I can’t remember where I read this, but I’ve come to believe strongly that it’s true. A student recovering from an accident in which she injured her left hand made a frustrated comment about “my pathetic finger,” and I instantly replied “Don’t talk about your finger that way.” She looked surprised. “Cells have memories,” I said. “If you think your finger is pathetic, it may turn out to be true. If you think anything at all about your finger, change it to ‘My finger is healing beautifully’ and leave it at that.”
Do our fingers really know what we think of them? I don’t know, but consider the fact that thousands of idioms in the English language involve body parts. “Getting something off your chest.” “A burden on your shoulders.” “You don’t have a leg to stand on.” “It fell on deaf ears.” “I can’t stomach it.” “That took guts.” They’re marvellously descriptive and memorable because one’s chest does feel lighter and more relaxed when one has let go of a troubling secret or resolved a quarrel with a friend. How many times have you had a digestive upset after receiving news you found hard to process–information you couldn’t stomach?
Sometimes my own body gives me signs that its wellbeing is partly dependent on my thoughts about it. In my mid-twenties, I had a dysfunctional professional relationship that caused me a great deal of stress and unhappiness, and when I thought of this colleague, I often used the words “a pain in my behind.” (I might not have used the word “behind”). During the worst period of my association with this person, I developed excruciating sacroiliac joint pain. I went to several doctors, physiotherapists, and Alexander Technique teachers, and took high doses of prescription anti-inflammatories for many months. Eventually, I ended the association. Now, here’s the remarkable part: the morning after this “breakup,” I woke up pain-free. I hardly need to tell you that I celebrated by dancing wildly around the room, a thing I hadn’t been able to do in all the months I’d been hobbling around. Then I went out to a social event in high heels. At which I danced more. My friends didn’t know what had come over me.
At my Alexander Technique lesson that week, my wise and wonderful teacher suggested that the “pain in my behind” had been taken away both metaphorically and materially. This hadn’t occurred to me yet, and I laughed out loud at myself. How could I not have thought of this during all those months of pain and unhappiness? Since then, I’ve been very careful to avoid “corporeal” expressions of emotion. I can’t play the cello if I have a pain in my neck, so if someone annoys me, I think “That person is annoying,” take a few deep breaths, and see what I can do both to resolve the situation and to relax my body. If this all sounds a bit like a self-help book, I don’t entirely apologize, since I often give friends and students Louise L. Hay‘s books of affirmations. While I hasten to point out that I don’t believe, as Hay does, that we can heal medical conditions with affirmations, I do feel that we can do a tremendous amount of preventative self-care by watching how we talk to ourselves.