Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Can Your Mind Heal Your Body?

Can Your Mind Heal Your Body?

Some hold the notion that you can heal your physical body by adapting the right attitude and unearthing all the wrong ones.  I’ve wondered for a very long time if this might be true.

Chronic illness has challenged my body, my heart, and my mind for a good ten years, but I can actually trace it back for twenty.  I didn’t hold a healthy attitude for most of those years so I certainly wasn’t a star for the law of attraction or quantum healing.

I once knew of a woman who lived in a bubble due to environmental sensitivities.  My heart went out to her. I couldn’t fathom being so restricted.

So naturally, when I became very ill – 84 pounds at my lowest – and sensitive to everything from foods to medications to herbs to laundry fragrance, my inner self declared, “This can’t be happening to ME.”

Can you imagine someone unable to eat a tablespoon of bone broth, thought to be one of most healing substances in the world?

The Frantic Search for Healing

For years, illness overwhelmed me.  I only wanted it to go away.

So I focused on solutions. I visited a half-million doctors (traditional and functional), tried out all sorts of healers (wild, wooly, and sane), and took countless vitamins and herbs, most of which made me ill.  The vitamins and herbs that is, not the doctors or healers.

I felt constantly frustrated because no one could give me an answer.  I received some minor diagnoses, but nothing that explained the chronic inflammation illuminating my whole body.  I wanted an answer and acted in a fairly compulsive way to obtain one.

One day, with my doctor’s help, we discovered a chronic and abnormal elevation of serum tryptase.  Not enormously high, but sufficiently raised to at least be one of the culprits behind my physical challenges. It’s an indication of leaky mast cells, the guys and gals involved in traditional allergies as well as rarely known and less understood disorders like mast cell activation syndrome and other forms of mast cell disease.  I still don’t have a definite answer, but at least I have a more substantial clue.

Quantum Healing, Karma, or Both?

If I choose a metaphor for this illness, it might be war and peace.  My whole body engages in subtle warfare against itself.  I imagine this illness might be related to long held trauma that I’ve been gradually learning to release.

I wonder, how do I effectively hold up the truce sign?  Is it even possible after so many years?

So this question comes to me time and again:  Can your mind heal your body?  The answer seems to be sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no.”

I’ve been reading the classic, Quantum Healing, Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.*  According to the author, Deepak Chopra, spontaneous healing occurs, but very rarely.  As I read the stories of people who put their cancer into remission, I sometimes thought, “Why can’t that be me?”

There’s a pesky guilt and even shame that can travel alongside chronic illness because you haven’t been able to make it magically disappear, especially when The Secret says you can.

I haven’t finished Chopra’s book, but I look forward to his “answer.”  I know he believes (or at least believed back then) that the body is controlled by a network of intelligence emerging from quantum reality; that could be a code word for “emptiness” in Buddhism.  I suspect he will propose that silence and meditation are the intersection with quantum reality and thus we can effect physical change with these approaches.  Yet so few actually accomplish this, it appears.

In my own tradition of Buddhism, I’ve been told by reliable teachers that the contemporary spiritual master, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, healed himself of cancer through mantra practice.  That’s the repetition of sacred syllables for an intentional purpose.  I don’t know the details, but I presume this took months not minutes.

On the other hand, his predecessor, the remarkable 3rd Dodrupchen Rinpoche fell ill and never recovered, although he became a prolific contributor to the stream of Buddhist thought.  Here’s his story:

“One day while he was giving teachings, a strong storm suddenly swept across the area.  As the storm touched Dodrupchen, he felt sick, and thereafter he remained sick and unable to walk.  As a result, he moved to his hermitage and remained in seclusion for the rest of his life.”  – from Masters of Meditation and Miracles, * p. 242.

Despite his chronic illness, the 3rd Dodrupchen Rinpoche authored many seminal works and continued to teach a select group of advanced students, many masters in their own right.  He’s one of the most revered spiritual masters in recent Buddhist history.  Illness, it seems, doesn’t always detract from accomplishing your true purpose.

Surely, the 3rd Dodrupchen Rinpoche held immense spiritual power, but still he seemingly was unable to heal himself.  I don’t know the reason for this, but perhaps karma was at play.  Even the Buddha was subject to the effect of his past actions as he explained one day when he had a headache. The Words of My Perfect Teacher, * p. 119.

Those who believe healing is possible with the mind do not necessarily take karma into account.  Karma can indeed be changed through our current thoughts, words, and actions.  But each karma has its own lifespan.  Some may resolve quickly and some may last a lifetime.

In his book, Boundless Healing, Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body * p. 40), Tulku Thondrup says:

“Although we can overcome many problems through the healing meditations, we cannot heal all of them.  We have to get sick and die, as that is the character and nature of life.  But if we are able to generate the experience of peace through meditation and our general approach to life, then we can handle problems with greater ease.  This is especially true if we can cultivate an awareness of positive attitude and feelings.”

That seems clear.  So where does it leave us?

These are my conclusions about healing the body with the mind.

1.  Can You Heal the Body with the Mind?
Sometimes we can heal a physical illness with our mind; sometimes we cannot.  It’s so individual.  Your genetics, biochemistry, personality, and karma combine in complex ways to make you. Every individual must discover their own, unique healing path.

2.  Be Sure to Work with the Mind
Buddhism proposes that illness (for the most part) stems from the three “poisons” of desire, anger, and ignorance. These three core emotions represent shorthand for all negative thought modes that occur in the mind.

Therefore, as Tulku Thondrup suggests, working with our own mind can decrease these negative mind states and increase positive ones like love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.  This can lead to healing of our heart and mind and sometimes the physical body, too.  Powerful healing stories abound in Buddhism, so this option cannot be excluded if one engages sincerely in the practice.  But the key is to engage in healing practices without attachment.

3. The Wisdom to Know the Difference

It can be difficult to know when to accept an illness and when to invest your energy into healing.  As it says in the famous Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

How do you find the wisdom to know the difference rather than acting out of fear and insecurity, and in the process, beating your body against the wall ?

I spent a long time trying to push my way forward, but now I try to sit in stillness and listen for inner direction.  I try to see the signs and follow my intuition as well as my direct experience.

But even following my direct experience can be tricky at times.  Sometimes, it feels like a filter covers my own experience so I don’t quite believe myself.  When I’m confused or uncertain, talking to my husband helps me better hear the truth in my own experience.

I aspire to develop the capacity to automatically tune into my own cues.

4.  Surrender

So much hope and fear can surround ill health.  It’s these emotions that add suffering upon suffering to the illness itself.  As difficult as it might seem, true freedom can only be found in surrendering in every moment.  Not an easy task, but one worth a lifetime of effort.

This prayer from The Great Path of Awakening* by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche speaks volumes to me about the depth of surrender that’s truly needed to be a genuine spiritual practitioner.

“Pray to put an end to hope and fear:
If it’s better for me to be ill,
I pray for the blessing of illness.

If it’s better for me to recover,
I pray for the blessing of recovery.

If it’s better for me to die,
I pray for the blessing of death.”

It takes tremendous courage to allow life to unfold without attempting to exert authority over every outcome.  Yes, our thoughts, words, and actions make a difference.  But we don’t control every element that effects us in this world.

Ideally, we will not collapse in hopelessness nor surge compulsively forward out of desperation and despair.  Instead, let us return again and again to our wisdom essence and from there slowly transform the negative aspects or our mind and heart.  That’s one area where you are clearly in charge.  And as these transformations occur, you physical being may change too.

Epilogue

I gained weight once I started on anti-histamines, enough so that I could fly to Hawaii to rest and rejuvenate.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve increased my strength and extended my bubble so I’m able, in moderation, to go to parties, events, and even box stores, though I don’t frequent the latter.  I subscribe to a modest diet, which keeps food sensitivities from overwhelming me.  My one trip to Honolulu for just a day turned out to be a disaster, triggering a 2-month illness afterward.  So I don’t dare to travel over water, but I enjoy the beauty where I live.

I accept this illness far more than ever before.  Yet, I’m still open to the possibility of spontaneous healing.  I know it’s a paradox, but why not!

What do you think?  Can the mind heal the body?

Note:  A book title that includes an asterisk {*} is an affiliate link.  I’ll receive a tiny commission if you use this link.  Thank you for your support.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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33 Comments

  1. I love the way you are open ended about whether something works or not Sandra. I still remember sitting through a wonderful lecture that I totally resonated with and the speaker at the end uttered magical words for me….or not!

    I feel for you dealing with persistent health challenges, as someone who has been managing health issues for some time too. I’ve used a variety of modalities and certainly feeling better, but not yet quite managed to have everything to go back to ‘normal’ – whatever that is!

    I remember how Lester Levenson cured himself through love and I do believe in the miracle power of love as a healing tool.

    I’m simply a work in progress and I send much love and healing to you Sandra.

