Part 2: Think yourself better
Healing from illness, and preventing it, has been shown to be most effective using a holistic approach - a focus on the mind, body and spirit. In Part 1 we looked at the mind-body connection. So where does the spirit element come in? HeartMath Institute founder Doc Childre’s theory is that an energetic connection of information occurs between "the DNA in cells, and higher dimensional structures - the higher self, or spirit".
Brace yourself for the technical bit... He believes the heart, which generates a much stronger electromagnetic field than the brain, provides the energetic field that binds the higher self/spirit to the body's many systems, as well as its DNA; the heart serves as a key access point through which information originating in our higher self or spirit is connected into the physical human system.
Childre proposes that "states of heart coherence (positive states of balance and harmony) generated through experiencing heartfelt positive emotions, and the ability to maintain this heart coherence, increase this connection". In other words, the more positive your outlook, and the more prolonged it is, the more profoundly you can create good health and wellbeing, even as deeply as at your DNA level.
We know that achieving wellbeing involves nurturing your mental health and spirit to promote physical health. But being able to create a 'base state' of inner peace in addition will enable you to maintain and strengthen this positive cycle, for lasting health.
So where can you start? To stop the cycle and accumulation of damaging negative emotions, the vital first step is to be 'present' and aware; this means paying attention to your internal dialogue and what your body is feeling and 'communicating' to you. This practice helps you to identify emotions as they arise, and process and release them, instead of storing them away, where they can later manifest in the body as imbalance and illness. It also aids in developing the ability to consciously choose how you react; you can use this increased awareness to guide your mental state in a better, less destructive direction, creating an altogether healthier cycle of mind-body interaction.
An important way to express and process your feelings is to use a talking therapy (or a trusted friend). Or if you find this too daunting, try putting your thoughts down on paper through a journaling practice. This can really help you to not only release emotions, but gain clarity and identify patterns that could maybe use some help to become unstuck. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP therapy) is brilliant for changing unhelpful thought patterns to more positive ones, and there's a huge selection of books you can read, or podcasts to listen to. Try Hardwiring Happiness by Dr Rick Hanson, or the NHS Moodzone podcasts.
Meditation is a current buzzword, with good reason (I'll be writing a separate post with more on this!). Integrative psychiatrist James Lake, MD, of Stanford University, commented that "extensive research has confirmed the medical and mental benefits of meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, and other mind-body practices."
Meditation is hugely valuable, helping you to become more present, balancing and centering the mind, and achieving greater clarity. Classes can often be found for free in local towns and cities - in Cambridge, try the Satyam Yoga and Wellbeing Centre or Inner Space. If you're a complete beginner, audio guided meditations are a great place to start as they provide some structure and help stop your mind from wandering. Try different versions (some feature particularly soothing voices!) and see what works for you - YouTube has lots. You could also try the Headspace app.
I highly recommend mindfulness-based meditation, which can help you identify negative thought patterns and 'hear' what your body is trying to communicate to you. This is so important when you have a chronic condition. I was taught that conditions like the ME/Chronic Fatigue I experienced developed because I had ignored my body for so long. If you already have an illness or disease, this is a brilliant first step to start to understand and heal it at the root cause.
As mentioned, regular meditation practice is also a particularly effective way to help you gain control over your thoughts and reactions - and the accompanying neurochemical patterns that can otherwise flood the body with harmful stress hormones. You don't have to have long sessions, even 5 or 10 minutes will do, but stick at it (it will take commitment), and you will be rewarded by finding yourself in an altogether happier and more relaxed state, and much less quick to become stressed or irritable (and ill).
Reiki is a wonderful therapy for inducing deep relaxation so your body can heal. Being an 'intelligent energy', it flows to problems at their source, whether that's at the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual level. Even if you have a physical symptom, it could be that an unhelpful thought pattern or trapped emotion is causing it; Reiki helps to release emotions and shift your mindset to one more conducive to long term health and wellbeing, while helping to heal on a physiological level too. In this way, it offers gentle and soothing assistance for a variety of problems, as perhaps can be testified by the fact NHS hospitals are now using it to help patients.
Along with mind-body therapies, therapies that use the body to affect the mind, such as yoga, tai chi, and types of dance, are also helpful. Ultimately, mind-body and body-mind therapies are interrelated; the body affects the mind, which in turn impacts the body, which affects the mind (you get the picture). So you can use a combination that best suits you and your lifestyle, and you don't have to keep trying a practice you find too boring and lose momentum!
Creating wellbeing doesn't have to cost anything, and you can start incorporating practices every day in a myriad of ways. Feed your soul and do something you love every day; take a bath, play with your pet, listen to your favourite song, draw or paint, or go for a walk in nature. (I even have a favourite pair or earrings I wear to lift my mood!). This will raise your vibration, which we talked about in Part 1. Doing something positive every day, even for a short time should never be underestimated - it has an accumulative effect, and can really help boost your immune system, health and wellbeing.
It's so important to take time out of a busy working day to bring stress levels down. Prolonged low-level stress can make your body become stuck in the fight or flight response, and then start to burn out, causing real damage. Whenever possible, don't work though lunchtimes for example - try sitting in your favourite cafe or the local park and immerse yourself in a good book instead, even for 20 minutes. It will make all the difference.
Many people have the attitude that they don't have time, but you really can start making a difference in the smallest of ways. You can learn simply to be mindful in your everyday life; become aware of your mind, take some slow, deep breaths and 'reset' throughout the day, whatever you're doing. For example, while you're making a cup of tea, or standing in the queue at the coffee shop (some people even like to set an alarm to remind themselves to do this!). You could try adding a short personal mantra to bring yourself back to a state of calm too - this can be really powerful. 'Check in' with yourself regularly, and offer your mind and body the same attention you do others you care about!
And my simplest tip for spreading the good (health) vibes? Gratitude. Take a moment whenever you can to be grateful for all of the good things you have, however small (doing this before bed can also help you get a more restful sleep!). It helps set your mind (and therefore body) on a more positive cycle, impacts positively on those around you, and brings more good things your way!