Mind Over Body?

How often do you hear this mind-centric mantra “Mind Over Matter?” As this phrase implies, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. But what if  it – is your body?

Can your mind control your body? Can your mind tune out, numb or ignore painful or unusual signs or signals?

Two things happened to me last week that made me reflect on this question.

Eat Bitter?  吃点苦

For the first time in my life, I had to take something very bitter to find out why there’s so much sweet inside of my body. I had abnormally high sugar level in my blood. For someone my size and weight, it baffled even my endocrinologist who couldn’t believe her eyes when she first saw me in her office.

“You’re petite.” she said. “It’d be easy for me to tell you to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthy, but you are already fit and thin.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her last month.

“Your blood sugar level could indicate you’re at higher risk of diabetes. And you are not the average person we see who is potentially diabetic – you know – overweight with poor diet.

We need to run some tests.

That was weeks ago.

After initial blood test results confirmed that I indeed show a “marker” which put me at risk of a range of diseases including diabetes, she ordered the ultimate  “Gold Standard” glucose tolerance test, which I decided to take last week in New York.

glucose testThis glucose tolerance test involves two blood drawing sessions before and after drinking 75 gm of deeply  bittersweet orangey beverage.

Last Wednesday morning while sitting alone in a quaint and quiet medical laboratory, I began preparing my mind that I could handle this no matter how bitter the drink or how many vials of blood they had to take. I reminded myself that the drink will be a piece of cake because I am used to “eating bitter. 吃点苦” (The American equivalent of “toughing it out.”)  I can’t count how many bowls of bitter black herbal medicinal tea I had to inhale every time I got sick as a child growing up in Hong Kong.

shine_5580867_3965984_m“You have 5 minutes to finish drinking this bottle.” the nurse told me.

“Do I have to finish it in 5 minutes?”

I was hoping to down it as quickly as possible to get it done and over with.

“You have maximum 5 minutes.” the nurse reiterated.

“Okay. Thank you!” I was relieved.

The first sip actually tasted fine.

“Not so bad…” I began to sweet-talk myself into liking it.  After a long gulp, followed by more long gulps, it’s finished. I did it in a minute.

“Whew…it’s done.”

The next two hours of waiting for my body to process the bitter fluid before the final blood test – felt like eternity. Again, I tried to occupy my mind with light and fun reading. I wanted to steer my mind away from that bitter after taste in my mouth.

Two hours later – I was called into a small exam room.

Go Further?

“How many vials of blood?” I was hoping for a comforting reassuring answer.

“Many.” The blood drawing nurse Mildred is nice, but also blunt.

“O gosh…” I started deep breathing – using the technique I learn from Ashtanga yoga. My inhaling and exhaling was so loud that the nurse – while trying to pump and prep my left arm -noticed.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes. I am just…taking deep breaths.”

“Ouch….wow…” I felt a deep digging, diving and twisting around for a juicy bloody vein in my left arm – the same arm and area for the first blood test. But I kept my eyes closed thinking my left arm could go further with more poking and penetrating. Minutes later…

“Uumm….wrong vein.” Mildred muttered.

“Okay. Let’s go to the other arm, please.” I urged. Luckily, she obliged. It took her no time to find a good vein for 3 vials of blood. All that’s left to do, was to bandage my two arms with needle wounds.

photo 2I didn’t think much of it for the rest of the day as I was busy running around town from meeting to meeting until it was time to turn in for the night. Standing in my bathroom, I began to peel off the bandage in my left arm but was stunned to see this.

“Oh my…who knew my body could react like this?”

I was a bit scared at first, but decided to wait it out. As I write, my left arm is a lot better.  But it was visible enough this morning that my yoga teacher noticed and asked me for an explanation at the end of practice.

“What happened to your arm?” George looked concerned.

I explained as briefly as I could but the truth of the matter is – it’s on my mind. It is my body.

My body’s reaction to blood drawing. My body’s reaction to sugar.

What is my body trying to tell me now?

As I contemplate these issues, I realize the wisdom of tuning my mind to my body.

Over time, it is less a question of my mind over matter, or mind over body – but more  importantly, cultivating a strong mind that will nurture and respect the nature of my body.

With daily yoga practice, it’s become easier for my mind to notice how my body reacts to various types of stress and demands of the day. And with mindfulness comes healing.

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is mablechan@chinapersonified.com.