    Enjoy your healing practices.
    Love Elle

    • I’m sorry you’re dealing with persistent health challenges too, Elle. I’m glad you feel better if not yet ‘normal.’ Yes, I have no idea what ‘normal’ might be anymore. 🙂

      Thanks for this example of healing through love. I completely believe in the power of love. Even if you’re not able to heal yourself physically, I think we can heal ourselves deeply through the power of love.

      Thanks for sending your good vibes my way. So far, I am loving Tai Chi.

  2. I definitely think that the mind can heal the body. If you feed your mind with negative things all the time and you are surrounding yourself with negativity you will get sick. I experienced this when I started my first Job the environment was so bad and packed with negativity so I got sick emotionally and physically, that’s why I decided to quit my Job and start my own business and what happened? Right I am healthy and haven’t been sick for months I tried to cut out all the negative emotions and surroundings I had and replaced them with positive ones to feed my mind. And I truly believe that’s what keeps me healthy aswell as a healthy diet and exercising of course but the mind plays an important role in all of that. Great article it was a pleasure to read it!

    • Great example, Timo! It’s just logical isn’t it that negativity will make us fill stressed and ill-at-ease and that’s likely to impact our body. I agree that staying positive is so important. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

  3. Hi Sandra, I’m sure that the mind can heal the body and sometimes that simply the act of taking medication makes something I have go away. I’m not sure if it’s my mind or the actual power of the medication. But I don’t think this is always the case. Sometimes, we heal and sometimes we don’t.

    This reminds me of my grandmother who was suffering with the stroke for the last few years of her life. She was physically disabled but was so positive and optimistic about walking without help again, it didn’t even seem like she was physically challenged. Her spiritual practice and devotion kept her attitude high even when she was ill. She’s an example of being able to change her internal state to cope with the physical limitations of her body. She remained hopeful that her condition would change and that she would be able to walk soon. That kept her spirits high. She seemed to fall in line with what Thondrup advised above.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing up this discussion and examining the issues of our mind and our health, Sandra. Wishing you continued healing and improved health.

    • That’s such an inspiring story of your grandmother, Vishnu! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. This is my aspiration, to stay positive and optimistic whatever the challenges might be. This is not always easy for me, but I do my best. Your grandmother must have been a very special person. I’m happy to have this story imprinted in my mindstream.

      Yes, we never do know for sure if it’s the medication or the mind! Thanks for your good wishes for healing and good health, which I send to you as well.

  4. Wow Sandra, Thank you for sharing your story and asking the question- as you know my answer is yes to LOA with love in particular self-love and this month one of my goals is to get my book Lucky to be Alive : The healing power of self love finished so I can share that message with the world more widely. I have been using a form of Quantum healing to heal particularly my bones and now my eyesight i do believe the words we speak and the thoughts we think can affect our healing as it’s what our body hears and our cells respond.
    The more I listen to the whispers of my heart ( not always do I follow my own guidance) the more powerful i become at healing me. Last week i didn’t listen, I heard but kept going and then suffered because of not listening. I also think having just revisited my TM meditation that sitting in stillness is such an important part of healing ourselves
    I am sending you healing vibes and prayers
    love you
    Namaste
    Suzie xx

    • Dear Suzie,

      I’m so looking forward to the release of your book. You are a tremendous inspiration to me. I so admire your dedication to a positive attitude, your creativity, and your discipline in the form of self-care. Of course, we all trip up at times and don’t listen to those heart whispers, but you’ve developed the capacity to listen so well. And, it’s interesting how you are finding that it makes you more powerful at healing you. That’s huge. You have so much goodness to share with the world! Thanks for your healing vibes and prayers.

  5. Ron Nilson

    Very thoughtful article Sandra. You cover a lot of ground from many angles. One approach you didn’t mention was energy healing. That surprised me, given that this approach to health and healing has been growing in it’s practice. Did you have an opportunity to check it out?

    • Thank you, Ron, for mentioning energy healing. Yes, I agree, it can be very powerful and it is also intimately connected with our mind. I have experienced different forms of energy healing in person and from a distance. I also give and receive Reiki, which is one of my favorite ways to feel at peace in body, mind, and spirit.

  6. I totally relate to you Sandra. I too have gone through many of the things you wrote about here. It’s been a long and growth filled journey. I work with energy and mindfulness every day and that’s helped me heal on so many levels. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story sweetie <3

    • It feels so affirming to hear that you’ve been on this healing energy too, Melissa. I’m inspired to know that mindfulness and working with energy has helped you heal on so many levels. I’m happy for you!

