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The Influence Of Body On Mind

While trying to take advantage of the influence of the mind on the
body for therapeutics, it is important to remember that the body has a
great influence on the mind. There are many states of mind that are
dependent on states of body, and that can be modified only by first
modifying the body. Body changes can at least greatly help. In order
to use the mind in the therapeutics of conditions in which it would
help in the awakening of such vitality as is necessary for the cure,
particularly of many of the chronic affections, it is necessary first
to dispose the body so that it will not constantly be adding to, or at
least emphasizing, an unfavorable state of mind. For this purpose it
is important to study definitely and practically the influence that
various attitudes, expressions and external manifestations may have in
changing the internal feelings. This factor seems trivial when viewed
from the standpoint of health, but it is one of the trifles that are
very helpful in the predisposition of the patient to get better.
Alteratives in medicine, while we have not been able to say just what
their effect was, have done much for us, and the influence of body on
mind is just such an alterative.

Even those who have insisted most strenuously on the independence of
mind from body have always recognized not only the influence of the
mind on the body, but also of the body on the mind. Perhaps the most
familiar example of this is the well-known liability to dream after
eating things that disturb digestion and seem to interfere, probably
by congestive tendencies, with the circulation of the brain during
sleep. It has always been recognized that mental operations are
sluggish for some time after eating, and that a period of depression
is likely to follow any excess. The Romans feared the consequences of
indigestion so much that, occasionally after they had surfeited
themselves with rich food, they took such direct mechanical means as a
feather or a finger in the throat to relieve their overloaded stomach,
in order that they might not suffer the after consequences, but
especially the depression and irritability of mind.

Disposition and Digestion.--The relation of the body to the mind in
many other besides the purely animal digestive functions has always
been realized. It has always been felt that the disposition of an
individual depended to a great extent on his nutrition. Men were not
usually approached for favors before their meals, and especially after
a long fast, but, as far as possible, requests were made shortly after
meals. It has always been recognized that the best time for men to get
together in council is, at least so far as amiability goes, shortly
after meals. Tiredness was also felt to be an important element in
affecting the mind. The tired man, even though he may be hungry, can
only eat a hearty meal at the risk of serious disturbance of
digestion, for, as a consequence of the fatigue of the body being
communicated to the mind, the mental influence which predisposes to
good digestion is lacking, and it is easy for serious digestive
disturbances to be set up. In a word, body and mind are inextricably
involved in all that concerns not only health but good feeling, and
these two terms are practically convertible.

Feeling and Expression.--In nothing is the influence of the body on
the mind more clear than in the influence of expression upon the
disposition. Actors know that if they want to well express a certain
feeling, they must arouse that feeling deeply, and the easiest, surest
and most direct method of doing so is to fix the features in the
expressions that would ordinarily indicate the presence within of
these feelings. If we insist on putting our features into the shape
which ordinarily expresses sadness, that will be reflected internally,
and we shall become as sad as our expression. On the other hand, if
the features are drawn, even by force of will, into the state that
ordinarily expresses joy or lightness of heart, we shall be tempted
more and more to feel that way, until at last even internal melancholy
may be dissipated. In the oldest book in the world, "The Instruction
of Ptah Hotep," written about 3,000 years before Christ, the old
father giving advice to his sons says: "Let thy face be bright what
time thou livest," and the literature of every time since then
emphasizes the same idea.

This influence of the expression on the mind is an extremely important
element in psychotherapy. Men and women must be taught to shake off
inner sadness, and over-occupation of mind, by training their facial
muscles of expression as far as possible to occupy positions
expressive of good feeling, but above all not to let them be fixed in
positions indicative of ill feeling. It makes a great difference for
the mental state whether a man has the corners of his mouth drawn down
or up, or whether they are pulled straight across the face to give the
severe, austere expression that some people seem to cultivate. If the
corners of the mouth are allowed to droop the glumness and depression
is likely to grow deeper. If the lips are curled upward and smile,
even though it may be a forced smile, the inner feeling will soon
yield to it. Actors are able to counterfeit the reality, but much more
than this, as we have said, they realize that, by imitating the
externals of the feeling, they awaken the feeling itself within them.
This is true for anger and loathing, and for many of the more serious
dispositions as well as for those that might be thought more
superficial, and hence more controlled by the external muscles.

The Mouth.--It is interesting to realize how different are the
expressions of the face as a consequence merely of control of the
sphincter of the mouth and its associated muscles. Physiological
psychologists have often called attention to the fact that only a few
lines are necessary to picture the characteristic human expressions of
sadness, joy and severity. If a little droop is given to the line that
represents the lips, melancholy is at once expressed, while the upward
curve expresses joy, and the straight line severity. These types of
human expression are easy to control, and the internal effect of each
is soon felt where there is deliberate, or indeliberate, perseverance
in its maintenance.

