The ancient book of Proverbs records: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
Four thousand years ago in ancient India, Mahabharata (the longest epic in the world) stated: "There are two classes of diseases - bodily and mental. Each arises from the other, and neither can exist without the other. Thus mental disorders arise from physical ones, and likewise physical disorders arise from mental ones."
In the 13th century, physicians used humor to distract patients from the pain of surgery. The popular M.A.S.H. television series was based on the successful use of ironic humor to help cope with extremely stressful situations.
Three millennia ago, Buddha is credited with this profound wisdom: “We are what we imagine. All that we will become begins with our imagination. With our images we make the world.”
Another way of saying this is that perception is far more important than reality. We make decisions based on our internalized beliefs and mental images, either good or bad, accurate or not. Our decision-making images are incomplete, abstract, stereotypical perceptions. No human fully understands the lowest level of nuclear physics. We don’t need to, in order to walk around on what appears to be a flat earth. Our lives are based on inaccurate perceptions that are sufficient to get us by in the situation that we find ourselves.
Decades ago, Psychology 101 taught the “Stimulus Response” (S/R) model of Palov’s dogs: After sufficient conditioning, Palov could ring a bell and make his dogs salivate, in anticipation of food that was not actually present. Just like the flat earth mental model, S/R is scientifically meaningful in a simple context, but it does not explain the potential of human creativity and how we can change habitual behaviors.
Modern Psychology classes now teach “Stimulus Imagery Response” (SIR). It is the image (either good or bad) that we associate with a particular stimulus that brings about a particular response. Like pushing a button on a juke box – except that we can change what we associate with each of our various pattern recognition hot buttons. The exact same stimulus can evoke pain in one individual and pleasure in another. A particular situation can make some people sad and other people happy.
The cognitive key that SIR offers us is that we can change our images and thus change our behavior. If an individual is eating too much sugar, a new replacement mental image that “sugar is bad for me” and “sugary foods are icky sweet” can cause the individual to avoid sugar and feel good about it, rather than feel that they have been denied a desirable pleasure. Later we will discuss how “I know this is bad for me, but I’m going to do it anyway” can be even worse than the bad behavior by itself.
If we have a positive mental image that today is going to be a productive, happy day, we will do things to make that happen. If we expect today to be stressful and unpleasant, we will take note of the things around us that justify our preconceived mental expectation.
“The world is full of good and bad things. People who learn to amplify the good things and laugh at the bad ones are a lot healthier and more fun to be around.” (Larry Hartweg - Research Scientist, Author and Improvisational Comedian)
Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, in the era of Socrates, Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine’s Hippocratic Oath) and Aristotle (who discovered Classification Theory – taught today in high school biology classes and on Sesame Street as the foundation of all human memory and cognition), Plato (the creator of modern scientific and academics methods) taught: "The biggest mistake physicians make is attempting to cure the body without curing the mind. The mind and the body are one."
This profound ancient wisdom was lost by most of the twentieth-century medical profession. Medical researchers understood that “the placebo effect” got in the way of accurately observing the cause-and-effect relationship of new prescription medication testing. Due to the confusion created by the placebo effect, modern drug efficacy evaluators developed “double blind testing”, where neither the one who administers the drug, nor the patient knows whether they are giving/receiving the actual drug or an inert placebo.
Torald Sollmann’s 1930 Journal of the American Medical Association article “The Evaluation of Therapeutic Remedies in the Hospital” stated: “Apparent results must be checked by the ‘blind test,’ i.e., another remedy, or a placebo, without the knowledge of the observer, if possible. The placebo, if expectant treatment is permissible, also furnishes the comparative check of the natural course of the disease; comparison with another remedy helps towards a just perspective.”
The word “placebo” is derived from the Latin verb placere “to please.” Placebo was used to translate the opening word of Psalm 116:9 “Placebo Domino in regione vivorum,” which means “I will please the Lord in the land of the living. The “pleasing” aspect of placebo evolved from its religious context in the Middle Ages and came to mean flatterer, sycophant, or even parasite, while continuing to carry a trace of mortality.
Prior to 1930, the word “placebo” had a century and a half designated the boundary of scientific medicine by negatively characterizing the kinds of treatments offered by those that medicine would denigrate as “snake oil salesmen,” “charlatans” or “quacks.” Cher sang about gypsies, tramps and thieves selling a couple bottles of “Dr. Good.”
Until the twentieth century, most medications prescribed by respected physicians were pharmacologically ineffective, if not harmful. For thousands of years, physicians prescribed placebos (or much worse), without realizing what they were doing. Benjamin Franklin suffered greatly from several age-and-lifestyle-related diseases (including painful disabling gout). As a scientist, he searched the world looking for effective natural medicines. Franklin wrote: "He's the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicines."
