For thousands of years, religions the world over have extolled the benefits of meditation and quiet contemplation. In Islam and Catholicism, Judaism and Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, and in religious practice from the Americas to Africa to Asia, the value of sitting quietly, using various techniques to cultivate stillness or focused attention of the mind, has been well recognized. The goals of religious meditation extend far beyond its potential physical health benefits and also extend beyond the scope of this book.
Higher human function of body, mind, and spirit is explored in sacred literature throughout the world. An excellent summary of ancient and contemporary information on the subject can be found in Michael Murphy’s landmark book The Future of the Body: Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. In the closing years of the Twentieth Century, the intimate connection between body and mind is widely acknowledged. Once the domain of speculation by mystics and philosophers, this realm has in recent decades been visited and revisited by scientists, who have produced an impressive array of documentation.
Most of this research appeared after 1970, and there currently exists a state of informational jet-lag, in which the available documentation has not yet fully percolated through the scientific community. Thus, meditation remains a tool drastically underutilized within the medical fields. The data pool is now so substantial that it can be stated, without fear of contradiction, that meditation and related relaxation techniques have been scientifically shown to be highly beneficial to health.
Over a thousand research studies, most of them published in well-respected scientific journals, attest to a wide range of measurable improvements in human function as a result of meditative practices. Herbert Benson, M. D. , and the Relaxation Response Herbert Benson’s research at Harvard in the early 1970s led the way. Benson’s impeccable credentials and university affiliation, along with the world-class quality of his work, led to publication of breakthrough articles on meditation in the Scientific American and the American Journal of Physiology.
His book, The Relaxation Response topped the best seller lists in the mid-1970s, and is still widely read. In The Relaxation Response, Benson concluded, based on his research, that meditation acted as an antidote to stress. The body’s physical response under stress is well known; when a real or imagined threat is present, the human nervous system activates the “fight-or-flight” mechanism. The activity of the sympathetic portion of the nervous system increases, causing an increased heart beat, increased respiratory rate, elevation of blood pressure, and increase in oxygen consumption.
This fight-or-flight response has a purpose. If you need to run quickly to escape an attack by a wild animal or need increased strength to battle an invader, you will be better equipped to do so if the fight-or-flight mechanism is turned up to maximum intensity. But this mechanism functions best when used occasionally, for brief periods only. If activated repeatedly, the effects are harmful and potentially disastrous. It is not uncommon for people in modern societies to maintain high stress levels most of the time.
The current epidemic of hypertension and heart disease in the Western world is in part a direct result. The effects of meditation, Benson demonstrated, are essentially the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Benson’s research showed that meditation: • Decreases the heart rate • Decreases the respiratory rate • Decreases blood pressure in people who have normal or mildly elevated blood pressure • Decreases oxygen consumption These basic findings have been replicated by so many subsequent studies that they are not in dispute.
They also established once and for all that meditation is physiologically distinct from sleep. In sleep, oxygen consumption drops about 8 percent below the waking rate, and this decrease occurs slowly over a period of five or six hours. In meditation, it drops 10 to 20 percent in minutes. Moreover, alpha waves, which indicate a state of relaxed alertness, are abundant during meditation, and rarely noted in the sleep state. 1 Meditation’s Effects on Muscle Tension and Pain Numerous studies have shown a decrease in muscle tension during meditation.
As Michael Murphy points out, this Ocontributes to the bodyOs lowered need for energy, the slowing of respiration, and the lowering of stress-related hormones in the blood. O In some studies, the decrease in muscle tension as a result of meditation even exceeded the impressive effects of biofeedback training. One interesting study measured the electrical patterns in muscles, and demonstrated that the lotus position (seated with legs fully crossed), a traditional posture for meditation, is the only position in which the bodyOs muscles are as relaxed as they are when lying down. Meditation has also been shown to aid in the alleviation of pain. Extensive studies on chronic pain patients have been conducted by John Kabat-Zinn, Ph. D. , the founder and Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Preventative and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn and his program were featured on the American public television (PBS) series Healing and the Mind, with Bill Moyers. Dr.
Kabat-Zinn’s studies have demonstrated decreases in many kinds of pain in people who had been unresponsive to standard medical treatment. A large majority of the patients in Kabat-ZinnOs studies who were taught to meditate improved, while control groups of similar patients showed no significant improvement. Various related studies have shown improvement in pain from muscle tension, headaches, dysmenorrhea, and other conditions. 3 Changes in Brainwaves and Enhanced Perception It should come as no surprise that among the well-documented effects of meditation is the alteration of brain-wave patterns.
Dozens of studies have shown an increase in alpha rhythms, which are correlated with a state of relaxed alertness. In addition, numerous studies have shown enhanced synchronization of alpha rhythms among four regions of the brainNright, left, front, and back. This may be an indication of increased coherence of brain-wave activity. 4 Some researchers have demonstrated positive effects of meditation on mind-body coordination, exploring this area by measuring such parameters as visual sensitivity to light flashes,5 response to auditory stimuli,6 and ability to remember and discriminate musical tones. There are also indications that during meditation the function of the right hemisphere of the brain (generally correlated with creativity and imagination) is enhanced, while that of the left hemisphere (generally correlated with linear, intellectual thought) is inhibited. 8 Despite the encouraging trend of increased research attention to the subject in recent years, scientific evaluation of meditation is still in its early stages. While certain benefits have been proven, much remains untested. Furthermore, the echnology may not yet exist to validate many of the most profound effects of meditation. It is likely that research in the coming decades will take us far beyond our current knowledge, just as todayOs level of understanding far exceeds that which existed prior to 1970. Meditation Methods Now that the value of meditation has been established, one might reasonably ask next: What exactly is meditation, and how do I meditate? Ironically, these questions are not easy to answer, because there are so many different approaches.
