The mind-body connection

This is a bit of a monster essay, so I have divided it up into 4 parts. Feel free to take a coffee break between parts if you need to!

Part 1: The issues in the tissues

Do you ever get that feeling from your body that something’s not quite right? Something’s wrong? Do you listen to it? Do you trust that gut instinct?

It’s often said that the ‘gut’ acts like your second brain. In some senses, it might even be more intelligent, about the body, than the one between your ears.

Your body knows whether something is right or wrong through your nervous system. This system is made up of over 14 billion nerve cells throughout your mind and body, each one of these nerve cells communicates with the other through special connections called synapses.

There are approximately 1,000 of these synaptic ‘wires’ connecting each one of your nerve cells in your body and 100,000 of them connecting each nerve cell in your brain and spinal cord. The body and the brain cells communicate with each other through these ‘wires’ using small electrical impulses; these nerve cells also communicate with each other using special chemicals, called neurotransmitters.

You might have heard about neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, or acetylcholine. In fact you, do you know the link between botox and acetylcholine? Botox inhibits acetylcholine, which is responsible for stimulating breathing…. And when botox goes wrong, you are in danger of being unable to…. breathe!

In order to communicate, each one of your nerve cells sends an electrical impulse down its ‘wire’, this then hits a synaptic gap. At this point chemicals are released which communicate to other nerve cells next to it.

However, and this is the amazing bit, those neurotransmitter chemicals leak out from this gap and roam free around all the other cells in your body. The proof of this is these chemicals have been found throughout the whole body, not just in your brain or nervous system but literally everywhere in your body!

Your unconscious mind knows if you are thinking ‘I feel bad’ or ‘I feel well’. So if you are thinking ‘I feel bad’ or ‘I feel well’, your unconscious mind knows about it and, because the neurotransmitters that carry the message aren’t just confined to the nerve cells, but travel throughout the body, your body knows about it too, even the cells in your big toe!

This means that whenever you have a thought about your self, you truly affect your whole body.

Your thoughts affect your state of well being, whatever you are thinking. Every single cell in your body is aware of the process and is calculating your wellness and long-term health on your state of your mind, your thinking.

The cells in your body respond and react to everything that your mind says.

This is very exciting news because it proves categorically that there is a mind/body connection and since NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) recognizes the nervous system, (Neuro) as the communication system for the body, we have a direct link to helping you to ‘talk’ to your body: the beginnings of an holistic functional healing approach.

The language that we use through NLP is very precise and has been adapted from past and present masters of communication and linguistics (hence Linguistic).

The ‘Programming’ part of NLP deals with the ‘patterns’ that run your body. The unconscious mind contains a blueprint of perfect health. It knows how things ‘should’ be. If you have a health problem, these patterns are almost certainly working in an inefficient way. Finding safe and reliable ways to alter those patterns (or programmes), gives you a new way to deal with your body, a really deep method to change things, inside.

During an NLP personal breakthrough for health and wellbeing you learn how to communicate with your body using excellent techniques so you can affect the changes you want and have the health you desire.

Part 2: Stress and illness

Understanding how your body works with your unconscious mind is the key to great health. Your unconscious mind is amazing, it is responsible for overseeing the job of pumping blood around your body, regulating the beats of your heart, controlling how your muscles work together, maintaining the energy in your body and most importantly it is the part of you that makes sure you heal if you are not well, or to reset if you are detoxing.

But what is your unconscious mind? Well, it is everything you are not aware of right now. That’s right, everything you are not aware of right now is your unconscious mind. Not only does that include anything you are not thinking about, it also includes all your cells, bones, organs, skin, memories, sleep time, metabolism, in fact everything, and your unconscious mind is responsible for maintaining all of that! And the unconscious mind knows how everything should work, perfectly.

In the deepest part of the unconscious mind is the blueprint of perfect health

If that is the case then why do we get sick, why do we become overweight or addicted to things that are bad for us? The answer lies in how your conscious and unconscious minds work together. Since your unconscious mind is eavesdropping on everything you say and do, it can get confusing information, especially if you give it conflicting advice, such as looking in the mirror and saying ‘I feel awful’, then pretending that everything is OK when it is not. You carry on working only to find yourself heading for an early grave because of the stress and suppressed symptoms that could have been resolved a lot earlier by listening to what your body is really telling you.

A healthy body is easy to maintain but your unconscious mind has more of a problem when one thing builds on top of the other, especially if there is conflict. It could start simply with an argument with someone that causes you to feel bad, or stressed; Then what you might say to yourself could be ‘it shouldn’t be this way’. And this opposing view of reality (what you feel, as opposed to what you want), this stress, creates a conflict where your immune system then feels under pressure, so perhaps you could get a cold, which may result in flu. You get another infection because you still are not dealing with the root cause, the conflict.

If that happens the results can be disastrous. People have ended up in hospital just through this cycle. We all know this because ‘stress-related-illness’ accounts for billions of lost revenue in business every year but it is often simply a conflict between your unconscious and conscious mind.

I do believe that many of the illnesses that we suffer today have at their root cause a mental or emotional disturbance. It may not be immediately obvious what it is, but often when the root cause it determined and dealt with, the illness also heals.

In an NLP personal breakthrough session you are taught how to communicate with your unconscious mind. You also have the opportunity to ‘clear out’ any conflicts, emotions and anything else that could be causing you stress, including old restricting or limiting beliefs you may have about yourself. Then you allow your unconscious mind to remember again how to do its job and heal you quickly and effectively.

Negativity brings down your immune system

Part 3: Is there a limit?

If you break a bone, as long as it’s aligned, it will repair. When I broke my foot earlier this year, I didn’t even have a cast. Nothing was needed but time for the body to heal itself. A lot of time, admittedly, and a decent diet… and a fair amount of restraint, not to do too much too soon. Not one of my better qualities!

If you cut yourself, you heal, replace and repair. You believe that, and don’t question it. Right? If you damage ligament, given time and rest it heals. Damaged nerve fibres can heal. How do they repair themselves? How do they know what to do? Stem cells? DNA? Your unconscious mind knows exactly what is needed. All cells have a life cycle, they know their function, and who tells them what to do? The unconscious mind.

Research suggests that salamanders, uniquely, can even regenerate most limbs and organs. Did you know that?

Whatever your age, your body may be many years younger. In fact, even if you’re middle aged, most of you may be just 10 years old or less. A few of the body’s cell types endure from birth to death without renewal, and this special minority includes some or all of the cells of the cerebral cortex and CNS, which helps to explain why we ‘age’, even though our body’s cells are constantly being replaced. DNA in cells does not get replaced either, nor do the cells inside the lens of the eye and, perhaps, the muscle cells of the heart. But others cells do, regularly:

1 . The epithelial cells that line the surface of the gut, which have to work extremely hard, are replaced every 5 days.
2. The red blood cells, bruised and battered after traveling nearly 1,000 miles through the maze of the body’s circulatory system, live only 120 days before being dispatched to their graveyard in the spleen.
3. The epidermis, or surface layer of the skin, is recycled every two weeks or so.
4. The liver, the body’s detoxifier of all the natural plant poisons and drugs that we ingest, replaced every 300 days or so.
5. The entire human skeleton is thought to be replaced every 10 years or so in adults.

Each kind of tissue has its own turnover time, depending in part on the workload endured by its cells.

But if the body remains so perpetually youthful and vigorous, and so eminently capable of renewing its tissues, why doesn’t the regeneration continue forever?

Some experts believe the root cause is that the DNA accumulates mutations and its information is gradually degraded. Others blame the DNA of the mitochondria, which lack the repair mechanisms available for the chromosomes. A third theory is that the stem cells that are the source of new cells in each tissue eventually grow feeble with age.

So if we believe that the body can repair itself in some circumstances, why not all? What about liver disease? How come we don’t believe we can fix that ourselves? And kidney disease? Cancer? HIV? Why don’t we believe it’s possible to cure these?

Well, for one thing, conventional medicine says it’s not.

But we are at a turning point, and there is growing evidence of people effectively curing themselves, and that’s tremendously exciting.

Well, maybe – or would this be too radical? – it all depends on your self-belief, your willingness to accept new possibilities. Our perception of medicine and what it possible is changing all the time. We have to challenge the accepted norms, push beyond the boundaries of modern medicine and prepare to accept new possibilities.

So yes, you share genetic material with your parents, but your experience turns on or turns off those genes and can do it all through your life and in response to trauma, to exercise, socialisation, to everything. So the list of things that can be changed in the genetic expression keeps growing longer every year. Which means the list of things that we can change about our bodies grows, and therefore the list of things that we can cure does too….. It’s just a leap of faith, and a matter of time.

Not sure?

If I said that Pluto (the planet, not the cartoon dog) affects your health and your emotions….. What would you say? Yay, or nay?

Well, the Sun and Moon clearly have an effect on our emotional state, our wellness, our emotional connection, right? That’s where we get the work lunatic from – someone who is affected by the phases of the Moon.

Look at it another way – we are, what, about 60% water? The Moon can pull around the oceans with its gravitational field, so it can definitely have a direct effect out our bodies, can’t it?

So, you’d agree, we are energetically influenced by Sun and Moon.

Then by the same argument it makes sense that we are energetically influenced by Mars, Venus, Saturn…. they all play a role in our emotional state, right? All the planets, including Pluto, albeit a very small influence as it’s relatively small and far far away!

It makes logical sense, right? Can you believe in it? It’s pretty easy to see the inevitable truth in it.

So as we undeniably believe that the body and mind can heal itself in many circumstances, it doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to believe that it can heal itself in many other ways. Does it?

Part 4: Disease and emotions

So how do diseases come about? Liver disease, kidney disease, cancer?

Unresolved negative emotion (including stress) is like a toxin in the body and left unresolved will contribute to illness. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. In other words, our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are! So if we can regulate our mind, we can heal our body of disease, or prevent it in the first place.

On the other hand, what we do with our physical body (what we eat, how much we exercise, even our posture) can impact our mental state (again positively or negatively). This results in a complex interrelationship between our minds and bodies.