In a very real sense, until recently, the evolution and maturation of medical treatment is the history of the placebo effect. The Powerful Placebo: From Ancient Priest to Modern Physician by Arthur and Elaine Shapiro, January 2001, describes false pseudo-science and placebo history.
We now understand that if a person is given an inert substance, treatment or incantation that really does nothing (a pleasing placebo), and they respect the person who prescribes it, and they believe that it will help, the person can unknowingly mentally activate their own internal disease defense and bodily repair mechanisms to accelerate their own healing, which they incorrectly attribute to the placebo. For some reason people often cannot make this happen by themselves, without the placebo. In some cases the placebo response may merely accelerate a natural process that would have eventually happened anyway. In other cases the cure may appear at first to be unexplainable and miraculous.
A “nocebo” is something that has the opposite effect – creating displeasure, reducing or blocking the body’s ability to heal itself, as in mystical “voodoo” and curse-based negative spiritual practices. Placebos and nocebos are both very real phenomena with direct impact on bodily functions and self-healing mechanisms.
Late night / early A.M., low-budget cable television quackery advertising is loaded with personal testimony anecdotes of people who attribute “too good to be true” benefits to overpriced versions of products that are known to be ineffective (except for their placebo effect). Profit-motivated dishonest snake oil salesmen have always prayed on mediocre minds. The clueless masses will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The FDA tries to prevent food supplement vendors from making unsubstantiated claims, but individual, unscientific anecdotal testimonies can claim that up is down without much fear of prosecution.
According to Plato, Socrates (the early medicine healer) taught: "I said that the cure itself is a certain leaf, but in addition to the drug there is a certain charm, which if someone chants when he makes use of it, the medicine altogether restores him to health, but without the charm there is no profit from the leaf."
For multiple millennia, board-certified physicians, medicine men, charlatans, quacks, faith healers, televangelists, spiritualists, shaman, Christian Scientists, etc. have offered many diverse good-and-effective treatments for a wide variety of afflictions. These treatments may in reality be based on little more than mental tricks that help activate the poorly-understood mystic qualities of the body’s own defense and recuperative mechanisms.
A person who is healed by the placebo effect is just as happy and healthy as one who is healed by conventional medicine that has been proven to be clinically effective. There may be nothing particularly “wrong” with a practitioner exploiting the placebo effect to accelerate a natural cure. If mother lovingly kisses a hurt to help make it better, no harm may be done, and the hurt may actually get better sooner. In fact, pleasant placebos may sometimes be much safer than high-risk medical procedures that only hope to have the same result.
Some observers suggest that those who can make the placebo effect work in a socially-acceptable, cost-effective, satisfactory manner should be encouraged to continue to do so, and even teach others to help society learn how to heal itself, as long as this does NOT interfere with the patient seeking timely administration of a proven conventional treatment for the affliction. This is particularly true when the medical profession offers no hope of a cure for the patient’s affliction and the promise of what a placebo is reputed to do is the only possible hope on an otherwise depressing horizon.
Most of the time, our immune system can fight off simple infections. Sometimes, we need the assistance of an antibiotic, etc. The real questions that have been debated for multiple millennia are: “When to do what?” and “Who should I trust?” All humans make mistakes. Some mistakes kill people. Conversely, some inaccurate misconceptions can create hope where there is none, and sometimes bring about “miraculous healing” that cannot be achieved by the best board-certified medical professionals.
Linus Pauling thought that the value of vitamin C was in its long-chain molecule that could be quickly metabolized into protein. He encouraged people to take vitamin C for colds, and some people got better sooner. Today, most nutrition specialists recognize that the value of vitamin C is its water-based antioxidant antiaging protective characteristics. Pauling was both wrong and right at the same time without knowing it. If you think that vitamin C is good for you, and it works, then who cares how it does what it does?
Decision-making perceptions are far more important than reality. It can be better if we have a “reality check” that helps our perceptions come closer to absolute truth, but it is not necessary in the real world to be completely accurate down to the level of nuclear physics. We don’t need to understand orbital mechanics to watch a television signal that was transmitted through a satellite. We can drive a car without understanding how to program its multiple computer systems. A placebo can help us heal ourselves, if we merely believe that it will. When conventional solutions are not working well, we should be both open minded to potential alternatives, AND skeptical about exploitive quacks.
