The DNA of Healing: A Five-Step Process for Total Wellness and Abundance
How can we consciously create the life we want? What role do our emotions and belief systems play in our health? Where do our belief systems originate and how can we work with them to create healing and a more meaningful and satisfying way of life? My lifelong quest to find answers to these questions has taken me to the frontier of the mind-body connection.
Investigation into the link between mind and body has exploded in the 30 years since Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Institute and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, demonstrated that relaxation techniques could reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve health. Today a range of doctors, scientists, and researchers in the fields of mind-body medicine, quantum physics, psychoneuroimmunology, and vibrational healing are providing strong evidence of the link between our emotions and our health and well-being.
In the midst of this revolution, Caroline Myss articulated a key healing principle in her book Anatomy of the Spirit, one that underlies energetic healing techniques from ancient to modern times: Our biography becomes our biology. "Our bodies contain our histories--every chapter, line, and verse of every event and relationship in our lives," she explains. "Every thought you have had has traveled through your biological system and activated a physiological response."(1) We know, for instance, the effect of intense fear or rage?our heart rate increases, we clench our teeth, and our blood pressure rises. Myss says that among the experiences that carry emotional energy into our body's system are past and present relationships, profound or traumatic memories and experiences, and belief patterns and attitudes. "The emotions from these experiences become encoded in our biological systems," she says, contributing to the formation of our cell tissues and becoming stored in our cellular memory.(2)
Another step in our evolving view of the mind-body link came from Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally reputed neuroscientist. In her landmark work, Molecules of Emotion, Dr. Pert establishes the biomolecular basis for our emotions and helps us understand exactly how emotions affect health. She found that the major systems in the body form a vast network. What carries information between these systems, linking them together, are neuropeptides and their receptors, what she calls the biochemicals of emotion. These "messengers" are in constant communication with the immune system. In effect, she says that emotions are the link between mind and body.
Based on this scientific research, it is time to transcend our concepts of "the power of the mind over the body," states Dr. Pert. "In light of my research, that phrase does not describe accurately what is happening. Mind doesn't dominate body, it becomes body?body and mind are one."(3) We must start seeing our emotions, she says, "as cellular signals that are involved in the process of translating information into physical reality, literally transforming mind into matter."(4) In other words, the mind and body communicate through molecules of emotion.
From the work of pioneers like these, we know that our emotions impact our bodies' cells and tissues and that they influence our health. Yet the leading edge of the frontier goes further, and deeper, still. Revolutionary research is showing that our emotions impact us at the most basic level of our DNA, a finding that has far-reaching ramifications.
Our Genes Respond to Emotion
Geneticists have known for some time that environmental "stresses" can affect genes and cause mutations. In the 1940s, American geneticist Barbara McClintock made an astounding discovery that wasn't fully recognized until much later. In 1983, she won a Nobel Prize for her discovery that genes could change their position on a chromosome in response to stress. In her Nobel lecture, she said that "shocks" to genetic material (anything from accidents within the cell to viral infections to altered surroundings) "forced the genome to restructure itself" in order to overcome the threat. (A genome is the total genetic material of an organism.)
"The sensing devices and the signals that initiate these adjustments are beyond our present ability to fathom," said McClintock. She encouraged scientists to move forward to determine "the extent of knowledge the cell has of itself, and how it utilizes this knowledge in a "thoughtful" manner when challenged." She called the genome--a highly sensitive organ of the cell--that is capable of sensing the unusual and unexpected events, and responding to them."
At the close of her Nobel lecture, McClintock noted, prophetically, that scientists in the future would undoubtedly focus on the genome "with greater appreciation of its significance." In making her discoveries, McClintock had initially worked with plants, but scientists later recognized that the mechanism she had identified--genes moving around on chromosomes in response to stresses--could very well contribute to human evolution by creating new mutations. Just as important, this research showed that our genetic code is not static but is affected by stresses in its environment.
As it turns out, new research is starting to prove that stresses in our environment do indeed alter our DNA. A landmark study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2004 indicated that major life stresses can actually damage the telomeres (the sections of DNA at the tips of chromosomes) inside the body's immune cells, decreasing the cells' lives. The study compared a group of women caring for children suffering from serious chronic conditions to a group of women with healthy children. An interesting feature of the study is that the results were strongly related to the perception of emotional stress. Women in both groups who felt they were undergoing the highest stress levels had telomeres comparable to someone ten years older than they were.
In a Washington Post article on this important finding, Dr. Dennis Novack of Drexel University College of Medicine said the new study showed that mind and body are not separate, that "the very molecules in our bodies are responsive to our psychological environment."(5) While more research is still needed, the study does point to a direct relationship not just between chronic stress and our health but between stress (or emotions) and our genes.
The evidence doesn't stop there. Other scientific breakthroughs, from an entirely different angle, also show the link between our emotions and our DNA. Nationally recognized researchers Glen Rein, Ph.D., and Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., working with the HeartMath Research Institute, have shown that focused, loving feelings and specific intentions altered samples of DNA in solution and produced biological effects in and out of the body. In one study, those who were a part of the experiments were able to cause the DNA to wind or unwind, matching their specific intention. The winding of the DNA helix is associated with DNA repair and the unwinding precedes cell division. In one case, the person being studied was able to affect the condition of the DNA when the sample was half a mile away. As a result of studies like this, researchers have hypothesized, though not yet proven experimentally, that it may be possible through conscious heart-focused intention to influence our cell-level processes and even to change the primary structure of DNA--our genetic code.
These exciting studies correspond to work I have been doing for the past 20 years that shows that our emotions and beliefs--and those we have inherited?affect our DNA. Like these researchers, I have found that our DNA is not a fixed code but a flexible code. In fact, I have found that by using specific techniques, we can replace flawed patterns with new, positive patterns. In effect, negative thoughts and emotions are like the environmental "stresses" Barbara McClintock spoke of; they affect what she called our "highly sensitive" genetic material, which is capable of "sensing the unusual and unexpected events, and responding to them." In short, our genes respond to emotions--for better or for worse.
The opposite, I have found, is also true: Our DNA affects our emotions, attitudes, and behaviors. Scientists are verifying that our genes pass on to us much more than physical traits. In 2001, a team of scientists in Barcelona discovered that a genetic mutation of chromosome 15 makes people more susceptible to panic attacks and anxiety disorders. This tells us that rather than being an imaginary illness or a psychological defect, a phobia can result from a mutation in our genes. In addition, Dean Hamer, molecular biologist and head of the gene structure and regulation section at the National Cancer Institute, says that faith is deeply rooted in our DNA--that we inherit a predisposition to be spiritual. In his book The God Gene, he claims that a variation of the gene called VMAT2, which he has dubbed "the God gene," plays a small but key role in the spiritual tendencies that are hardwired into our genes. If phobias can stem from our genes, what other attitudes are a result of a genetic predisposition? If spirituality can be inherited, what other feelings and behaviors are passed on through our DNA? ...
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