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Complementary Corner

You Are Your Beliefs

Renee Lehman

Whether you think you can, or you think you can't -- you're right."
                      (Henry Ford)

"Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning."
                              (Mahatma Gandhi)

(March & April, 2010) What do you think of the above quotations? Do you believe them? If the answer is no, then all I ask is that you keep your mind open to the information in this two part series of articles on how your beliefs affect and change your physiology; and therefore, your health.

Now you may be asking yourself the following questions: "What? My beliefs affect my physiology? I thought that my genetic make-up created my physiology! How do my beliefs affect my physiology?" First, I want to provide you with a little history on the mind and body connection.

History of Mind and Body Connections

In the 1600s, Renť Descartes, a famous French scientist, rejected the idea that the mind had any influence over the physical character of the body. Basically, he viewed the mind and the body as being separate, because the body was made of matter and the mind was not (based on Newtonian theory). This dualistic way of looking at the mind and body was readily accepted by traditional medicine. Even today, conventional medicine often thinks of the body as being a "mechanical machine" and tries to "fix" it. It is harder to "fix" the mind.

The newer field of quantum theory brings back together what Descartes separated. The mind does come from the physical body (material body), and the physical body can be affected by the immaterial mind.

A great example of this is Nobel Price winner Ivan Pavlov and his classical conditioning experiment with dogs. He trained his dogs to salivate upon hearing the ringing of a bell. He began by ringing a bell and then giving them food. After awhile, he rang the bell and did not give them food. By that time, the dogs were so programmed to expect food that when the bell was rung, they reflexively started to salivate even without food present. Think about a song that you hear, a picture that you see, or an odor that you smell that changes your body. It is the same thing!

Another example can be found in a Baylor School of Medicine study published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine. An orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bruce Moseley, did a controlled study on arthroscopic surgery on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. His goal was to figure out which part of the surgery was giving his patients relief. He divided his patients into three groups: one group had their damaged cartilage shaved off; the second group had their knee joint flushed out to remove material thought to be causing inflammation; and the third group got a "fake" surgery (the patient was sedated, had the standard incisions made on the knee, which were then stitched up 40 minutes later). All three groups received the same post-operative care. Surprisingly, all 3 groups improved to the same level! Once again, demonstrating how the mind can affect the body. You can even say that the third group experienced a Placebo effect.

Where does this study guide us: the field of epigenetics.

Epigenetics

Epigenetics is a revolutionary field in biology. It is the study of changes in the way our genes express themselves (how genes behave) that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. Research in this field has shown that DNA blueprints that get passed down from generation to generation are not set in stone. Your DNA is not your destiny! Environmental influences like stress, nutrition, physical activity, thoughts and emotions can turn genes on or off. These changes are thought to contribute to aging and to various diseases, and may affect what gets passed down to your offspring. (Dr. Lars Olov Bygren, a preventive-health specialist who is now at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny, Time Magazine, January 10, 2010).

Our genes can be altered in a negative or positive way by the "way" in which we live. The environment that we create for ourselves shapes our genes, and will therefore affect our body! So, why not choose to change the state of our thinking? It just may change your health!

Beliefs

Our positive and negative beliefs influence our health, and every aspect of our life. Reread the quotes at the beginning of the article. What Henry Ford said was true! Think about the placebo affects that happened with the study described above, or that has been written about in many research studies concerning the efficacy of different pharmaceutical drugs. People got better when they believed (falsely) that they had surgery. Research has shown that people felt better when they believed (falsely) that they had gotten a pill for a specific medical condition.

Our biology adapts to our beliefs. Our beliefs act as a filter through which we interpret the world around us. "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." (Anais Nin) What color filter do you see the world through? Itís ok if it is rose-colored. Positive beliefs are a mandate for a healthy life. When we truly recognize that our beliefs are that powerful, we hold the key to freedom (Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief).

Your beliefs become your thoughts
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your actions
Your actions become your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny
      (Mahatma Gandhi)

Just imagine that on a sunny day you are walking down the street, and in the distance you see a young girl sitting on the steps of the library. You are not close enough to know if you would recognize her. You see that she is slightly slouched over, is crying, and is wiping her eyes with a tissue. What do you think could be going on with the young girl? Are you sure?

What are the phenomena that you observed in the situation above? Remember the word phenomena can be defined as an observable fact or event; an object or aspect known through the senses rather than by thought or intuition (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, www.m-w.com). The phenomena of the situation are as follows: a girl is sitting on steps, she is slouched over, she has tears coming out from her eyes, and she is wiping her eyes with a tissue. Those are the only observable facts that you have observed.

The story that you created in your mind was basically just that, a "story". This is something called a construct. A construct is defined as something constructed by the mind as: a theoretical entity, or a working concept (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, www.m-w.com). Basically, the story that you created about the girl on the library steps was "constructed" by your own personal life experiences or the "truths" taught to you by other people (which become your beliefs).

So what does it matter if you function from a place of the observed phenomena or within the construct that you had about a situation? It matters because from one place you are acting on the observation of the facts and in the other situation you are acting from a place of judgment that may not be accurate. The quote from the March article is appropriate to cite again: "We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are." (Anais Nin) Phenomena vs. Construct.

Donít misunderstand me; we all have "stories" about things. It is not about NOT having stories. It is important to observe how your body/mind/spirit responds to your stories, and know that they are just that, stories. Then you can come back to the phenomena and move into life from there; a place full of possibilities.

Now, think of something that scares youÖ a snake, a spider, a Doberman pincher, a bee, etc. What story do you have about it? Whoever "taught" you to be afraid of it may have also been "taught" to fear it. Do you remember how your "teacher" first told you about it? They probably reacted very strongly about how "bad" it was, and had a very convincing "story" about it, too (Of course if you are allergic to bees and could die from a sting, that is phenomena and NOT a construct.)! This programmed your mind to think in a certain way that causes you to significantly limit yourself. In the long run, these limitations not only influence your behavior, they can also play a major role in determining your physiology and health. These limitations cause thoughts, which can then negatively influence how your brain controls your bodyís physiology (The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, PhD). This can cause energy to become "stuck".

Wellness is about movement. Think about the vital energy or Qi (pronounced "chee") which flows through all living things. The smooth movement of this Qi is essential for health. When the Qi is balanced, moving smoothly, and in sufficient quality and quantity, health and wellness are promoted. Disease is about being "stuck". All disease begins when the body/mind/spirit stops moving (Qi movement is imbalanced) and does not get started again. So, the goal is to Observe what creates movement or shuts down in life. Donít create a story about the observed phenomena that causes limitations. Then continue to think and act in a way that creates movement. Donít try to understand what you observe. Just practice and observe what occurs. Your health may begin to improve.

We need to realize that our senses are gifts! Use them, for there is so much to observe in our lives that will benefit our health and wellness! The following example demonstrates how our senses are gifts: in the past when a doctor entered a home of a patient s/he would smell for disease. This would then help the doctor to treat the patient. Today, we have become abstract in our thinking and separated from our sensory perception. For example, we say that we "saw him on TV" instead of saying that we saw an image of him on TV, and we give people "hugs" in cyberspace.

So, Observe, Observe, Observe the phenomena of the situation. This will change your health. This will take discipline, but then again, all great cultures use discipline. Be in the present. Identify your constructs and stories. What beliefs are they based upon? Are they healthy for you to continue to believe? Then practice stepping out of the realm of your stories, and act on the phenomena.

You are your beliefs!

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it." (Buddha)

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman