Mind Modulation of Blood Flow and
Autonomic Nervous System
Barber (1978, 1984) has brought together a fascinating overview that demonstrates how therapeutic hypnosis can be effective in healing a wide variety of apparently unrelated mind-body problems.
This suggest that the phenomena of focused attention, imagery, biofeedback and therapeutic hypnosis all operate by altering the direction of blood flow. Altering blood flow by directed thinking, imagining, and feeling is one of the basic, common factors in the resolution of most, if not all, mind-body problems.
The regulation of blood flow is usually considered under three headings: (1) autonomic nervous system, (2) humoral systems, and (3) local tissue controls.
1) Autonomic Nervous System
With its branches in the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, the autonomic nervous system regulates blood flow by dilating or constricting blood vessels. This regulation takes place primarily via the action of neurotransmitters as sympathetic nerve endings located on the arteries, arterioles, metarterioles, veins and venules.
The entire system usually acts automatically on an unconscious level under control of the vasomotor center in the brain stem. This automatic control center, however, is subject to mind modulation via the limbic-hypothalamic system, which can send excitatory or inhibitory information to it. Many parts of the cerebral cortex dealing with a variety of sensory-perceptual processes (imagery, kinesthesia, audition) can initiate the routes by which state-dependent memory and learning can be funneled through the limbic-hypothalamic system to modulate blood flow by the autonomic nervous system.
2) Humoral Control of Blood
Humoral control refers to the substances such as hormones, ions, and other factors in the body fluids that can regulate blood flow. A number of hormones that are part of the endocrine system can be turned on by the autonomic nervous system.
The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, for example, can stimulate the adrenal medulla (center of the adrenal glands) to secrete two such hormonal agents, epinephrine and norepinephrine, that are distributed throughout the body to regulate blood flow by constricting or dilating blood vessels.
3) Local Tissue Controls of Blood Flow
Arterioles are innervated directly by the sympathetic nervous system and indirectly by epinephrine and norepinephrine released into the blood by adrenal medulla. Arterioles are thus subject to mind modulation via the hypothalamic-autonomic route.
From the book "Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing"
Rossi brings together extensive new evidence from psychoneuroimmunology, neuroendocrinology, molecular genetics, and neurobiology to show that there is no mysterious gap between mind and body. This book identifies what the medical profession calls "pathways", that is, the way attitudes or emotions are processed by the body in creating physiological or biochemical change. Rossi documents and illustrates how these pathways coordinate all the "messenger molecules" of mind-body communication via the autonomic, endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems.