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.


15 thoughts on “Connecting the Physical to the Subconscious Mental

  1. Lesq

    I read those three books cover to cover and as I told you am at a private year research program carried on by his underlings who considered him a mentor. We really should speak for a quick few.
    Btw, just sent you an email. 😀

  2. EmilyMaine

    I am keen to read how this pans out for you. I have a story that I think probably supports Dr S. I don’t know if you recall but I fractured my spine at T12/L1 when I was 14 years old (car accident). I was in hospital for most of that year but they never really did that much with my back as my internal injuries at the time were more pressing. So it healed on its own in a bit of a funky way to look at but it did and it is strong. Now here’s the thing: I don’t get back pain and as you know I live a pretty active full life. I’ve experienced pregnancy, I carried my baby about, I run, I gym. None of it limited by my back. I honestly think all this is because at 14 I didn’t understand, my mind didn’t understand, that most people with back injuries end up in lifelong pain. Because my mind didn’t have that foregone conclusion in relation to my injury it was never a limitation for me. I was determined to be “normal” when I got out of hospital and that meant that I expected a full recovery. I understood that spinal injury was a possibility but once I knew I could feel my feet and hands I just assumed crisis averted and got on with getting better. And here I am 🙂

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      How true! The choice was the reality and you paved the road to it. The body followed. It had no choice but to follow the reality you chose. Okay. I’m shutting up. Too meta for me. 🙂 But your experience definitely lends itself well to this new stuff (new for me). Thanks for sharing it. I’m glad you are pain-free and totally living an expansive life!

  3. Nicole, The Non-Toxic Nurse

    Very interesting. I have been looking in this direction too lately, as many of my food sensitivities are histamine related and many out there claim to have gained ground over histamine issues (or even dysautonomia) with mindfulness meditation and/or programs that address the limbic system, such as DNR or Gupta’s protocol. I have heard of Sarna’s books, but have not read them. The Type A thing is interesting, as many with dysautonomia and histamine issues are noted to be Type A.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I will have to Google DNR and Gupta’s protocol. I keep seeing Gupta’s name, but I figured I’d save him for last, after I’ve read so much other stuff. Then see where his ideas fit into it. I’ve been reading so much to see what overlaps and try to understand better, like I did for all the diets. Find the common threads which are necessary/unnecessary/optional. I liked Sarno’s books. They were easy to read. The plan was simple (although required user participation 🙂 ). He was honest and real and down-to-earth. Well, I’m going to Google DNR now. I’ll save Gupta for later and buy a book on his thoughts. Greetings to you Nicole and your family. Warm hugs.

  4. Kim

    Terri – You’ve spoken to the very core of my being. I was given a copy of Sarno’s Mind over Back Pain many years ago. Hogwash I thought! Interestingly enough, the way to lasting relief of my debilitating back pain was thru Feldenkrais – a movement method that works even if you only do the movement in your mind! I’ve spent the past 37 years (most of my adult life) in pursuit of health. Nothing major was wrong with me – just lots of minor stuff. I discovered in high school that oranges triggered my migraines. Several years later chocolate became a trigger…..then later wheat. (I’ve been gluten free since 1987!!) When it comes to alternative health, you name it, I’ve tried it – including every special diet on the planet. I had my DNA tested and found it has several mutations but I refuse to let that define my future. (Think epigenetics here!) Last October I started on AIP Paleo. It’s made a HUGE difference in my overall well being but the biggest improvement has come after reading Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Carloline Leaf. We are more than mind & body. We are mind, body AND spirit. Our thoughts not only affect our body, they shape our brains – BUT we can choose to control our brain. We can use our conscious mind to shape and change our unconscious mind. Thanks to Dr Leaf’s “21 Day Brain Detox” , I am praising God for His awesome creation, His Love and unending Grace! “Mere human wisdom is never the answer to fixing our toxic thoughts and renewing our minds.” Dr Caroline Leaf

    All the best,

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Kim, Wow! Thanks for that comment! Awesome! I will definitely check into Dr. Leaf’s writings! I’ve been going through a big stack of this kind of stuff (some better written than others but all with something to take away…). It has been wonderful, just the kick-start I needed to take the next step. Like you, from “I’m good.” to “I’m great!” 🙂 Thanks and have a great week!


  5. 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.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Dear Tanya, I have written those two resources down which you found helpful. Thanks for the information. I’m glad you left a comment! It affirms what I feel myself, “stress” rather than “trauma” and negative coping mechanisms in “mundane” circumstances.” I’m looking forward to seeing where this line of thought goes for me. From food to supplements to my brain. (Back to the brain we go–in a new way!) Thanks for the affirmation. The best regards and success to you! Wish me well!—-Terri

  6. Pingback: The Difference A Mind Makes | The HSD

  7. katpotter

    This isn’t exactly what you’re writing about here, but I’m thinking about turning off the analytical mind. And how important that is. Allowing the subconscious mechanisms in my body, in my DNA, to just do their thing they are pre-programmed to do. And how hard it is for me.

    I think somewhere you spoke about your need for keeping your mind quiet in the mornings, and how even hearing your husband showering can set your mind running (and set your colon to a halt). This is the same for me. I live alone, but frustrate my boyfriend to confusion how I avoid staying over at his place, and don’t like him staying over with me, because I need to be undisturbed in the a.m. I can’t even catch a glance at the time in the morning, or I start to think too much. I wonder if this is also related to how you experienced good progress with your food tolerances when you had your friend cooking lunches for you, and how I do better when my boyfriend cooks dinner– because there is no analyzing what I’m eating, no analyzing or worrying what it might do and if it is the right choice. It’s just un-analyzed food.

    I mentioned Joe Dispenza’s mind-body work in some other reply. Along the same thinking as Sarno– how there just may be more control over the physical body with the mind/subconscious than we think. I highlighted, underlined, starred in his book: “There’s no try, there’s only allow.”
    Damn that’s hard. I’ve been trying so hard to get my body to work right. But I know it’s right sometimes. Get that analytical mind out of there. Especially when I’m on the pot!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Kat! For me—This. Is. It. I analyze everything I do. I’m not two-faced or anything. I am who I am. But I judge absolutely every single thing I do. It’s not right and it’s not fair to my brain or body (or even appropriate for my faith–judging is simply not my job). I’ve taken to calling this piece of myself the last two weeks “Judge Judy.” I’m trying to figure her out. 🙂 Maybe I should call her “Analyzing Anne.”

      But yes. I liked those thoughts. Thanks. Joe is written down to explore, along with your other rec. I like the “There’s no try, there’s only allow.” Allow. Be. Just be.

      Off! Have a good one!



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