We are bombarded with messages about exercising our bodies—how it can improve life longevity as well as boost endorphins, making us happier, better rested, more energized and with an enhanced ability to concentrate.
But did you know that the brain needs to be exercised as well? Not only because it can slow memory loss and keep our minds sharp but because the brain can actually heal our bodies.
The brain is built to respond to the place—physical or emotional, real or imaginary—that we are in. This can occur consciously or unconsciously, whether we are safe or unsafe.
The brain structure at the center of our response to space is the hippocampus—a part of the brain that is key to building memories. It also determines whether the physical location we are in is safe, telling us if we need to act to get safe or can relax where we are. The continual arousal or relaxation response produced by where we are signals other organs—including the heart, gut and immune system—to be on alert or to engage in rest and repair. Thus, our physical space causes the emission of a steady stream of chemicals that can either hurt or heal.
The brain, therefore, is a powerful pathway to our healing.
Research has shown that our mind can influence healing for a number of health conditions, including pain, anxiety and depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and even heart disease.
How can you activate these healing properties? Although you can exercise your brain by doing puzzles, testing your memory or meditation, another crucial way to exercise the brain is through the creation of specific images in the mind under relaxed conditions—or when you feel calm or at peace.
Such an exercise can influence biological processes and is called visualization. Visualization is a kind of exercise for the mind that can reduce pain, bleeding, and infection after surgery and can even mitigate chronic diseases—such as high blood pressure and depression. Professional athletes routinely use visualization to enhance endurance and performance: picturing the game in their minds is shown to increase overall performance.
Listen to the audiogram below to see some methods for exercising the brain.
Why is exercising the brain critical to healing? Because if we only deal with only one aspect of a person—say, the body or the mind—we get only partial results. To fully heal and to have overall wellness, we need to enhance connections across all dimensions of the body, including and especially the mind.
Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands
Learn more about the power of the mind and the importance of a holistic approach to healthcare in How Healing Works: Get Well and Stay Well Using Your Hidden Power to Heal.