Most widely used meditation methods evolved as part of religious traditions and, as such, each of them may be controversial for people who do not identify with the tradition in which the particular method developed. Since this is a book on health rather than religion, I want to tread lightly when discussing religious meditation. I personally have found value in meditative techniques of religious origin, whether it has been the Vedic roots of Transcendental Meditation, the Judeo-Christian orientation of Edgar Cayce’s method, or the Buddhist origin of various Tibetan, Chinese or Japanese practices.
I have personally practiced several of these techniques and feel that I have benefited from each. But out of respect for all who have qualms about mixing their health care with religion, when I speak to patients about meditation I always encourage use of a method consistent with their own beliefs. I usually say something like, “I’m not selling a particular brand. ” I also emphasize to my patients, and wish to reiterate here, that the physical health benefits of meditation can be attained through the practice of any of the methods in this chapter, and through other methods as well. The Relaxation Response
Aside from generating groundbreaking research, it may be that Herbert Benson’s most lasting contribution is the development and popularization of a meditative technique with no religious overlay. This approach allows those who are not religious, or whose beliefs may appear to conflict with the teachings connected to a particular meditation system, to nonetheless participate fully in this worthwhile, health-giving activity. According to Benson, the relaxation response technique produces the same physiological changes as does Transcendental Meditation, the method which has been most fully researched in scientific settings.
Here are Benson’s directions for evoking the relaxation response. (1) Sit quietly in a comfortable position. (2) Close your eyes. (3) Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed. (4) Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “ONE,” silently to yourself. For one example, breathe IN. . . OUT, “ONE”; IN. . . OUT, “ONE,”: etc. Breathe easily and naturally. (5) Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes. (6) Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “ONE. ” With practice, the response should come with little effort.
Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the relaxation response. 9 Transcendental Meditation (TM) and the Use of Mantras TM was brought to the Western world in the mid-twentieth century by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian spiritual teacher. The Maharishi’s method has been taught to hundreds of thousands of people, and is widely credited with being the first form of Eastern meditation to be practiced on a mass scale in the West.
Herbert Benson’s original research subjects were TM practitioners (they were the ones who approached him with the idea of doing research on meditation), and it is TM that Benson used as the basis for formulating his relaxation response method. The relaxation response incorporates many of the principles of TM, but with the Indian tradition removed. TM organizations assert that something significant is lost when the traditional methods are not followed in full.
I cannot provide a step-by-step series of instructions for TM as I did for the relaxation response, because those who receive instruction in TM agree not to reveal the details of what they have learned. I feel it is appropriate to share certain general principles of the TM teachings, however, since they may well be applicable elsewhere. TM is presented as a method that involves neither concentration nor contemplation. That is, unlike some meditative practices, you do not attempt one-pointed focus on an idea or a visual image nor do you pursue trains of thought, however interesting, worthwhile, or inspired they may seem.
Instead, you use a mantra (a seed-syllable or primordial sound) given to you by a TM teacher. The sounds used for mantras, which are derived from Sanskrit, do not have a verbal meaning, and thus are not intended to engage the cognitive mind. The mantra is a sound you say silently to yourself, which functions something like the ringing of a bell. Just as Benson used the word “ONE” in the sample directions given for the relaxation response, TM practitioners use their mantras to help still the mind when distracting thoughts intrude. The internal chatter created by these thoughts is a normal occurrence. What shall I wear this morning? How will I ever solve that problem at work? ) But meditation time is not for working on problem solving. When the thought arises, you should acknowledge it, and then let it pass, silently repeating the mantra to yourself. Eknath Easwaran, an Indian-born meditation teacher, philosopher and author, speaks of the purpose of the mantra in his book Meditation. He says, “Our aim, remember, is to drive the mantra to the deepest levels of consciousness, where it operates not as words but as healing power. “10 For those who do not practice TM, some possible mantras from various traditions are: Peace
Love Om Mani Padme Hum Om Nima Shivaya So Hum Hari Om Tat twam asi Thank You The Lord is My Shepherd Thy Will Be Done It is common for beginners at meditation (of all types) to experience a great deal of mental chatter and clutter. If this happens to you, it does not mean that you are doing anything wrong. Just notice each thought as it comes, and then let it pass on by, using the mantra to, as it were, break the spell. As a rule, people who are patient enough to continue the practice of meditation for months or years note gradual changes in the ratio between silence and internal chatter.
Step by step, there is more silence and less chatter. Even experienced meditators, however, are likely to have periodic increases in the amount of internal chatter, especially in times of stress. Deepak Chopra on Meditation and Health Deepak Chopra, M. D. , is a physician and author who practices TM. Trained as an endocrinologist, he now practices traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine (which emphasizes the use of herbs and meditation) in Massachusetts, and has authored several best-selling, highly influential books on holism, the best-known of which is Quantum Healing. Dr.
Chopra also serves on a review panel for the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. In his book Unconditional Life: Discovering the Power to Fulfill Your Dreams, he provides a set of questions with which to evaluate meditative practices. “There are any number of important issues to consider when evaluating a form of meditation—above all: Did my mind actually find the silence I was seeking? Was I psychologically comfortable during and after meditation? Did my old self begin to change as a result of having meditated? Is there more truth in my self? “11 For Dr.
Chopra, TM provided what he sought. Similarly, I know people who have practiced TM for years, enjoy it greatly, and find it to be supportive of their physical well-being and personal growth. I interviewed Dr. Chopra, and asked how he views the relationship between meditation and healing. His answer draws on some of the concepts explored in depth in Quantum Healing: “Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong.
