Did you know that it is only recently that medical doctors have accepted how important the power of the mind is in influencing the immune system of the human body? Many decades passed before these men of science decided to test the proposition that the brain is involved in the optimum functioning of the different body systems. Recent research shows the undeniable connection --the link-- between mind and body, which challenged the long-held medical assumption. A new science called psychoneuroimmunology or PNI, the study of how the mind affects health and bodily functions, has come out of such research.
A psychologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Lean Achterberg, suggests that emotion may form the link between mind and immunity. “Many of the autonomic functions connected with health and disease,” she explains,” are emotionally triggered.”
Exercises which encourage relaxation and mental activities such as creative visualization, positive thinking, and guided imagery produce subtle changes in the emotions which can trigger either a positive or a negative effect on the immune system. This explains why positive imaging techniques have resulted in dramatic healings in people with very serious illnesses, including cancer.
OMNI magazine claims (February, 1989), in a cover article entitled “Mind Exercises That Boost Your Immune System”:
“As far back as the Thirties, Edmund Jacobson found that if you imagine or visualize yourself doing a particular action - say, lifting an object with your right arm - the muscles in that arm show increased electrical activity. Other scientists have found that imagining an object moving across the sky produces more eye movements than visualizing a stationary object.”
One of the most dramatic applications of imagery in coping with illness is the work of Dr. Carl Simonton, a radiation cancer specialist in Dallas, Texas. “By combining relaxation with personalized images,” reports OMNI magazine, “he has helped terminal cancer patients reduce the size of their tumors and sometimes experience complete remission of the disease.”
Many of his patients have benefited from this technique. It simply shows how positive visualization can help alleviate - if not totally cure - various diseases including systemic lupus erythomatosus, migraine, chronic back pain, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, hyper-acidity, etc.
However, individual differences have to be taken into consideration when discussing each patient’s progress. It’s understandable that individuals have varying abilities to visualize or create mental images clearly; some people will benefit more from positive-imagery techniques than others
Nevertheless, if visualization can help people overcome diseases, it could possibly help healthy individuals keep their immune system in top shape. Says OMNI magazine: “Practicing daily positive-imaging techniques may, like a balanced diet and physical exercise routine, tip the scales of health toward wellness.”
The Simonton process of visualization for cancer
Dr. Carl Simonton, a radiation cancer specialist, and his wife, Stephanie Matthews-Simonton, a psychotherapist and counselor specializing in cancer patients, have developed a special visualization or imaging technique for the treatment of cancer which is now popularly known as the Simonton process. Ridiculed at first by the medical profession, the Simonton process is now being used in at least five hospitals across the United States to fight cancer.
The technique itself is the height of simplicity and utilizes the tremendous powers of the mind, specifically its faculty for visualization and imagination, to control cancer. First, the patient is shown what a normal healthy cell looks like. Next, he is asked to imagine a battle going on between the cancer cell and the normal cell. He is asked to visualize a concrete image that will represent the cancer cell and another image of the normal cell. Then he is asked to see the normal cell winning the battle against the cancer cell.
One youngster represented the normal cell as the video game character Pacman and the cancer cell as the “ghosts” (enemies of Pacman), and then he saw Pacman eating up the ghosts until they were all gone.
A housewife saw her cancer cell as dirt and the normal cell as a vacuum cleaner. She visualized the vacuum cleaner swallowing up all the dirt until everything was smooth and clean.
Patients are asked to do this type of visualization three times a day for 15 minutes each time. And the results of the initial experiments in visualization to cure cancer were nothing short of miraculous. Of course, being medical practitioners, Dr. Simonton and his psychologist wife were aware of the placebo effect and spontaneous remission of illness. As long as they were getting good results with the technique, it didn’t seem to matter whether it was placebo or spontaneous remission.
The Simontons also noticed that those who got cured had a distinct personality. They all had a strong will to live and did everything to get well. Those who didn’t succeed had resigned themselves to their fate.
While the Simontons were exploring the motivation of cancer patients, they were also looking into two interesting areas of research at that time: biofeedback and the surveillance theory. Both areas had something to do with the influence of the mind over body processes. Stephanie Simonton explains in her book The Healing Family:
In biofeedback training, an individual is hooked up to a device that feeds back information on his physiological processes. A patient with tachycardia, an irregular heartbeat, might be hooked up to an oscilloscope, which will give a constant visual readout of the heartbeat. The patient watches the monitor while attempting to relax…when he succeeds in slowing his heartbeat through his thinking, he is rewarded immediately by seeing that fact on visual display.
The surveillance theory holds that the immune system does in fact produce ‘killer cells’ which seek out and destroy stray cancer cells many times in our lives, and it is when this system breaks down, that the disease can take hold. When most patients are diagnosed with cancer, surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy are used to destroy as much of the tumor as possible. But once the cancer is reduced, we wondered if the immune system could be reactivated to seek out and destroy the remaining cancer cells.
The Simontons reasoned that since people can learn how to influence their blood flow and heart rate by using their minds, they could also learn to influence their immune system. Later research proved their approach to be valid.
For instance, according to the Time-Life Book The Power of Healing, “chronic stress causes the brain to release into the body a host of hormones that are potent inhibitors of the immune system”. “This may explain why people experience increased rates of infection, cancer, arthritis, and many other ailments after losing a spouse.” Dr. R.W. Berthop and his associates in Australia found that blood samples of bereaved individuals showed a much lower level of lymphocyte activity than was present in the control group’s samples. Lymphocytes are a variety of white blood cells consisting of T cells and B cells, both critical to the action of the immune system. T cells directly attack disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and regulate the other parts of the immune system. B cells produce antibodies, which neutralize invaders or mark them for destruction by other agents of the immune system.
The Power of Healing concludes: “The idea that there is a mental element to healing has gained acceptance within the medical establishment in recent years. Many physicians who once discounted the mind’s ability to influence healing are now reconsidering, in the light of new scientific evidence. All these have led some physicians and medical institutions toward a more holistic approach, to treating the body and mind as a unit rather than as two distinct entities. Inherent in this philosophy is the belief that patients must be active participants in the treatment of their illnesses.
Using visualization for minor ailments
Today, many scientific breakthroughs have proven that minor infections and viruses may be healed, or at least lessened in severity by employing mental techniques similar to those used by cancer patients who have successfully shrunk tumors through positive imaging or visualization.
The theory is that creative visualization can create the same physiological changes in the body that a real experience can. For example, if you imagine squeezing a lemon into you mouth, you will most likely salivate, the same way as when a real lemon is actually being squeezed into your mouth. Einstein once declared that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
In the 1985 World Conference on Imaging, reports OMNI magazine (February 1989), registered nurse Carol Fajoni observed that “people who used imagery techniques to heal wounds recovered more quickly than those who did not. In workshops, the same technique has been used by individuals suffering from colds with similar results.” The process has been hailed as a positive breakthrough and is currently being used by more enlightened doctors, according to OMNI magazine.
Visualize that part of your body which is causing the problem. Then erase the negative image and instead picture that organ or part to be healthy. Let's say you have a sinus infection. Just picture your sinus passageways and cavities as beginning to unclog. Or if you have a kidney disorder, imagine a sick-looking kidney metamorphose into a healthier one.
“In trying to envision yourself healthy, you need not view realistic representations of the ailing body part. Instead, imagine a virus as tiny spots on a blackboard that need erasing. Imagine yourself building new, healthy cells or sending cleaning blood to an unhealthy organ or area.”
“If you have a headache, picture your brain as a rough, bumpy road that needs smoothing and proceed to smooth it out. The point is to focus on the area you believe is causing you to feel sick, and to concentrate on visualizing or imaging it to be well. The more clearly and vividly you can do this, the more effective the technique becomes.”
Another method for banishing pain was developed by Russian memory expert, Solomon V. Sherehevskii, as reported by Russian psychologist Professor Luria. To banish pain, such as a headache, Sherehevskii would visualize the pain as having an actual shape, mass and color. Then, when he had a “tangible” image of the pain in his mind, he would visualize or imagine this concrete picture slowly becoming smaller and smaller until it disappeared from his mental vision. The real pain disappears with it. Others have modified this same technique and suggest that you imagine a big bird or eagle taking the concrete image of the pain away. As it flies over the horizon, see it becoming smaller until it disappears from your view. The actual pain will disappear with it.
Of course, the effectiveness of this imaging technique depends on the strength of your desire to improve your health and your ability to visualize well. But there is no harm in trying it, because unlike drugs, creative visualization has no side effects.
Practice any of these visualization techniques three times a day for one week and observe your health improve.