Does our body influence how we think? Getting unstuck, part 3

There is another aspect to getting unstuck, which relates directly to the connection between our physical/physiologic life and our emotional/spiritual life. It is actually a connection that goes both ways, meaning that our emotional and spiritual life impact how our body feels and how our body works, and vice versa. We all experience this. When we are stressed it affects our sleep, our energy, even our digestion, whereas when we are relaxed and contented many of the little aches and pains fall away. Going the other way (the functioning of our body up to emotional and spiritual well-being), imbalances in the body's physiology (like electrolyte levels, blood sugar and organ function) influence the way we feel and even lend an “imprint” into our thought life. Bodily function lends a continuous coloring to our experiences and perceptions, though this is usually fleeting and remains mostly unconscious. A bigger injury or imbalance–like falling and breaking your arm exaggerates that influence. The acute pain of that injury clearly distracts and disrupts our emotional and cognitive functioning. But this pathway is there all the time and it functions in both directions.

Most of the influences are fairly direct–if you are stressed, it might give you tight muscles and fatigue, but when the stress goes away things should get better. Once a broken arm heals it should become easier to think and concentrate. But sometimes those influences last on. Stress can become so chronic that it actually penetrates down into our “unconscious” physiology and more permanently throws things off. Children who experience abuse, prolonged deprivation or stress may have that experience penetrate so deeply into them that they carry it for the rest of their lives. Or a single experience can be so shocking that it also penetrates “all the way down” to our sleeping physiology, only to bubble back into consciousness through unexpected triggers. That is what happens when shock and trauma have lasting consequences, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A sensory experience penetrates so deeply that it literally disrupts things down to the organ level and it stays that way. It can really only be healed by striving to balance the deeper physiologic remnants which are hard to approach just through talk therapy. But meditation, relaxation exercises, body work and organ-directed support have proven to be helpful in situations that otherwise don't really seem able to change. Trauma is not solely a psychological problem. It is often also an inflicted, and lasting, organ imbalance. It comes from the senses, down.

Another important way that this connection creates long-term imbalance works is through an imprinting that works from below up, from the body to the mind. And this is not necessarily related to a single event. In fact it is defined by its chronicity. The place that we see it is in our thinking and the way we approach it before anything has even happened. One aspect of it is certainly “temperament,” the particular coloring of the way we look at and (all too often predictably) react to the world. We could also call it mood, or even mood disorder, as it can come to expression through imbalances like depression and heaviness, anxiety and obsessive thoughts, anger, aggressiveness and guilt, or restless irritability. In anthroposophic medicine (and also other traditional healing streams) these so-called “mental illnesses” can often be linked to actual organ imbalances. In fact, with some regularity, someone seen in the office will be told about a therapeutic plan to treat his or her liver or kidney and say, “Gosh, that's the same thing that my Chinese medicine doctor told me two years ago!” which is a great confirmation that we are all working with the same connections and processes, just using different language and tools. Therefore an important part of getting unstuck from a chronic mood disorder is to consider the health of your organs for, as an example, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) have seen very good improvement when we do a constitutional treatment for the lungs. These patterns stronger when we are stressed but more regularly we find that they are there all the time–a kind companion through life. Something is stuck. Organ treatments to work with these patterns include rhythmical massage, therapeutic eurythmy and anthroposophic remedies. And interestingly, the best treatments have proven to result not in a total erasing of the symptoms, but a new flexibility that allows us to work with them in a different way. So that we may still look at a situation in the same way (say with anxiety, or rage) but then experience that we can now begin to find a path to move past that reaction. And that little breath of freedom is how we get unstuck. We are finding a healing pathway that allows us to resculpt ourselves from the inside, out. A medication that simply erases symptoms while its there, but leaves us back in the same place if we stop taking it, doesn't really teach us how to be healthier. That is often when an organ treatment helps.

If you are curious about these connections, they are beautifully explored in relation to temperament in a book written by an anthroposophic physician, Walter Holtzapfel: The Human Organs: Their Functional and Psychological Significance.

Dr. Blanning

Part 4 (August) in this series will explore how we also are prompted to get “unstuck” through adult biographical rhythms and crisis points. Stay tuned.

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