So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body. “Meditation is a very important aspect of all the approaches that one can use in quantum healing, because it allows you to experience your own source. When you experience your own source, you realize that you are not the patterns and eddies of desire and memory that flow and swirl in your consciousness. Although these patterns of desire and memory are the field of your manifestation, you are in fact not these swirling fluctuations of thought. You are the thinker behind the thought, the observer behind the observation, the flow of attention, the flow of awareness, the unbounded ocean of consciousness. When you have that on the experiential level, you spontaneously realize that you have choices, and that you can exercise these choices, not through some sheer will power, but spontaneously. “12 I asked Chopra whether he felt that TM was superior to other forms of meditation, and his answer reflected a broadminded respect for other approaches: “I feel that all forms of traditional meditation which are time-tested are worthwhile.
My experience is with TM, therefore I am best qualified to speak about TM . . . My experience is that it is effortless, easy, spontaneous. It allows the mind to simply transcend to its source. This does not mean I think Zen is not a good form of meditation, or that Vipassana is not. They are all authentic forms of meditation. That is why they have survived over thousands of years. “13 The quest for profound inner silence and stillness is the essence of meditation. Chopra illumines this beautifully in the following passage from Unconditional Life, as he converses with a patient who has had anxiety attacks since childhood.
The man is concerned that he never actually experiences periods of silence in meditation. ” . . . But intellectually,” I [Chopra] said, “you realize that the mind can be silent? ” “Not mine,” he said. “Why not? ” ”It’s too quick. ” “But even a quick mind has gaps between thoughts,” I pointed out. “Each gap is like a tiny window onto silence, and through that window one actually contacts the source of the mind. As we’re talking here now, there are gaps between our words, aren’t there? When you meditate, you take a vertical dive into that gap. “Sure, I can see that,” he rejoined, “but I don’t think I experience it in meditation. ” I asked him what he did experience. He said, “The only thing that makes meditation different from just sitting in a chair is that when I open my eyes after twenty minutes, I often feel that only two or three minutes have passed-I am intrigued by that. ” “I said, ‘But you see, this is the very best clue that you have gone beyond thought. When you don’t have thoughts, there is silence. Silence does not occupy time, and in order to contact the Self, one has to go into the field of the timeless.
Your mind might not be able to register this experience at first, because it is so accustomed to thinking. You may feel that time has simply flown by, or that it was lost somewhere. But the ‘lost’ time was actually spent immersed in the Self. ‘”14 Meditation as Taught by Edgar Cayce The Cayce method was my first introduction to meditation, and is one to which I have returned in recent years. I am particularly attracted to its underlying intention-the integration of body, mind, and spirit.
The goal of meditation, say the Cayce readings, goes beyond attunement within the individual; it includes service to humankind and a heightened relationship to God, or the Creative Forces. “What is meditation? . . . it is the attuning of the mental body and the physical body to its spiritual source . . . it is the attuning of . . . physical and mental attributes seeking to know the relationships to the Maker. That is true meditation. “15 Cayce said that we must learn to meditate, just as we once learned to walk. It is very important not to mistake beginnings for failures.
We each must begin at the beginning, and should understand that we may falter in some of our early steps. The place to start, Cayce asserted, is not with technique but with an examination of our purpose. Find your ideal, he urged, so that your practice of meditation will be grounded in a positive purpose. This ideal might be “love,” “compassion,” “serving others,” or any of a host of other worthwhile guiding principles. What matters most is that it truly be an ideal that embodies service, and that it be something you have a sincere commitment to live up to.
In her book, Healing Through Meditation and Prayer, Meredith Puryear offers a clear and concise introduction to Edgar Cayce’s approach to meditation. Before laying out a specific set of directions, Puryear asks us to remember why we are meditating, and offers suggestions on how to enhance the effects of meditation. “When we ask how to meditate, the real question we are asking is: How do we learn to commune with God? The answer lies not in some technique, though every activity will have some form to it, but with the desire of the heart to know our oneness with Him. To awaken this desire we must feed our soul and mind a more spiritual diet.
We must begin to take time to listen to beautiful, uplifting music, to read inspirational poetry and prose and the great scriptures of the ages: the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Bhagavad-Gita. “Even five minutes a day with some uplifting word will change the direction of our lives. We must also make some real choices about the kind of reading, TV, and movie diet we choose . . . These choices involve voluntary use of time, energy, and money; they also entail involuntary glandular involvement, because the glandular centers and secretions play a part in every activity of our lives.
With every activity in which we engage, we are building toward something either constructive or destructive. The choices themselves may at first be a matter of discipline; but as we continue to do with persistence what we know to do, we will find it becoming easier and easier, because the process of meditation or communion changes our desires, and we begin to want different things and activities than we had heretofore. “16 The following set of directions for meditation is adapted from Puryear’s book, which in turn is based on the Cayce readings. 17 (1) Set the ideal. (2) Set a time—be regular, persistent and patient. 3) Prepare—physically, mentally, spiritually. Immediate Preparation: A. Posture: spine straight (feet on floor, or lying on back, or sitting cross-legged) B. Head-and-neck exercise (for these exercises, see p. ___) C. Breathing exercise (for a few alternative preparatory breathing exercises, see “Alternate nostril breathing teachniques,” p. ___) (4) Invite protection Surround yourself with the consciousness of the presence of the Christ Spirit (alternatives might include surrounding yourself with the love of God, a pure white light, or any other healing and uplifting image or thought) (5) Use an affirmation
Cayce recommended beginning with the Lord’s Prayer. This may be followed by a specific affirmation, such as “Make me an instrument of Thy peace. ” (You may, as always, substitute an phrase which has deep meaning for you). (6) Silence! Return to the affirmation (or a shortened version of it) as distracting thoughts arise. Continue for 10-30 minutes, or whatever period of time feels intuitively appropriate to you. (7) Pray for others What is called the “affirmation” in these directions is the structural equivalent of the mantra in TM, and the word “One” in Dr. Benson’s relaxation response method.
