In one way, the whole idea of the mind-body connection doesn't make sense. After all, it isn't as if the mind is one thing and the body is a different thing.
The mind basically is the brain in action. The brain is part of the body. So obviously there's a connection between the mind and body, since they're different aspects of the same entity.
But most people, me included, do view the mind as something more ethereal than the cruder body.
Our thoughts and emotions seem to be distinct from the flesh, blood, and bone of the body. Even though I know that thoughts and emotions are just as physical as my hands and feet, this is difficult to believe given the inherent subjectivity of mind.
Because I have a sensitive digestive system -- I've never been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) though I have symptoms of this -- I found it interesting when my 52 year-old daughter, Celeste, told me last summer that she's been told she has IBS.
Celeste mentioned that she'd been advised to follow the FODMAP diet, though she's been reluctant to do this because she likes so many foods that aren't advised by FODMAP, such as avocados.
I downloaded the FODMAP app and made some changes to my diet that have alleviated most of the irritating symptoms of my own IBS, assuming that's what it should be called. Then I came across a mention in a science magazine of the Nerva app that uses hypnotherapy to alleviate IBS symptoms.
I've tried hypnotism a few times and didn't find it very useful. But I found the theory behind the Nerva app to be intriguing, so I've been using it daily for the past four weeks in hopes that I could get back to eating some of the foods that I'd eliminated from my diet.
The basic idea is that Irritable Bowel Syndrome actually isn't caused by a problem with a person's digestive system, because almost always they have a normal digestive system. Instead, the problem lies is miscommunication between the brain and the gut.
Most of us have experienced the brain-gut connection. For example, if we're stressed about giving an important presentation at work, we may feel "butterflies in the stomach" as we get up to speak. This shows that the mind and digestive system are linked quite closely.
The web site for the Nerva app says:
The app includes daily short readings, along with a 15-17 minute hypnotherapy session. One of the goals is to disrupt a negative brain-gut/mind-body feedback loop. This pertains to problems other than IBS, clearly.
Say we feel stressed. One of the ways that stress may manifest is physically. In the case of IBS, maybe we feel some stomach pain. That gut pain then leads to more mental stress, because now we're not only stressed for the original reason, but also because of the stomach pain.
So the brain can affect the gut, and the gut then can affect the brain. Left unchecked, we can spiral into a negative feedback loop. The idea of hypnotherapy -- and this also seems to apply to some forms of meditation -- is to break that cycle by introducing positive thoughts and feelings into the brain as regards the gut problem.
This happens consciously, though the real benefit seems to occur as those positive thoughts and feelings wend their way into our unconscious, creating more beneficial patterns of thinking and feeling largely outside our conscious awareness.
Apparently it doesn't matter if someone isn't highly suggestible with hypnotherapy. That's good, because while I feel relaxed during a session, I never enter a state where I'm not completely aware of my surroundings and what's going on.
How does hypnotherapy really work?
Hypnosis involves entering a state of absorbed attention where you become hyper-focused on specific stimuli (such as a feeling or a memory) led by suggestions from a hypnotherapist.
During hypnosis, suggestions bypass the critical mind allowing you to subconsciously 'fix' the miscommunication between your gut and brain (how your brain and gut send and receive nerve impulses). These suggestions teach you automatic skills that can help you self-manage IBS symptoms.