Recent breakthroughs in the field of epigenetics have demonstrated a direct link between our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and very real, measurable changes in our genetic code. Previously our DNA was believed to be a sort of genetic imprint from our parents, a stamp of fate that programmed our cells, personality and physiology and was ultimately unalterable. Although there is some truth to the fact that you do indeed inherit your foundational genetic makeup from your parents, the idea that the hand of cards you are dealt at birth is the only one you get to play for the rest of your life is patently false.
Take for example this study by researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital: 26 adult participants (without prior experience) were taught various relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, mantra (the repetition of “sacred” sounds) and meditation. The participants were given comprehensive blood tests immediately preceding and immediately following 20 minutes of self-directed practice. By looking at 22,000 different gene sequences, researchers were able to identify and measure any changes that occurred during and after practicing the various meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
The results were not altogether surprising for anyone who has practiced meditation or mindfulness for any length of time. Every single one of the participants showed measurable changes in the genes that researchers had previously identified as being responsible for, or related to, aging, metabolism, relaxation and even insulin response. These changes were shown to be indicative of a significantly reduced stress response and initiated activity in telomere maintenance genes, meaning that the mindfulness, meditation and mantra practice actually initiated changes in the body that led to alteration and repair of DNA.
“Your mind controls your biology. That’s what the placebo effect is about; the mind believes the pill will work and so it does,” renowned stem cell biologist and epigenetics researcher Bruce Lipton is quote as saying. “In the science of epigenetics it’s been found that it’s the perception of your environment that controls your genes. You’re not a victim of your genes because you’re the one who can change your environment—or, more importantly, change your perception... The physical expression is the consequence of the mind’s program—the program comes first, the physical expression second. The function of the mind is to create coherence between your beliefs and your reality.”
Take, for example, the spectacular results of Bruce’s student Dina Proctor. Dina had been getting deeply into mindfulness, meditation and epigenetics and decided to perform an informal experiment on herself using a simple 3-minute visualization meditation to address serious imbalances in her blood cholesterol levels that had been persisting for some time. For two weeks she regularly practiced the following visualization meditation:
“I started out visualizing a gentle but laser-like beam of healing energy entering my body straight into my heart. I imagined a warm sensation as the beam infiltrated and surrounded my heart. As the warmth grew stronger, I pictured the healing energy in the form of a thick liquid or serum, like warm honey, slowly seeping from my heart muscle into my bloodstream. I kept my focus on the warm feeling of the serum moving into my bloodstream in all directions. I followed it in my mind’s eye, moving through my chest into my legs and arms, fingers and toes, and circling back again into my heart.”
After a few of days of this specific focus in her visualization, she could sense that her blood levels were evening out: “I visualized the imaginary serum healing each blood cell it touched as it traveled throughout my body,” she later remarked about her process.
And sure enough, the results of her bloodwork post meditation showed a significant positive change: her serum cholesterol readings had dropped from 227 to 177, in lock step with the findings from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine study showing that simple changes in our perception and thought process do have measurable physical effects in the body.
The Keys to Accessing the Healing Power of Your Mind
1. Focused Visualization
Research has shown that the mind cannot differentiate between something imagined and something actually occurring in your life. It treats both with equal emphasis and since your mind literally controls and coordinates the functioning of your cells and body as a whole, what you think and believe has an incredible amount of influence on your physiology. Your mind is literally programming your cells’ function in real time via the genetic code. Visualization, is, in a sense a way to “hack” the dynamics of this internal biofeedback loop. As your cells respond to changes in the control center of the mind, by changing the focus of your mind you can directly and indirectly influence your cells, which are the fundamental compositional element of everything in the body. When they shift, the corresponding organ shifts, begetting healing in the body.
The Practice: In order for visualization to have maximum effect, it must be practiced consistently as cells have lifecycles of their own, and you want to be sure to be broadcasting new instructions for an extended period of time. The mind responds most strongly to the dominantly held programming (thoughts, images, beliefs, etc.) and in order to tip the scales in favor of what you are visualizing, you need to be consistent. In many cases, we are trying to balance out a lifetime of faulty mental programming and self-destructive thought processes.
2. Healing Beliefs
Beyond simple thoughts or visualizations, lie our beliefs, which are our most fundamental programming. They allow us to make sense of and interpret the complex and overwhelming incoming sensory data that is constantly streaming into our minds. They are perceptual filters that dictate what we perceive and ultimately our thoughts and emotions. As such, they powerfully control our physiology and can keep us locked into unhealthy patterns if left unexamined. Since thoughts, emotions and ultimately our automatic visualizations are controlled by our beliefs, it is extremely important to do a thorough inventory and adjust anything that is potentially creating illness and dysfunction in the body.
The Practice: Here’s a simple exercise to help you become aware of deeply held, often unconscious beliefs: next time you catch yourself thinking any kind of negative, doubting, fearful thought ask yourself the following question: “What must I believe is true in order to be having this thought/perception?” Coming at it from another angle can also be helpful, asking yourself: “What am I making this mean about myself?” The answers to both questions should lead you in short order to a limiting, self-destructive belief that is most definitely having a negative impact on your life and potentially your health as well. Sometimes you may need to ask the questions a few times to dig deep past surface answers and get to deeply unconscious programming.
Once you have identified a limiting belief, you can then decide if you still believe it is true. Often times simply becoming aware of “default programming” is enough to shift it as we realize how irrational and untrue it actually is. Beliefs are simply deeply held perceptions of reality, and they can change in an instant once we realize they are not true.
Further Reading: www.consciouslifestylemag.com/healing-meditation-mind-body