The Eyes.--A typical example of the influence of the mind on the
body is to be found in the use of the eye muscles, especially the
oblique muscles. Of definite and important use for many purposes, they
are especially employed to attract attention by means of the eyes.
Coquetry has used them to express various phases of sex attraction. We
all know the picture of the young woman who "makes eyes." It is
interesting, however, to set solemn people imitating these exercises
of the oblique eye muscles. For most people it is practically
impossible to use these muscles without a corresponding quasi-demure
setting of the features, commonly associated with those who use them
most. There is even likely to be a certain attitude of mind aroused
corresponding to the setting of the features in a particular way.
While this is true for almost any other expressive state of the
countenance, it is not so easy to demonstrate as is this.

The use of the superior recti muscles has also a definite effect upon
the disposition. One of the pleasures of walking in a well-kept forest
where the trees meet high overhead, is that the eyes are inevitably
attracted upward to range among them, and there is a corresponding
elevation of feeling. Bernard Shaw once said that it was impossible to
enter a Gothic church without an elevation of the spirit, because the
eyes were surely attracted upward by the height of the nave, and a
corresponding uplift of feeling ensued. During a period of glumness it
is apparently impossible to keep the eyes raised. People who are
depressed and "cast down," as the expression is, invariably keep their
eyes downward, and just as soon as a man "looks up and not down" there
is a lifting of the depression. Even such apparently trivial muscular
actions as this may influence the mind, and thus react upon the
physical system generally.

Wrinkles.--Many influences of the body on the mind group themselves
in the muscles of expression around the eyes. Wrinkles, for instance,
are originally a habit of mind, and then the emphasis of this, in the
muscles of the face, is reflected back to deepen still further the
dejection or nervous unrest that originally causes them. It is
surprising to see what an influence it has on patients who go round
much with wrinkled foreheads, to have them give over the practice and
discipline themselves to appear with uncorrugated superciliary
muscles. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and one of
the wisest managers of men that ever lived, has emphasized in
one of his rules that "wrinkles on the forehead and still more on the
nose" are a sign of interior disquiet and must not be seen. He
realized that the interior feelings could be influenced by suggestion
at least, by having those who indulged in wrinkles keep their
foreheads and noses smooth. Most of the expression of the face is
concerned with the eyebrows and neighboring regions, and people should
occasionally be asked to look at themselves in the glass, so as to rid
themselves of habits of expression indicative of a disturbed mind, for
this will do much to help to relieve the mental disturbance.

Attitudes and the Mind.--With regard to the influence of the body on
the mind, and the stimulating mental reaction that follows even a pose
of well-being and good feeling, perhaps nothing affords more striking
evidence than the effect of assuming the expressions and attitudes
usually associated with various states of mind and then noting the
results. If a man throws his shoulders back, and takes in long breaths
of air, expanding his chest and stimulating his circulation, his whole
body as well as his mind feels the effect. A slow walk with bowed
shoulders and head, while one moodily turns over all the possibilities
for ill in the life around, does very little good, while a brisk walk
with head thrown back, shoulders erect, brings a man home with mind
and body both ready to throw off temporary obstacles of all kinds, and
in addition to the fact that the mental depression has disappeared, to
some extent at least, all the physical functions will be accomplished
better than before.

Tears and Feeling.--Some of the usual translations of the meaning of
external expressions are not justified by what we know of their actual
purpose and effects. For instance, tears are supposed to be a sign of
deep grief. Except in the very young they are not, as a rule, to be
thus understood. As we grow older they are much more frequently a sign
of deep feeling that is usually quite pleasurable. It is almost
impossible for a human being to be touched deeply without a glistening
of the eyes that readily runs over into tears. A mother who is proud
of something that her children have done is quite sure to have tears
in her eyes. If she is present at a successful musical or dramatic
performance given by a son or a daughter, especially where there is
something of a triumph for them, she is sure to have tears in her
eyes. There are few mothers who fail to be moved in this way when
their children take prizes, or when some one writes to tell them how
well their children are doing. Tears, indeed, far from being a sign of
sadness, usually in adults indicate profound joy.

