Do Emotions Affect the Body?

Do Emotions Affect the Body?

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Do Emotions Affect the Body?

Doctors have been telling us for decades that stress causes disease. But despite my relatively stress-free life, for the past few years, I’ve suffered from irritable bowel syndrome.

I honestly don’t know how long I’ve had this problem, but it became bad enough to notice after we came back from our South America trip in the Fall of 2011. Once I discovered that having diarrhea 3 times per week wasn’t normal, I went to doctors who ran numerous tests, but found nothing wrong with me. They prescribed some different types of anti-parasite medication just in case, which didn’t help. In the end, with no recognizable physical abnormalities, I was diagnosed with this syndrome, a common “mindbody disorder” where the brain and gut struggle to communicate properly for an unknown reason.

While this syndrome wasn’t debilitating, it was inconvenient and sometimes painful, and I wanted to understand the cause. Some sufferers have found relief through a diet change, so I tracked everything I ate for two years. Over time, I could find no correlation with what I was eating and the problems I was having. Usually, spicy and greasy food caused symptoms, but not always. And other times, even a healthy salad would cause me pain. I tried different food combinations, added more protein and soluble fibers, drank more milk. Later, I went vegetarian and removed all dairy and wheat from my diet. Nothing helped permanently.

I also tried a self-hypnosis course specifically for healing IBS. This did reduce my symptoms to about once every week or two, but it didn’t heal it completely. Clearly, there were psychological factors at play. I wondered what effect my emotions could be having on my IBS, but with a fairly stress-free life, I couldn’t think of any negative emotions that would be affecting it. Turns out I had a lot to discover.

Becoming Present

“He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.” — Samuel Johnson

Last November, a friend told me about a book called The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno, M.D., and how he’s used it to heal his carpal tunnel, and others have used it for migraines, back pain, and much more. The premise is that many muscular-skeletal issues are caused by repressed emotions, which remain trapped in the body and surface as physical symptoms or disorders. Because the cause of these issues is emotional instead of physical, many of these problems can be treated successfully without medication, physical therapy, or surgery, which are often costly and can have poor side effects. I was somewhat skeptical, but interested to hear how that might work.

After reading the book, I was convinced that emotions do have an effect on the body, but was still unsure to what degree, or how to effectively “release” those emotions to heal myself. My IBS also persisted. But the book gave me enough motivation to start tracking my emotional state, especially how I felt around the time I experienced IBS symptoms, and I did start to notice some correlation. I also started becoming more aware of how I was feeling and what I might be suppressing.

However, the biggest changes began when I discovered the book The Presence Process by Michael Brown, which has guided me to successfully integrate many charged emotions from my past that I had suppressed, while also getting me in the habit of 30 minutes of daily meditation. As I go throughout my day and am triggered by various events, I continue to discover more emotions to integrate, and find myself more present in the moment to deal with them appropriately. I’m still only on week 7 of the 10 week course, but so far it has proved life changing.

This process has also been helped along, I’m sure, by participating in several breathing workshopsqigong practice, and the study of my dreams which I’ve been recording nightly for the past several years in an attempt to understand the subconscious mind. I’ve been interested in these topics since long before I was diagnosed with IBS, and I may discuss them more in future posts.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had many strong emotional experiences in the past few weeks, most of them resulting in a new sense of ease, lightness, and clarity. I have many stories to tell about the different emotions that have been released, or integrated, and the different ways this has occurred for me. For now, I will just share one of these experiences below.

Accepting Myself

Mid-December, I got invited to do an interview with Dean Dwyer for his Lifestyle Hacking Show. At the time, I felt like I just wanted to focus on figuring myself out, and didn’t want the distraction of an interview. It wouldn’t necessarily help my business. I didn’t need any more popularity. It might bring me consulting clients, but I wasn’t excited about consulting anyway. If I did the interview, it would only be to boost my ego, and I didn’t see the value in that. I also wasn’t confident that I had much of value to say, as I’m realizing how little I know both about business and life. So I told him no, but that he could contact me again in a few weeks to see where I’m at.

Mid-January, after a month of practice with the Presence Process, I was contacted by Tim Ferriss’ assistant asking if he can republish my blog post on How I Spend My Time Now as a guest post on his 4-hour Workweek blog. I hesitated. I let the email sit in my inbox for three days as I pondered the implications and delved into the recesses of my soul to understand why I was hesitating and what I wanted. I got lost in thoughts about how the post is over two years old and I spend my time differently now, so it wouldn’t really be authentic. And last time he wrote about my business, my inbox got flooded with emails from people asking how I did it. I didn’t want more popularity, more emails to answer, or to be held up as someone who has “made it” or as an example to follow. In the past I did, sure. My Mormon upbringing taught me that I know what’s right and how to live, and it was my job to let the rest of the world know. I’m still shedding that attitude, but more than ever I feel content to let people live their own lives because I don’t know what is best for them. I was also aware that some people feel resentful when they hear I only work 5 hours per week or employ a personal chef, and I didn’t want more of that resentment directed toward me. I was afraid of becoming famous, because of what people might say or do to take away my peace.

