No doubt you’ll have heard the word psychosomatic, a word mostly used to describe physical illnesses brought about by the psyche. Depression resulting in persistent infection, hysteria resulting in blindness, constant stress or fear resulting in physical symptoms.
The world has many negative connotations which the Transcendence Institute would like to avoid. In popular misconception it brings to mind weak minds, delicate and effete bodies which are so sickly and shaky that even a mere thought can upset them. It’s associated with illness more than health, despite the fact that the Placebo Effect is surely the other side of that same coin. The prefix ‘psycho-’ brings to mind mental illness and emphasises a blatant dualism which is unfortunate for modern understanding which rejects the idea of a consciousness separate to a body.
Instead, the Transcendence Institute uses the word ‘neurosomatic‘ to describe the phenomena. This word more accurately conveys the impression that neurosomatic effects are not spooky or strange, but are the normal physical workings of a brain and body functioning as they should. It doesn’t invoke images of a non-physical ‘mind’ having physical effects on the body. It isn’t associated so obviously with illness, a weak constitution or psychology, and it isn’t prejudiced by any magical understanding of it as being connected with the ‘spirit world’ or magical healing.
The Neurosomatic Interactions
First the ‘neuro‘ part. Your brain is made out of neurons. At least the active part is. The rest seems to be mostly scaffold to hold the neurons in place which has little direct effect on brain function. We’ve already talked in some detail about how neurons send signals to each other through the release of small messenger chemicals known as ‘neurotransmitters’. How the neurons themselves adapt and change as a result of the usage they’re put to. This is how your brain works. It’s a neural device. The ‘mind,’ whatever that may be, is built out of neurons interacting.
Then the ‘somatic’ part. Body. All also made of cells of course, granddaughter cells of the fertilised ovum that you grew from. Here we’re thinking specifically of the The Endocrine System, The Autonomic Nervous System, The Immune System, even the way individual fat, muscle and blood cells respond to signals sent through the Endocrine System. In general all the parts of you that aren’t your brain.
Nerosomatic interactions then, are those interactions between the brain and the rest of the body.
Your brain contains a structure called The Limbic System. It appears to help regulate and respond to emotional mood, smells, and long term memory (among, no doubt, many other things). Connections come into the Limbic system from all over the brain, especially the frontal-cortex (higher reasoning) and the sensor cells in the nose, while it’s output connections lead mostly into the Hypothalamus.
The Hypothalamus in turn sends it’s outputs mostly to the Pineal gland and other hormone-releasing systems. These systems release messenger molecules known as ‘hormones’, which are similar to the neurotransmitters that signal between neurons. Hormone molecules though travel not the fraction of a millimetre from one synapse to another, but through the blood stream to permeate the whole body.
That is: Your brain as a whole, including the pre-frontal cortex — the seat of reason — can send signals which alter the balance of hormones in your blood.
The ‘Endocrine System‘ which we mentioned earlier is just the fancy sciency way of referring to the mass confusion of hormones which permeate the blood and which affect the way the cells in the body are regulated and behave. Hormones produced by the brain can change the hormones which other glands in the body produce. Hormones all over the body change the way cells divide, the way they metabolise, the way the behave.
Of course, hormones can effect the brain back in turn. There are many neurons in the brain who’s firing action is altered by the presence or absence of any of the wide varieties of hormones in your blood system.
The hormone adrenaline effects the body in many ways. It attaches to heart cells and they respond by beating faster. It attaches to muscle and brain cells and excites them, causes them to burn more oxygen. It slows, even prevents, digestion. It widens the pupils of the eyes. It changes the way the liver works and so increases the amount of sugar in the blood.
All these effects on the body are driven by the hormone adrenaline which is produced primarily by the adrenal gland near the kidney. That adrenal gland in turn pumps out more adrenaline when the pituitary gland in the brain produces more of the hormone which signals it to do so. The immune system slows down, devoting energy instead to other systems in the body.
This system works brilliantly. When an animal is in stress or danger, it’s body is prepared for a fight, or to flee, generally to struggle for life. When it’s not in danger it can relax, reduce the supply of Adrenaline and all those effects are reversed.
Now, for a moment, imagine that your brain was trained to always signal a high-alert stressed state. Worry or pressure from work keeps signalling the pituitary to signal the adrenal gland to produce more and more adrenaline. Your body is always working harder than normal. Your immune system is always suppressed. You begin to suffer from stress related infections and conditions.
This is the kind of mechanism which we mean when we talk of neurosomatic interactions. The placebo effect isn’t well understood, but it surely works by convincing the brain to modulate the supply of hormones and other signals to the rest of the body. Cursing someone with voodoo similarly works by convincing the brain to change the flow of hormones through the Endocrine System. If you worry yourself to death, this is the mechanics of how you’ll do it.
Next week we’ll talk about ways to use this effect to encourage your immune system. Then we’ll ponder on ways to signal others to do the same, as an alternative healer may do to heal their patients. Finally we’ll present a guided lucid dream designed to encourage you to learn to regulate your endocrine system, to use symbolism and ritual direct your body to heal itself.