Add as bookmark

Stress, Illness, Monks and Cab Drivers

by Jonathan Brown(more info)

listed in stress, originally published in issue 175 - October 2010

415,000 individuals working in Britain are experiencing work-related stress at a level that is making them ill. (2008/09 study by the Labour Force Survey)

Black Cab

A sobering statistic. I fear with budgets tightening, cuts being made and many finding it difficult to find paid work at all, one that is not likely to improve any time soon. Despite what the politicians may tell us, GP waiting lists, the job seekers queue, and the nation's blood pressure seem to be about the only things on the rise! Most of us are aware that prolonged stress can lead to ulcers, migraine and a whole host of other illnesses. Our body can simply wear out from being on constant high alert. During the body's stress response, blood is diverted from the stomach. This can cause disruption in the absorption of food that can lead to stomach problems such as cramps, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and even irritable bowel syndrome. Adrenaline and cortisol are released when we are stressed. This has the effect of increasing the blood pressure, which untreated, can eventually lead to heart attacks. Various medical studies have confirmed that a stressful lifestyle can also contribute to the development of some forms of cancer. People accept these facts without question. Curiously however, the notion that our thoughts can also heal, is frequently met with an incredulous raise of the eyebrow. Why is this? Surely if stress can make us ill, then relaxation and de-stressing can help us to heal. Can our thoughts affect matter? Is this ability what Robert Hahn was referring to when he famously said "Belief sickens, belief kills, belief heals".

So can Positive Thoughts Actually Affect our Physical Reality?

The answer is yes according to Dr Blaslotto of the University of Chicago. He is interested in the effect of visualization on sports performance. He recently recounted an experiment carried out with a group of basketball players.

"First, the athletes were tested to determine their free-throw proficiency. They were then randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups. The first went to the gym every day for one hour and practised throwing free throws.

"The second [group] also went to the gym, but instead of physically practising, they lay down and simply visualized themselves successfully shooting.

"The third group did nothing. In fact, they were instructed to forget about basketball: "Don't touch a basketball - don't even think about it!"

"At the end of 30 days, the three groups were again tested to determine their free-throw proficiency.

"The players who hadn't practised at all showed no improvement in performance; many in that group actually exhibited a drop. Those who had physically practised one hour each day showed a performance increase of 24 percent.

"Here's the clincher: the visualization group, by merely imagining themselves successfully shooting free throws, improved 23 percent!"

What do London Cab Drivers and Meditating Monks have in Common?

It has long been understood that to drive a taxi in London, one must develop an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the roads, side streets and local attractions of the nations capital. A truly vast amount of information. Scientists at University College London researching the brain have recently discovered that part of the cab driver's hypothalamus (the part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals) actually grows larger and adapts in order to help them store a detailed mental map of the city. The scientists also found that the relevant part of the hippocampus continued to grow larger as the taxi drivers spent more time in the job. Dr Eleanor Maguire, who led the research team commented. "There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes...The hippocampus has changed its structure to accommodate their huge amount of navigating experience."

Buddhist monks have also been demonstrated to show actual physical changes in the brain, depending upon what they choose to meditate. In monks who regularly practised 'Compassion meditation', involving frequently sending compassionate thoughts to all sentient beings, showed much greater activation in brain regions called the right insula and caudate, a network that underlies empathy and maternal love. They also had stronger connections from the frontal regions to the emotion regions, which is the pathway by which higher thought can control emotions.

In each case, monks with the most hours of meditation showed the most dramatic brain changes. That was a strong hint that mental training makes it easier for the brain to turn on circuits that underlie compassion and empathy.  Prof Davidson who was involved with the study says  "This positive state is a skill that can be trained......Our findings clearly indicate that meditation can change the function of the brain in an enduring way."

"We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves."

UCSF's Michael Merzenich

Ok, so Mind can Affect Matter. How is this Relevant to Me?

We in the west already know that prolonged stress can sicken the body. But when we fully embrace the fact that it can also change our physical reality in a variety of positive ways, it's really quite exciting. Improving sporting performance is really just the tip of the iceberg. Just imagine if through the use of meditation and hypnotic training we all began to mentally rehearse the future we wanted to achieve. As a long time creator and user of hypnotherapy recordings to de-stress and mentally rehearse desired outcomes, this makes perfect sense. A wise man once said that everything in existence started as a thought, and was brought into being by human endeavour. I really believe we should be careful and choose wisely what we think about regularly and dwell on. Even better, use guided imagery to plan and rehearse our future!  What the mind perceives, the mind achieves, and what we focus on today is likely to become our tomorrow.

"You must see your goals clearly and specifically before you can set out for them. Hold them in your mind until they become second nature."

Les Brown


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Jonathan Brown

Jonathan Brown Dhp Michp is an award winning Psychotherapist and Medical Hypnotherapist from Belfast, Northern Ireland. His Hypnotherapy and visualization recordings may be purchased on MP3 and CD from and he may be contacted via

top of the page