The only positive application of the placebo effect that many medical doctors have a clue about falls under the topic of “bedside manner.” If the doctor takes time to show compassion for the patient and offers hope and consolation, the patient is much more likely to get better sooner, than if the doctor is cold, impersonal and doesn’t have time to get to know patients (which is very common under today’s insurance-company-controlled assembly-line minimum-time mismanagement of modern medicine).
Legal practice and full disclosure of the many risks involved with new prescription medicines and medical procedures has also greatly reduced the effectiveness of even the best bedside manners. Doctors must now tell patients that a new drug has been known to kill a percentage of the people who take it. It is documented in their Physician’s Desk Reference, and many pharmacies kindly print the risks and potential negative side effects on the prescription receipt.
The fear that a medication may actually do great harm has a dampening impact on the otherwise useful placebo effect. This very real fear is based on scientific clinical observations. The Journal of the American Medical Association Volume 284 pointed out that mistakes made by U.S. doctors cause 250,000 deaths every year (the third largest cause of death in our country).
Inert pleasing placebos do not directly cause deaths, other than the fact that they may delay the patient from seeking proven effective treatments. If you think that you will be made better by going to a hospital, you may get better, but there is also the reality that hundreds of thousands of people die each year when they trust their life to a fallible medical institutions.
If you severely break your leg, your immune system cannot repair it until it is placed back into alignment and stabilized. If you think that everything that an orthopedic specialist does and recommends is going to make you better sooner, then you will probably heal faster than if you never see a doctor for a broken bone.
Faith healing and the placebo effect do not work for all afflictions and they do not work for all people in all situations. Obviously, the placebo effect cannot regrow an amputated limb. The placebo effect is often useless if the receiver does not trust and believe in the medicine and the healer who administers it.
An inert placebo can sometimes be effective when:
In a very real sense, if you believe that doing or eating something is “bad for you,” it is. In contrast, if you believe that something is “good for you,” it is more likely that it will be.
If you know deep down inside that you are an unscrupulous, evil person, you can expect that those thoughts will erode your health over time. If you know in your innermost being that you are basically a good person who respects others, helps and uplifts those around you, you may expect many good things to happen to you. You will take note of the good things you encounter, amplify them, be thankful, and learn to laugh at many of the bad things that silly inDUHviduals do every day.
Henry Ford pointed out that: “Whether you think you can, or you can’t, either way you are right.”
Positive images and expectations often lead to positive results, while negative thoughts can in the worst case produce depression, despair and eventually death. In Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare wrote: “He made her melancholy, sad, and heavy; and so she died; had she being light like you of such a merry, nimble, stirring spirit, she might ha' been a grandma ere she died; and so may you, for a light heart lives long.”
Richard Nixon suffered many valid attacks and defended himself through extremely stressful unprecedented times, with his beloved wife Pat always by his side. When she died, Nixon gave up the will to live and died shortly thereafter.
When we are first born we cannot control bathroom functions, walk, talk or even make sense of the light that falls on our eyes. As we get older, we gradually learn how to understand sensory input and send commands that control our bodily functions, through our highly adaptable, self-learning central nervous system. Most people do not realize it, but many bodily functions that were previously thought to be “automatic” (like our immune system) can actually be directly controlled by mental images and voluntary commands. The hypnosis lab at Stanford Medical Research Institute demonstrated two decades ago that the number of white blood cells delivered to a cut could be doubled by simple positive mental imaging techniques.
The Power of Positive Thinking is not a mystic religious concept. It is now a clinically proven scientific fact. With respect to our bodies, “psycho kinesis” (mind of matter) has a demonstrable real-world physiological basis.
Relatively recently, microscopic studies discovered direct central nervous system connections that both sense and control the functioning of human endocrine and immune system tissues and organs. A new science called “Psychoneuroimmunology” has only begun to study the physiological links between psychological states, our recuperative ability, and our internal disease prevention, defense (T-cell, B-Cell and NK) and repair mechanisms (such as, inflammation, increased blood circulation, blood clotting, etc.), which defend against cuts, foreign microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and mutant cancer-causing cells. (See Reduce The Risk of Cancer)
To a research scientist, the potential of controversial Psychoneuroimmunology to eventually explain and exploit the mind / body connection and optimize the countless potential benefits of the placebo effect is extremely exhilarating. It is much like the excitement we now feel having fully documented the complete human genome in the new millennium. Our latest medical research discoveries have opened the door to study questions that our predecessors only dreamed of eventually understanding and using effectively.
