In my current journey pushing my limits for improving my heath, I've noticed significant changes in my mental state. I'm often euphoric, generally happy, have a much higher tolerance for stressful situations, am sleeping well and am generally extremely energetic. I have moments of strange memories like being reminded of my high school self when waiting for a train in nice weather.
I think a lot of this can be attributed to the vegan diet, regular exercise, a slight calorie deficit and the goal oriented nature of my journey feeding my obsessive nature. Whatever the cause, I am currently in a somewhat altered state of mind.
One of the things that hasn't been "cured" by my current state is some tension in my neck, shoulders, back and lower-back so I've started stretching more. This reminded me that I used to do some yoga. As I investigated possible ways to learn Yoga, I decided that the most straight forward thing I could probably do was to ask my friend and inspiration to me on many things, Dhananjaya "Jay" Dvidedi. Jay is one of the most peaceful, confident and happy people I know and I also knew that he comes from a family of well known Indian priests.
Over dinner he told me that he practiced Kriya Yoga (WP). Kryiya Yoga is a rather secret school of Yoga that has recently been fairly well documented by Ennio Nimis in his book on his web site. Jay recommended that I read Beyond the Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, M.D., an Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. In the book Benson describes the importance of the mind in health.
His previous book, "Relaxation Response" was about the role that meditation can play in relieving backaches, chest pains, headaches, high blood pressure, cholesterol, insomnia and anxiety. He describes a basic breathing-based meditation, similar to most Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other meditation forms that focus on breathing.
In this newer book, he explores the role of belief and faith in increasing the effect of meditation. He recounts a conversation with the Dali Lama (WP) where the Dali Lama tells him that the three important points of Tibetan medicine were 1) the belief/faith of the healer, 2) the belief/faith of the patient and 3) the relationship between the two. This coincides with a lot of my experiences and anecdotal evidence that I have.
As I explored this rather spiritual path that I am about to embark upon, I remembered my mother. My mother, who died in 1995, had cancer for decades and survived several times when doctors had told us she only had months to live. My mother was rather spiritual and I believe a lot of the strength and deep confidence that she held was due to her early interactions with cancer and her ability to "beat cancer". I think that as her confidence grew, her spiritual energy grew and towards the end, it was clear that she would be the primary director of when and how she would die. Since my mother's death, I haven't really been thinking seriously about my spiritual side, but it appears that my journey is leading me this way to a certain extent.
The Benson book was very interesting. As a Western scientist, Benson starts by exploring the "Placebo Effect". We all know that there is lots of verifiable evidence of a placebo effect ranging from people's headaches and chest pains going away from placebo pills given by doctors to imagined pregnancy that is extremely physiologically real. Benson uses this as an entry into a discussion about the impact of belief and faith and the real physiological effects of one's mental state. His point is that doctors aren't really tricking people out of fake ailments. Instead, the argument is than a strong belief in yourself, your doctor or your practice can have strong physiological effects which can cure things and improve your body. The word "placebo" has a rather negative connotation in a society where we discount greatly the role that our mind plays in our health, but it is the "hook" that modern medicine has in trying to describe things like meditation.
This discussion tied into one of the funny "issues" that I've been having with my current state. The euphoria and generally happiness I've been having have been attributed by others to things like simple calorie deprivation or just "it's all in your head." After thinking a bit more about this in the context of Benson's book, I suppose it doesn't really matter what the original cause is. My current state of feeling extremely "on top of my health" has a number of positive effects including a dramatic increase in physical activity, happiness and a total recovery of all of the problems reflected in my blood tests.
I am interested in trying to improve my mental state and my ability to use my mental state to improve my health. I am going to continue to explore meditation and read more "cross-over" books like Benson's books that try to describe some of these "phenomenon" in Western terms. However, I'm also going to try to meet practitioners and try to experience things as well.
I'll keep you posted.