Health & Wellness Perspective Self-Help

How Our Thoughts Can Heal or Destroy Us Physically: The Exclusive with Dr. Safiyya Shabazz

How Our Thoughts Can Heal or Destroy Us Physically: The Exclusive with Dr. Safiyya Shabazz

Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): I want to begin with words you previously mentioned regarding having poor health as well as how suffering from low self-esteem can lead to a form of self-destructive behavior. Generally when we think of self-esteem, we think about how we feel about ourselves which is a very short definition. Would you mind delving a little bit further into what self esteem is and how we should view it in relation to our health and our behavior?

Dr. Safiyya Shabazz (SS): To me, self esteem is how positively you see yourself. In medicine we call it self-efficacy, which is how much you believe you have the ability to improve your health. So it goes with how well you believe the medicine will work but how well you do believe YOU will work.

In medicine we see people do a number of negative things like criminal behavior, and it depends on what kind of criminal behavior. People are motivated to commit crimes for different reasons. When people commit crimes that are against survival and against nature that is a crime in and of itself. A weed in a yard fights to stay alive by drawing on everything around it. Yet, when we don’t exercise the intelligence of a plant to try to stay alive, there’s something not natural about it.

EM: At what point does a person succumb to being anti-survival and self-destructive?

SS: I think it happens over time. A child might do things it hasn’t learned are self-destructive, because he cannot see that far into the future. Or they may do something self-destructive, but in that moment feel that it is survival behavior.

My daughter was playing with nail polish. That may be a self-destructive behavior, because I told her not to. Yet, it made her happy to play with the nail polish at that moment. It spilled on her dresser and that’s another problem. She could expose herself to punishment for playing with the polish or she could try to cover it up or clean it up. Therefore, one thing can lead to another that you’re in so deep and you don’t know how you’re going to get out of it. It can spin out of control in that way.  I think for most people it’s like water dripping on a stone where one bad thing happens, another little bad thing happens. You don’t know to be miserable, unhappy or to dislike yourself. These are things you get messages on little by little, and at a certain point it starts to show. You can see it even in young children.

If you look at that study with the dolls and children had to pick out the dolls the one they considered were “good” or “bad” based on skin complexion. There was something that happened between the time of their birth and then being tested for that, which has entered their minds to make that think so negatively at this thing that looks very much like themselves. This kind of thing happens constantly. How different people respond varies.

In Dianetics, there is a stage referred to as apathy, and a lot of people have apathy or have given up in a way regarding their health. Once people get to that level, I feel like I cannot help them get better until they start to come up out of that.

EM: I want to go back to what you were saying in relation to destructive behavior and your daughter playing with the polish. It made me think of our obedience to God and His Law and how obeying it can be productive to our health. 

What are your thoughts?

SS: That’s a perfect connection. That’s exactly what happens.  In our prayer it says, “…make me free from want of what is besides Thee…”. When we want things that are beside what Allah wants then it starts that cascade and series of unfortunate events.

An example is being greedy about what you can afford and committing crimes to get more money or to acquire things you really can’t afford, whether it’s writing bad checks or cheating people. It starts with a desire that isn’t consistent with what Allah (God) wants.

Even our lack of respect for time, which is something I’m really working on with myself. The way we are where we’ve gotten to the point where we need to make a transition in terms of our approach and respect for prayer and the time that’s associated with it. A lot of us are a bit rebellious about it. There is no more excuse. It’s time for us to start to submit today. A lot of people’s problems in life and the stress, is because they don’t respect time. They’re late everywhere, they don’t organize their life and they can’t anything done. Once you lose control of time, you’re running around in circles. You’re stressed out. You’re fussing at your children, you’re fussing at your husband and it’s because you don’t have respect for time.

EM: Yes ma’am, thank you.

How does one attain love for himself or herself in order to love their brother and/or sister? You mentioned love heals, and I think that’s important to explore with our health condition and even our emotional and mental state. You said, “We have the ability to heal ourselves and heal others, but it first starts with attaining love for self”.