And the next day, I was contacted by Dean again about the interview, but with a twist. He let me know that he was more interested in hearing about my inner journey than my business success. And I was certainly more interested in talking about that. Still, as I paid attention to how I felt about these requests, I felt afraid.

But rather than resisting the fear, avoiding it, or stuffing it down, I allowed myself to feel it fully, even embrace it. And slowly, I began to see it for what it was — just an emotion, amplified by the mental stories I was telling myself about some fictional future. Through meditation, writing, and talking with Jen, I discovered that what I was most afraid of was people judging me. I was afraid of stumbling over my words, saying something I’d regret, and others thinking poorly of me. I also became aware of the judgments I was directing toward myself, and my own feelings of inadequacy. I felt like I needed to put on a “show” to impress people, to “help” them, or to hide my faults, when really, I just needed to accept myself for who I was, and be myself completely, without worrying how others would respond. And this interview and guest post would be a chance for me to practice. I could be myself more fully, see myself more clearly, and grow even more. Maybe I would embarrass myself. Maybe people wouldn’t like me. Maybe I wouldn’t have anything useful to say. But it would all be okay, and I can learn from whatever happens. I just needed to let go and be myself. I cried and felt relieved.

The next day, I wrote both Dean and Tim back saying I’d go ahead with the interview and guest post. Doing so brought me a wonderful feeling of lightness and aliveness, as if I’d been trying to push a beach ball underwater for years, and finally let it go. Also, while writing Tim back, it began to rain. I paused to step outside and enjoy the downpour and thunder and to feel the cool breeze on my skin. After a few deep breaths, I had an urge to go stand naked in the rain and be drenched by it. So, throwing all self-consciousness aside, I did it! And it felt amazing! I not only stood. I danced and laughed and smiled! :) And I felt deep in my heart that it’s okay to be me! And I love myself!

The Dream

A few days later, after another powerful release, I had a dream rich with personal symbolism that confirmed to me I’m on the right path.

A family took an international trip together and had crazy fun. They told their friends they’d do all sorts of things their friends didn’t believe they’d do, but they did. There was a scene when they were trying on beautiful dresses and traditional clothes of the Tsang Dao region. The dresses were gorgeous! Long and flowing. One of the taller guys even wanted to try it on for fun and he looked good from the back. :) The traditional dresses took a long time to put on but looked beautiful too in a different way.

After the trip, this family came back to a chapel full of their family and friends. (It’s like they arrived just in time and it had been on the spur of the moment — they were just going with the flow.) They brought shopping carts full of stuff. Their clothes were wild, with very bright colors. Two had gotten married while traveling and they chose something really eccentric for wedding clothes. Colorful and unique and tight, with flowing streamers. They walked to the front of the chapel completely confident and at ease. On the way to the front, some old guy in the congregation almost teasingly poured a little water on their young boy’s head (maybe 8 years old) as he walked, but the boy didn’t seem to notice at all. At the front, the family was completely cool and happy and the boy’s smile was so big and genuine.

Someone wasn’t sure what to do next and then we remembered “Moon River” so I sang it (it was as if I was with or a part of this family now). I thought about singing my own version some day and changing the words. I do like “…off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see.” I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy through most of the song.

Then the scene changed and I was watching hip hop dances by Johnny Dep and his team who are supposed to be the best in the world. Some beautiful girls were dancing too. It was enjoyable to watch. Others were watching with me but then it was just me. Aysia was being held by one the girls. They were all doing a great job. The music might have still been Moon River but hip hopped up.

In this dream, the family (representing me) is completely comfortable being themselves and following their hearts, even when they come back into the world surrounded by those who would normally judge them (represented by the chapel). Their clothes represent their individuality and the way they present themselves to the world. The water poured on the 8-year-old boy’s head could represent a baptism, or rebirth, and also shows that he (possibly my child self) is unfazed by teasing and judgment, and is happy to the core, just as he is. The dream could indicate that I have released judgment of myself, am living fully and abundantly, and am comfortable sharing my insights and and joys. How others respond is irrelevant. I’m just being me. Moon River becomes an anthem for the celebration of being alive and being myself.

The Results

So, have these experiences (along with many others just as powerful that I haven’t written about) affected my IBS? From what I can tell, YES! I want to give it more time and practice to be sure, but I haven’t had any issues with it for almost a month now. I’ve also been using natural elimination postures which may be helping. Regardless of the physical benefits, I’ve experienced powerful emotional, even “spiritual” change in many areas of my life, that surely something good is happening, and I’m going to continue the process.

I’m feel like I’m on a journey exploring new frontiers, and making exciting discoveries within myself and the world around me. I make mistakes along the way. But I put myself out there, try new things, see what sticks, pick up the pieces, and try again. Yes, sometimes it’s painful and humiliating. But it’s also immensely rewarding. And I’m in love with life! The joy is in the journey.

“Not all who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkein

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About the Author

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, traveler, homeschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in every moment.

Comments (18):

  1. Could there possibly be a more dedicated and determined person living on this planet than you are when it comes to getting yourself from point A to point B? I think not. You are amazing, and so organized and thoughtful about your journey, going into amazing detail and connecting all your dots so well. It is fun to see you go through all these processes, discoveries, and changes. Life certainly is never boring with you around, that’s for sure. :)

    • There absolutely could not, Jen. Dedicated and determined describe Brandon perfectly. And so wonderful he’s willing to share these discoveries with us as he makes them.

  2. sounds like you were letting yourself become a victim of your own ‘success’ story!
    balance balance balance.
    resentment that others feel indeed has absolutely nothing to do with you or your life or (chosen) lifestyle. in fact, it would be selfish to think so!
    it’s interesting that ‘letting go’ is truly the most difficult task that humans face.
    the sad fact is that in our so-called ‘modern’ times & ‘civilized’ socieities, millions die never having known what it’s like to stand naked in the rain, let alone dance & sing.
    so, welcome to the club, brandon!
    let me know if you wanna come back over this spring or summer & try naked gardening in the rain, eh.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your honest reflections…

    Your story reminds me of Joe Dispenza’s work, Breaking the habit of being Yourself. Good stuff.

    Enjoy the dance!

    Sophie

  4. Yes, squatting on the toilet is the key! But I would also recommend a 3-day fast on just water. A book by Upton Sinclair called The Fasting Cure gives many useful tips on fasting and lots of evidence of its power to cure. You can read it for free at http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0201hyglibcat/020106/02010600frame.html

    One more thing. I searched your site for references to “Earthing” and nothing came up. It’s vital for mental and physical health. The same site where you learned about squatting has a DIY earthing device that’s easy to build. Here’s the link: http://naturesplatform.com/earthing.html

    Good luck!

  5. I also found JONATHAN ISBIT site and it has helped me. It’s amazing how technology has robbed so much from us. Why is it that we embrace every knew idea so quickly instead of brainstorming some of the possible end results?? Anyway, I am glad you are feeling better. :)

  6. Thank you for sharing Brandon!

    You are a inspiring a lot of people with this and your commitment to look deaper inside yourself is beautiful! As you told me yesterday at the workshop, it was spot on for me to! I hope I get the chance to met you again soon in Ubud!

    Fredrik “the breath of fresh air that reawakens you to your true essence of peace, love and self acceptence” ;)

  7. Well this Dean Dwyer guy sounds pretty darn amazing ha ha! Actually Brandon you possess a gift that few have. The willingness to be transparent on your journey. That might be your greatest contribution you offer to those who follow you. Can’t wait to dig into your story and your journey.

  8. Hello Brandon:

    I follow Tim Ferris’ blog and read your guest post and your essay on your parting ways with your church. I enjoy your writing and will be following your blog. You strike me as someone who is incredibly comfortable in your own skin and views the truth as a welcomed companion on your journey through life, not an inconvenience or worse.

    Although I am wonderfully content being in suburbia (notwithstanding the (ahem) current weather) I think it is great you and your family chose to follow your passion. One of the reasons I like Tim’s book on the 4-Hour Work Week is that he says up front that “you don’t have to want to travel the world,” or words to that effect. I think the reason Tim profiled you is that you are living the life you want, on your terms and seem to be quite happy about it. Well done.

    I will look forward to your future writings and following your adventures around the globe.

    Best rgs,
    Jeno

  9. I think it’s great that you are super aware, and utilizing that awareness, and self reflection to improve your health. In my experience that is the most important part of healing and maintaining wellness. I would like to mention that there are some excellent strategies for dealing with the physical side of things too, and healing from all directions is advantageous for all of us. With all of the travel, new foods, new water, new germs etc….it’s not unheard of to experience IBS in these situations. Some people are more prone to the issues, than others. I find that a routine/diet to heal the digestive system is a great way to work on the body, while you deal with your stress. Once the inflammation has set into the gut, it must be dealt with. I suggest looking into an Ayurvedic diet to repair your intestinal problems. Utilizing Ghee and turmeric daily, for instance will decrease inflammation. Maybe you could add the study of Ayruveda to your book list! Just a thought….

