The Mind Can Help the Body to Heal Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D.

Suppose that you are in a new city and you need to get downtown. Would you sit in your car, call a tow truck to get the car towed downtown or would you fill up the tank (so you have enough gasoline), get directions for downtown from a knowledgeable person, and drive yourself there? If you are reading this, you would say, "What a silly question. Of course, I would drive there. Why would I get myself towed by a tow-truck?"

Similarly, taking a totally passive and dependent approach when it comes to our own treatment should sound silly too. A majority of us think that when we get sick, our sole responsibility consists of making an appointment with a doctor and then the doctor should "tow" us to the destination of recovery. We see our participation limited to taking the magical pill or whatever medical procedure the doctor performs.

To continue with the analogy of a car, while there are car troubles which only a
mechanic can fix, once a mechanic fixes it, we have to take the responsibility for its maintenance. If we handle it roughly, or if we don't do a good job of keeping check on the fluids, pressures, get regular tune ups, etc., we have to bring the car to the service station over and over again. Just as after the mechanic completes the repairs, we are responsible for car maintenance, so are we for the maintenance of our body after the surgical and/or medical procedures. Following the first few years of our life, nothing is maintenance free in this body.

What about the situations that arise when we have to take the initiative and leadership in correction of a problem? For instance, when the battery is down and booster cables are inoperative, you ask someone to push the car to crank the engine. You ask someone to give you a push, you get in the drivers seat, guide the steering wheel so the vehicle stays on a straight path, and just when the engine begins to crank, you push the gas pedal to get the car rolling on its way. In this scenario, the only role of the other person is to give you a little push, but you are the one who is "in the driver's seat," fully in-charge, monitoring the whole operation. 

Similarly, in matters requiring a physician's care, such as high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, the doctor and the medication are there to just give us that little push, but we need to fully participate, involve ourselves actively in all aspects of the treatment, and really take charge of the entire recovery process.

Mind-body medicine, which in recent years is making great strides, informs us about how we can help in our own treatment. Today, scientists can say with confidence that if you relax, meditate, and visualize being healthy and recovered, you can reduce the high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and chronic pain if there is no medical cause for your problem. In other words, you can do a whole lot, especially if your condition is stress- related.

In fact, what we do for prevention or for recovery from illnesses is more important today than it has ever been in the past. In the past, illnesses for the most part were caused by infections. These infections, such as the plague, polio, cholera, small-pox, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc., were the scourge of humanity. Human beings lived in terror of these illnesses, but there was precious little they could do to protect themselves or recover from these infections.

We are fortunate to live in these times in which medicine has achieved enormous success in controlling infectious diseases. Now the illnesses that afflict us are products of our lifestyle and our every-day behavior. Ironically, the grand success of medical science against infections has left us with the residue of illnesses over which medicine has less control. 

For example, we have the most sophisticated techniques available for by-pass surgery in case of a heart problem. However, such a bypass surgery will "bypass' the real problem if the patient doesn't change his or her lifestyle. Soon he or she may require another bypass surgery.  

Other examples of lifestyles and behaviors that cause disorders and obstruct recovery concern patients who drink excessively, eat unwisely, do little exercise, let the stress go out of control, and constantly live under negative emotions, such as, hostility, depression, frustration, etc. Avoid health-risk behaviors. Practice good-health behaviors, such as relaxation, health-visualization, exercise, wise eating, positive emotions, play, and laughter.

Mind body medicine is not a substitute for medical treatment. It can however, be complementary to the medical treatment. Continue with wise eating, appropriate level of exercises, and medical treatment. This is to encourage you participate more actively in your treatment. When you participate in your own treatment, you feel you are in control of some things rather than feeling helpless against everything. Mind-body medicine helps you to use your natural resources to strengthen the healing process. You have nothing to lose, in fact by doing so you feel more better about yourself, more involved, more active.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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