Yet, when you’re dealing with a people who are in a condition where we have this self-hatred and destructive behavior toward ourselves that is destructive to other people, what is the first step in attaining that self-love so that it will spill over into our relationships with other people?

SS: I don’t think that people can reach the spiritual attainment in their full love and appreciation for Allah without a solid love for themselves. However, maybe you can start to build love for yourself as you come into submission to what Allah wants you to do. Then you start to receive His love and see where He starts to Act in your life, and that might feed your love for yourself. At this point your condition starts to change and then it can be a back and forth process. Even being a service to others… Even though you think nothing of yourself, seeing the affects you can have on someone else by having a positive interaction or doing some service for the other person should feed a little piece of love for yourself or make you feel good in some way. You can use that as the emphasis to build a love for yourself.

EM: You said that a love between a husband and wife reduces stress and depression. Can you expound on that and how that occurs, especially if there is a strained relationship?

SS: What I quoted was from a news article about a study that was done here in Philadelphia, where the husband and wife pair were coached. The husbands were encouraged to be more supportive while their wives were undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. They were coached in a way to display their love that actually decreased their wives stress and increased her sense of well-being during the chemotherapy treatment.

Women who are in a happy marriage live longer. Men live longer married, period. Women who are in an unhappy marriage don’t have a survival advantage, but women who are happily married do and men who are happily married do. Usually men eventually come around to the realization of selflessness. I think that women are more inclined to it and being caring and giving. It’s not that its only one way, but we as women do it more naturally then men do. It’s the men who are constantly bucking this reality that don’t get the results that they want from their marriage.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches how to respect and protect the woman. I don’t think we see enough of this. Most women are naturally inclined to really give themselves to their mate and adhere to them. It would almost be automatic, but it does start to shut down when you don’t receive that in return or over time, in different relationships that may scare people where you might forget that natural inclination.  Happiness is healing and love is an intricate part of having that.

Chronic stress is not good. Some amount of stress is good. Just like fasting, we’re stressing ourselves. Yet, chronic stress is not good. There has to be a cyclical component to stress in order for it to have the potential to help you and not hurt you. It’s in the Holy Quran that “surely after hardship comes ease”.

EM: Yes ma’am thank you very much.

My last question revolving around how we are able to heal ourselves and others comes from what Sister Ava Muhammad shared about her story. She was listening to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and being able to bring herself, with the aid of Allah, back to a full recovery. It also made me think of what Brother Nuri Muhammad said about the human brain being the original pharmacy and how all of these scientists who put out various pills is just a synthetic imitation of what the brain is able to produce naturally under the right conditions. 

I want to find out from you, as a doctor, how do we access and activate that ability to heal ourselves, to tap into those chemicals in the brain and tell it to heal our bodies similarly to what Sister Ava Muhammad experienced by listening to the Word and feeding on it? Also, how  to be able to recognize the body being in need of a healing to tap into that original pharmacy as Brother Nuri Muhammad mentioned?

SS: I practice regular medicine, and I’m always concerned when I know the health that we’re in. Many of us, particularly in the Nation of Islam, may reject any form of regular medicine, although our health status is so poor our brains are not yet fully capable of bringing a complete healing in the state that they are in. I want to be careful to not discourage people from following the advice of their healthcare professional. We have to have balance when we approach this subject.

Now, the brain is the master and controller of everything that is going on in the body. You can detract from your brain power with a poor state of physical health and you can also detract from your physical health with a poor state of your thoughts. 20 percent of the blood flow goes to your brain. That is a significant amount of circulation is being used up by the brain. You can have a negative or positive effect on your body by your thoughts. Visualization would be a good step. Literally visualize what needs to take place. If someone has an illness, do some research into the underlying cause of it to what is physically happening down there on an organ level or cellular level so that you can start to focus your thoughts on it functioning in the proper way. Many athletes achieve a great amount of accomplishment or win a match, and they’ll tell someone, “I’ve done it a thousand times in my mind before this day. I won over and over again. I saw myself meeting this goal and finally it’s happened”.

