Updated: May 7
Any experienced holistic bodyworker is aware that the physical body is connected to the ethereal mind; many holistic psychotherapists know that their work on psychological complexes will affect their client’s physical state. While conventional medicine still relies on the Cartesian axiom that psyche (mind) and soma (body) are two different entities independent from each other, modern science provides us with much of evidence that matter and mind are wonderfully entangled. The mind-body entanglement concept sounds already very familiar to those who have studied or have been influenced by Eastern philosophy. In Zen and Buddhism, for instance, it has been known for millennia that mind and body are congruent and ultimate peace of mind, also called Brahmic state or enlightenment, will inevitably bring peace to the bodily senses.
With the following article I will present and discuss the evidence for the existence of the body-mind network, from a Western science perspective
THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
The only medically recognised connection between the mind and the body occurs through the nervous system; specifically, a branch of the Central Nervous System called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) (1). The ANS is not under voluntary control and regulates our vital functions, such as heartbeat, digestive motility, respiration etc. The ANS has two sub-branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is responsible for activating the famous 'fight or flight' response in a circumstance of perceived danger, while the PNS is in charge of your vital organs normal functioning. A balanced ANS is therefore of paramount importance for our survival.
Let's explore further the dynamics of the SNS : when our prefrontal cortex perceives a danger (real or IMAGINARY), it triggers a cascade of reactions that will result in hormonal and neurological change in the body. These changes will affect all the systems in the body as it gets ready to escape or face the danger. In terms of the musculoskeletal system, as the delivery of nutrient rich blood shifts from vital organs to the cardiac and skeletal muscles, some muscle groups will have an increased blood supply in order to allow the individual to run faster or punch harder. In other words if you keep reproducing a videoclip in your mind of your angry boss shouting at you even while you are at home lying on the sofa, your body will react to this thought as a real and concrete threat.
FASCIA CRYSTALLINE MATRIX
Another model of a communication network between body and mind has been proposed by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho in the early two thousands, while she was investigating the nature of the meridian system, a fundamental concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (2). TCM doctors who also do not recognise any separation between body and mind, state that throughout the physical body runs a system of subtle energy (or Qi energy) called the meridian system. A meridian is an energy channel that carries the Qi energy throughout the body. Not only diet and lifestyle will affect the flow of Qi through the meridian system but also thoughts and emotions. Dr. Ho’s extensive studies on the subject revealed a quantifiable low voltage Direct Current (DC) system throughout the body. Water molecules bind to a protein called collagen, which together act as conductive medium allowing an electrical current to flow through. Collagen is one of the most abundant protein in the body and makes up most of the FASCIA. The FASCIA is a thin layer of connective tissue that wraps every muscle cell and most of the organ tissues of the body. From her studies it also turned out that the collagen matrix that makes up the fascia behaves as fluid crystals, the same components in a screen of an electronic device. The properties of the fluid crystals are the following:
-Piezoelectricity: The ability to generate an electric voltage when subjected to pressure
-Fluid structure: They do not have a solid structure, but a fluid one, which responds to factors such as temperature, hydration and pressure.
When an electrical current flow through a fluid crystal matrix it changes its structure following a precise pattern. This is what allows us to delight our sense of sight when watching pictures on the screen of our smartphone.
What implication for our health does this discovery have?
Let's go back to the fascia system. Our anatomy books tell us that fascia is ubiquitous in every portion of the body. Dr. Ho’s discoveries show us evidence that electricity flows throughout this system, shaping its structure by altering the orientation of its collagen proteins. Could this system constitute the most complex network of information exchange within the body? Could our thoughts, emotions and belief play a major role in altering this flow of current? And, in terms of healing, could these discoveries provide us with a solid scientific evidence for explaining acupuncture, reiki and other forms of energy healing? More research on the subject is needed in order to answer these questions and unfortunately the studies of Dr. Ho haven't been explored further after her death in 2016. Nevertheless, the world of alternative medicine is immensely grateful to characters like Dr. Ho who dedicate their life to scientifically explore concepts that modern medicine refuses to accept.
MOLECULES OF EMOTION
Another model of the mind body relationship is proposed by the neuro-scientist Candace Pert, author of the bestseller 'Molecules of emotion' and co-founder of the branch of neuroscience called Psychoneuroimmunology (3). In her inspiring book, Dr. Pert describes the path which led her to discover the existence of feel-good peptides, such as endorphins and dynorphins. After this discovery, a few events in her life brought her to draw the conclusions that the feelings we experience as individuals are strictly connected to the movement of emotion - carrying peptides through the body's tissues. From her research she found out that not only neurons, but also endocrine and immune cells have receptors for such peptides, therefore opening the gate to a sector of research on how emotions can influence our hormones and immune system.
Dr. Pert provided evidence that the perception (and she highlighted the word PERCEPTION, because danger and calm are utterly subjective concepts) of a calm and pleasant experience will release through the body feel-good molecules such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. While on the other side, stressful or worrying circumstances will cause a flow of anxiety causing peptides, such as CRH, cortisol and adrenaline. This flow of emotion carrying peptides is a natural mechanism of survival as we learn to feel discomfort in a dangerous situation and comfort in a pleasant one. Therefore, emotions such as anger, grief and fear, which are strongly denied and repressed in our modern society fundamentally need to be experienced and expressed in order to maintain balance in our organism. The problems arise when we linger for too long in one emotion or we deny its existence; in such circumstance, the flow of emotion carrying peptides is hindered and these molecules get 'stuck' in various body tissues, causing the individual to potentially experience chronic emotional imbalances, which often have a remarkable impact on the overall well-being of the individual.
In conclusion, what Dr. Pert is advocating is that emotional expression is of paramount importance for maintaining a balanced immune and endocrine system and living a life of harmony, preventing the occurrence of most psycho-somatic diseases.
BODYWORK AND MIND HEALING
As psychotherapy, hypnosis and counselling can initiate the healing process of the physical body, so stretching, massage and exercise can promote psychological wellbeing. As a holistic bodyworker, I had the honour to witness that the outcome of some of my session with my clients had a profound transformative effect on their mood. As 'knots' in the physical body were released, the client allowed him/herself to experience the emotion that was entangled with such tension. Although the outcome of a holistic massage session can be really profound and transformative, the emotional release is not always what we label as positive; bodywork can indeed trigger the release of deep seated anger, fear, sorrow or guilt, which often manifests as unpleasant feelings such as dizziness, tiredness, headache, digestive discomfort etc.
It is important then to grasp the meaning behind these 'negative emotions' and acknowledge their importance without repressing or holding onto them.
In conclusion, the dynamics of the autonomic nervous system, the fascia crystalline matrix and the molecules of emotions, provide us with enough evidence of the inseparable nature of the mind from the body. There is no healing process of the physical body which will not have an impact on the mind and vice versa. Through the path of self-discovery, it is then possible to eventually unlock the full potential of our human experience and achieve deeper healing of our bodies and minds.
1. Tortora, Grabowski. 2003. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. Wiley and sons Inc.
2. Ho, MW. 2012. Super-Conducting Liquid Crystalline Water Aligned with Collagen Fibres in the Fascia as Acupuncture Meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Forum on immunopathological diseases and therapeutics 3(3-4):221-236
3. Pert, C. 1997. Molecules of emotions. Simon & Schuster UK ltd