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How Much Can Your Mind Control Your Body?

By Darren Bridger
Lost Arts of the Mind

History is full of examples of people having their bodies controlled just through the power of the mind, the power of belief.

For example, using an ancient yoga/meditation technique known as g Tum-mo, Tibetan monks have demonstrated to scientists their ability to raise their own body temperature and hold it high enough that they are able to dry out wet cold sheets wrapped around their body, even in a chilly room. Where most people would start shivering, these monks actually began to emit steam as their bodies dried out one wet cold sheet after another. Other monks have demonstrated the ability to change the temperatures of different areas of their skin.

Somewhat more sinister examples of mind over body exist too. For example, in traditional Australian aboriginal culture and in cultures that believe in Voodoo, being 'cursed' often causes a person's health to deteriorate to the point where they truly die. It seems that it is their belief in the power of the curse that causes it.

Most people don't realise the extent to which their mind has control over their own body. It shouldn't be surprising really, as the distinction we make between the brain and the body is somewhat artificial: they are both intimately connected. The brain is part of the nervous system, which reaches out throughout the body, and the brain controls production of hormones and releases chemicals associated with different emotional states.

We've all experienced - at least to a limited extent - being able to control our bodies with our minds. For example, if you imagine cutting a lemon in half, putting it into your mouth and biting down on it, you will not be surprised to start to feel your mouth producing more saliva. Also, we have all experienced being able to slow or increase our heart rate by breathing more slowly or quickly.

These are all basic examples of how our thinking can affect our bodies. But how far can this go? What level of control might we be able to achieve over our own biology. We don't yet know, but the results of scientific experiments in this area look like we may have far more control than we dreamed was possible.

For example, Dr Fabrizio Benedetti at the University of Turin conducted some fascinating experiments into what is called the Placebo effect. Placebo is Latin for 'I will please' and a placebo in science usually refers to a sugar tablet or an injection of salt water that is used as a 'baseline' to test the 'real' medicine against. Then you give half the people in your medical trial the real tablet, and half just receive the 'fake' placebo tablet.

But the strange thing is that usually even the people who receive the 'fake' placebo tablet tend to improve more than you would expect by chance alone. In other words merely believing you are receiving some medical help can help your health improve.

But what Dr Benedetti found was even more interesting: the placebo effect can actually create the same chemical effect in the body as the drug does. In other words its not just some subjective effect where the placebo tablet makes us think we feel better, it actually creates a bio-chemical change in our body. The placebo effect shows that what you believe to be true can profoundly influence your own body.

It also raises some interesting questions: to what extent does modern medicine work simply because we expect it to? And to what extent does the health of the elderly deteriorate just because people believe it will?

SOURCE: Lost Arts of the Mind

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