A reader requested a blog post on the topic of how the mind and the body interconnect. I went further with the concept of Mind-Body popular in health, fitness, and wellness. It's not quite as neat and tidy as I would like since there is so much to consider on this subject. I hope it helps answer some questions some of you have expressed.
I don't know how many times I've been offered a "cure" for all sorts of issues. People have invited me to take up meditation, yoga, and Tai Ch'i to relieve stress while achieving mental clarity for fibro fog. Just about every street corner has natural health stores, energy channeling, chiropractic offices, massage therapy, among scads of other groups claiming natural health and wellness. I also receive questions about practices like Reiki massage, reflexology, etc. What is the mind-body connection? How does this affect us as Christians? How can we sort out the valuable nuggets from the rubbish? These are issues Christians often face and are ill-prepared to navigate.
How does the brain work?
Let's begin with some basics about the brain. Our brain is an electro-chemical "computer". Neuro-chemicals are sent across the areas of the brain necessary for assigned functions. Those transmitters "fire" messages through our central nervous system to specific areas of the body. Those regions of the body provide feedback to our brains for a response. For example, if we touch something hot, the nerves send a signal to the brain which responds with a pull away and an Ouch! response. If we think about something pleasant, it causes us to smile. Part of our brain operates life functions that are automatic, while the rest is used for conscious and subconscious work. This neurological message system operates swiftly, effectively doing its work.
Our bodies respond to the messages they receive from the brain. Our willful actions can do something as simple as raise an eyebrow or as complex as working out difficult problems to formulate valuable solutions. We can willfully affect our heart rates and breathing patterns. We are able to focus on something in order to mentally distract ourselves from painful processes such as Lamaze for childbirth. This is where the mind-body connection becomes valuable. For example, martial arts students can so focus their minds on their spatial relationship with their opponents so much they can become unaware of pain or injury. In our Christian martial arts ministry, one of our students was injured but unaware of it until the sparring match finished. We pointed the obvious injury out to him and provided first-aid. In another instance, I had sprained my knee and foot when performing a kata (form) for the first time in tournament. As I did a spinning sidekick, I felt an odd "pop" in my knee, but continued through the form to a flawless finish while not noticing my injury. I even stood at ease while the other competitors performed their katas. It wasn't until the end of the particular event that it became painfully obvious of the damage. I had to have two people help me out of the arena.This kind of focus helps in many areas of life accomplish a lot of tasks that would otherwise be too painful to complete.
When performing a mind-body exercise such as Pilates, the practitioner mentally checks through areas of the body performing the action, while mentally correcting body alignment, breathing, and controlling core muscles. As students progress, they are better able to control even very small supportive muscles taking the exercise to greater strength with correct movement. Respiration is also very well controlled. It is this level of body awareness and control world-class athletes achieve excellent flawless performance.
Another consideration of the mind-body connection has to do with our mental state, or attitudes. If we are pessimistic, negative emotions cause chemical shifts in our bodies, or distress. Stress lies at the root of many physical ailments. We were not designed by God to be on high-alert for extended periods of time. Such affects are headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety (WebMD). How we think affects how we function.When facing the end of our lives,we can willfully give up, leading to death or hang on to delay death. We are told in Philippians 4:4-9 to give everything to the Lord by prayer and supplication ending with "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (verses 8-9)
So, what's the issue?
Here is where it becomes misguided. Earlier I shared the incident about spraining my knee and foot. As my husband and a student supported me on each side to hobble out of the arena, a woman also dressed in a karate gi (uniform), stopped us and offered to" heal" me. She wanted to channel energy from some Universal Source, the Great Tao. This was not God she had referenced. If it had been a Christian offering to lay hands on me and pray for me, it would have been different. How? The source of healing. Here is a statement from a Reiki practitioner:"During a Reiki Session a practitioner places his or her hands on the client with the intention of the Reiki Energy to flow. This Reiki energy, also known as the Universal Life Force Energy, is not the practitioner's energy. It is a divinely guided energy that knows exactly where the blocks are and pushes them out as well as fills up the energy gas tanks wherever you are low in energy...During a session a person may feel heat, tingling or cooling sensations as blocks are removed. Most all clients get to a deep state of peace and relaxation during a session" There is also a claim that Reiki is not tied to any religion. "Reiki Philosophy is based on the body's ability to heal itself naturally once energy blocks are removed. Reiki is not tied to any religion or a particular spiritual belief system and can never cause harm." That statement is not true.
