birthright. This perfect state will remain until we interfere with it. That "interference" is just another word for "living your life." How you live today either causes your health to degrade or to improve, and optimal living allows the body's healing system to reach its full potential.
The key is the mind-body connection. In brief, all your thoughts and feelings have physical consequences. Chemical messages from the brain circulate to every cell in the body, allowing your liver, heart, digestive track and immune system to eavesdrop on every mental event. Whenever you make a decision or choice, you are affecting trillions of cells. Please do not interpret what I’m saying in a fatalistic way. If you have a disorder where medicine remains baffled about the cause, such as certain cancers, the mind-body connection isn’t at fault. More and more, though, we are learning that the feedback from our thoughts, emotions, memories, beliefs, habits, cravings, addictions, resistance and negativity reaches all the way to our genes. Which means we have tremendous power to use the mind-body connection for our benefit.
There are three main things that interfere with that connection:
Obstacle #1: I shut my body out and ignore how it feels.
This is the most common obstacle to good health, because there's a natural aversion to pain and discomfort. We put the small sensations that bother us out of our minds, and not until symptoms appear that cannot be ignored do we admit that there's a problem. Even more commonly, when we have a problem with how our bodies look, we take the course of least resistance: We stop looking or lament that we aren't the same physically as we were at age 20.
Making it better: Get into the habit of feeling your body. Be mindful of discomfort, but also appreciate the pleasure of being physical. Think about marriage, when things start to go badly. What happens? If the relationship gets uncomfortable, the two people grow distant. They talk less and touch less. They stop agreeing or wanting to share. If this trend goes on too long, the bond of affection is frayed. Communication becomes strained. Obviously, the earlier they catch the warning signs, the easier it will be for two people to get the marriage back on track -- touch, communication and bonding are key.
Now think of yourself as being married to your body. The same truths apply. If you stop communicating, your body will begin to drift away, becoming less sensitive to what you want. It forgets its role in bringing you satisfaction. Instead, the bond between mind and body gets frayed. So it's important to keep the connection. Tune in to how your body feels. Give it an opportunity to be useful, active, energized and content. On a sunny day, lie down in the grass and open yourself to the warmth and comfort of the world. That's how you should feel every day, and only your body can deliver the feeling.
Obstacle #2: I indulge my emotions, blame them on other people and lament everything negative in my life.
Negative emotions are like unwelcome guests. Just because they show up on our doorsteps doesn’t mean they have a right to stay. As emotions rise and fall, they merge into the river and then flow on. But if we misuse our emotions, they stick to us. Eventually, we build up a store of unhappiness, and this becomes our emotional debt to the past. Debts are hard to pay off; it's much better not to accumulate them.
Unfortunately, most people react to emotional buildup by adding more. They feel angry, so smaller and smaller triggers set them off. They feel victimized, so the next thing that goes wrong reinforces how badly the world treats them. This pattern isn't purely in the mind; it makes itself felt in the body, which is why, for example, depression increases our risk of getting sick.
Making it better: Don't fear negativity; you can learn how to deal with it. Take responsibility for how you feel. The emotional life is one of the greatest riches of being human. If that's not true for you, look into your past, all the way back to your childhood. This will probably reveal that you were taught to be inhibited, worried, cautious or even afraid of emotions. They were equated with losing control or embarrassing yourself.
Emotional control doesn't mean total suppression or judging against how you feel. It means balance. Balance begins by knowing how you feel but not being so swayed that you are ruled by every passing incident of anger, worry or resentment. For many people, the best course is to befriend someone whose emotional balance they admire. Find an emotional mentor, because as much as it may surprise you, emotions can be educated. They are neither primitive nor raw. Instead, there is a whole spectrum for every feeling, both positive and negative, and when you begin to understand this spectrum, you will discover that emotions can be subtle and enjoyable, too.
Obstacle #3: I make impulsive choices, ignore my mistakes and keep doing what didn’t work in the first place.
All sensations, feelings, impulses and emotions must pass through the higher brain. When they arrive there, we make a choice. Do I follow my impulse or think about it some more? The most important part of the mind-body connection is the choice-maker, which is faced with hundreds of decisions a day, large and small. No matter what size they are, each choice gets converted into chemical messages that enter the bloodstream and inform every cell in the body.
The problem is that bad decisions get imprinted into the brain like deep grooves, which leads to habits, cravings and addictions. A speeding motorist adds points to his license only when he's caught. We, on the other hand, are under constant surveillance. Each choice makes a difference; every decision adds to the storehouse of good and bad input imprinted in our brains.
Making it better: Start making good choices and correcting the bad ones. This is usually a matter of small victories every day. Your higher brain takes note of how your choices work out. If you have fallen into a pattern of bad choices, no permanent harm has been done as far as your brain is concerned. It awaits your next decision, and when it comes, your body automatically obeys the message. What's worrisome is negative results at the cellular level. If your pancreas has become used to a huge intake of white sugar, or your liver to a diet high in animal fats, a single choice won't make much of a difference. Trimming the fat off your prime rib and passing up dessert are good choices. They represent small victories that must be repeated over and over to change the imprints in your cells.
The good news is that you don't have to attack your worst mistakes, certainly not at first. The same decision-making part of the brain deals with all choices. The impulse to eat a second piece of pie, to argue with your spouse or to buy a house you can't afford must pass through the same gate, where they are examined, judged and weighed. So, by achieving small victories where it is easier, you can strengthen the pathways for decisions that are tougher. Repetition is the key, but it is just as important to pause, take note of your small victory and appreciate it. In this way, you regain power and control, step by step, and become a whole person. A whole person is someone who can realistically expect perfect health and possesses the tools to get there.
Want to learn more about the power of the mind-body connection? Register for Deepak and Oprah's Free 21-Day Meditation Challenge!