As I mentioned in my last article, when we are in perfect health we make all the drugs we need; this is referred to as the endogenous pharmacy. The brain writes prescriptions, which are filled by the various organs. We are all capable of developing the ability to positively influence our endogenous pharmacies. All it takes is the cultivation of certain skills through mental training. Although there is no published literature revealing a simple and reliable method enabling us to produce any endogenously produced drug at will, there are ways to use the mind to synthesize some of them, and to improve the overall functioning of the endogenous pharmacy.
There are many methods of mental training that have a positive influence on all aspects of health, including the endogenous pharmacy. A few of the more well known of these include mindfulness training such as vipassana, Zen, MBSR, and non-mindfulness-based forms of attentional training, such as mantra meditations and mental imagery. Biofeedback, especially neurofeedback combined with other physiological measures, has been found to produce states of mind conducive to healing. All healing takes place because of production and delivery of specific substances to where they are needed. Mental imagery, especially when used in conjunction with self-hypnosis, which allows us to go into a trance state, has been found in numerous studies to improve physiological functioning in general, and to best catalyze the synthesis of specific endogenously produced substances. Various forms of yoga and the internal martial arts, such as tai chi chuan and chi gung, have centuries of anecdotal, and more recently, controlled trials documenting the healing power of these methods.
Based on the latest advances in psychology and psychophysiology research, the ancient practice of mindfulness training seems to be the single most effective form of mental training to cultivate the skills that can contribute to improved health. Although mindfulness practice does not provide direct access to the endogenous pharmacy the way mental imagery does—nor is it intended to—there is increasing evidence that mindfulness practice is good for health in a more general way. Mindfulness is a practice in training your mind to focus attention on your immediate experience, and to practice with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Although mindfulness practice has been the subject of the most research, there are other well-documented methods of mind training that are likely to enhance and gain some control over the endogenous pharmacy. One of my mentors, physiological psychologist Dr. Jeanne Achterberg, described the connection between the mind and body this way: “No thought, no emotion, is without biochemical, electrochemical activity; and the activity leaves no cell untouched.” Her message has often served as a reminder to me that we need to pay attention to the chatter going on in our minds through mindfulness practice, because our lives, and certainly our health, may depend on it. Her mind training method was not mindfulness; it was mental imagery. Her book, Imagery In Healing, is an outstanding source for how to use mental imagery for healing. Michael Murphy’s book, The Future of the Body, describes every mind training method used for healing throughout history. My book, In Your Own Hands describes the research evidence and practice suggestions primarily from the new field of positive psychology.
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