Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mind and Body

Do our emotions affect disease? Based on my own experience with myself and others, the answer would clearly be "Certainly!"

A recent New York Times article by Richard P. Sloan cites a study that shows that emotions play no role in disease. He goes further: "positive characteristics like optimism, spirituality and being a compassionate person" have no enhancing effects on health and longevity. What??

I was glad to see scientists, including Dr. Dean Ornish of the UC-San Francisco medical school, write letters to "correct the record." He writes (1-30-11): There's a lot of evidence to show that emotions often play a role in illness: chronic anger, depression, and hostility significantly increase the risk of heart disease. "Chronic stress shortens telomeres, the ends of our chromosomes that control how long we live."

So, Ornish concludes, it's not all in the genes. Even "meditation beneficially changes gene expression." This statement comes as a relief since I have long read that regular meditation reduces blood pressure, among other health benefits, and that basic breathing techniques can reduce stress and anxiety. Inner peace, coupled with compassionate therapy and simple love, can alter the distressed/diseased body.

It's easy for me as a non-scientist to oversimplify enormously complex issues like the mind-body connection, but apparently some scientists, too, are guilty of oversimplifying.

The role of the emotions in behavior and physical functioning is beautifully dramatized in a film most people I know are raving about: The King's Speech.
When I saw it in December, I went expecting another superbly acted British period piece; I found something more, something many people have remarked on: the emotional bond between the two men, one king of England, the other a self-proclaimed speech therapist.

The fact that George VI and Lionel Logue developed a real-life friendship is only part of the reason the film has such appeal. We identify with the way fear, usually instilled in childhood, can cripple a man and with the way Logue, with his honesty and humility, helps the man who happens to be a king deal with this--and the way this loving relationship, and that of his wife, provides healing. The result is an emotionally satisfying movie quite deserving of all its coming Oscars.

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