The Mind Body Connection: Activating the Healing Power of Hope
The role of the mind body connection in healing is a hot topic these days. It is intriguing to think of the ways that the mind may be able to assist in healing the body. Holding the belief that we can get better often produces measurable results. And certainly, a belief that we will not get better leaves little room for improvement as we get caught in a cycle of negative thinking. Hope is an essential element to healing.
Professor Nancy E. Snow, wrote in the University of Chicago Science of Virtue research project “Hope in all of its complexity has been widely found to be beneficial to persons suffering from physical and mental illness, whether in the process of recovery and cure...” So exactly, how is this possible? If hope is only the beginning of healing, how can we generate enough hope to override pain and illness in the first place?
Science is beginning to look at how small increments of healing that we accomplish send signals to the central nervous system, altering the chemistry of the brain and affect cognition and feelings. This completes a connection that we might call ‘mind-body-body mind.’ As we gain small successes in our healing, whether through medical intervention, self-care of through the positive power of our own minds, the body in turn can signal relief of symptoms to our brain, thus creating the hope that we are changing our situation for the better.
Hope is different than merely thinking positively because hope requires an understanding and acknowledgement of the obstacles. So says Dr. Jerome Groopman in his book, “Anatomy of Hope.” The first spark of hope is the power that breaks the cycle in illness and sets off a chain reaction toward improvement. For example, as pain is lessened, our feeling of hope for a return to health expands, which further assists in reducing pain.
Dr. Groopman’s work reveals how our beliefs and expectations—the foundation in which hope is built—can trigger the release of healing chemicals. "We are just beginning to appreciate hope's reach and have not defined its limits." He adds, "I see hope as the very heart of healing." Training ourselves through meditation and self-observation to make this connection and allow it to come “full circle” represent an invaluable aspect of healing, no matter what our malady.