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Thought Balloons

by Bill Benda

I write for a number of blogs and have regular editorials in a few medical journals, so when IONS offered me an opportunity to submit a monthly commentary on this particular site, I found myself surprisingly pleased. Finally – a chance to explore topics off the beaten healthcare path. No more reflecting on Congressional bickering over legislation; no required attention to whether allopathic physicians can find happiness conjoining with naturopathic or homeopathic or Chinese medicine practitioners. A chance to spread my philosophical wings into the noetic skies and explore more intuitive answers to life’s persistent questions.

And then I was asked to write to this month’s topic (or Big Question, as they put it): Do our thoughts have the power to heal? Hmmm . . . can’t go with the obvious “yes” and still hit a 500 word count. I need to figure out what it is about this particular query that goes beyond the obvious. We all know and accept that our thoughts affect life outcomes, whether in the physical, emotional, or psychological domain. Even the most hard-bitten, evidence-based, data-driven science acknowledges the existence of the placebo effect. Shall we then discuss the concept of healing? Nope – that word has been dissected for centuries and will likely continue to be forever more without concordant acceptance of its true meaning. Power? Same story. This leaves but one word to pontificate upon: thoughts.

No one ever mentioned thoughts in medical school, or throughout my residency training. Come to think of it, the term was rarely mentioned during my years with the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. Mind, mindful, mind-body, yes. But no professorial lecture or class discussion on what actually constitutes our thoughts. What about the teachings of other Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) professions? Naturopathic medicine? Supplements and nutrition and first-do-no-harm. Traditional Chinese medicine? Acupuncture and botanicals. Holistic nursing? Therapeutic touch and Reiki. Holistic MDs? Health coaching and patient/practitioner relationships. Thinking, it seems, is too mental a concept for even the integrative health sciences. Indeed, our busy mental mind has developed an unsavory reputation among us unconventional medical types. It’s something to let go of through meditation and breathwork, not given any “power to heal.”

So if “thoughts” are not to be given consideration of having actual healing capacity, what are they for anyway? Well, one thing that all holistic and CAM professions might seem to agree upon is that the mind and body are engaged in an inextricable dance, manifesting health, balance, and a true sense of wellbeing (or a lack thereof), with our thoughts as the gatekeeper. The fact is that the influence of thought over the physical body cannot be discounted nor relegated to an ethereal concept that becomes simply a healthcare buzzword. We have, to date, demonstrated that thoughts can exert dramatic physiologic responses in the physical form. Clinical applications of thought, given the moniker “mind-body medicine,” have proven successful in modifying seizure frequency, improving attention deficit, affecting traumatic brain injuries, alleviating chronic pain, focusing autistic behaviors, and providing relief for migraine headaches, depression, anxiety, addictions, sleep disorders, and a myriad of other “pathologies” whose origins can be traced to our old friend and enemy, stress. In other words, we all agree that a pervasive physiologic environment of chronic stress elevates our cortisol levels, which then lowers our pH, inhibits our immune system, and negatively impacts the release, balance, and reuptake of our neurotransmitters. Encouraged by our thoughts, the physical body has within itself a boundless ability to create and maintain an internal environment of balance, wellness, and healing.

So should someone ask you at a cocktail party if our thoughts have the power to heal, consider saying no, “technically speaking” – thoughts themselves do not have the capability to heal or harm or do anything at all, as they are only thoughts. They could, however, have significant indirect influence upon those processes in the physical body that create health or allow illness to take root. And perhaps it is how we react to our thoughts that ultimately determines the quality of our wellbeing.

Think about it.

  • Anonymous Icon

    overnormal Aug 27, 2010

    I agree. Within our thoughts lie the answers we are seeking that will help us and our doctors find a path to healing. I have experienced this first hand.

  • Neon1 Sep 07, 2010

    Do thoughts have the power to heal?


    “We have, to date, demonstrated that thoughts can exert dramatic physiologic responses in the physical form.”
    “[Thoughts] could… have significant indirect influence upon those processes in the physical body that create health or allow illness to take root.”

    And no…

    “…“technically speaking” – thoughts themselves do not have the capability to heal or harm or do anything at all,…”

    If the brain is a quantum engine, and its mind is like an electron cloud of thoughts, then I might agree that a single thought does not have “the capability to heal or harm or do anything at all,…” Just as a drop of water hasn’t the ability to flood much of the country of Pakistan.

    But common sense and the observable data tell us that when we put a GAZILLION drops of water together the result will be quite different.

    Does a single thought have the power to heal? No.

    Do thoughts have the power to heal? Yes.

    Also, while it’s true to an extent that the interpretation of our thoughts helps to determine the effect these thoughts have upon us. It is also true that other people’s thoughts have a funny way of affecting us whether we like it or not.

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