It is the meditator’s all-purpose tool, the one used for prying ourselves out of all the dead-end nooks and crannies the mind invents to distract us from the depths of silence, and the heights of revelation. Edgar Cayce said that “meditation is listening to the Divine within. “18 May we all become good listeners. [pic] Notes 1 Dietnstfrey, Harris. Where Mind Meets Body, p. 31. 2 Murphy and Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, p. 27. 3 Ibid. , p. 30. 4 Ibid. , p. 15-18. 5 Brown, D. P. , Engler, J. OThe Stages of Mindfulness Meditation: A Validation Study.
Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1980, 12 (2), 143-192 6 McEvoy, T. M. , Frumkin, L. R. , Harkins, S. W. OEffects of Meditation on Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials. O International Journal of Neuroscience, 1980, 10, 165-170 7 Pagano, R. R. , Frumkin, L. R. OThe effect of Transcendental Meditation on Right Hemisphere Functioning, Biofeedback and Self-Regulation, 1977, 2 (4) 407-415. 8 Pagano and Frumkin, Ibid. 9 Benson, The Relaxation Response, p. 162-163. 10 Easwaran, Eknath. Meditation. p. 71. 11 Chopra, Deepak. Unconditional Life, p. 161. 2 Redwood, Daniel, OThe Pathways Interview: Deepak Chopra,O Pathways, December 1991. pp. 5-7. 13 Ibid. p. 7. 14 Chopra, op. cit.. p. 190. 15 Edgar Cayce Reading 281-41 16 Puryear, Healing through Meditation and Prayer, p. 4-5. 17 Ibid. p. 6 18 ECR 1861-19 What is Imagery, and How Does it Work? Martin L. Rossman M. D.. HealthWorld Online – Guided Imagery – What is Interactive Guided Imagery (Excerpted from Guided Imagery for Self-Healing: An Essential Resource for Anyone Seeking Wellness) [pic] Imagery is a flow of thoughts you can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste.
An image is an inner representation of your experience or your fantasies–a way your mind codes, stores, and expresses information. Imagery is the currency of dreams and daydreams; memories and reminiscence; plans, projections, and possibilities. It is the language of the arts, the emotions, and most important, of the deeper self. Imagery is a window on your inner world; a way of viewing your own ideas, feelings, and interpretations. But it is more than a mere window–it is a means of transformation and liberation from distortions in this realm that may unconsciously direct your life and shape your health.
Imagination, in this sense, is not sufficiently valued in our culture. The imaginary is equated with the fanciful, the unreal, and the impractical. In school we are taught the three R’s while creativity, uniqueness, and interpersonal skills are either barely tolerated or frankly discouraged. As adults, we are usually paid to perform tasks, not to think creatively. The premium is on the practical, the useful, the real, as it should be–but imagination nurtures human reality as a river brings life to a desert. Without imagination, humanity would be long extinct. It took magination–the ability to conceive of new possibilities–to make fire, create weapons, and cultivate crops; to construct buildings, invent cars, airplanes, space shuttles, television, and computers. Paradoxically, our collective imagination, which has allowed us to overcome so many natural threats, has been instrumental in creating the major survival problems we face on earth today–pollution, exhaustion of natural resources, and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Yet imagination, teamed with will, remains our best hope for overcoming these same problems. Imagery and Physiologic Change
Imagery in healing is probably best known for its direct effects on physiology. Through imagery, you can stimulate changes in many body functions usually considered inaccessible to conscious influence. A simple example: Touch your finger to your nose. How did you do that? You may be surprised to learn that nobody knows. A neuroanatomist can tell us the area of the brain where the first nerve impulses fire to begin that movement. We can also trace the chain of nerves that conduct impulses from the brain to the appropriate muscles. But no one knows how you go from thinking about touching your nose to firing the first cell in that chain.
You just decide to do it and you do it, without having to worry about the details. Now make yourself salivate. You probably didn’t find that as easy, and may not have been able to do it at all. That’s because salivation is not usually under our conscious control. It is controlled by a different part of the nervous system than the one that governs movement. While the central nervous system governs voluntary movement, the autonomic nervous system regulates salivation and other physiologic functions that normally operate without conscious control. The autonomic nervous system doesn’t readily respond to ordinary thoughts like “salivate. But it does respond to imagery. Relax for a moment and imagine you are holding a juicy yellow lemon. Feel its coolness, its texture, and weight in your hand. Imagine cutting it in half and squeezing the juice of one half into a glass. Perhaps some pulp and a seed or two drop into the glass. Imagine raising the glass to your lips and taking a good mouthful of the tart juice. Swish it around in your mouth, taste its sourness, and swallow. Now did you salivate? Did you pucker your lips or make a sour face when you imagined that? If you did, that’s because your autonomic nervous system responded to your imaginary lemon juice.
You probably don’t spend much time thinking about drinking lemon juice, but what you do habitually think about may have important effects on your body through a similar mechanism. If your mind is full of thoughts of danger, your nervous system will prepare you to meet that danger by initiating the stress response, a high level of arousal and tension. If you imagine peaceful, relaxing scenes instead, it sends out an “all-clear” signal, and your body relaxes. Research in biofeedback, hypnosis, and meditative states has demonstrated a remarkable range of human self-regulatory capacities.
Focused imagery in a relaxed state of mind seems to be the common factor among these approaches. Imagery of various types has been shown to affect heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory patterns, oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide elimination, brain wave rhythms and patterns, electrical characteristics of the skin, local blood flow and temperature, gastrointestinal motility and secretions, sexual arousal, levels of various hormones and neurotransmitters in the blood, and immune system function. ‘ But the healing potentials of imagery go far beyond simple effects on physiology.
Imagery in the Larger Context of Healing Recovering from a serious or chronic illness may well demand more from you than simple imagery techniques. It may also require changes in your lifestyle, your attitudes, your relationships, or your emotional state. Imagery can be an effective tool for helping you see what changes need to be made, and how you can go about making them. Imagery is the interface language between body and mind. It can help you understand the needs that may be represented by an illness and can help you develop healthy ways to meet those needs. Let me give you another example from my practice.
