Connecting the Physical to the Subconscious Mental

I’ve eaten my fair share of Big Macs and taken my physical health completely for granted, but I’ve always been a bulldog for my mental health.  Throughout my life, I’ve learned that everybody has mental health skeletons in the closet, either somewhere in his own past or her family’s past.  Well, my skeletons jiggled and moaned so loudly in my younger days that I was afraid and made it a point to listen to them:  [insert moaning and groaning like in Scooby Doo.  “Don’t go there.  Don’t ever go there.”]

For years, this meant getting plenty of sleep and exercise, communicating my emotions well, embracing who I was and where I came from, alleviating unnecessary stressors in my life, and keeping in close touch with God.  Three years ago I also learned that eating whole, real food and eliminating certain foods also impacted my mental health, so this was added to the “important” list.

I added things here and there, like some yoga and some meditation, to help give me new techniques to add when life was just stressful and there wasn’t really anything I could do about it.  All this kept a genuine smile on my face, and I thought I had a really good grip on my psychology!

Thankfully, life gets you and shows you where you’re wrong!  I think that the nagging physical problems I am encountering are telling me that there’s more to my mind than meets the eye.  I am going to continue on in writing about my introduction to mind-body health.

I’ve Got a Body.  I’ve Got a Brain.  Let’s Do this ‘Mindbody’ Thing.

Enter Dr. John Sarno’s work.  John Sarno, MD (because you know the fact that he is an MD is important to me…) was a professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School (NYU) of Medicine and an attending physician at the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the NYU Medical Center.  He treated many common conditions, from carpal tunnel syndrome to herniated disks to migraines, as mind-body ailments, rather than pure physical ailments.  He is retired now and older than anybody reading this blog!  He’s 93.

I dug around the internet on Sarno, trying to dig up the negatives on him and his approach.  You know, searched “” for him.  Interestingly enough, I didn’t find too much crushing criticism, like you will on so many other physicians fighting conventional beliefs!  I figure he must have maintained himself very well to have escaped the usual scorn you find in these matters.  He has written three books on alleviating certain health complaints using mind awareness and introspection:

  • Mind Over Back Pain;
  • Healing Back Pain:  The Mind Body Connection;
  • and The Divided Mind:  The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. 

I read all three of his books in one week, and I thought, “I’ve got a body!  I’ve got a mind!  Hey.  Let’s do this ‘mindbody’ thing.”  I like safe.  I like cheap.  And I love improving my psychology.

There Are Parts of Our Brain Not at Our Beck and Call

Dr. Sarno gave a fancy name to a syndrome he dubbed Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), which connects the physical to the subconscious mental.  He declares the idea that the understanding of TMS is a work-in-progress, and he embraces further study, insight, and modification of his ideas by science.  So what is TMS in “Terri terms?”

Tension Myositis Syndrome:  Certain symptoms are allowed, even perpetrated by the brain as a diversion to repressed, unknown, deep, uncomfortable, unwanted, undesirable, and conflicting emotions.  It can manifest in many ways:  back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel, allergic rhinitis, headaches, dizziness, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and acid reflux, to only begin listing a few manifestations.  Often, it has a migrating pattern.

Hello!  That’s quite the idea! Yes, it is.  But it’s a fact:  There are parts of our brain that aren’t at our beck and call.  You know them.  They’re the ones that generate feelings that just seem to tug at us yet we can’t get a handle on–the fear, the guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, the desire, and the anger, for example.

These basic, primitive emotions, when subconsciously present, bring about physical reactions and shut down others!  (Think of sweating, blushing, tingles, and not noticing pain when hurt till things calm down.)  These basic feelings have served to keep us alive as a population.  Although we are able to keep tabs on lots of these intrinsic emotions with our conscious thoughts and choices, not all of them are within our control or recognition!

Perhaps Conventional Medicine Has Radically Underestimated How Much the Mind Can Do

Think of someone you know who avoids conflict at all cost, sacrificing his or her own needs and comfort.  Let’s say it’s your mom and you’re visiting her.  Well, even if she’s walking around wrapped in blankets in her house in the dead of winter, she lets you turn the thermostat colder if you’re hot–even in her own house.  She lets you borrow the car on your visit so you can visit your old high school friends even though she had doctor’s appointments.  She says it’s okay and she just reschedules the doctors’ appointments.  Nobody else volunteered to do the church cookbook, so even though you’re visiting she stays up late typing it up, even though she’s leaving for vacation in five days herself.  Not to mention the painting hobby she gave up when you were 16.

This is all very honorable!  However, deep in there somewhere, no matter what her active, conscious thoughts are, deep in there somewhere is a piece of the human organism which recognizes that her own needs are not being met. It will probably greet this knowledge with basic emotions of fear or anger.  These emotions are perfectly capable of altering physical physiology.  Perhaps conventional medicine has radically underestimated how much.

Sarno suggests that these usually unrecognizable, basic emotions (fear, shame, guilt, anger, rage) somehow cause the brain to bring about physical symptoms, and he describes people with perfectionistic and goodist tendencies, like your mom up there, as prime candidates .  He calls the physical symptoms a diversion from the unrecognized subconscious (unconscious) feelings.  A human being does not mean for this to happen at all!  Yet, somehow, it does.

I Don’t Beat Dead Horses

Not much has turned up for me for help with my food sensitivities and constipation.  I’ve gotten as far as I can go with diet, lifestyle changes, and select supplements.  These are great changes I have made!  I will not abandon them.

But to further perfect these areas would be beating a dead horse.  I’m going to leave the dead horse behind and go by foot.  I don’t beat dead horses.

Next post is going to be specifics on how Dr. Sarno proposes reversing TMS–a connection of the subconscious mental to the physical.  Thanks for reading.  Thoughts are always appreciated as this is a live production.  Skepticism is allowed.  Converts welcome.  People who’ve been there and done that–feel free to share.

Smile a real smile from your subconscious.


1 thought on “Connecting the Physical to the Subconscious Mental

  1. Tanya

    I first encountered your blog when you were in the middle of your butyrate series and have been enjoying the path it has taken since. In unwinding my own health problems, I’ve found a combination of physical, tangible health things to tackle combined with less-than-great mental/emotional beliefs, many of which I adopted very young, and not through a nasty, traumatic background. I dismissed mental/emotional stuff for years because I didn’t have a terribly dysfunctional family/personal history, not realizing that less than wonderful coping mechanisms can be acquired even in more mundane circumstances.

    Two things on the mind-body connection front have been helpful to me. The first is Gabor Mate’s books, especially When the Body Says No. I actually took pages of notes on one of the chapters toward the end of the book because there was just so much for me to think about and compare with my gut level beliefs. The second is David Berceli’s trauma releasing exercises. The short version is that he says he can help release tension, due to stress/trauma (in my case, I’d say stress rather than trauma) physically stored in the muscles. My library had his video, so that helped on the “worth a try, it’s cheap” side. I feel really relaxed, deeply relaxed, after Berceli’s exercises and I repeatedly see my systolic blood pressure go down about 10 points. I don’t even have high blood pressure and it goes down.

    Anyway, best of luck finding tools and ideas that are a good fit.


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