So, what's going on? In Taoism, it is the thought that the Ultimate Reality is a universal energy-Tao- and this energy can be tapped into to bring balance of energies in one's body for healing.This is the foundation of the Yin Yang, Prahyama, centering, and so on. They believe this energy is where we go when we die, supposedly being absorbed into it. Is this energy something we can and should tap into? Is this Ultimate Reality God or an energy God created?
Some practitioners believe they are unblocking channels of energy in one's body for healing. This is still as suspect as reflexology, believing there are areas on the feet corresponding to areas of the body. If they massage certain points, supposedly it brings healing and health to that part of the body. It would be one thing to remove constrictions on blood vessels and nerves or aid lymphatic drainage, but energy manipulation is quite another. Even these are questionable as to whether these are valid practices for consideration.
Another misguided thought regards breathing. We all need to breathe. Some of us could benefit from breathing better. However, we cannot breathe out our spirits and breathe in the spirit of God. This came across my path on Facebook. Yoga practitioners utilize Prahyama breathing. Their goal is to, again, tap into positive universal energy to balance energy within one's self. Some misguided Christians tried to transliterate that practice as giving up selfishness and allowing God more control in our lives. First God created all things. He breathed into man the breath of life. Man was made in God's image, a spiritual being. The breath of life animated Adam-- soul. Adam's spirit was created when God created him period (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7, 21-22) . We give our spirits up at death (Genesis 3:19,Hebrews 9:27). We receive the Holy Spirit the moment of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13). We cannot breathe Him, a part of the Trinity, into our bodies. Our spirits either live on in eternity because we accepted Christ as Savior and our names are written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:11-15). Otherwise, our spirits are thrown into the Lake of Fire, the second death at judgement. Breathing can be exercised by filling our lunges fully and exhaling fully, hence mentally breathing using our diaphragm. Nothing spiritual, everything physical and mental (body and soul).
What's the big deal? Tapping into a universal life force is said by alternative health practitioners the capability to heal one's self or to balance energies for well-being and to reach enlightenment (Nirvana). They view a person as only mind, body and spirit. According to Pastor Lehman Strauss and Watchman Nee, this is not true. We are body, soul, and spirit. The body is what can see, smell, taste, touch, hear. The soul is where our reasoning capability, willful choices, subconscious, and imagination reside, what gives us life- that which animates us (picture from Faith and Health Institute). We tend to think of it as the mental/emotional aspect of a person, although it includes autonomic life function.Then there is the spirit, our God-consciousness,the part of us which seeks God, finds purpose and meaning to life, that which lives on in eternity or dies in the Lake of Fire. New Age Spirituality does not separate the two- soul and spirit. They only think of spirit, but from a different perspective. There is no God, salvation, judgement, eternal life, nor condemnation. They believe we are all gods. To think they mean spirit the same way we do is mistaken. Through mind-body exercise and alternative health practices, we are drawn into an entirely different religious system altogether. I find it disheartening to think they've missed the mark. The belief that we are all gods able to tap into the great Tao, or some Universal Life Force, then be absorbed into it at death leaves a person with no hope. This is where eternal trouble begins.
This point is especially important for us to understand in order for us to make an informed decision about whether we should involve ourselves in balancing energies through Reiki, Yoga, Tai Chi and other Eastern religious practices.Once we know these things, we have the answers we need. We must separate the spirit--mental/psychological/life function aspect--from the soul--that part which communes with God-- in order to separate fact from fiction. Yes, we can better attune our minds to what is happening with our bodies. As far as healing is concerned, we can, indeed, do a lot to avoid, control, and reverse some health conditions. But if there is a problem with our autonomic nervous system, it requires medical intervention. If there are issues with our immune systems, we require medical attention. Energy channeling is not the answer to the problem.
A person with the spiritual gift of healing does nothing on his or her own (Acts 10:38,Matthew 10:1, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11) , but by the power of God is able to call upon our Creator to bring miraculous healing. They do not channel or balance energies in His Name. Why in the world would anyone believe they can manipulate the energy systems of the universe by one's own will? Jesus is God, in the flesh who He walked on this earth. The Apostles were simply God's tools to bring healing to the body and spirit by the will of God, not theirs.Nothing happened apart from the Will and Power of God.
What does God have to say? In regard to God, there is none like Him. He is the Creator of all things, including us. We cannot sit on His throne, but we can petition God for our health. We can utilize His power, but He is the one who wills what type of healing we receive or even if we are healed. We can't truly worship God in a yoga or tai chi class because the focus is on self. These religious practices are meant to tune us into the creation, not the Creator. Any other power than what comes from God comes from the Prince of the Power of the Air-- Satan."At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time." Mark 13:21-23 We are to use wisdom and discernment because not all power comes from God. Satan is a deceiver and to father of lies.