Jeffrey was a successful middle manager in his thirties who had recurrent peptic ulcers for many years. In our work together he learned to relax and use simple visualization to give himself temporary relief from his stomach pain. He pictured the pain as a fire in his stomach and would then imagine an ice-cold mountain stream extinguishing the fire and cooling the scorched area beneath it. He was surprised and pleased to find that relaxing and imagining this process for a few minutes would relieve his pain for several hours to a day at a time, and he used it successfully for about two weeks.
Then it stopped working. His pain grew worse in spite of his visualizations, and he began to despair. In our next session I suggested he focus once more on the pain and allow an image to arise that might help him understand why the pain had returned. He soon became aware of an image of a hand pinching the inside of his stomach. At my suggestion, he mentally asked the hand if it would tell him why it was pinching him, and it changed into an arm shaking a clenched fist. He asked the arm why it was angry, and it replied, “Because there’s a part of you locked away where no one can see it, and it’s getting badly hurt. I asked him to form an image of the part that was locked away, and he saw a transparent sack that contained a “chaotic whirling of things inside nothing is clear, everything is zooming around, bumping into everything else. ” All he could make out were colors and shapes and a sense of discomfort. After observing them for a while, he quietly said, “My heart is in there, and it’s getting bumped and bruised by all these things. ” I asked Jeffrey to imagine opening the bag, but as he began he became afraid and said there was too much pain there to let out all at once. I asked him to let just one thing out of the bag and let an image form for it.
He imagined his father’s face and recalled a number of painful childhood interactions with his father, who was quite emotionally abusive. Over a series of sessions, he began to come to terms with the feelings he had locked away about this and started to feel much better emotionally and physically. In this way, he not only obtained relief from his ulcer pain, he learned a method to better express and respond to his own emotional needs. Using imagery in this way can allow illness to become a teacher of wellness. Symptoms and illnesses indicate that something is out of balance, something needs to be adjusted, adapted to, or changed.
Imagery can allow you to understand more about your illness and respond to its message in the healthiest imaginable way. How Does Imagery Work? The ultimate mechanisms of imagery are still a mystery. in the last twenty years, however, we have learned that imagery is a natural language of a major part of our nervous system. Critical to this understanding is the Nobel-prize-winning work of Dr. Roger Sperry and his collaborators at the University of Chicago and later at the California Institute of Technology. They have shown that the two sides of the human brain think in very different ways and are simultaneously capable of independent thought.
In a real sense, we each have two brains. One thinks as we are accustomed to thinking, with words and logic. The other, however, thinks in terms of images and feelings. In most people, the left brain is primarily responsible for speaking, writing, and understanding language; it thinks logically and analytically, and identifies itself by the name of the person to whom it belongs. The right brain, in contrast, thinks in pictures, sounds, spatial relationships, and feelings. It is relatively silent, though highly intelligent.
The left brain analyzes, taking things apart, while the right brain synthesizes, putting pieces together. The left is a better logical thinker, the right is more attuned to emotions. The left is most concerned with the outer world of culture, agreements, business, and time, while the right is more concerned with the inner world of perception, physiology, form, and emotion. The essential difference between the two brains is in the way each processes information. The left brain processes information sequentially, while the right brain processes it simultaneously. Imagine a train coming around a curve in the track.
An observer is positioned on the ground, on the outside of the curve, and he observes the train to be a succession of separate though connected cars passing him one at a time. He can see just a little bit of the cars ahead of and behind the one he is watching. This observer has a “left-brain” view of the train. The “right-brain” observer would be in a balloon several hundred feet above the tracks. From here he could not only see the whole train, but also the track on which it was traveling, the countryside through which it was passing, the town it had just left, and the town to which it was headed.
This ability of the right hemisphere to grasp the larger context of events is one of the specialized functions that make it invaluable to us in healing. The imagery it produces often lets you see the “big picture” and experience the way an illness is related to events and feelings you might not have considered important. You can see not only the single piece, but the way it’s connected to the whole. This change of perspective may allow you to put ideas together in new ways to produce new solutions to old problems. A right-brain point of view may reveal the opportunity hidden in what seems to be a problem.
The right brain has a special relationship not only to imagery but to emotions. This is another of the major strengths it brings to the healing adventure. Many studies have shown that the right brain is specialized to recognize emotion in facial expressions, body language, speech, and even music. This is critical to healing because emotions are not only psychological but physical states that are at the root of a great deal of illness and disease. Rudolph Virchow, a nineteenth century physician and founding father of the science of pathology, remarked that “Much illness is unhappiness sailing under a physiologic flag. Studies in England and the United States have found that from 50 to 75 percent of all problems presenting to a primary care clinic are emotional, social, or familial in origin, though they are being expressed by pain or illness. 2 Emotions themselves are, of course, not unhealthy. On the contrary, they are a normal response to certain life events. Failure to acknowledge and express important emotions, however, is an important factor in illness, and one that is widespread in our society. In many ways we are emotional illiterates, lacking clear guidelines and traditions for expressing emotions in healthy ways.
It is difficult to know what to do with distressing emotions such as grief, fear, and anger, so we cope as best we can. We may unconsciously build layer upon layer of inner defenses to protect us from feeling unpleasant feelings. But strong emotion has a way of finding routes of expression. If not recognized and dealt with for what it is, it may manifest as pain or illness. Social and family relationships to some extent depend on our ability to process emotions internally. We don’t need to express every emotion we feel.
But strong, persistent emotions need to be expressed or resolved, as their chronic denial may lead to physiologic imbalance and disease. The story of Alice is one example of how holding back feelings can manifest as pain, and how expressing them appropriately can lead to relief. Alice was a woman in her forties who had recently undergone surgery and radiation to treat a breast cancer discovered several months earlier. She was an intelligent, composed woman who felt that imagery and visualization had already been enormously beneficial to her in tolerating her treatment and recovering from her cancer.