  7. Thanks for sharing your story Sandra. I know there are many others who have chronic illness and will benefit from this post. I feel that the mind can certainly help. Being positive, optimistic and open to new possibilities can make a difference. I hope you have a restful, restorative summer.

    • You’re welcome, Cathy. I so agree with you, being positive, optimistic, and open can bring a sense of ease that surely effects the body in a good way. Thanks for your good wishes.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. Here’s to a gentle and healthful path ahead.

  9. Sandra,
    Funny that we both wrote articles on a similar topic this week. My writing has taken a many month hiatus due to the immense levels of fatigue I’ve been experiencing, along with other symptoms. I’ve been seeking relief through many modalities and completely believe that ultimate healing occurs in the mind.

    I’ve been reading books like Mind Over Medicine by Lissa Rankin, Molecules of Emotion by Candice Pert, The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton and The Wheel of Healing with Ayurveda by Michelle Fondin. From my experience and readings, our unresolved emotions take a hold of aspects of our physical body and create dis-ease that worsens until we can fully deal with the emotions. I’ve often used Louise Hay’s book, Heal Your Body A to Z to look up what ails me, read the corresponding emotion and meditate on how it might exist in my life. Aches and pains have disappeared with this simple practice. Louise Hay wrote this book after curing herself from late stage cancer.

    Taking the time and space for reflection and relaxation is a great next step. Often, this is when we can hear our True Self and listen to her guidance. And often, what you need is something you never would have thought of.

    Many blessings to you Sandra! Sending you lots of warm, healing energy!

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Paige. It really shows us how captivating work can be even when we are relatively mindful. I’m so inspired by how you took charge and are getting your life back. These are fabulous resources. I’ve read the Candace Pert book but not the others. I’m eager to do so now!

      I so agree that taking time for reflections and relaxation is key. That’s what I plan to do as I can over the summer. I’m also enthusiastic about committing to my tai chi course.

      Thanks for sending your beautiful healing energy. Much love to you, Paige.

  10. Sandra thank you for letting us all into your life, I wish you well and send you positive thoughts from the UK.

    From my own experience the mind is powerful, about four years ago I was losing the use of my legs, I kept on shrugging it off until I sort medical help, to be told I had a massive extensive tumour in my spine. The doctor was surprised I was not already paraplegic, he told me he could operate but I would most likely wake up paraplegic. He showed me the MRI scan and planted a seed most like did not mean definitely, there was a chance.

    In my mind I could see the tumour filling my vertebra but visualised the spinal fluid get past it, faster and faster rushing around the tumour, shrinking it fighting back.

    I walked into the operation not knowing if I would walk back out again but I knew in my mind I had fought hard.

    After a lengthy time under I came too, quickly gathered my bearings and tried to move my feet. They worked! Several days later with lots of support the staff helped me to my feet.

    I can now walk, I had a great medical team but I could have easily given in.

    Having a positive mindset is a plus, even just small little steps of mind over matter starting with simply ‘you are worth it’ because you are. Life is worth it.

    Take care

    Glen

    • What an amazing story, Glen. Thank you for taking the time to share it. You could have become paralyzed in your mind and heart too, but you put them into forward action with visualization and positive thoughts. I’m so happy for you and so inspired by your story.

  11. i strongly agree
    that question always puzzled me but recently i have been through many things that proved to me that once we have the right mind set we can easily heal ourselves

  12. I had several chronic conditions for over 10 years. ….one got bad enough that it was hard to leave the house for fear that it would act up. I tried and tried to heal with my mind: meditation, prayer, positive thoughts, actively trying to change a bad situation I found myself in, etc. I felt bad that a strong willed intelligent woman was having such troubles with anxiety and health issues that my doctor said were probably stress induced. Finally, I had to remove myself from the toxic situation on a trial basis. I felt as if I had failed since the toxic situation was my marriage, but my symptoms went away! I was shocked. I guess you could say my mind helped me heal my body by finallybee g strong enough to try the one option i was determined to avoid…..but it took more than thinking….it took solid action. Now I’m working on my mind healing my mind and heart.

    • That’s an amazing story, Joyce! Thank you for sharing it with us. I’m so glad you were able to find miraculous relief. I appreciate the courage it took for you to take this step. I also aspire to heal my mind and heart! Be well!

