What the Placebo Effect Has to Do With Yoga

Most are familiar with what is known as “the placebo effect.” It occurs when scientists prescribe a sugar pill, aka a dummy pill, to patients who believe that they are receiving the real drug. Any subsequent effects are then observed. One out of three people taking a sugar pill report feeling effects similar to that experienced by those taking the real drug. According to the American Cancer Society: “in the past, some researchers questioned whether [there was] convincing proof that the placebo effect [was] a real effect." But placebo effect studies now show that placebos are real, and that the patient’s belief enables the mind to heal the body.

Scientists have recorded brain activity in response to the placebo effect. Although we may not know exactly how it works, the idea that the mind can affect the body has been around for thousands of years and is well proven. Many ancient cultures depended on mind-body connections to treat illness. Shamans or medicine men would not have viewed their efforts as placebos, but their healing powers may have worked partly through the patient’s strong belief that the shaman’s treatments would restore their health.

We can surmise, from these studies, that if the brain believes it has the ability to heal and overcome, it will take action. Holding an image in our mind increases the possibility that it will materialize. As in the story of the Velveteen Rabbit: “everything that is real was imagined first.”

Only when the brain gets bogged down with disbelief, doubt and catastrophizing does disease triumph. Science is discovering the truth behind mind over matter–something ancient yogis have always known.

Do you believe that you can free your mind and think your way into health and happiness?

In a yoga class, each pose is an opportunity to practice this for ourselves. Try thinking your way to steady when balancing on one leg in tree pose; try thinking yourself fearless as you try an inversion like handstand, or try believing yourself peaceful as you search for calm in pigeon pose.

Ultimately, the way you practice your yoga becomes the way you live your life. Yoga makes your mind stronger. It helps you to acknowledge the unique gifts you have been waiting to share with the world. All you have to do is believe in yourself. As Joseph Campbell writes: “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.”

This is why renewing our spirits and gaining clarity, so that we can visualize what we want our lives to be, is so vitally important. It is never too late.

“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.” - Dale Turner

This is not an effortless task. I’ll use the silly analogy of dirty dishes: tonight if you eat dinner on clean dishes and then tomorrow try to eat on those same dishes without washing them, they will obviously be dirty. You have to wash them so that you can reuse them time and time again.

The same goes for keeping our mind’s vision clear. We have to continuously work at it and clean it, so to speak, so that we can remain clear and focused. Each day we find ourselves making withdrawals from our spiritual reserves, so each day it is crucial we make deposits and renew our commitment to believing in possibility.

Today join me in applying the placebo effect to your life’s intentions. What your mind believes does in fact become your reality.

Love yourself, love your day and love your life!

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