She continued, however, to be bothered by a persistent pain between her shoulder blades. Repeated examinations and X-rays by her cancer specialists had failed to identify any physical cause of her pain. She wanted to understand why it was there, and what she needed to do for it to go away. We decided to use an imagery technique you will learn later in this book: a talk with an imaginary wisdom figure called an inner advisor. Alice relaxed and imagined herself on a beautiful beach at the base of a high dim She asked for an image of her inner advisor and saw a man who looked like Merlin the Magician, tending a fire.
After greeting him, she asked him about her back pain. After a few seconds of silence, she broke into tears. She told me her advisor said she needed to ask for help, and that’s what brought on the tears. She had been strong and courageous throughout the entire cancer ordeal, calming and reassuring to her husband and family. She always went for checkups and treatments alone, though it frightened her, because she felt her husband and kids would be frightened if she asked them for help or company.
Though she was often aware of her own doubts, fears, and concerns about her illness and its treatment, she had never allowed herself to express them in an attempt to spare her loved ones from the anxiety it might produce. Alice told her inner advisor her concerns about her family being scared if she asked for help. Her advisor answered, “They are already scared. They will feel better if they are included in your trials and have an opportunity to be supportive and show their love for you. ” She realized at once that this was true. She imagined asking her husband John for help.
She laughed, as in her mind’s eye she saw him taking out his appointment book and thumbing through it. She asked him (still in imagery), “Do you have time? ” and he looked at her over his half-glasses and said, “We’ll make time. ” When she came out of the imagery her pain was substantially relieved, with “just enough left to remind me that I actually need to talk with John about this in real life. ” Like Alice, we all may hold back emotions because of conflicts between our thoughts and feelings. This inner division has been recognized in the oldest stories of humanity.
That it may on one level represent a disagreement between the two hemispheres is a new, potentially helpful way to understand this situation. As Dr. Joseph Bogen, of the California Institute of Technology, the neurosurgeon who helped reveal the dual nature of the hemispheres, has said, “Having two brains has allowed man to be the most creative animal on earth, since we have two chances to solve any given problem. At the same time it creates an unprecedented opportunity for inner conflict. ” When there is inner conflict, the body is the battleground. It may pay dearly for prolonged, serious struggle.
Bringing the conflicting sides, whether sides of the brain or sides of the argument, to the bargaining table may be the beginning of healing. The goal, after all, is not to become a “left-brain” or “right-brain” person, but a “whole-brain” person. In any successful arbitration, both sides must have the opportunity to express themselves, to state their grievances, their desires, their needs, and what they can offer in the interest of peace. If they speak different languages, there must be an impartial translator willing to listen and speak for both sides, or the two must attempt to learn each other’s languages.
This is why imagery is important–it is a major language of the right brain. Most of us understand and use left-brain language and logic every day. We are relatively familiar with our conscious needs and desires. Imagery gives the silent right brain a chance to bring its needs to light and to contribute its special qualities to the healing process. Frankly, calling verbal or logical thinking “left-brained,” and symbolic, imaginal thinking “right-brained” is an oversimplification, but it is a useful model for thinking about some uses of imagery.
Imagery allows you to communicate with your own silent mind in its native tongue. Imagery is a rich, symbolic, and highly personal language, and the more time you spend observing and interacting with your own image-making brain, the more quickly and effectively you will use it to improve your health. If you are ill, you have undoubtedly thought long and hard about why you fell ill and what you need to do to get better. If your illness is chronic, or severe, you have probably consulted many doctors, whose highly educated, logical analyses may have led to a diagnosis.
Yet the diagnosis may not have led to a cure, or even relief. If good “left-brained” thinking has come to nought, why not get a “second opinion” from your other brain? After all, who is likely to know more about your body, your feelings, and your life? What Kinds of Illnesses Can Be Treated With Imagery? While preliminary studies have demonstrated that imagery can be an effective part of treatment in a wide variety of illnesses, I am reluctant to offer a list of “diseases that can be treated with imagery. Imagery can be helpful in so many ways that it is more accurate to think of it as a way of treating people than a way of treating illnesses. Imagery can help you whether you have simple tension headaches or a life-threatening disease. Through imagery, you can learn to relax and be more comfortable in any situation, whether you are ill or well. You may be able to reduce, modify, or eliminate pain. You can use imagery to help you see if your lifestyle habits have contributed to your illness and to see what changes you can make to support your recovery.
Imagery can help you tap inner strengths and find hope, courage, patience, perseverance, love, and other qualities that can help you cope with, transcend, or recover from almost any illness. There are, of course, certain symptoms and illnesses that seem to be more readily responsive to imagery than others. Conditions that are caused by or aggravated by stress often respond very well to imagery techniques. These include such common problems as headaches, neck pain, back pain, “nervous stomach,” spastic colon, allergies, palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, and anxiety.
Other major health problems including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and neurological illnesses are often complicated by or themselves cause stress, anxiety, and depression. The emotional aspects of any illness can often be helped through imagery, and relieving the emotional distress may in turn encourage physical healing. I must repeat that good medical care for the serious problems mentioned above is essential and perfectly compatible with imagery. If you choose to have therapeutic treatments of any kind, acknowledge them as your allies in healing and include them in your imagery.