Medical pioneers and psychologists of last century, like Wilhelm Reich and Ida Rolf, pointed this out. It’s not just the mind impacting the body through biochemical pathways. The body impacts the mind as well, because we tend to hold unresolved emotional trauma in the tissues, thereby locking us permanently into certain patterns of thinking and behaving.

When stress builds up in the brain, it only has two ways out. One is through the chemistry of the body. Stress changes the messenger molecules or neuropeptides that are bathing the nervous system and thus changes your mood, and your reactions. And those chemicals have a variety of effects all over the body, not just the nervous system. They cause acid indigestion, reflux, knots in your tummy, cramps, restless legs, ulcers, headache, migraine…. you know the ones, I know you do!

But the other way that distress manifests itself is in patterns of tension. And the trouble with those patterns arises when they become lodged permanently as chronic tension patterns. Patterns that move are just fine. We get angry. We get un-angry. We get sad. We get un-sad. The trouble is with the things that come along and stay for a long time, like the unresolved anger or the unresolved grief.

With those, the brain keeps sending out the same messages to the same muscles, and so you take on a specific postural pattern. And after a while, your mind has fit into that pattern, your muscles have fit into that pattern, your fascia has fit into that pattern, your distribution of energy has fit into that pattern, and that may in itself cause illness, physical disability or other lack of ability to move.

And then it becomes easy to see how exercise has an impact on our emotional well-being, and practices like yoga which focus on the correct alignment of the structures and tissues of the body. In fact by the time your fascia gets stuck in a pattern, general exercise won’t get you out of the pattern; will not change the pattern of the fascia. You need long, slow stretches, such as those experienced during yoga. And that can facilitate the kind of re-patterning in the deep fascia (not just the muscles and the neuro-muscular pathways of traditional exercise) that leads to lasting release of chronic stress and emotion and, in many cases, a profound change of mind and body.

And what is fascia? Well this is another example of connection. It connects the whole body, another way that illness and dis-ease can spread throughout the body. In bodywork and yoga, I often see fascial problems in one area of the body translated into pain in another area – most often the lower back, neck and shoulders. Once you disconnect the root cause, the symptomatic pain often disappears.

Often I find that when I work with clients at the physical level, in deep massage or myofascial release, when there is a release in the tissues, there is a corresponding release emotionally. And sometimes it’s very unexpected.

And sometimes, if there is no physical explanation for pain, like having one leg longer than the other leading to hip instability, lower back pain, shoulder pain, or bad posture at work leading to upper back pain as examples, then the root cause of the pain is emotional and can be successfully removed with mind work, rather than (or in conjunction with) body work.

The same is true with weight loss. There can be a number of biological reasons why it’s difficult for one person to lose weight, but if all those are eliminated and you still can’t lose weight, then the answer may lie in the mind – negative emotions, especially trauma, are often stored in fat cells. Understandably the body doesn’t want to release those, so it holds on to the fat. But, if you release the emotions through mind work, the fat becomes easier to remove.

Of course it’s hard to prove scientifically and to many people it sounds like a bonkers idea, but when I’ve had clients experience it, the evidence speaks for itself! So if you’ve got some some of that stubborn belly fat that just won’t let go, consider whether there might be an emotional explanation. A good NLP practitioner can help you.

Back to yoga for a second though… One of the wonderful things about yoga is that because of the sustained stretch held in many yoga poses, you actually do change the connective tissue. So you change the pattern of that fascia and thus you can get down to the chronic tension patterns lodged in the tissues. This can lead to a wonderful emotional unfolding over the long term. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that satisfying sigh in the middle of a class when something ‘let’s go’ – and it may not be immediately apparent how significant this letting go is, to the yoga student, but it usually quickly becomes clear what has happened. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching yoga. It’s what one of my students calls ‘the magic’.

Mind-body specialist Dr. James Gordon states that the mind and body are essentially inseparable: “the brain and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine and immune systems, and indeed, all the organs of our body and all the emotional responses we have, share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.”

Until approximately 300 years ago, virtually every system of medicine throughout the world treated the mind and body as a whole. But during the 17th century, the Western world started to see the mind and body as two distinct entities. In this view, the body was kind of like a machine, complete with replaceable, independent parts, with no connection whatsoever to the mind.

This Western viewpoint had definite benefits, acting as the foundation for advances in surgery, trauma care, pharmaceuticals, and other areas of mainstream medicine. However, it also greatly reduced scientific inquiry into humans’ emotional and spiritual life, and downplayed their innate ability to heal.

In the 20th century, this view gradually started to change. Researchers began to study the mind-body connection and scientifically demonstrate complex links between the body and mind. Integrative psychiatrist James Lake, MD, of Stanford University, writes that “extensive research has confirmed the medical and mental benefits of meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, and other mind-body practices.”

In the words on Deepak Chopra, “The world is ready now to see that taking a pill or having surgery is really treating the effects and not going to the root cause of the illness.”

The root cause is often your mental and emotional state, and how it changes over time.

If you’ve never seen the Connection documentary, I would encourage you to watch it. You can find information on it here: