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Chapter 24 The Relation of Mental Force to Physical Strength, and How to Cure General Sebility

The amount of mechanical force generated and expended in the human in the daily working of the animal machinery, is far beyond what would be conjectured by one who had not investigated the subject. For the performance of the functions of respiration and circulation, the amount expended every day is not less than several thousands of pounds. To this we must add the amount necessary to the ingestion and digestion of the food and the expulsion of the excretions. The aggregate amount of force expanded in labor and locomotion, has been estimated to be not less than two millions of pounds a day, or one thousand tons. We have seen that heat and mechanical force are correlative. But the heat necessary to the generation of such an amonnt of force cannot be produced by the oxydation or slow combustion of the carbon and hydrogen of the blood. This is wholly inadequate to meet so great a demand, and to replace the amount radiated from the body. We must look to some other source for the generation of the muscular power of the system.

Let us look at the phenomena exhibited by that pathological condition called general debility. These words are in common use to express a state of the system with which every medical practitioner frequently meets. A very large fraction or chronic diseases, at least three-fourths, come under this general dcsignation. There seems to be but little, and sometimes no organic disease, but only a general weakness in the action of all the organs, a lack of vital force everywhere, a negative state of the body. The favorite prescriptions for it include quinine protoxide of iron, and various tonics and stimulants. But drugs have no adaptation to the cure of such a state of things. A more subtle chemistry must be brought to the aid of the enfeebled and negative organism. Strength is not in the body, the muscles are not a force. These are only the instruments of a spiritual force. We have seen a girl, weak, pale, and apparently possessing but little muscular power, who, when under the excitement of a certain form of Hysteria, would exhibit almost gigantic physical strength, requiring the force of two men to hold her. After coming out of these attacks, she did not seem greatly exhausted, not more than ordinarily followed a walk of half a mile. This almost superhuman power, this Titanic force, was not in her physical system. It was not a property of the bodily organism, it was purely a mental state, and the augmented muscular strength was the resultant of increased mental force. What we improperly call physical strength is always in the mind. The body has no force but that of gravity and cohesion, which belong in common to all solids and fluids.

But what is that mental condition which makes one strong? A consciousness of strength, of what we call physical power, if not synonymous with health, is closely allied to it, and is correlative of it. Ling based his movement cure upon the truth, that perfect health and physical power were convertible terms. But what goes to make up the spiritual state that is the cause of muscular force? The opposite of that which underlies a state of general debility. In this there is a lack of mental force — of will energy. Neither the muscular nor the nervous tissue is diseased. In paralysis there is a softening of the nerves of motion, and they become imperfect conductors of the will-force. Nothing of this kind is found in general debility. The lack of mental force may be, and often is, the result of discouragement — a state of mind made up of a want of faith, an inactive or inverted condition of the organ of hope, and a negative action of the sentiment of self-esteem. It is the office of this latter faculty to give us the sense of our personal identity, our peculiar individuality, and to cause us to feel a respect for it, and to place a proper value upon it. It inspires us with the feeling of self-reliance, and of freedom, which is favourable to the manifestations of muscular force and virtuous activity. It gives that confidence in the use of our powers which is necessary to success in every department of human labor, and to the efficient discharge of the functions of every office. Its office seems to be to add force to all our volitions. It imparts a positive influence to the mind, and gives the power of controlling both ourselves and others. The lack of this quality causes a negative condition of the mind, which by influx into the body, weakens the tone of all muscular action.

What we call self-esteem, for the want of a better name, has much to do with physical strength. The persons most remarkable for muscular power, exhibit a large and active development of it. The part of the brain where all volunlary motions originate, is in close proximity to it, being situated at a middle point between firmness and self-esteem. This part of the cerebrum supplies the necessary stimulus to the diaphragm and all the voluntary muscles. It is the seat of the will, the self-determining power of the mind. Surrounding it are the organs whose office it is to give energy to our volitions, as faith, firmness, self-esteem, and continuity. When these organs are in a normal condition, there is seldom found a state of general debility. A judicious magnetic treatment of this part of the brain accomplishes wonders in restoring the strength of a patient. When a person has the feeling, “I am strong; I can do a great thing; I can do what man has ever done,” it is an excitement of the sentiment of faith; firmness, and self-esteem, and the increased vital action of their cerebral organs extends instantly to the organ of voluntary motion. Under the stimulus of these feelings, the body spontaneously assumes an erect attitude, and the person exhibits the conscious dignity of his manhood. The shoulders are drawn back, the chest enlarged, and the breathing is deep and full.

Whatever mental state will increase the amount of respiratory action will increase the strength. And nature has provided that when we are about to exert great muscular force and feel adequate to it, whether it be lifting or striking, we shall precede the effort with a deep inspiration. Let anyone try the experiment. The more one breathes, other things being equal, the stronger he is. The size of the lungs, indicated by breadth between the shoulders, and deepness and fullness of the chest, is the measure of a person’s muscular force. The less one breathes, the weaker he is. In swooning, which is accompanied with a loss of all voluntary motion, there is only a suspended respiration. On recovering, or rather the cause of the restoration to consciousness and muscular power is, a deep breath is drawn, and with it comes back the lost physical force.