  10. “Two and half years ago my husband and I embarked on a radical journey to eliminate all grain, sugar and processed foods from our diet to further heal my husband’s Crohn’s disease” Brandon, have a look at this site – it impressed me. http://www.roostblog.com
    Victor Lamont in Chiangmai.
    “Let me know if you come again…..”

  11. Brandon – the synchronicity of this post is incredible. For years, I’ve known of inner child issues but unable to find the right source for help that resonated with me and reconnect. There was much frustration while still experiencing same triggers. I guess I wasn’t ready.

    Recently, signposts have presented themselves the first being a movie and book called “The Shift – Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, along with this have been numerous YouTube videos on Facebook on spiritual awakening to now with your article and references to Michael Brown and Dr. Sarno’s books.

    I have explored this for many years reading many books, attending workshops, Reiki, acupuncturists, past life regression and guided meditations — even participating in the Eckhart Tolle’s worldwide Web interview series by Oprah Winfrey on his book “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” in 2008.

    I learned alot over the years so it was all perfect but I felt the work I did lacked something and couldn’t quite project what I felt in my heart. Something was missing and it kept coming back to inner child healing.

    I’m looking forward to reading these books — I feel it will somehow complete a lot of the puzzle. Thank you for sharing from the heart. I can fully understand your hesitation with the interview and guest post. I’ve had reservations more recently in really jumping in and moving forward and now feel I’ve been shown a real, true path.

  12. Brandon, thank you a lot that you agreed to be a guest poster on the Tim Ferriss’s blog! Otherwise I would have missed your blog – and never find the inspiring story of your family – and the possible reason for my bellyache.
    Thank you very much for sharing your feelings and insights! I wish you and your family long, happy and healthy life!

  13. Very good information, I believe emotions have a huge impact on the body. Your body reacts to daily life and emotions. Ask a masseur, people carry their emotions literally on their sleeve!

  14. I had problems with IBS for years even though I have always eaten what was considered a healthy diet. I run on the anxious side as well, that’s still true but changing my diet last year eliminated the IBS completely. I believe that it is a nutrition thing more than any other factor. I also leaned out significantly and put on more muscle than I have ever had before. I have been very pleased after many years of problems, I am 58, that particular problem is gone and I feel rejuvenated by about 20 years.

    I switched to a paleo diet as laid out in marksdailyapple.com. The major difference is I eat almost zero wheat, rice, corn or white potatoes now. I eat a lot more bacon, eggs, cheese, meats and fresh vegetables, no processed foods whatsoever other than salad dressings, sauces etc. Eat little sugar, moderate sugary fruit consumption and drink no sugars especially no corn syrup. I eat a lot more volume wise than before but almost all protein and healthy fats, very little carbohydrate.

    Good luck, I love your story and initiative, I have always been unconventional compared to most but I have much to learn from you, and I am. It takes real courage to lead a family down such an unconventional path. Your kids are so incredibly lucky to be brought up in such a rich, fearless, free life, bravo!

  15. Dear Brandon

    Based on this blog-post that you wrote, I read The Mind-body Prescription by Dr Sarno and found immense value in it

    The main message of the book that I got was that certain chronic pain in the body such headaches, back pain etc are caused by the brain

    Why?

    To distract you.

    Why?

    The brain creates such pain in the body anytime it feels unconscious emotions are going to come to the surface. And to the brain, this is very scary. The brain is afraid of uncertainty.

    If you think about it, all fears are basically a fear of uncertainty.

    Anyways, our chronic physical pain will continue until we address our repressed emotions

    Thanks to your recommendation, I have begun to read The Presence Process, and I am looking forward to integrate my charged emotions that I have been suppressing.

    I wanted to know if you could possibly write an update on your experience since finishing The Presence Process

    I would love to know what things have changed in your inner self

    Peace

    Kayvee

    • Hi Kayvee, thanks for the great summary of the book, and I’m glad you’ve found the ideas helpful. The Presence Process was life changing for me, and I still feel like I’m experiencing major changes and realizations. I have thought many times about writing about what’s been happening for me, but it’s hard to know how to put it all into words, and some things are quite personal. Thanks for the encouragement, though. I hope to be ready to write more about it soon.

  16. Thanks for the reply Brandon

    All the best to you =)

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