If you are taking an antibiotic or chemotherapy, imagine the medicines coursing through your tissues, finding and eliminating the bacteria or tumor cells you are fighting. If you have surgery, imagine the operation going smoothly and successfully, and your recovery being rapid and complete. There is good evidence that this type of pre-operative preparation reduces recovery time and complications from surgery. (3) Now that we’ve considered what imagery can do and how it might work, let’s begin your personal exploration of the imagery process. pic] NOTES 1) A very good review of this literature is found in “Imagery, physiology, and psychosomatic illness,” Sheikh, A. , and Kunzendorf, R. G. (1984). In International Review of Mental Imagery, Vol. 1, ed. Sheikh, A. New York: Human Sciences Press. 2) Rosen, G. , Kleinman, A. , and Katon, W. (1982), “Somatization in family practice: a biopsychosocial approach. ” Journal of Family Practice, 14:3, 493-502. Stoeckle,J. D. , Zola, I. K. , and Davidson, G. E. (1964), “The quantity and significance of psychological distress in medical patients. Journal of Chronic Disease, 17:959. 3) An excellent review of psychological factors in surgical outcome is found in “Behavioral Anesthesia,” by Henry L. Bennett, Ph. D. , in Aduances, 2:4, Fall, 1985. Pickett, C. , and Clum, G. A. (1982), “Comparative treatment strategies and their interaction with locus of control in the reduction of postsurgical pain and anxiety. ” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 50:3, 439-441. Relaxation Practices Roger Jahnke O. M. D HealthWorld Online – Mind-Body Health Exercises – Relaxation Practices [pic]
When an individual purposefully seeks a state of deep relaxation a number of very important physiological mechanisms are triggered. The relaxed state, which is opposite of what is known as the “fight or flight” state, hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system or the stress response, has been called the “relaxation response” by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. It has been found that many disease states are aggravated by the over activity of the sympathetic nervous system. It has also been found that inducing the relaxation response can resolve or balance the effects of over activity or stress in the body.
In biofeedback, a highly researched technique for reducing head and neck pain, high blood pressure, syndromes of gastrointestinal discomfort, and anxiety, the primary technique is to initiate and sustain the relaxation response. Research has indicated that the physiological mechanisms that are triggered by inducing the relaxation response are: • enhanced productivity of neurotransmitters. • shift toward a lower frequency of brain wave activity (alpha and theta) • reduction of blood pressure warming of the skin surface due to the dilatation of blood capillaries In mediation practice, in chanting and the use of mantras or in the process of visualization, the induction of the relaxation response precedes and accompanies the successful initiation of each technique. Most of the great spiritual traditions of both the east and west initiate the deeper levels of spiritual practice by eliciting the relaxation response. Dr. Benson himself, when in China to research some of the more fantastic aspects of Qigong, stated that he felt the Qigong effect was triggered by an initial induction of the relaxation response.
At the preliminary level of the self applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM) very simplified but highly effective techniques of progressive relaxation are used. In the more refined practices elaborate systems of visualization may be used, as in the “circulation of the light to refine the body of pure energy”. Deep states of altered consciousness may also be achieved by merely remaining mindful of the breath alone. In such practices the individual has refined his or her practice to the extent that the busy mind is quiet. Not generally so easy. This is why we start with the preliminary methods because they are easy to learn and apply.
Over time they lead to an ability level that supports more advanced practice. It is a specific goal, in the self-applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM) of the ancient Asian traditions of health care and medicine to generate and circulate Qi, Prana, life force, bio-energy. In the breath practices above, and the following relaxation practices, a confirmation of success is to feel the Qi. It is very common to experience sensations of heat or tingling in the hands. It may also be sensed as a pouring feeling or a puffiness. The hands are the most sensitive organ or the human body in regards to sensation .
It is not unusual that early sensation of the Qi would come in the hands. Once one has begun to have this sensation it should be sought in other parts of the body; the feet, the abdomen around the belly button. Progressive Relaxation, Option I: Mentally bring your awareness to and then consciously relax each part of you body, progressively, from the feet all the way up to your head. Your breath should be full and relaxed. • In a comfortable lying position, close your eyes and take 10 slow deep breaths. • Bring your awareness to your right leg. Inhale deeply and lift leg up slightly tensing the foot and leg.
Tense up tighter. Exhale and let the leg drop gently. Roll the leg from side to side and relax. Repeat the same for the left leg and foot. • Now raise and tense your arm and make our hand into a fist. Tense up and hold. Exhale and drop the arm. Roll the right arm from side to side. Repeat with the left arm. • Now contract the buttocks. Tighten and release tension. Inhale and fill the abdomen with air, as if you were filling up a balloon. Hold one moment and then exhale fully out of the mouth. • Bring the shoulder blades together in back. Squeeze tightly and release. • Bring both shoulders up to your ears.
Hold them up. Exhale and let them down. Repeat 3 times. Now push shoulders downward. Hold and release. • Tighten the facial muscles. Make your face like a prune. Squeeze tightly. Exhale and release tension. • Roll the neck gently from side to side. Application Suggestions: • Health maintenance: 1 to 2 sessions per day. • Health enhancement: 2 to 5 sessions per day. • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 sessions per day. • Getting started: 1 to 2 session per day. Really turn your attention toward gaining a sensation, a genuine perception of the circulation of the lood and energy in your body. [pic] This technique is perfect for those of you who wish to tap the benefits of the self-applied methods but have little prior experience. In every tradition where techniques have been refined over thousands of years to enhance health, it is always notable that the distracted mind is one of the great challenges to the practice. Even the great meditation masters call their daily system of quieting the mind a “practice”. It is not a finished product it is a “practice”. This indicates that even the experts are constantly practicing toward successful quieting of the mind and body.
This particular technique assure a genuine state of relaxation by actually involving the body parts. In other techniques it is possible to wander to other thoughts because just the mind is involved and it is hard to be conscious of being unconscious. It is fairly obvious, when the next gesture is to contract the muscles in the arm, if you aren’t doing it. You have to have said, “I think I’ll stop this process. ” This technique is also excellent for people who have learned some type of relaxation exercise but are struggling to apply it successfully. Progressive Relaxation, Option II:
The above technique can be approached a bit differently. Remember that one of the important guidelines is to make it up and have it be easy and fun, so feel free to tailor your practice so that it works for you. This may be done either sitting or lying down. The breath is full and relaxed, not urgent. On each exhalation deeply relax and silently affirm the following to yourself: 1. Now my thighs are relaxed. 2. Now my feet are relaxed. 3. Now my calves are relaxed. 4. Now my buttocks are relaxed. 5. Now my hands are relaxed. 6. Now my arms are relaxed. 7.
