This is my first of a series of articles exploring the connection between emotional healing and physical healing.
My meditation teacher S.N. Goenka said “Physical sensations are experienced in the body but the feeling comes from the mind…the deepest part of the mind, where unconscious patterns are causing automatic reactions.”
Sensations in the body do not exist separate from the mind. This means we can heal the body by 2 methods – through working on the physical body AND through working on healing the mind and emotions.
This just makes sense because we know that the brain runs the show. Your body doesn’t function without your brain. It’s all connected.
Pain and Your Brain: Neuroscience Research
Thanks to a quickly growing body of neuroscience research, we are learning more about the sources of chronic pain. We can see through functional MRI’s that physical and emotional pain both activate the same regions in the brain.
Here’s 4 critical things the research shows about physical pain and emotions:
#1. The same neural circuity is activated when you experience physical pain as when you experience emotional pain.
Examples: In a landmark fMRI study in 2003, similar areas of the brain were activated during a social rejection scenario (emotional pain) and during the application of a heat wand to the volunteer’s forearm (physical pain).
In another study, when subjects visualized a time of past relationship breakup (emotional pain), both the emotional and the physical pain centers lit up.
Bottom line: Physical pain and emotional pain are the SAME in your brain.
#2. Anger increases pain. Many research papers have shown a relationship between anger and increased pain.
#3. Blame increases pain. Studies also show that people who blame their problems on other people or situations have more pain.
#4. Anxiety increases pain. The connection between physical pain and anxiety is a double whammy – it goes both ways! Pain creates anxiety; anxiety increases pain.
Back Surgeon Eliminates Surgeries with Emotional Healing
One of my favorites books on this topic is “Back in Control” by Dr. David Hanscom, MD. He is a back surgeon who specializes on only on the worst, most chronic and complicated back problems.
He won’t even schedule back surgery for patients until they first do 8-12 weeks of emotional healing and calming of the nervous system.
His prerequisite 12-week program focuses on emotional healing to:
• Reduce anxiety
• Reduce negative thinking
• Reduce anger
• Give up “victim thinking”
• Increase proactive self-care
• Create a vision for recovery
• Create a vision for long term productive, happy living
After doing that emotional healing work, he finds that many patients actually cancel their back surgery because the pain goes away! He’s working his way out of a job and healing people without surgery.
The Physical Therapy field is getting on board with the connection between emotions and pain. I was thrilled to learn recently that Marquette’s Physical Therapy graduate program now includes coursework about the role that neural circuitry plays in chronic pain.
So, the discipline of physical therapy (a very “physical” discipline) also understands that your thoughts and emotions are important contributors to chronic pain.
Much research also shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences affect your brain’s neural circuitry and are correlated with development of physical illnesses later in life. Mind and emotions affect body.[pullquote]Check out my Mind Over Medicine article and be prepared to be astounded to see very concrete examples of how the mind alone creates real physical effects in the body.[/pullquote]
The connection between emotional healing and physical healing is becoming clearer and clearer across disciplines (showing what Buddha knew all along).
In my next article, I’ll share my own profound experience of healing my body with my mind. I’ll also dig deeper into emotional aspects of pain and what you can do to heal.