The December 2009 issue of Elevated Existence Magazine featured an exclusive in-depth interview with Chopra Center co-founder, Dr. David Simon, about the connection between emotions and disease, and how a mind-body approach can help people find wholeness and health.
At the time, Simon had recently published the book “Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal Your Body by Healing Your Emotions,” and launched an emotional freedom course at the Chopra Center based on the book.
Dr. Simon recently passed away, and in remembrance of him, we present the article in full – broken into two parts. Interviewed by Elevated Existence founder, publisher and editorial director, Tammy Mastroberte, Dr. Simon shares valuable information on the connection between our emotions and the creation of disease in the body.
Beyond the Symptoms
The Chopra Center’s Dr. David Simon explains the connection between emotions and disease, and the holistic way to find wholeness and health.
By Tammy Mastroberte
When our head starts pounding, our stomach starts churning or our chest is on fire from heartburn, the first place we usually run to is the medicine cabinet. And when we can’t find relief on our own, the next step is the doctor’s office, where the physician often turns to his or her prescription pad to alleviate our symptoms.
This has been the routine for many of us, who learned over the years that when we feel bad — physically or mentally — a pill is the answer. And in some cases, this is absolutely true. But what if there was an alternative to medication that would soothe anxiety or depression? What if our stomach cramps or acid indigestion is really the body’s way of letting us know our emotions need tending to?
These questions are the reason Dr. David Simon wrote his newest book, “Free to Love, Free to Heal: Heal Your Body by Healing Your Emotions,” and created an emotional freedom course at The Chopra Center, both of which are based on his experience as a physician who has looked at life and health holistically for more than three decades.
“If you give people the safety needed, you will find everyone has a story underlying their symptoms or illness, and if we can bring that from the subconscious to the conscious, there are opportunities for healing,” he tells Elevated Existence. “It’s about revealing the underlying story and writing a more empowering chapter. This can often help people get off or reduce their medication needs for a variety of things.”
Of course, there are some cases where medication is required, such as an auto accident, sudden heart attack or a urinary tract infection, Simon says. In these cases, medication can be lifesaving. But there are many instances where modifying a person’s lifestyle and looking at emotional factors can help alleviate ailments just as effectively as a pill.
“Traditionally, the physician’s job is to find the biochemical to relieve someone’s suffering. They don’t think of stress when someone has high blood pressure, it’s more about giving them a medication that can bring it down,” he explains. “If someone is depressed, a doctor often doesn’t look at what’s happening in the person’s relationships, how they might not be nourishing themselves, or even if a person has found meaning or purpose in life. It’s more about a deficiency in serotonin. That is the conventional model.”
Simon approached medical school from a different perspective, majoring in anthropology and studying medicine in non-Western cultures. He did his thesis in Shamanism, and in between his graduate studies and medical school, became a meditation and yoga instructor.
“I learned health was about love, but in medical school they teach that people are molecular machines, and when the machine isn’t twirling properly, to introduce a new molecule. We are taught to treat symptoms rather than look at the root of illness,” Simon says.
He believes there is an emotional component to all illness, and a mind/body approach works well, especially for psychosomatic illnesses such as functional bowel disorders, chronic pain, migraines and fibromyalgia. Even heart disease has some emotional component, he explains, although genetics, diet and exercise do play a role.
“At any one time, 20 percent to 25 percent of the population is struggling with digestion, whether its heartburn or irritable bowel, and these have a strong emotional component,” Simon notes. Many autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, also have a direct correlation to emotions.
“Most people with an autoimmune disease say their illness gets aggravated when they are stressed, and when they are not, the symptoms get quiet for a while,” he says, citing a study done with people suffering from an autoimmune disease who were admitted into a hospital. Patients were asked about physical, emotional, sexual or drug abuse in the family as a child, and the study showed an increased risk of an autoimmune disease as an adult when one or more of these factors are present.
Additionally, issues about food — whether eating too much or too little — all have underlying emotional components. The answer is to help people fill their needs directly rather than going through food, Simon says, explaining whether it’s food, drugs or alcohol, addictive behaviors are a person’s attempt to self-medicate.
But whether it’s self-medicating or turning to a doctor’s prescription, when the underlying emotional components are not addressed, new symptoms will often crop up over time, he explains. The body will continue to create disease until the emotional causes are uncovered and resolved.
“The body is trying to get our attention because it is carrying some pain — often emotional — that needs some direct attention,” he explains. “Whether it’s a headache, backache or irritable bowel, the body is asking ‘Can someone please pay attention?’ But rather than doing that, we just suppress the symptom with some type of medication, and then it often finds another way to get our attention.”
For example, a patient will often go to the doctor because of a migraine headache, and the doctor will prescribe a medication. Then the patient comes back into the office saying his or her headache is better, but now they have a side effect, or a new symptom. The doctor will then prescribe a new medication for the new symptoms or side effect, and that is why people often wind up on five or six medications, Simon says.
“You have to look back to the beginning and see what triggered the escapade. When I see people like this, it often goes back to one thing — such as being emotionally or physically abused as a child — and they often need someone to hear their story and help them heal that story. Once it’s resolved, the symptoms often go away.”
Read Part 2 of the interview “Remembering David Simon.”
To leave a note in remembrance of Dr. Simon, visit the Remembering David Web site.