The best restoratives are magnetism of the part of the brain that is the seat of the will, and alternate pressure of the abdominal muscles and the chest, to create artificial breathing, as is done in cases of drowning aud asphyxia. This is often successful in a few minutes. We have thus restored a patient in one minute. In cases of general debility, there is always a feeble respiration, in fact, it is physiologically a partial and chronic swooning. The breathing is short and quick, and the pulse correspondingly feeble and rapid. For nature maintains a rythmic harmony between the movements of the heart and lungs.

All depressing mental states, as we have before shown, are attended with an imperfect respiration, the lungs only being called into action, and no movement being communicated to the abdominal muscles. The muscular membrane, called the diaphragm, separating between the thoracic and abdominal cavities, whose contraction supplies the respiratory force, loses its nervous power, and its convexity. It must be restored to a healthy tone, and its contractility increased, for its action is prior to all muscular motions, and voluntary exhibitions of physical force. But there is no medical compound in the endless list of pharmaceutical preparations, that can effect this change. There must be a return to a natural respiration, a normal breathing, which most not be a momentary exercise, but become an habitual bodily state.

We have shown, in a previous chapter, that the action of the heart and lungs are primary motions on which all the physiological movements and processes depend. The effect of respiration extends beyond the substance of the lungs and the thorax. Motion is communicated by it, not only to the abdominal coverings and to all the organs within the abdominal cavity, but to the smallest blood vessels, and promotes the circulation of their fluid contents. There is not only a rising and falling of the mass of the brain, synchronous with the contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm, and the expansion and shrinking of the pulmonary substance, but the same movement, though not so perceptible, is communicated to the cer-ebro-spinal axis and all the nerves, which are only the continuation or ramification of the brain into the body. Its effects extend to every fiber and minute vessel of the organism, and are consequently promotive of all the vital processes and functions. Too much importance cannot be attached to a proper respiration, as being intimately related to a normal manifestation of the mind, and a healthy functional action of the various organs.

It is evident that the stimulus of any mental state, that causes a normal action of the diaphragm, the lungs, and the abdominal muscles, and thus increases the breathing force, will alone permanently increase the strength, restore the lost tone of the vital movements, and cure the prevalent state of the system called general debility. To breathe is to live and the more we breathe, the more we live. Strength is not a property of our material organization, but is more a mental state. The body moves with a power proportioned to the mental energy. Motion in the body is an effect, of which some spiritual force is the cause, It does not originate in the body. There is a force distinct from all material organization, which is the motive power of the machinery. The power of the motion is ever proportioned to the degree of the spiritual force. To strengthen the body, if such a contradiction were possible, does not demand the use of tonics and stimulants, but we must increase the mental force. If we can by any means arouse the mind to a vigorous tone, and become “strong, and of a good courage,” our general debility will soon disappear. The patient is always under the influence at certain depressing mental states, which sustain a causal relation to the trouble, and the so-called bodily weakness. It is of no use to try to relieve symptoms, and doctor effects. The remedial agency must be less superficial. We must attend to the fountain of bodily life, and minister to a mind diseased. We need not filter the stream. We must purify the spring. Remove the spiritual cause, and the bodily effect will cease.

One of the concomitants of the state of general debility, is what is called nervousness. But nervous disorders are wholly mental. The patient often suffers more than in cases of great organic derangement. A disease is none the less real because it is mental, as the soul is the most real element of our complex nature. Nervousness is nothing else but a morbid state of the mind, and only spiritual remedies are adapted to its cure. The sufferings of the patient arise not so much from the absolute amount of pain, for this is usually very trifling, but from the extreme sensitiveness of the mind to all uneasy feelings. There is a morbid dread of disease, a tendency to watch their shifting symptoms, and perhaps an unusual acuteness in their sensations.

When a patient can be made aware that his disease is wholly mental, an important point is gained in the process of recovery. For a knowledge of the cause of disease is half of its cure. To tell a nervous invalid that his troubles are all in his mind, need give no offense, if we at the same time exhibit a true sympathy for his sufferings, and show him that they are not less important because they arise from a pathological state of the inner man. To say that a patient’s disease is in the mind, is quite a different thing from an assertion that nothing ails him. These are not equivalent propositions. What are called nervous diseases, are among the most real of the ills to which man is subject. An unsound state of the mind is more to be deprecated than the fracture of a limb, or dislocation of a joint. All remedies except those of a generally hygienic nature, are ineffectual. Relief is soonest found in the ministry of mind to mind. A spiritual magnetism is especific for all the Protean forms it assumes. Its unutterable horrors, its morbid dread, its sensitiveness to trifling pains, its melancholy and despair, are made to give place to the influx of faith, hope, and peace. The remarks we have made above in relation to the treatment of general debility, are equally applicable to the cure of the nervousness attending it.