Tears, then, instead of being discouraged, should rather be
encouraged, unless when indulged in to excess. We realize how trying
to health and strength is the stony grief that does not melt into
tears. The mother who faints over the sudden death of her child, and
who wakes to silent consciousness, is in a dangerous condition until
the solace of tears comes to her. Until there are tears, we fear for
the effect upon her mind of the grief. The sufferer from melancholia
is sad, but a good outburst of tears will, indeed, often mean the end
of a prolonged period of melancholia. In the trials of life tears are
a consolation rather than an addition to sorrow. In the olden times
men wept as well as women, and Homer's heroes thought it not at all
beneath their dignity to be seen in tears. Over and over again, the
physician learns that while people have been going to "shows" that
were supposed to make them laugh and so divert their minds, the
best possible effect is derived not from trivial laughter, but from a
serious play that touches the heart deeply and makes all who go to it
melt a little. Many nervous patients never feel better than after they
have had a good quiet cry.

The influence of the serious things of life in producing favorable
states of mind is not sufficiently appreciated, or at least has come
to be neglected in our day. There is a seeking far and wide for
pleasure and diversion that should be obtained near home, through the
simple joys of domestic life or intimate contact with others who need
us in some way. As has been well said, it is not far-fetched pleasure,
but simple joys that are more needed in our time. Nothing so enables
the patient to get his, and above all her, mind off self as care for
others. This must be expressed, however, in external acts accomplished
by ourselves for others to have any deep effect. Doing things for
other people deepens the feeling of sympathy, and so makes the mind
much more ready to respond to increase of these feelings so profoundly
as to displace selfish considerations. Exercise is valuable, but
exercise undertaken for a worthy motive, constantly before the mind
during the time it is taken, means ever so much more in awakening all
the sources of energy that there are in men and women to make life
worth living for themselves and others.

Application of Principles.--The best possible source of relief from
that combination of mental despondency, and the lack of bodily
vitality which so often accompanies it, and which, if not interrupted,
may lead to a serious breakdown of mental health, is the discipline of
work; above all, work for the benefit, of others, to which one forces
one's self gradually but persistently, not with, long intervals, but
day after day. The discipline of the asylum and the sanatorium is
probably the most efficient curative agent when these cases are at
their worst. When the symptoms are beginning, a discipline of a milder
character, yet resembling that of the institution, but appealing to
higher motives and leading to frequently repeated actions for the
benefit of others, will undoubtedly do much to prevent worse
developments or make the future condition of the patient less serious
than it would otherwise be. Undoubtedly some of the old monastic
regulations were efficient in preventing the more serious developments
of despondency when the danger to himself and others of the
melancholic was not so well recognized as at present.

Laughing Cures.--Every now and then the newspapers announce that
some physician has invented a laughing cure, or a smiling cure, or
something of the kind. Sometimes these reports are founded on actual
occurrences; oftener, perhaps, they are the invention of a reporter
suffering from a dearth of news. There is, however, no doubt that a
smiling cure will do much to make people, even those who have serious
reasons to be depressed, feel better. Every physician knows that if
melancholic patients of the milder type can be amused quietly, their
depression is modified for the better. Accordingly, we advise them to
see farces or lively comedy, and we try to pick out cheerful nurses
for them. The depression consequent upon some serious illness can be
better relieved in this way than by any tonics or stimulants. For the
depression, for instance, that so often follows a stroke of apoplexy,
the employment of a nurse with a good human sense of humor and a large
sympathy with the humorous side of things in life will do more to
arouse a man from the lethargy into which he settles than almost
anything else.

With regard to laughing, there is, of course, another element that
must be remembered. A hearty laugh moves the diaphragm up and down
vigorously, empties and ventilates the lungs, stimulates the heart
mechanically by its action upon the intra-thoracic viscera, and is one
of the best tonics that we have for the circulation in the abdominal
cavity, and probably also for the important nervous mechanisms
centered there. Its action upon the lungs is readily recognized. Its
influence upon the heart is usually not so much thought of, but
deserves even a more prominent place. It is now well known that when
patients have gone into coma or the apneic condition that sometimes
follows shock, or the administration of an anesthetic, when the heart
ceases to beat, the only effectual means of resuscitation is by
directly irritating the organ. It has been suggested that if the
abdominal cavity is open the surgeon's hands should be passed up and
should squeeze the heart through the diaphragm. It has even been
proclaimed that tapping on the chest vigorously over the precordium
may arouse a heart that has for the moment stopped beating. It is easy
to understand, then, that a hearty laugh, by stirring up all the
intra-thoracic viscera, stimulates the heart mechanically and sets it
beating more vigorously than before. This is one of the reasons why
people feel so well after a hearty laugh.

