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Excerpted from Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Joan Borysenko. Copyright 1988 by Joan Borysenko. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"The key factor was that they had strong faith in something that prevented them from feeling helpless."

Joan BorysenkoMinding the Body, Mending the Mind, Part 3

Sincere faith and belief are often associated with the few well-documented cases of seemingly spontaneous remissions. In 1976 Dr. B. J. Kennedy and his co-workers at the University of Minnesota Medical School studied twenty-two patients with supposedly incurable cancers who had recovered and lived for at least five years. They had similar attitudes. After they recovered from their initial shock, they were determined to fight and win. They firmly believed in recovery. Many cited the importance of knowing that even one other person had survived with their type of cancer. If someone else could survive, why couldn't they? Patients cited their belief in their doctors, in medical science, and in God. The key factor was that they had strong faith in something that prevented them from feeling helpless. There are countless such examples of the mind's power over the body.

We are only beginning to understand the science behind them and the importance of feeling hopeful and in control.

Mind and Immunity

My roots and those of the Mind/Body Clinic are in laboratory research. The effect of mind on immunity is a research interest that I share with my husband, Myrin. The immune system, the body's front line of defense against disease; the cardiovascular system; the brain and nervous system-all have been explored independently. In recent years, however, neuroscientists working with psychologists and immunologists have forged a new scientific discipline with the tongue-twisting name of psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, a field that explores the body's most subtle interconnections.

Much PNI research centers on a group of hormonal messengers called neuropeptides, which are secreted by the brain, by the immune system, and by the nerve cells in various other organs. What scientists have found is that the areas of the brain that control emotion are particularly rich in receptors for these chemicals. At the same time, the brain also has receptor sites for molecules produced by the immune system alone--the lymphokines and interleukins. What we see, then, is a rich and intricate two-way communication system linking the mind, the immune system, and potentially all other systems, a pathway through which our emotions--our hopes and fears--can affect the body's ability to defend itself.

In the 1940s, Swiss physiologist and Nobel laureate Walter Hesse experimented on the cat brain and discovered that he could produce two diametrically opposed energy states simply by stimulating different areas of the animal's hypothalamus. One state was a kind of "passing gear" for heightened activity; the other was a state of very low energy expenditure characterized by deep rest and relaxation--the bodily equivalent of "neutral."

More recently, Dr. R. Keith Wallace and my colleague Dr. Herbert Benson documented a similar state of profound rest in humans who practiced transcendental meditation. Benson's subsequent studies proved that this state could be elicited through any form of mental concentration that distracted the individual from the usual cares and concerns of the mind. He termed this innate, hypothalamic mechanism the relaxation response.

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