We must be careful what we accept. Satan can only copy what God has already set in order. Just as the magicians in Pharaoh's court could turn their staffs into snakes and back to staffs like Aaron did, there will be people not from God perform "miracles" but their power is not God's. God is far more powerful than the power of Satan, so much that Aaron's staff-turned-snake swallowed up those of the sorcerers:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
In fact, the sorcerers were judged by God through a plague of boils.
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”
So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. Exodus 9:8-11
There are spiritual consequences for practicing witchcraft and divination. When we dabble with Satan's power, we find ourselves in trouble.
What about Christians involved in these practices? There are Christians who practice Reiki. They believe they are using the spiritual gift of healing; however, they don't realize they are NOT calling upon power from the Lord. Some may have the spiritual gift of healing and feel led to use that gift; however, they should not practice healing in a manner not described in the Bible (Spiritual Gift Test). Anything contrary to His Word is not from God. There is no power other than that which God gives us.The spiritual gift of healing is only through those which God has gifted (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). If you read through the Gospels and book of Acts, you will not see healing done in the fashion of Reiki. Note how Jesus heals and teaches the disciples to heal. Watch the Apostles in the book of Acts as they perform healings. Someone with a spiritual gift of healing places a hand on the person, sometimes where the ailment is localized, then prays aloud for God to heal that person in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some illnesses are caused by demonic activity and these can only be healed by driving out the demon(s) (Matthew 17:17-19). The only training one should have in order to use the spiritual gift of healing is from someone already practicing it according to Scripture. Don't be deceived!
Special note: there are churches who believe the spiritual gifts of tongues, healing, miracles, and tongues were only used in the first-century Church to establish the church's authenticity. This an interpretation of Scripture. Such decisions should be made prayerfully and carefully.
"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly."Acts 4:29-31
You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
There are those who perform healing and miracles, but the power is demonic, such as with Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-13, 18-24. When the disciples and the apostles healed people, they called upon the Lord to do the work. They did nothing by their own will or power. Reiki, energy channeling/balancing, and other related acts are not done by the power of God. We can't pull power from the Universe to manipulate anything nor manipulate the energy within someone else's body. Such practices are considered sorcery, magical arts. Here is what God says about this:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.
The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. Deuteronomy 18:9-14
My goal is not to judge or condemn anyone who practices these things. Instead, I am offering how I understand these New Age mind-body practices in light of science and God's Word. There is no scientific support for these claims (National Institute of Health). The Christian Chiropractic Association does not support energy manipulation. A good massage can be valuable for tight muscles to reduce pain. Taking natural remedies proven to be effective may be helpful for ailments, too. However, we must use discernment whether the power is from God or not (1 John 4:1-3). We can do some amazing things when we put our minds to it because our Creator God has made that possible. Anything else, is subject to scrutiny.
If you want to practice Christian wellness, practice the spiritual disciplines and become involved in a healthy Christian church (Hebrews 10:24-25). By doing so, you will grow closer to the Lord. A good read is Peter Fosters' book, Celebration of Discipline, a study guide is also available. Blog posts for these disciplines for spiritual wellness:
Otherwise, treat your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit that it is by eating healthy, exercising, and avoid anything that can cause you to be ill in the first place (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Utilize healthcare practices that have been proven through scientific evaluation.Go to your pastor and elders for prayer, anointing with oil, and laying on of hands for healing (James 5:14-16) with proper care. Treat what God gave you in a manner which honors Him.
Our minds can help our bodies considerably. We could certainly be much more aware of all that we do, but don't forget where the our true power comes from. May God bless you!
Other Bible passages to check regarding spirit, soul: Genesis 1: 26, 2:7; I Corinthians 2:9-11, 14; Romans 1:9,8:16; John 3:6, 4:24; Job 32:8; Numbers 16:22; Hebrews 12:9; 1 Peter 2:11; Luke 1:46-47.
Other passages regarding the subjects contained in this post: Acts 19:19,
Scientific American, "Do People Only Use 10% of Their Brains?" http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/
Mental affects on body
Christian Chiropractic Association
Faith and Health Institute
http://www.internetdiscipleship.com/cdn7/ediscipleship/Display_lesson.asp?D=/courses/C103/&T=2&L=1 (diagram from this source)
Reiki Energy Healing
Reiki for Christians