Even slight swallows of water act as a distinct heart stimulant. When
people have fainted, a succession of swallows of water, each of them
acting as a heart tonic, is one of the best methods that we have of
stimulating the heart's action. It is usually said that this action is
a consequence of the reflex from the terminal filaments of the vagus
nerve running back and reflected down again to the heart. To me it has
always seemed that the swallowing action had a direct mechanical
effect upon the heart, because the esophagus passes so close to it in
the thoracic cavity.

Man is the only animal that laughs, and, as the old philosophers point
out, he might very well be defined as animal risibile with just as
much truth as by the words animal rationale. It requires reason in
order to have a sense of humor. The higher the reason, the more the
humor. Peasants and the uneducated have, as a rule, a very undeveloped
sense of humor. It is the highly educated man of deep intellectual
powers who catches all the humor of a situation, and, though his
expression of it may not be loud, it is deep and helpful at moments of
depression. Humor is, of course, very different from wit, which is
biting and which seems almost to be shared by the animals, if we can
judge from the fact that they appear, occasionally, to play practical
jokes upon one another.

It seems almost absurd that a physician should tell patients that it
will do them good to practice smiling, to take every possible
opportunity to laugh, and even to take frequent glances into a looking
glass, to see that they are not pulling long faces. The difference
between a feeling of melancholy and one of gladness consists mainly in
the position of the outer angles of the mouth. The putting into
practice of the maxim, not to let the sad lines dominate the
countenance, but to insist on keeping the others there as far as
possible, means much for the correction of internal feelings of
depression and discouragement that may be badly interfering with the
flow of nerve impulses from the brain to the body.

Mouth Breathing.--Since Meyer's discovery of the overgrowth of the
lymphoid tissue in the pharynx, we have learned to appreciate
how important is mouth breathing, even for the intellectual life. We
all knew before, and indeed from time immemorial it was well
understood, that, as a rule, people who went around with their mouths
open were of low grade intelligence. All sorts of methods were used to
teach these young people to keep their mouths shut. They were reminded
of it at home, they were told about it at school, and, if they
married, their wives tried to keep them from this apparent
manifestation of lack of intelligence. Of course, they were not, as a
rule, able to carry out the well-meant intentions of their friends and
advisors. The mouths were kept open because they could not breathe
normally through their noses, and so respiration had to be
accomplished by the only other available avenue. As a consequence of
the open mouth, the lips were inclined to roll out somewhat, and
certain indications of the human physiognomy were supposed to be
associated with these thick lips.

Now we know the real meaning of the condition. Mouth breathing is
possible, but it is inadequate. Insufficient respiration leads to
insufficient oxidation of tissues, and to lowered vitality in all
structures, and this is particularly notable in the brain, as well as
in certain other higher structures. It is not because the individuals
are lacking in intelligence that their mouths are open, but because
the same reason that compels the open mouth also affects their
intellectual activity. The blocking of nasal respiration lowers vital
activity of all kinds. Hence the lowered intellectual vitality. The
thick lips, which are supposed to be characteristic of a certain
passionateness of nature, and which usually are associated with a lack
of thorough control over animal inclinations, probably owe their
significance to the fact that this special peculiarity of feature
usually accompanies mouth breathing, and that the individual who
labors under this deficient respiration, is likely to lack control to
at least some degree. There is even a question whether the deficient
oxidation is not likely to be much more notable in its effect upon the
higher faculties than on the lower, and as a consequence the latter
develop somewhat to the detriment of the former.

These studies in physiognomy may, indeed, be correlated in many ways
with distinct physical conditions instead of as formerly with the
general constitution of the individual. For instance, large protruding
eyes used to be said to be characteristic of nervous, timid, sensitive
individuals, easily scared, and not well able to take up the harder
parts of the battle of life. Now we know that this feature is usually
associated with an excess of secretion of the thyroid gland, and that
the nervousness is not a matter of character so much as it is due to
the disturbance of internal metabolism consequent upon this
interference with the proper function of an important organ. It might
well be called a slight thyroid intoxication. In large amounts it
produces all the symptoms of Graves' disease.