That’s something that is a practical tool. It takes some learning, because if you don’t fully understand what’s going on your visualization will be less affective.

Physical movement is very important for increasing brain power, which is part of the reason we (Muslims) pray the way we pray. Certain movements in the prayer and some of the positions increases blood flow to the brain, itself.  You might even feel it sometimes. When you’re in the Sajdah position of prayer, you can feel the surge going to your head. You might feel the opposite when you stand back up feeling the blood flowing away.

They actually have a medical treatment Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP), which is basically a process they try to increase or restore the blood flow, specifically for the heart, but its restoring the circulation for people who have cardiovascular disease and it also works for peripheral vascular disease. I don’t believe it has been looked at for brain health, but they put these blood pressure cuffs on the arms and legs that squeeze in a cyclical way and it restores the flow of blood to the heart. Well, when we pray we’re doing that ourselves. We increase the pressure when we kneel down and put our head all the way onto the floor and then you stand back up. When you’re doing that,  you can feel that increase of blood flow and the decrease of blood flow.

I think a lot of spiritual practices and rituals we have do possess a scientific and physical base to it to actually get a result. We are spiritual people and we believe in Allah. We believe in miracles; not the hocus-pocus type of miracles because Islam is mathematics. Certain things have to take place in order for something to happen. We might not understand it. It’s not magic, it’s science.

EM: Beautifully said! I want to bear witness to what you stated about visualization. I’m a licensed massage therapist and I pay very close attention to my muscles and my body. I happened to injure myself, my AC joint. The first thing that I did, which is based on what we’re taught about being able to locate an injury and focus our thoughts on it to heal ourselves,  I went into my anatomy book. While feeling around my injury to pinpoint exactly where it was while I was looking in my textbook. By doing that I was able to locate it understanding that it was my AC joint. Once I located where the point of pain was, I began moving and stretching it to increase blood flow and flexibility. I put heat on the area and focused all of my energy there.

At some point, days later, I didn’t feel the pain anymore. I honestly don’t remember when the pain stopped. It just dawned on me one morning that I no longer had the injury. It was the most rewarding feeling to be able to heal in such a strategic and natural way and to be able to bear witness to our Teachings on so many levels.  The thought involved and physiological aspect of being able to heal myself was amazing!

SS: Right! You can also injure yourself in the same way. One of the reasons I choose not to do injury cases is, because with some lawyers it’s about their client being able to prove how debilitated they are to receive the most amount of money. My job is to reverse any injuries or disability as soon as possible to restore you to full health. However, if you, as the patient, are on the other side – the legal side- where you’re trying to get as sick as possible for as long as possible, I can’t help you. Your brain can’t be in two places at the same time, where you’re trying to heal yourself and stay sick at the same time. You’ll get sick from constantly telling yourself you are. We see it all of the time. I’ll think to myself that this little injury shouldn’t have grown to be so major.

I remember being told in medical school that when someone has an injury that’s someone else’s fault they heal slower than people who injury their own selves.  When it’s someone else’s fault the injured is saying, “You made me sick. I’ll never have function in my leg again. My back will be in pain forever. It’s just going to get worse and worse until I’m in a wheel chair and die.”

EM: Yes ma’am. So again, it starts with our thinking and what our thoughts will produce physically in our bodies.

SS: Yes, exactly.

EM: Thank you very much for sharing so much of your insight and experience with Hurt2Healing Magazine! May Allah continue to bless you in your craft, your purpose and mission.

SS: All praise is due to Allah! Thank you Sister Ebony.


You are welcome to follow Dr. Safiyya Shabazz on Twitter @DrSafiyya as well as visit her online at 

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