The brain – PNI our secret healing tool

The Chinese approach to health and wellbeing is that mind and body should be treated as a whole. Until recently this has not been the case in Western Medicine, but there is growing belief among scientists that our brain, nervous system, endocrine system and immune system are all linked. In other words, the mind, emotions and body are not separate, but closely entwined.

The relatively new scientific field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) studies the connection between our brains and our nervous, immune and endocrine systems.

PNI appears to be proving in Western terms what the Chinese have believed for thousands of years. Namely that our mental state directly influences diseases and healing and that stress and anxiety can make us physically ill.

The field of psychoneuroimmunology was co-founded by Robert Ader PhD in the 1970s. Ader was a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at Rochester University in New York. He discovered that, like the brain, the immune system could learn. His studies opened up new understandings of how experiences such as stress and anxiety can affect a person's immune system.

Many PNI studies have focused on how stress, hostility and depression impact the immune system. It’s now known that when stress hormones surge through the body, the immune cells are hampered in their function. Many conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and premature ageing are related to stress and negative emotions. When we get stressed and we cannott deal with it by putting our bodies into the parasympathetic (restful) phase, the stress hormones produce an excess of epinephrine (adrenaline). This causes a chemical breakdown which weakens our immune system and renders us susceptible to disease. A research report published in 1998 by Dr. Bruce Lipton at Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that “over 95% of all illnesses occur because of stress in the body’s autonomic nervous system.”

In addition, scientists have now discovered that the chronic stress kills off good bacteria in your gut. The gut is increasingly being recognised as the place where most disease stems from. We all have a microbiome inside of us, a whole eco-system of bacteria both good and bad, which is ph balanced when we are in good health. When we have an overgrowth of bad bacteria such as yeast, dysbiosis occurs. More specifically, a constant release of the stress hormone cortisol will eventually result in an excess of bile acid into the stomach. This acidity knocks out the delicate ph balance of the gut. Scientists are discovering more and more illnesses that start from the gut – including the vast majority of autoimmune diseases such as Arthritis, and most recently Parkinsons Disease.

Inflammation is increasingly being linked to all the major diseases of our times.  In 2010, Dr Jared M. Huston, of the Stony Brook University Medical Centre in the United States,discovered an anti-inflammatory neural control called the vagus nerve.  The vagus is a very long nerve running between the hypothalamus area of the brain, chest, diaphragm, and the intestines. It wraps around the heart and solar plexus center. Most astonishing of all, scientists have discovered that the vagus nerve can be controlled with conscious breathing, yoga,  positive thoughts and emotions. By proving scientifically how mind and body are connected, PNI supports the Chinese approach to healing.

This work has been backed up by studies exploring how the Chinese disciplines of Tai Chi and Qi Gong affect the body on a chemical level. Tai Chi, for example, appeared to reduce inflammation and can help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.

“Researchers at UCLA conducted a five-year randomised clinical trial from April 2007 to August 2013. The team analysed blood samples from 90 participants between 30 and 85 years old, before and after they started the Tai Chi routine.

“We saw that Tai Chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation,” said Dr. Irwin. “Tai Chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practise other forms of meditation.”

If you find meditation challenging, our Rescue Breath Ritual is a great place to start – acting like a mini meditation and every bit as effective. 

Although the field of PNI is fairly recent, in holistic medicine it has been recognised as a basic fact for thousands of years. Indeed, the two-thousand-year-old Chinese text ‘Internal Medicine Classic’ reads: ‘If one maintains an undisturbed spirit within, no disease will occur’. That’s not to suggest that life is as simple as only unhappy people getting ill, but the research speaks for itself. 

Studies have shown that the brain patterns of elderly participants who practice Qi. Qi Gong activates the PNI response. When we are calm and relaxed, neuropeptides are released and a direct line of communication is established between the immune, nervous and endocrine systems.

Dr. Robert Anton Wilson has suggested that the PNI systems in the body are much more “quantum-like” in their reactions to mind-body therapies. In other words, during mind-body practices like Qi Gong (and our rituals!), the PNI systems will react to the body and produce the chemicals that are needed for that individual.

In summary, armed with the scientific knowledge that your emotions and mental state play a direct role in your health, you can rest assured that every time you practice the Hayo'u rituals you will be effecting a profound change. Specifically, a body with reduced levels of stress hormone, strong immunity and a calm, clear mind.