Bodily Conditions and Stupidity.--We have many illustrations of the
influence of the body on the mind, when purely physical causes work
rather serious results on disposition and character and energy. A
typical example was the so-called tropical anemia which existed in
Porto Rico when the Americans took possession of the island. There
were so many cases of it that out of about 25,000 deaths reported in
1903, nearly 6,000 were from so-called anemia. Investigation of the
conditions soon revealed the real cause. It had been thought to
be due to a combination of the climate, malaria and the lack of
nutrition on the part of the country people. The people were
absolutely without ambition, they had no energy, they seemed scarcely
able to keep body and soul together, and they cared for nothing except
to get just enough to supply them with a meager sustenance. Of
incentive to lift themselves up, there was none. This was largely
attributed by the first Americans who went to the island to the
conditions which had existed under Spanish rule, as the Spaniards had
not encouraged manufactures or industries in the island, and had left
the people without any incentives to the awakening of enterprise or

Hook-Worm Disease.--Before long it was found that the real reason
for the anemia of the Porto Ricans was the presence in their
intestines in large numbers of the so-called hook-worm. These worms
exhausted the vitality of the sufferers and left them without surplus
energy and, indeed, with scarcely enough life to care whether or not
life itself continued. It was not a moral condition, but a very
definite physical cause that was at work. Shortly afterwards it was
found that the same disease existed in our Southern states among the
so-called "poor whites." Before this, these people had been supposed
to be a characterless, unambitious, lazy people, who cared not to get
on, who had sunk to about the lowest depths possible for civilized
people, and who were quite satisfied to remain there. The discovery of
hook-worm disease among them, however, soon made it clear that their
laziness was the result of the drain upon their systems due to the
presence of thousands of hook-worms. When these were removed, if
nature was not already exhausted, the "poor whites" became normal
human beings once more with ambition and initiative.

This story of pathology influencing racial qualities is not new in the
history of the world. It is not improbable that even certain periods
of decadence in Egyptian history which have ordinarily been attributed
to the so-called running out of particular ruling races or families,
or to the degeneration of the people consequent upon luxury, were
really the result of the spread of the hook-worm disease through
certain portions of Egypt. Dr. Sandwith, who has studied the disease
very carefully in Egypt, is sure that it has existed there for at
least four thousand years, and that the descriptions of certain
affections which occurred in Egypt in historic times were really due
to the same cause as now is known to produce the so-called Egyptian
chlorosis, the name that was used for hook-worm disease in Egypt.
Workers in soil, and in mines and in tunnels, are especially likely to
be affected by it, and whenever it is neglected it spreads rather
widely, as is seen in the mines of Germany and Hungary at the present
time. As the cause was unrecognized in the olden time, it is possible
that periods of supposed lassitude among the people were really due to
infection by this parasite.

Malaria and Degeneration.--In recent years it has come to be
generally recognized that the decadence of Greece, for instance, was
not due to moral causes so much, perhaps, as to physical reasons.
During the classic periods in Greece there are no traces of malaria.
After the invasion of Sicily, the expedition against Syracuse and
other attempts on the part of the cities of Greece to spread their
dominion, malaria seems to have been introduced among her people, and
as the anopheles mosquito was already there, the malaria spread
widely, and in the course of a century affected so many of the people
that their energy and ambition and initiative were to a great extent
destroyed. It is well known that these effects often occur as a
consequence of malaria, and as generation after generation is affected
by the disease, are emphasized more and more. The relaxing effect of
tropical climates, of which we have heard so much, and which is
supposed after a time to bring about the inevitable production of a
race eminently lazy and careless of the future, is probably much more
due to certain affections, such as malaria and those consequent upon
animal parasites, than to any constitutional change that has taken
place in the body, or any profound corresponding change in the mind.
It is a case of the body influencing the mind and producing an
apparently different race from that which existed before, though all
this may be changed for the better by some even slight amelioration of
bodily conditions.

In any attempt, then, to influence the human mind in order to use its
power and its reserve energy for therapeutic purposes, the place of
the body and its influence upon the mind must always be remembered. It
is quite impossible to lift people up to enable them to use their
mental reserve force if they are living in discouraging physical
conditions, which use up so much of energy as to make it impossible to
have any to spare. Many of the phases of mental discouragement and
lack of initiative which are reflected in what we call lowered
resistive vitality and lack of immunity to infection, are really
consequent upon physical states representing a drain upon the system
that can be removed, or at least greatly improved, if they are
discovered and properly treated. Victims of chronic malaria and of
hook-worm disease cannot be lifted up by psychotherapy. Neither can
sufferers from other forms of chronic physical debility. After the
removal of the debilitating cause, however, mental influence may be
brought to bear to encourage them to rise to their opportunities, to
literally take on new life, and gradually accumulate reserve energy
that will enable them to accomplish, not only the average work of
mankind, but even better, in the reaction that comes with the new
feeling of physical energy. And what is thus true in these extreme
cases is even more true of minor ailments and conditions.

Next: The Mechanism Of The Influence Of Mind On Body

Previous: Unfavorable Mental Influence

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