Thursday, May 24, 2012 Post By: Grayne Wetzky

The body and mind connection

A couple of months ago I hurt my back lifting a suitcase. After a very tiring trip that included weather delays, missed connections, an unscheduled night in New York, my back gave a little twinge as I pulled the last suitcase off the luggage cart and placed it in the back of the car. I've tweaked my lower back many times in my life so I didn't think much about it when it happened. Usually when I get little back pains like that they take care of themselves in about three days.

This time would prove to be different though. As the usual three days passed, my back did not get any better, it just kept hurting worse and worse. Forever reluctant to go to a doctor I gave my back two weeks to fix itself. By the end of those two weeks I was walking around leaning heavily to one side. I could not straighten my back without having severe pain. Rest and painkillers had failed me, I decided to go to a chiropractor.

I did some research online and went to the best rated chiropractor in my area. There I received what I was told was a very successful adjustment and an appointment for a few days later to discuss what I needed to do to take care of my back. I was happy to have had a successful adjustment of the spine, but my back didn't feel any better. When I returned a couple of days later I was still as crooked as ever. The chiropractor gave me the good news: with just 6 months of treatments; three times a week I should make a complete recovery. Also, since my health insurance had coverage for chiropractors I would only be out about $1600. That was the last time I will deal with a chiropractor.

Having tried and dismissed the most common alternatives for back pain I decided to go by advice I had received to try acupuncture. I went to an acupuncturist that came highly recommended. I have never been a believer in acupuncture for treating anything.Especially back pain caused by a pinched nerve seemed to me to be well outside the realms of what needles in the skin could have any impact on. Yest I was willing to give anything a legitimate shot to get over my pain.

I went to the acupuncturist three times in a little over a week and my back pain was gone. I went from being highly skeptical to wondering how in the world my back could get better from getting stung by needles. I had many questions for my acupuncturist and spent many hours reading about the theory behind acupuncture and the criticism of the technique.

If you read clinical, controlled trials of acupuncture conducted based on our Western standards for proper scientific method you will soon learn two things: Acupuncture is very effective in treating lower back pain and other general chronic pain issues, and the use of pseudo acupuncture and false acupuncture points is almost equally effective. To the Western medical mind this indicates that acupuncture treatment has mostly, or completely, a placebo effect.

I found the combination of reading scientific trails of acupuncture and talking to my classically trained acupuncturist to be very interesting. It challenged me to reconsider how I think about healing and medicine. One thing that my acupuncturist said really made me think. After I had asked him how the needles help balance the Chi in the body he said: "There is nothing magic or mystic in the needles. All they do is wake the body up and tell it that it needs to start healing". This insight made me realize where some of the discrepancies between Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine come from.

Where we in the West dismiss things with the placebo effect, Chinese medicine actively tries to induce a placebo effect. In the end, it doesn't really matter what causes the body to heal, it is the fact that we get better that is the end goal. In fact, my acupuncturist pointed out that the best possible way to heal an illness or injury is to let the body do it itself. While he never called it a placebo effect, the goal of the acupuncture sessions were to get my body to heal itself. To start this process the needless are used to start the healing process. Either the physical stimulation of nerves in my skin and muscles jump started the process, or the expectation of it working made my body heal itself. I didn't really care what mechanisms triggered what, I was just happy to get rid of my back pain.

Talking to my acupuncturist about these things had me thinking about the relationship between our mind and our physical health. Even in Western medicine we know that there is a connection between the two, but it is hardly ever leveraged or even given much consideration. On an intuitive level we all know that our minds have powerful influence over our physical state. A typical example of this that almost anyone will recognize is how it is easier to work out harder when listening to certain types of music. If our state of mind didn't have any impact on our physical bodies what kind of music you listen too would not impact your performance. Yet, research shows that listening to certain songs can increase performance by up to 20%. This probably doesn't surprise anybody. There's a reason why no one listens to lullabies while doing cardio work outs, or why heavy metal is not usually used to aid in meditation.

Music and exercise is just one tiny part of this interconnectedness however. I am realizing that we hold the power in our mind to effect very powerful and real change in our bodies. We can literally will ourselves to health in many cases. A positive and determined outlook for example is known to improve survival rates for cancer patients. While I hope no one has to battle that kind of battle it stands to reason that a positive and determined mind also can help you get over a common cold, or prevent illness in the first place.

The most important shift this understanding has caused for me is that I no longer see injury and illness as external risk factors that I only have limited ability to control. I now realize that even if I am constantly subject to viruses, bacteria, micro organisms and other threats, the ultimate defense against these things is under my control. Of course, sometimes we get sick and we might even need medicine or surgery to recover, but no matter what physical ailments we meet with, we can improve our odds in fighting it back by keeping our bodies strong and our minds positive and relaxed.

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