In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that come under the appropriate name of general debility, there is mechanical misplacement, or falling downward of the internal organs, owing to a relaxation of the muscles of the abdomen which constitute their natural support. There is a series of organs located within the trunk mutually supporting and influencing each other. Within the thorax or chest, we have the heart and lungs filling its entire cavity. Then comes the diaphragm, a muscular membrane, separating between the organs in the thorax and abdomen, and curving upward, forming the floor of the chest, the heart and lungs resting on it. Its contraction draws its convex surface downward, forming a partial vacuum, and the air, by the force of its pressure, rushes in and fills the lungs. The more convex the diaphragm, the deeper and fuller is the breathing. The lungs are wholly passive in both inspiration and expiration, as much so as a sponge in absorbing water and yielding it up when pressed. In cases of general debility the diaphragm does not come back to its proper convexity, and consequently the heart and lungs gravitate downward. Underneath the diaphragm are the liver, the stomach, the spleen, and the pancreas, below these the duodenum, and the intestinal canal in a sort of spiral column; then the organs in the pelvic cavity. As a displacement of these organs interferes with their healthy functional action, it becomes an important question, What holds them in position, and counteracts their gravitating force? They evidently cannot rest on nothing.

They are all held in their appropriate place by the walls of the abdomen which consist almost entirely of muscular tissue. There is a series of muscles so arranged as admirably to adapt them to the support of the truncal organs. We have first the transverse muscle, extending across from side to side over the abdomen; then
the oblique muscles, one of them extending from the hip or fan bone and back, obliquely upward, and inserted into the lower ribs, the other extending from the lower edge of the ribs, and also from the back, obliquely downward and fastened upon the pelvic bone and the white line of the abdomen; next the pyramidalis muscle, arising from the projecting bone of the hip and running up about half way to the navel, where it terminates in a point; and lastly, though not least in importance, the rectus abdominalis muscle. It is shaped somewhat like a suspender, and performs a similar office. It runs up the front of the abdomen and is inserted into the lower extremity of the sternum or breast-bone.

These muscular bands are so contrived, that when in a healthy condition, and the body is in a perfectly erect attitude, they hold up in their proper place within the trunk all the internal viscera. When in a relaxed state, all the organs tend downward toward the pelvis, and by their super-incumbent weight crowd the pelvic organs down — the bladder, the rectum, and the uterus. Then the animal machinery works wrong, like a watch when the wheels are moved out of place. This misplacement interferes with their physiological functions. The cure consists in bringing the organs back into place. Any artificial support, as the great variety of body braces and supporters, affords only a temporary relief, but aggravates the trouble in the end. The duplicated movements applied to the muscles of the abdomen, afford a better remedy, and those gymnastic exercises that call them into action are also of use. But no relief can be permanent until the spiritual cause of the trouble be removed. All depressing mental states destroy the healthy tone of the abdominal muscles. This is so manifestly the case, that mankind have instinctively recognized its truth in their common forms of speech. When we speak of one who is bowed down with grief, we express a physiological fact, and not merely a figure of speech. It is the natnral attitude of a man in sadness and melancholy, which destroys the contractility of the muscular coverings of the abdomen. Fear in all its forms, as anxiety, melancholy, and a want of faith, relaxes the diaphragm. It weakens the epigastric nerves, and deprives their organs of their proper cerebral stimulus.

We speak of depressing mental states, and a sinking of the spirits, — forms of speech arising naturally from the bodily sensations which they originate. Depression is the act of pressing down, and when applied to the mind signifies a lowering of its tone below the normal and healthful standard, and, by weakening the muscular support of the organs within the trunk, they obey the law of gravity and press downward. When a person is bowed down, he feels as he looks. It is the natural language, the ultimation, of dejection of spirits. All that is needed to restore the abdominal muscles to a healthy state, is habitually to exercise them. The appropriate nerve-stimulus, or rather spiritual force, that is infused into them by use, will harden them as certainly as exercise strengthens the arm of the blacksmith. They are always called into action by the respiration attending all happy and exhilarating frames of mind. If a patient can be recovered from his depressing mental condition, the body will become erect, without any other mechanical support than nature supplies. His weakness, his lassitude, his languor and fatigue will disappear.

On the influence of depressing mental states, Dr. Andrew Combe justly observes: “The tendency of grief, despondency and sorrow is to produce meditative inaction. These emotions require no exertion of the bodily powers, and no unusual expenditure of vital energy: but rather the reverse. This is a condition incompatible with a quick supply of blood, or a high degree of respiration; for if these were conjoined, they would only give rise to an amount of bodily activity at variance with the absorbed and inactive state of the mind. The nature of the exciting passions is to impel us vigorously to action; but action cannot be sustained without a full supply of highly oxygenated blood, and hence a manifest reason for the quick respiration and accelerated circulation which attend mental excitement. Great depression of mind thus leads naturally to imperfect respiration, a more sluggish flow of blood, and the various diseases of diminished vitality; while excessive ex-citemcnt induces full respiration, quickened circulation, and the various diseases of exalted vitality. These principles show the paramount importance, in the treatment of disease, of carefully regulating the mental state of the patient, according to the object we have in view”


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