As I stood in my kitchen impatiently staring at the coffee maker to heat up, waiting for my morning fix, I decided to try and catch the latest in sports news. I was particularly interested in an update from Yankee spring training camp (yes, it’s that time of the year again). I hoped I’d get lucky and catch WFAN’s 20/20 sports update. To my disappointment I had missed the update but I did catch Boomer & Gio, WFAN’s morning show duo, discussing the latest in injuries out of Yankee camp. Half awake, I listened as show host Greg Giannotti debated with callers where the Giancarlo Stanton trade ranked on the long list of bad Yankee contracts over the years. Making $25 million per year, one of the highest paid athletes in the history of professional sports, there’s no doubt that his time with the Yankees has been a bit underwhelming. Having missed all but 59 games last season and starting spring training injured again… yankee fan’s have a right to be aggravated.
As I stood listening, now pouring the cream into my much needed coffee and wondering how long it might be before we see him back out on the field playing again, I was struck by an unusual question from one of the station’s caller. An inference really, almost never heard on WFAN. He speculated that maybe the injuries to Giancarlo could have something to do with his mental state. As the CEO & founder of a mental health company based on how the mind and body work together, this immediately got my attention. In my pre-coffee haze I first found myself thinking like the rest of us might. Could his injuries have something to do with his mental state? Luckily, as soon as the thought came I realized the ridiculousness of my question and quickly came to my senses. In predictable fashion, of course, show host, affectionally referred to as Gio, immediately dismissed the assertion saying, “no way”.
That’s when it really hit me just how screwed up our healthcare system is! How can it be possible that even the New York Yankees, an organization estimated to be worth $4.6 billion, the winningest franchise in the history of professional sports with a payroll nearing $250 million, is unaware of the relationship between the mind and the body? Could the trainers, the medical staff, those who have made it their life’s work to help athletes overcome injuries, really not know that the mind affects the body? As I stood there with my coffee in hand, a wave of defeat came over me.
I thought, my God we have our work cut out for us! Sometimes it hits me harder than others. At times it all just feels so overwhelming. Too huge to bear.
The more I thought about it, the more upset I became. Is it not so painfully obvious? Is it not in our face in every moment of everyday? Have we all just been so effectively mislead for so many generations that we are blind to what’s right in front of our faces?
Most of us don’t ask questions. We don’t want to push the envelope or want to be the one ‘pain in the ass’ who goes up against everyone else. We simply ignore what doesn’t fit with the way we want to believe things are. Who wants to seem like the raving lunatic that runs around shouting, “The earth is round” in a world that believes it’s flat? Especially when it comes to medicine. We are trained to never question the men and woman in the white coats. They must know what they’re doing…right? Make no mistake about it though, the Myth of Separation is just as archaic a belief as the earth is flat.
So what is this myth? The Myth of Separation refers to the very way that we, in our culture, see ourselves as human beings. It’s the reason why Gio was so quick to dismiss the caller’s question about Giancarlo’s injuries, as would most. The Myth of Separation is the false assertion that the mind and body are fundamentally separate, two separate systems that do not directly impact one another.
You really don’t have to look hard to see for yourself the ridiculousness of this claim. We all accept, with no hesitation, that the brain is the governor of the body. No one disputes that the brain controls all of our automatic functioning. Breathing, heart rate, circulation, cellular activity, sensory activation, memory, movement, etc., all controlled by the body’s command center. To suggest otherwise would be to argue that the body can exist without the brain. An assertion that taken to its end leads you to conclude that any day now zombies will rise from the dead. We all know that if we tell ourselves to move a toe, or think I want to get up and go for a walk, our bodies simply move us in that direction. We also know, from our experiences, that thoughts cause certain intense reactions in the body by way of strong emotion. Think of a time when you can recall being really angry. Your muscles tense, your teeth clench, jaw tightens and you begin to feel that intense heat rise from within. Think of the feeling of being afraid. For whatever reason, you think maybe I’m in danger? You begin to sweat, your palms get clammy, your heart races, beating out of your chest. Those who have panic attacks know all too well the power thoughts can have on the body. Panic attacks can convince people they are having a heart attack!
