There is a technique to be practiced whenever we feel we can’t do something – we can’t approach that woman or man, we can’t talk to the boss, and so on. That is we can change our states and empower ourselves to take action either by changing the pictures and dialogues in our minds or by changing how we are standing, how we are breathing, and the tone of voice we are using. The ideal is to change both physiology and tone. Having done this, we can immediately feel resourceful and be able to follow through with the actions necessary to produce the results we desire.
The same is true with exercise. If you work out hard and you are short of breath and you keep saying to yourself how tired you are or how far you have run, you will indulge in a physiology like sitting down or panting – that supports that communication. If, however even though you are out of breath – you consciously stand right and direct your breathing into a normal rate, you will feel recovered in a matter of moments.
In addition to how we change our feelings, and thus our actions, by changing our internal representations and physiology, the biochemical and electrical processes of our bodies are also affected. Studies show that when people get depressed, their immune systems follow suit and become less efficient, their white blood cell count drops. Have you ever seen a Kirlian photograph of a person? It’s the representation of the body’s bioelectrical energy, and if changes remarkably as a person changes his state or mood. Because of the linking of mind and body, in intense states our whole electrical field can change and we can do things that wouldn’t otherwise seem possible. Everything one experiences and read tells that our bodies have far fewer limits both positive and negative than we have been led to believe.
Dr Herbert Benson, who has written extensively about mind / body relationships, recounts some astonishing stories off the power of voodoo in different parts of the world. In one Australian aboriginal tribe, witch doctors practice a custom called “pointing the bone”. It consists of casting a magic spell so potent that the victim knows with absolute certainty he will undergo some terrible diseases and probable death. This is how Dr Benson described one such occurence in 1925.
The man who discovers that he is being boned by an enemy is, indeed, a pitiable sight. He stands aghast, with his eyes staring at the treacherous pointer, and his hands lifted as though to ward off the lethal medium which he imagines is pouring into his body. His cheeks blanch and his eyes become glassy, and the expression of his face becomes horribly distorted, he attempts to shriek, but usually the sound chokes in his throat, and all that one might see is froth at his mouth. His body begins to tremble and his muscles twist involuntarily. He sways backwards and falls to the ground, and after a short time appears to be in a swoon; but soon after he writhes as if in mortal agony, and covering his face with his hands, begins to moan. His death is only a matter of a comparatively short time.
But it’s also one of the most telling examples imaginable of the power of physiology and of belief. In conventional terms nothing was being done to that man, nothing at all. But the power of his own belief and the force of his own physiology crated a terrifying potent negative force that utterly destroyed him.
Is that sort of experience limited to societies we consider primitive? Of course not. Exactly the same process goes on around us every day. Benson mentions that Dr George L Engel of the University of Rochester Medical Center has developed a lengthy file of newspaper items from all over the world concerning sudden deaths under unexpected circumstances. In each case, it was not that something awful happened in the outside world. Rather, the culprit was the victim’s own negative internal representations. In each case, something made the victim feel powerless, helpless, and each alone. The result was virtually the same as in the aboriginal rite.
What’s interesting is that there seems to have been more research and more anecdotal emphasis on the harmful side of the mind / body relationship than on the helpful side. We always hear about the horrible effects of stress or about people losing the will to live after the death of a loved one. We all seem to know that negative states and emotions can literally kill us. But we hear less about the way positive states can heal us.
One of the most famous stories on the side of the ledger is that of Norman Cousins. In his Anatomy of an Illness, he described how he made a miraculous recovery from a long, debilitating illness by laughing his way to health. Laughter was one tool Cousins used in a conscious effort to mobilize his will to live and to prosper. A major part of his regimen was spending a good deal of his day immersed in films, television programs, and books that made him laugh. This obviously changed the consistent internal representatives he was making, and the laughter radically changed his physiology – and thus the messages to his nervous system of how to respond. He found that immediate, positive physical changes ensued. He slept better, his pain was lessened, his entire physical presence improved.
Eventually, he recovered completely, even though one of the doctors initially said he had a one in five hundred chance of making a full recovery. Cousins concluded: I have learned never to, underestimate the capacity of the human mind and body to regenerate even when prospects seem most wretched. The life force may be the least understood force on earth.
Some fascinating research that is beginning to surface may shed some light on Cousins’s experience and others like it. The studies look at the way our facial expressions affect the way we feel and conclude it’s not so much that we smile when we feel good or laugh when we’re in good spirits. Rather, smiling and laughing set off biological processes that, in fact, make us feel good. They increase the flow of blood to the brain and change the level of oxygen, the level of stimulation of the neuro-transmitters. The same thing happens with other expressions. Put your facial expression in the physiology of fear or anger or disgust or surprise and that’s what you will feel.