Now my abdomen is relaxed. 8. Now my chest is relaxed. 9. Now my back is relaxed. 10. Now my shoulders are relaxed. 11. Now my neck is relaxed. 12. Now my face and jaw are relaxed. 13. Now my eyes are relaxed. 14. Now my temples and forehead are relaxed. 15. Now my scalp is relaxed. 16. Now my head is relaxed. Notice this is just 16 deep breaths, not a great deal of time out of your day. For a super brief, nevertheless remarkable, dose of the most profound medicine we can get. Cut this sequence to 6-8 breaths with a whole body scanning and release of tension.
Apply it while waiting in the line at the bank, while on hold with the insurance company, sitting in the dentist’s chair, and while at your work. It happens fast, no one knows but you and the benefits over time are significant. Application Suggestions: • Health maintenance: 3 to 6 sessions per day. • Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day. • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 15 to 20 sessions per day. • Getting intervention: 2 to 3 sessions per day. Notice how easy this can be. Confirm the simple but extraordinary value of this practice by doing it , vigilantly, for a couple or weeks, then spread the word.
This procedure includes 16 stations or points of awareness and is very simple and brief. It can be done with many more awareness points and may include focusing on each finger and toe, segments of the arms and legs, joints, individual organs, etc. (30 to 70 stations). In the Chinese tradition where energy pathways and points are accepted aspects of the body, attention is drawn to specific energy areas as the rhythm of the breath continues. In India the chakras or energy centers related to the endocrine organs and neurological complexes are the focus of attention as the practitioner goes deeper into a state of relaxation.
When you have been through each station and feel you could benefit from a deeper level of relaxation, go through again. When you feel you have attained a significantly deep state of relaxation turn your attention to inner healing. If the gastrointestinal system is a part of your health challenge then to bring awareness to that area of the body will add to the benefit of the relaxation session . Imagine and picture the gastrointestinal system operating optimally. Acknowledge that the stomach and the intestines are charged with the life-force that they need.
See them, in your mind’s eye, glowing radiantly with vitality. Following the initial relaxation process, if you have cold hands or if discomfort in your hands is more severe as in Raynaud’s disease or Scleroderma, bring your awareness to your hands. Imagine that your hands are in the sun. resting beside you as you rest comfortably at the beach. Actually feel heat in your hands. In your mind’s eye see the capillaries, small blood vessels, become large tubes that carry large volume of warm blood from the center of the body to the periphery.
Patients with serious circulatory disorders have, with this simple technique, learned to control the blood flow to various parts of the body. If your heart needs healing then, following the preliminary relaxation, bring your awareness to the heart. If headaches are your major discomfort, bring the focus to the head. Or, if it is clear to you that the head pain is caused by too much tension or blood flow in the upper body, then bring the awareness to the hands and feet. See the veins, arteries and capillaries as big as pipes, rather than as tiny vessels.
While the image of pipes carrying massive amounts of blood to the hands and feet may seem extreme, it is a powerful image that has helped many people. The ability to consciously remove blood from one part of the body to another, slow heart rate, warm the hands, reduce oxygen consumption, etc, are called “voluntary physiological controls”. These are skills that are typical to yogis, fakirs, magicians and Qigong masters, It has been found, by scientific research that learning to apply the preliminary levels of these skills is a profound healing tool that has a significant effect on some major diseases.
Progressive Relaxation, Option III: This is another extremely simple method that initiates the relaxation response. Begin by taking slow deep breaths. Repeat these messages to yourself. 1. “My hands and arms are heavy and warm” (5 times). 2. “My feet and legs are heavy and warm” (5 times). 3. “My abdomen is warm and comfortable” (5 times). 4. “My breathing is deep and even” (10 times). 5. “My heartbeat is calm and regular” (10 times). 6. “My forehead is cool” (5 times). 7. “When I open my eyes, I will remain relaxed and refreshed” (3 times). Application Suggestions: • Health maintenance: 2 to 3 sessions per day. Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day. • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 to 15 sessions per day. Until you are well you have time to do this. • Getting started: 2 to 3 sessions per day. Because we are generally addicted to complexity and busyness, reaching a state of authentic relaxation is a challenge. Many of us are locked into worry, hurry, overwork and compulsive behaviors and the mind is very difficult to quit. The beauty of these progressive relaxation processes is their simplicity and their ability to allow the mind to have an easy focus.
When the attention wanders off of the process one need only return to the breath and the sequence of awareness points. In contrast to meditation which, in many traditions, attempts to empty the mind with accompanying images, any one, including young children, harried executives or older individuals whose habits are more deeply set. There are a number of advanced relaxation and meditation methods which include concentration, focus, intention and visualization that are used to regulate the body function , move the Qi or energy to specific areas of the body and even project the energy outside the body.
These methods accelerate the individual’s health and personal development practice to a greater level of power and refinement. Two such methods, “the circulation of the light in the microcosmic orbit to refine the energy body” and the “marrow washing practice” will be revealed in the advanced practice section . Clearly, breath practice and relaxation practice enhance one another. You are in charge of how to bring these together. Remember to invent your own practice and have it be run, even inspiring.
In China, breath, relaxation and movement are merged together to create Qigong in its many different forms including Tai Chi. Commit yourself to mastering these practices. They are, at their least, incredible healing tools that you can use right away for no cost to help you to rehabilitate your health and literally regenerate temporarily deficient and exhausted tissues, glands and organs. At their greatest, they are the seed skills for enhanced mental and physical capability and they are the foundation tools for spiritual growth.