Updated: Feb 2
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘Energy flows where attention goes’. But this is not just some feel good New-Age Affirmation. Through advanced imaging techniques, neuroscience shows that this is precisely what is going on between the ‘mind’ and the body all the time. Our thoughts really do produce our reality- to what extent depends on you.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows a brilliant and colorful display of this concept. Researchers noted that when professional dancers sit still and just watch other dancers in action, their brains are activated in the same areas that control motor output to the muscles to execute these same exact movements. And yes, research has shown that this can actually strengthen and refine the neural connections that are responsible for both remembering and gracefully performing these same moves later on.
It seems the brain is ‘practicing’ the dance steps without moving a muscle. But this isn’t exactly the case either. To actually refine muscle performance and the sense of proprioception (where one is in space) the pathways to and from the muscles and joint capsules must be activated in some way during this mental practice.
The brain sends very mild electrical signals down the spinal cord to whichever areas are required to make these ‘mental’ notes and corrections. The physical body is actually being moved, just at a level that is too small to be perceived by the human eye. Studies show that the same thing happens when we practice a skill in our heads or just imagine a certain experience taking place.
Imagination can be conscious or subconscious and what we perceive to be reality and how we might react physically to a situation, can sometimes all happen in a fraction of a second.
The mid's nature is to wander and explore and imagine, and often its musings aren't even rational. This is particularly the case with the emotion of fear. Human brains are highly evolved, of course- we have the capacity to assess a situation and come to a rational decision about how we will respond to something. But fear perception comes largely from an ancient and highly reactive part of the brain that makes up the root part of the psyche- sometimes called the 'reptilian brain'. This area of the brain picks up on cues from our environment that may indicate harm is coming to us or to others in close proximity- like loud noises, the smell of fire, etc., and activates our sympathetic nervous system so we are physically able to escape danger.
Interestingly, the same physical reactions are occurring on a very small level, when we intuit danger directly from other human beings. A slight change in vocal tones or even body position can indicate distrust or deception, while greater amount of white area showing in the eyes warns our brain of mania or fear. These cues are extremely subtle- we do not consciously realize we are picking them up from others- and yet our bodies respond by releasing stress hormones, increasing heart rate, pumping extra blood to the larger muscles groups and away from the brain, putting digestive processes on hold, and on and on. Some of these physiological adaptations take quite some time to revert back to a normal resting state. And research shows that it is this kind of chronic low-level stress response that can cause a plethora of health issues (Read Robert Sapolsky’s ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’ for a simple and entertaining explanation of this).
Is subliminal perception our 'sixth sense' or our 'gut feelings'? Some of these triggers are so commonplace, depending on our living and working circumstances, that we may not have any idea we are even being affected until the body or mind experiences disease.
For example, our neck is one of our most vital body areas- its exposure could mean life or death in some circumstances. Although this is probably not the case on your daily commute through crowds of people and onto the train, your subliminal perception may be picking up on something you’re not specifically paying attention to, and your shoulders may be lifted up to protect your neck and head. This is a very typical fear response that results in a lot of shoulder tightness and pain. The next time you’re walking around the city, tell your shoulders to relax, and watch them drop an inch down from your ears. This reaction is an effect of the brain/mind imagining and pre-determining an outcome for us.
If your imagination changes the physical body- for better or for worse — why aren’t we doing it more consciously, everyday, in every spare moment we have?
Why aren’t we imagining our muscles limber and strong, our immune system unbeatable, our minds quick and sharp?
Imagine yourself falling asleep extremely quickly.
Imagine yourself speaking a new language with ease.
Imagine yourself sliding down into a full split in yoga with no pain or resistance.
Imagine yourself reacting to difficult people and situations more calmly.
Imagine your own aura growing more and more radiant.
Imagine your body digesting your food more efficiently and receiving greater amounts of healing nutrients from it.
What can you use your imagination to improve in your own life?