Hi – and a warm welcome to those who have recently followed this page. In continuing to build this place of useful learning, I’m going to share some short excerpts from the excellent ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’ by David R. Hamilton, PhD. I’ve become increasingly fascinated with visualisation since a number of my clients have reported ‘collateral’ benefits e.g. less aches and pains, reduced alcohol consumption and just ‘feeling better’. I can highly recommend David’s book.
At the outset, we need to be clear on two things. Firstly, the plural of anecdote is not evidence. One person’s experience won’t necessarily map over to another’s. However, the evidence does suggest the emergence of common themes – that regular trance / meditation can provide health and wellbeing benefits. Secondly, complimentary approaches are intended to be deployed in addition to any medical care being received: not as an alternative.
From David’s book:
‘’Six Visualisation Pathways
1. A person’s practice impacts their immune system.
Visualisation seems to impact the immune system, and in a selective way. People visualising their immune cells multiplying or their immune system destroying invading pathogens or cancer cells tend to have increased immune function. Thus, visualisation of the immune system might assist in the healing and recovery of a large number of medical conditions. In addition, whether a person visualises the action of the immune system or not, if there’s a positive effect on health, it may be that the immune system has been stimulated in some way as a direct or indirect consequence of the visualisation.
2. Direct effects via the nervous system.
When a person repeatedly visualises something, it creates physical changes in the brain through neuroplasticity. For rehabilitation from a stroke or improving performance at a sport, this is accompanied by a physical change in the body, particularly in the region that a person’s attention is focused upon, but also on other systems of the body that are relevant to the change.
In effect, there’s a cumulative effect of a person’s consistent focus, just as muscles grow cumulatively stronger as we exercise them. It’s likely that this will increase blood flow to an area visualised, which will carry nutrients, growth factors and immune cells to the area as required.
3. Direct effects via neuropeptides.
Just as feelings of stress produce stress hormones, so some mental and emotional states produce different hormones, or neuropeptides. Neuropeptides are substances that play roles in the body as well as in the brain, hence neuropeptides.
As an example, love, kindness, affection, compassion and emotional warmth produce oxytocin, a neuropeptide that, as well as acting in the brain, also has physical effects throughout the body. Oxytocin receptors are found in multiple locations throughout the body, including the heart and arteries. Using these, oxytocin impact the arteries, lowering blood pressure, as well as having roles in wound healing. It also impacts the gut and plays a role in digestion.
A person whose visualisations are characterised by these warm, positive emotions is likely to produce oxytocin and thus have beneficial effects throughout these systems. Other mental and emotional states may produce neuropeptides that bring about other specific beneficial effects in the body.
4. A person feels empowered rather than hopeless.
It’s all too easy to feel hopeless when you’re sick or injured, especially if the illness or injury is physically or emotionally debilitating. I often hear people say that understanding the mind-body connection gives them a sense of empowerment: that using their mind is something they can do to assist in the process of moving towards wellness.
It may be that a sense of empowerment produces an as-yet-unidentified healing effect. At the very least, it can reduce stress and give birth to hope. Furthermore, a reduction in stress helps the immune system work more optimally.
5. The impact of positive belief.
Expectation and belief have direct physical effects. Although sometimes dismissed as something that only affects symptoms of illness, research into the placebo effect is revealing that the effects of expectation or belief are much broader the we first realised.
Belied creates chemical changes in the brain and throughout the body, impacting on many more systems that we initially thought. It may be that some of these effects have a direct bearing on the course of a person’s condition, accelerating the move towards wellness.
6. The focusing of a person’s willpower.
I done think we should ever underestimate the power of a person’s will to live. Will to live is a determination to survive and is often characterised by hope of a positive expectation of the future.
Will to live can impact a person in many ways, not just in their psychological state. But it can reduce stress and fear, and may also stimulate a person to make necessary, sometimes subtle, but significant changes required for their health. Visualisation can impact on a person’s will to live by aiding their focus on health.
Overall, common to all these pathways is repetition: I believe that repetition of a visualisation process refines brain circuits. In other words, repetition causes neuroplasticity. I believe that at some point, given that in some ways the brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary, the brain will ‘wire in’ a picture of wellness. In time, perhaps the brain circuits of this imagined wellness become more dominant than those related to the presence of illness.’’
Ask Yourself: Which of the key points in this excerpt will I immediately apply to improve my life…change my circumstances…and make a difference somewhere…to someone? What is going on in my life…that has gone on too long…and what will I do about it…now?