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.

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