If you could create a new body for yourself, what would it be like?
Consider the premise carefully, because this isn’t a matter of science fiction—it’s a fact. The fact is, even the body you lived in yesterday is different from the one you’re in today.
How? In a process called cellular mitosis the cells in your body birth new cells repeatedly throughout your lifetime. The body reinvents itself again and again through the years and it’s plainly evident. Just watch a youngster growing up. What you’re witnessing is the process of cellular growth and regeneration occurring with the passing of time.
Some cells reproduce faster than others; the cells that lined your stomach two hours ago have already been replaced with new ones whose daughter cells will soon be born. Others take longer, depending on type and function.
It seems miraculous, but in a few years you’ll have a completely rebuilt body altogether. Your beliefs and behaviors will help determine what that body becomes, as your chosen activities either strengthen or weaken you. Here’s how it works:
Neuroscientists tell us that brain cells, called neurons, reproduce differently than other cells. They adapt to their environment depending on what you learn and what new behaviors you acquire.
In a process called neuroplasticity the structure of the brain is frequently remodeled. Doctors often see it when studying patients who’ve suffered head injuries and have since created new neuronal pathways to compensate for the loss.
In cases of head injuries that cause blindness, neuroscientists have observed amazing changes in the brains of the victims. Using functional MRI’s and brain imaging scans they have isolated electro-magnetic energy emitted by the visual cortex, a portion consisting of approximately one third of the brain, and found that this region has adapted and retrained itself in these patients to supervise new and complex skills.
Neuroplasticity is the process by which blind people develop their highly acute senses of hearing, touch, taste and smell and are often able to master completely new tasks and creative endeavors that the rest of us find challenging or even impossible.
Through a similar process called neurogenesis brand new neurons are created when you enrich your environment by taking up new mental exercises like studying a foreign language, playing a musical instrument or practicing meditation.
Tackling challenging skills like these increases cognitive ability and rebuilds memory function. This means that your new and challenging mind-body activities enhance neuroplasticity in the brain.
Here’s the catch: doctors say the initial changes are only temporary. For them to become permanent you must be emotionally engaged in the process. Your new skills must be taxing, interesting and highly motivating for the benefits to remain.
Permanent plasticity happens when you feel passion, confidence, gratitude and a zest for life. This is because positive thoughts and a sense of wellbeing are necessary to release the specific neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals that enable the changes to stick.
This is solid proof of the mind-body connection: you must consciously choose to feel passion and motivation for the benefits of your new activities to become lasting and permanent.
Neurologists have learned that neuroplasticity operates in two ways; it can be either positive or negative. Here’s an example of what they call “negative” plasticity:
Many elderly people are understandably afraid of falling. Trying to avoid a fall by looking down at the ground in front of them while they walk narrows their field of vision, which in turn trains the brain to decrease coordination and balance. Fear is the passion and motivation that powers the process; the resulting changes in the brain impair mobility and actually increase the likelihood of a fall.
Researchers say chronic pain is also an example of negative plasticity. It’s the result of the brain repeatedly firing signals over the same neuron pathways over time.
It’s like driving a truck on a muddy dirt road; the more you drive over them, the deeper the grooves become. The repeated pain sensations construct what is called an “information superhighway” on the roadmap of the brain.
Temporary pain signals then become an ingrained habit. This means that chronic pain is primarily a function of the brain, not the body.
The good news is, it is not necessarily permanent. To reverse the damage you must promote neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. These processes repair and replace the old chronic patterns and permanently change the brain.
This is the proven antidote for chronic pain.
If you want to build a healthier body than the one you’ve got now, it really is possible. What can you do? Researchers say that vigorous physical exercise is required for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis to take root. Mental exercises are required as well. This may be why the cure for chronic pain cannot be found in a pill.
Your job is simple: find and follow the practices that help your brain and body repair the damage. Then be positive and passionate about getting results. Have no fear; the ASVA is here to help you with that.
It sure beats the alternative: continuing to suffer in fear and dread of an unhealthy future, and doing little or nothing to strengthen yourself.
Remember, you’re already engaged in building an entirely new and different body, a process that completes itself every few years. The work is alive and ongoing throughout your lifetime and whether you realize it or not, you are taking an active role in the process.
I am reminded of these famous and fateful words: Get busy living, or get busy dying.
The choice is yours, so choose wisely.
Forest Tennant, MD, “Neurogenesis: A Goal of Chronic Pain Treatment,” Practical Pain Management, P0611:d01, 10/2010.
S. Petersen-Felix and M. Curatolo, “Neuroplasticity – An Important Factor in Acute and Chronic Pain,” Swiss Med Weekly, 2002, 132:273-278.
J. Farmer, MD, “Effects of Voluntary Exercise on Synaptic Plasticity and Gene Expression,” Neuroscience, 124:71-9, 2004.
P.M. Arnstein, “The Neuroplastic Phenomenon: A Physiologic Link Between Chronic Pain and Learning,” The Journal of Neuroscience Nursing,” 1997, 29(3):179-86.
Terence Coderre, et al., “Contribution of Central Neuroplasticity to Pathological Pain,” Pain, 52(3):259-285, 1993.