  13. So much wisdom in this article Sandra. I too have been dealing with a chronic health condition – for nearly 40 years. I do believe in the power of the mind to heal our bodies, I believe anything is possible, and yet it’s so easy to experience shame and guilt – I should be able to heal this, right? At the same time I know probably the most healing thing I can do is surrender to it – which is way harder than it sounds. I do believe stress is part of it for me – and I live the most stress free life on the whole – but I have a way of pushing forward with things – a way of be-ing that creates a lot of stress. I’m in the process of stepping into a different identity now I’ve seen this so clearly – not just in stepping back from things, but in letting go of that part of me who just wants to take action and push.

    What you said here: “I spent a long time trying to push my way forward, but now I try to sit in stillness and listen for inner direction. I try to see the signs and follow my intuition as well as my direct experience.”

    I so relate to this – and believe it relates to not just physical conditions – though I do believe our bodies speak to us and reflect who we’re being.

    Thanks for sharing your journey – wishing you the best on your journey towards wholeness, even if this physical condition is an essential ingredient, as mine might be.

    • Dear Vicky,

      I so resonate with everything you’ve written. I tend to push myself too and it’s tempting to keep myself busy. I declared last year, the year of less pressure and I think I took some good steps forward in beginning to erase some of these deeply held habits. But, I see there’s more to go and so now I’m taking a Chi Gong/Tai Chi class 4 – 6 hours a week. It’s amazing how it’s helping me slow down and relax at an entirely new level.

      I wish you the very best on your new journey and I can’t wait to see how it evolves for you, Vicky! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  14. Hi Sandra,

    The first thing I’m thinking is that now I fully understand why you chose this blog name! Because I think we can heal ourselves partially as you have but, whatever ails our body, we can learn to be okay on the inside. Even if we’ve lost a leg which can never be cured we can grow to accept that.

    I’m so glad you’re healthier now and that you’ll be resting more over the summer.

    I didn’t know you couldn’t travel because of illness. It is stressful and makes me ill too but I do it anyway. It’s silly really.

    Thank heavens you live in a beautiful place with a supportive husband. I hope you can enjoy it all and keep focusing on being well within, even if your body isn’t in perfect health.

    • Exactly, Annabel. That’s the essence of Buddhism, everything depends on our perception rather than the externals. Of course, that can be very challenging in difficult situations but we have some amazing role models in Nelson Mandala, Aung San Suu Kyi, Viktor Frank and others who have faced serious trials.

      I know you love to travel so I’m glad you are doing it regularly each year. There are more and more toxins and cooties on planes so getting sick might just have become a common part of travel, unfortunately. I’ve had my tour in India, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and all over the US before I stopped traveling and, as you say, I’m so lucky to live in paradise.

      Thanks for your good wishes!

  15. Fascinating read Sandra. I have been struggling with chronic pain for 9 years and finally found a doctor that knew what was happening and why. I have been working with a physiotherapist to calm down overactive nerves that are causing muscle spasms in my pelvic floor. The treatment includes deep breathing, talking to my autonomic nervous system (reassuring it that there is no danger) and connective tissue massage. The results have been astonishing. In a way I believe my mind is being trained to heal my body. I was always rather cynical about this kind of thing, but having experienced it I can see how it works in some circumstances.

    • That’s so wonderful, Sharon! I’m very happy for you. I would love to hear more about this approach! I really appreciate you sharing this.

  16. Thank you for sharing this post, and for asking the question. I have wondered the same thing.

    I really agree with Annabel Candy’s insightful comment. Being “well within” (emotionally, intrinsically) is a very wise approach because it helps give us the strength and courage to accept what is, and to set ourselves up for the best possible outcome with grace and serenity, regardless of the physical reality. We can’t control some things, but our minds can help us cope with the exterior circumstances that are often beyond our control.

    I am so happy for those who have been healed by their thoughts! What an incredible gift. However, I worry that feeling like one should be able to cure oneself with one’s thoughts is adding guilt on top of the suffering already endured by people living with illness.

    Our minds and positive thinking can help the patient attain their best possible outcome – whatever it is meant to be- and surrender can help them be at peace with what is.

    You are such a wise and generous soul, Sandra. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hello Carina,

      Your response is so beautifully articulated! I am so with you on focusing on being “well within” and finding the right balance of working toward your best outcome while also surrendering as needed so you can be at peace. I’m so touched by how you summarized all this.

      Thanks for your kind words!

  17. Eduardo

    Happiness is not a state is all a habit, happiness makes you a better person because nothing bad can come from a happy, practice happiness.

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