Investigating the "Impossible"
About 40 years ago, a group of microbiologists, behavioral scientists, and medical doctors in laboratories from UCLA to Russia proposed, based on their carefully conducted, independent studies, a completely heretical idea: that the brain, immune, and hormonal systems were connected -- and that emotions had a major influence on the body.
They were completely laughed at by the scientific and medical community. Some were denied tenure. They were sometimes shut out of university laboratories for their "psychological nonsense."
Nevertheless, they persisted with the idea, and with their tenacity and vision, as well as years of careful research in the laboratory, founded the field that we now know as psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI.
Fortunately for us, these scientists persisted -- and paved a path that has had tremendous impact on our understanding of health and medicine. Forty years later, the fact that the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system are connected is now a given, and nearly every day we are reading about exciting developments in these fields, such as the contributions of the vagus nerve in immune and brain communication, and the recent paper in Nature reporting the existence of functional lymphatic vessels in the brain -- something that again, was thought to be impossible. We've learned about the power of our own emotional states on our immunity -- and how our mental state plays a role in certain disease risks -- in some cases, even helping predict how long we live.
Hacking the Body Electric
In parallel with these advances in PNI, we are seeing a rise in bioelectromagnetic medicine -- including brain stimulation. These new devices -- based on the mapping of the body's responses to magnetic and electrical stimulation -- are being heralded as the "Future of Medicine" -- and some show tremendous promise in helping forward better treatment of certain diseases.
Unfortunately, the devices that could mitigate diseases, can also serve to disempower us, if used improperly. The fervor for these devices doesn't just stop at finding new solutions for cancer or Alzheimer's disease -- corporate interests are pushing the development of devices down to "fixing" our mood and even our eating patterns. Feeling sad or out of sorts, or need to obliterate that hunger craving? No problem, a brain zap can fix that. There are plenty of folks ready to sell you such devices, whether or not they actually are based on sound scientific evidence. Some people are also creating DIY brain stimulation devices for home use to treat depression and enhance attention, which is not safe.
Is the "New Medicine" really based on Ancient Medicine?
While industry focuses on devices that can be sold as the next new medicine, some scientists have been uncovering the effects of ancient medicine -- mind-body-spirit practices such as yoga, meditation, tai-chi and even energy healing on psychological, neural, immune, and endocrine outcomes for patients including those with PTSD, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
The interesting thing is that the health impact of these practices, which have been part of global cultures for thousands of years, were mapped out long ago by the sages that had discovered and shared them. The described "mechanism of action" circulated around the understanding that these are spiritual practices that have a strong influence on the subtle energy system (part of what we now call in the West the "Biofield"), and through refining ourselves spiritually, positive shifts occur in our emotional, mental and physical well-being.
Sadly, because of the emphasis on materialism in science and medicine, "spirit" is still considered a dirty word and is generally taboo for research and discussion. The study of "biofield" is not so far behind in the ridicule line, despite the basic science and clinical research demonstrating effects of the biofield on health, as is now being shown with bioelectronic medicine. In fact, industry is now in a race to begin mapping out the electromagnetic readouts of the body -- one aspect of the biofield -- but only to develop devices that can be bought and sold for mitigating disease symptoms.
The Future of Medicine is Up to Us
However, similar to the collaborations and dedication that resulted in the new field and advances of psychoneuroimmunology, a group of scientists as well as practitioners in diverse disciplines (including physics, biophysics, microbiology, psychology, endocrinology, technology, medicine, contemplative practice and the healing arts), are joining together to collectively advance the totality of understanding on the role of the consciousness in healing, including mapping the impact of mind-body-spirit practices on the biofield and health. This group of scientists, practitioners, and educators, who are part of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative, are ready to take the bold steps needed to rigorously ask and answer the harder questions -- what is the role of our own consciousness in influencing our biology? How deeply can we guide and facilitate our own healing through our emotions, behavior, social, and spiritual connections, and how can we harness these effects to promote better health for ourselves, our communities and our planet? Scientific research that examines us as the agents of change for our own healing, would help to herald a true shift in the practice of medicine.
With these new advances in science, we have a choice to shape the new paradigm in health and medicine. We can choose to watch as industry dollars utilize scientific advances to advance the next wave of Big Pharma, or we can choose to support research that will irrefutably map the impact of our consciousness on our own health, so that we can better directly heal ourselves and prevent disease before it starts. We must choose not to lose the psyche in psychoneuroimmunology, and support the research and education that will truly empower our own health and healing, to usher in the real Future of Medicine.