I got a great question from a reader who wanted to understand better the phrase I have used many times…. “The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined”.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into this. I was trained to use ideokinesis to change neuromuscular pathways. The reason why we move is that the brain sends a message through the nervous system to the muscles – they contract – and create movement. There is always cortical involvement in movement – always.
When a person has a spinal cord injury their brain is functioning, but the message isn’t getting through the nervous system to the muscles because of the injury at the spinal cord.
Ideokinesis (ideo… idea or image, kinesis… muscle) is just a fancy way of using your imagination, envisioning or using visualization and/or intentions. It doesn’t really matter what you call it – the response is the same.
There is much research out there showing that if you envision making a free throw in proper form, it will help your accuracy. Research at the Cleveland Clinic showed that subjects that imagined doing biceps strengtheners in fact tested stronger at the end of the study – and kept their results for 3 weeks. This was strengthening through thought alone!
Now… I am not promoting that we train our dancers by having them imagine class instead of taking class. But those who have to sit out because of injury or health reasons would do well to envision themselves doing the class even though they are resting on the side lines.
What we are thinking influences our emotional/chemical responses in our body… all the time! Similar to how our movement carves well-known neurological paths in the brain so we can move in the right way when we hear 2 demi plies then a grand… our thinking also carves neurological pathways and patterns in the brain. For example, there are certain negative (and positive) experiences from my past that if I allow myself to ruminate about will begin to shift my emotions.
As I think about a past experience it brings with it all the emotions I hard-wired with it. September 11th is one of those experiences. I can describe in exquisite detail where I was when I learned about the attack and if I continue to remember I can easily bring up the emotions that are connected with that day.
When we are envisioning or imagining a situation… our brain doesn’t know that it isn’t real in that moment… and sends out corresponding chemicals (our emotional responses) as if it was.
If it was a significant past experience the emotional charge will be stronger than remembering an event such as going out to dinner with friends, that may not be as noteworthy emotionally.
The power of the body/brain connection comes from when we are conscious of our responses and can make choices about what we want to do in response to the information the brain has gathered.
For example, if I can catch myself starting to feel my blood boil when I remember a confrontation I had (in the past) and how it is negatively influencing how I feel in the present moment (sitting at my desk) — then I can make a choice to switch my thinking and consequently switch off the stress response that happening.
Being aware that we have the ultimate responsibility and accountability for our thought patterns and habits is empowering! Not always easy to do but definitely a skill that should be encouraged.
The brain doesn’t distinguish between what is real (in the present moment) from what you are imagining (from the past or future). It responds to what you are thinking…. period. It responds by creating chemicals which get sent into the body (aka your emotions) which influences the health and well-being of our body.
I do think it is important to acknowledge that we get into patterns of thinking and feeling that become so ingrained into our lives that we aren’t even aware that we are responding by default – or in other words – the same way we always have responded – no matter whether it is healthy or an unhealthy response.
This is what I meant by the brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Hoping that helps clarify…
To your success,