The Science of Self-Love
An introduction to Psychoneuroimmunology and the hope for more Love as a medicine.
Only recently has western medicine begun to show evidence of what wise humans have intuitively known forever. That death and disease is directly associated with one's emotional well-being. In the past, it was only the monk, the witch doctor or the spiritual guru who could provide these more esoteric answers in the quest for wellness. The link between this ancient wisdom and modern science, however, now has a name. This branch of medicine is known as Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). PNI champions the idea, which is becoming ever-more supported by a growing body of evidence, of wellness through holism. It indicates that nearly every illness- from asthma and arthritis to fibromyalgia and cancer, is influenced by our ongoing states of thinking and feeling (Karren, Smith, Hafen & Gordon, 2014). Thinking happens in the brain, and feelings take place in the body, when they are in alignment with each other via proper communication through the secretion of proteins such as neuropeptides, and hormones such as endorphins, they create a state of being (Karen et al.), (Dispenza & Amen, 2015).
While thoughts and feelings account for the mind-body state of being, still yet to be discussed are the two other components of PNI, the endocrine system, and the immune system. These systems communicate in the same thinking and feeling loop by supplying hormones, cytokines, and natural B and T-cells to keep consistency in the flow of information. Altogether, this flow of information makes up one's emotional well-being. PNI, then is a study of the way in which emotions serve to elevate or diminish one's immune response (Karren et al.).
Research in the field of PNI has indicated certain personality types and their susceptibility to specific diseases. These personality types tend toward a specific explanatory style as their lens to view life through. The emotions of anger and apprehension are associated with heart disease. Passivity and shame are often associated with cancer, and a complete lack in the ability to properly express one’s emotional state may be linked to rheumatoid arthritis (Karren et al.). But just as there are negative emotional constructs which feed a disease-prone personality, there are also emotions that impact the immune system very positively. This is the foundation of Martin Seligman's work and the reason for his creation of Positive Psychology. A branch of psychology which focuses on what enables happiness, hope, autonomy and optimism to achieve total wellness (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014).
In a meta-analysis reviewing the effectivity of positive-psychology interventions on depressed individuals, it was shown that positive psychology significantly increased the well-being of 4,266 participants suffering from depression, while simultaneously decreasing depressive symptoms (Sin, & Lyubomirsky, 2009). These results are further validated in a study of 300 individuals who had been previously defined as either optimist or pessimist. It was seen that the presence of disease fighting cells in the blood stream were much more prevalent in optimists, indicating a significantly healthier immune system (Ranard, 1989).
If the influx of new evidence supporting PNI is telling us anything, I believe it is this: well-being is a state of mind. For years, many of my colleagues and I have been saying it, and now science is proving it- “Body follows mind.” So, then, as a call to wellness professionals everywhere: let’s nurture a branch of medicine which crafts the pathways to higher vibrating frequencies of hope, joy, and love so we will come to know a healthy emotional well-being. This healthy well-being way is built on mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga. It is built on positive emotions and counting your blessings. And, as stated in my personal life mission, it is built on a “medicine of self-love.” There are so many rivers, which are uniquely appealing to the soul who chooses to travel them; the pathway of self-love that works for one person, may not be the optimal choice for another. But fortunately, they all lead to the same great sea. Self-love is a choice, commitment to love is the journey, and calling “home” to a body that loves you back is the destination. In the words of one of my best friends and founder of Blissology Yoga School, Eoin Finn, “love is the ultimate renewable resource” (Grant & Finn, 2014); it’s about time our medical system tapped into its’ infinitely abundant and equally effective healing power.
Karren, K. J., Smith, N. L., Hafen, B. Q., & Gordon, K. J. (2014). Mind/body health: The effect of attitudes, emotions and relationships. Boston: Pearson.
Dispenza, J., & Amen, D. G. (2015). Breaking the habit of being yourself: How to lose your mind and create a new one. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer Netherlands.
Sin, N. L., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2009). Enhancing well‐being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: A practice‐friendly meta‐analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 65(5), 467-487.
Ranard, Ann (1989). Health: The World Through Rose-Colored Glasses, 59
Grant, K. & Finn, E . (2014). Eoin Finn on What Yoga Teachers Really Have to Master. Retrieved from https://theyogalunchbox.co.nz/eoin-finn-on-what-yoga-teachers-really-have-to-master/