We tend to think of these types of situations however, as one-offs. The byproduct of a bad day or difficult situation. The truth is though, there is no separation! Every thought affects every aspect of our body’s all the time. In the exact same way that drugs of abuse change neurochemistry or cough medicine makes you loopy, your thoughts are impacting your system all the time. Every thought is a change in your neurochemistry. Any change in neurochemistry also then effects all the other biological systems. Think of how taking a pill, a drink, or smoking a cigarette impacts you. They cause changes to the mind and body, some intentional, some unintentional (by way of what we call ‘side effects’). Thoughts, in fact, act much like a drug! You can think yourself into a positive flooding of feel good neurotransmitters or think yourself into a hole, flooding the system with neurotransmitters that cause sadness, exhaustion, and anger. The body, in turn, reacts accordingly.
Science, too, has acknowledged for years that the mind directly affects the body. No one disputes the validity of the “placebo effect”. A well established scientific phenomenon in which one’s belief in the benefits of taking medication causes the same effect as actually taking the medication. This, in fact, is such a well established fact that it’s written into the FDA’s rules for bringing a new pharmaceutical drug to market.
Sadly, the farthest our culture has come in acknowledging the mind and body relationship is to accept that the body is impacted by stress. This, an oversimplified way to refer to the strain that fear based thinking and excessive worrying put on the body. What most don’t know, however, is that the average person spends 70 percent of their time living in a biological state of distress. The problem, then, is in order to heal the body we must be in the state of relaxation that activates the parasympathetic nervous system. All healing happens in rest! This is why the standard script for any ailment prescribed by doctors around the world is to “rest”!
Here’s the truth of the matter. Your thoughts are always, in each and every moment, impacting the body’s inner chemistry – with no exception! That said, it’s impossible to argue that one’s mental state is not a factor in anything that they might be experiencing biologically.
This idea of the mind and body split has been so woven into the fabric of our world that from medical professionals, to athletes, to fitness gurus and psychologists, to WFAN shows hosts, listeners, and callers, it’s a struggle for us to grasp. If, however, you stop to think about this relationship for any length of time, it’s easy to see how ludicrous the assertion of separation really is. Why, then, you ask, when a caller to one of the biggest sports radio stations in the world calls to suggest maybe a player’s mental state has something to do with his injuries, would we be so quick to dismiss it?
In order to find the answers we have to go back a very long way. The truth is this idea, the Myth of Separation, stems from a 400 year old, very intentional campaign to separate the boundaries of religion from science. The idea dates back to the 1600s, to the time of the birth of modern human anatomy and medicine. In order for our philosophers, our first scientists, to be able to study the human form, they would have to first convince the church that cutting open dead bodies for the sake of scientific discovery was not in conflict with the beliefs of the church. In order to do so Rene Descartes sold the idea to the church that science would study all things physical. They would study the body, the material…matter. Religion, on the other hand, would remain the source for all things invisible, related to the mind, the non-physical, i.e. “the soul”. And so began this Myth. As a result, a bias throughout the history of medicine, all the way up until today, has remained. A bias so strong that the mere mention of the mind amongst medical school colleagues would have you laughed out of the room well into the 1900s. Medicine would thereby just ignore the role of the mind and its direct impact on the physical form.
The field of psychology, too, was also intentionally built on this myth. In fact, Sigmund Freud himself, the godfather of the field, intentionally used the languages of literature and anthropology to create his new discipline. Ensuring that students of psychological theory would never think of it in traditional scientific terms.
What we are left with is a systemic ignorance. The inability to see how our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions are directly impacting our body. A mishap that ties the hands of helping professionals in medicine and psychology. One that limits the extent to which we can help people heal.
And to answer the callers question more accurately, “YES!! The mental state of an athlete 100 percent – always – has a hand in she/he being injured, as well as the time it takes to heal” The tragedy is, if only the team would acknowledge the extent to which this was true, Giancarlo, and the rest of our wounded Yankees, would likely be back on the field much faster!
About the Author
Samantha Benigno is the CEO of MYND MVMT, a program that offers an alternative approach to mental health & addiction treatment. MYND MVMT uses an integrated, health & wellness model where mindfulness, nutrition, fitness, and long term goal attainment are built into the rehabilitation process. Mind Mvmt specializes in the treatment & recovery of depression, anxiety, substance use & abuse, behavioral addictions, and working with those who struggle to feel fulfilled in their lives. Samantha is a career mental health professional, educator, and consultant.