The human body is an expression of one’s mind and spirit. Our dreams, thoughts, images and words we use has a direct impact on how our body functions. When we have a thought or create an image in our minds, the brain releases chemicals known as, neuropeptides. These chemicals travel out to the body and bond with other cells to literally change how that cell functions (1, 2).
For instance, these chemical are able to change our heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, immune function, pain, hormones and mood (1). Thoughts and images are the language of the mind, the chemicals released by the brain causes an emotion to be felt within the body. Thus, emotions are the language of the body. This is how the body understands what the mind is thinking, hence the mind-body connection.
Is there a way we can use the mind to impact our physical body when we feel pain? Yes, through mental imagery. There are many benefits to using mental imagery. Athletes use it to help with competitions, so what if we could use it to heal our bodies?
One man shared his story of hip pain when he walked, so he used mental imagery of polishing his femur bone smooth and experienced a greater ease of walking (1). There have been extensive studies of using mental imagery following a stroke to help with improving function.
When the mind imagines moving a body part, we are actually activating our brain as if we were “actually” performing the movement. So, for someone experiencing a lot of pain, this is a great way to start impacting the body without eliciting the movement.
So are thoughts enough?
Thoughts are thinking in words but mental imagery needs to go beyond words and move into actual sensations and perceptions. Mental imagery needs to include, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and have a much more powerful effect on the body via the emotional brain (3). It is much more beneficial to “feel” what it would be like to move a part of the body without pain versus just thinking of moving that part. The feeling helps to trigger more neuropeptide chemicals that actually causes our body to change. (2). When the emotional brain is involved there is a greater impact on behavior, memory, belief and learning (3).
It is a great technique you can use when it’s too painful to actually move at first. You can do this technique as little or as much as you want. The technique can be done anywhere, for any part of the body and there are no side effects.
If it hurts to lift your shoulder up above your head, start imaging the movement and what it would feel like to do it without any pain. Would you feel happy, grateful, joyful, excited? Feel those emotions with the movement as if it were true, right now. Who’s heard the saying, “self-fulfilling prophesy?”
The mental imagery technique can be used for individuals who experience pain when their bladder is filling up, or for individuals who experience painful intercourse or IBS sufferers. Can you imagine that activity with no pain and what you would feel like? Could you dedicate 20 minutes daily to create and feel a future with no pain?
Studies have shown that individuals with chronic pain experience negative painful imagery. In a survey of 105 people, 41 reported mental images of their pain (4). Another study of 10 women with chronic pelvic pain, all of them reported negative mental images, which was also tied to higher levels of anxiety and depression (4). If negative imagery impacts pain, anxiety, depression, then the reverse must be true too. Our brains have the ability to change and learn.
What do you think?
The Pelvic Health Lady
- Cohen, Kenneth. 2003. Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing. One World Ballatine Books: New York.
- Dispenza, Joe. 2017. Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon. Hay House Inc: New York
- Berna, C et al. 2011. Presence of Mental Imagery Associated with Chronic Pelvic Pain: A Pilot Study. Pain Medicine 12(7): 1086-1093.
- Gosden, T et al. 2014. Mental imagery in chronic pain: prevalence and characteristics. European Journal of Pain 18: 721-728