Most medicines prescribed today were designed to aid the healing process by either: (1) reducing discomfort or (2) protecting against further attack. Our bodies already have all mechanisms required to replace damaged cells (except neurons) or repair damaged body parts. There really aren't any medicines that can effectively speed up or improve the natural healing process, although some drugs (like antibiotics) can reduce external influences that can overwhelm natural healing mechanisms. Sometimes, medication is needed to prevent the body from overreacting when it fights a disease and attacking its own cells.
When a ligament is strained or a nerve is pinched, the body may quickly initiate an inflammatory response. Tissue swelling (which is designed to accelerate healing by increasing blood flow) may make a confined nerve pinch much worse and trigger a painful debilitating downhill snowball cycle that requires anti-inflammatory medication to block its progression. Neuritis (inflammation of nerves) can pinch nearby micro capillary blood supplies and lead to permanent, irreversible neuropathy (nerve death).
A great many disease and degeneration processes are the cause or result of inflammatory diseases. Inflammation increases when serum glucose (blood sugar) levels increase. If you need an anti-inflamatory drug, you should not consume sugary foods or drinks. In this case, sugar can be a “nocebo,” that retards normal healing processes and accelerates degenerative diseases.
When doctors say something like: "take two aspirins, and call me in the morning," they are essentially telling you to take something to temporarily relieve your pain, relax, and let your body do what it can to heal itself. Stress retards healing and accelerates aging.
Aspirins (and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory over-the counter drugs, like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen) can reduce inflammation, which can reduce discomfort, (but may accelerate or retard the natural healing process). They also have the effect of thinning the blood, which may reduce the potential for blocking blood vessels. BUT, such blood thinners have been statistically linked to a variety of vascular rupture and leakage problems, leading to devastating stroke (of the brain, eye, etc.)
Except for inert placebos, there is no food or medication with a positive primary effect that does not also have some type of negative side effect (which varies significantly between individuals). Some side effects include the risk of possible death, whereas some side effects are much happier. If you found the “perfect way” to lose weight, there would be a side effect of having to buy new clothes, etc. (smile)
There are several phenomena in which the immune and the central nervous systems regulate each other, but until recently, these mechanisms were poorly understood in the medical and psychological communities. The latest research has shown that “cytokines” play a central role in the regulation of the immune response, through neuro-immune-system communication and immunomodulation by psychological stress and behavioral conditioning of immune response. Cytokines influence the endocrine and central nervous system during periods of acute stress (bereavement, etc.) and to a lesser degree during long-term chronic stress (which can be devastating over long periods of time).
The effects of psychological stress can be both immunosuppressing and immunoenhancing. Some stress is necessary for life, but too much can be deadly. A relevant immunosuppressing effect is the reduction of IL-1, IL-2, and IFN-gamma levels. In contrast, some of the pro-inflammatory effects of stress are mediated by an increase in the levels of IL-6, IL-1, and TNF mediated by the neurotransmitter “Substance P.” Pro-inflammatory cytokines can activate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal glands and induce sickness or even death during periods of high stress. The parasympathetic nervous system serves as pathway for cytokine detection by the central nervous system. Regulation of cytokine expression by neurotransmitters from the sympathetic nervous system (epinephrine and norepinephrine) is an important mechanism of brain-immune-system communication.
Now that we have briefly introduced some scientific evidence of the physiology of psychoneuroimmunology and the placebo effect, how can we use this valuable knowledge to live healthier, happier lives, while slowing down the general aging processes?
A placebo doesn’t work unless we first think it does, so how can we convince our body that an inert substance, spell, incantation or curse will do anything? Throughout human history, there have been many different answers.
Mental Imaging - Imagine yourself as a healthy, healed person. Our immune system cannot differentiate between reality and very vivid mental images. Add multiple sensory stimuli to your imagined images: vision, color, smell, intricate subtle sounds, skin sensations, temperature, pressure, breezes in your hair, etc.
Positive Affirmations - Can influence the body's natural healing powers. Honestly believing that day by day in every way you are getting better is many times better than constantly complaining and being depressed about disease or injuries. Positive mental images tend to relax the body, reduce detrimental stress and anxieties, which are known to influence psychosomatic illness as well as natural healing. To the extent that you understand bodily functions, imagine your lymph nodes sending lymphocytes to fight disease and how the battle is being done at the cellular level. Imagine your central nervous system telling your body to generate immunoenhancing cytokines. Sometimes gently rubbing the site of an external injury can help focus your attention and improve circulation without detrimental excess inflammation.
Hypnosis – Two basic forms: (1) induced by a trusted practitioner, and (2) self hypnosis. The concept is not new. The ancient Greeks used the term “hupnos” millennia ago (from which the modern term “hypnosis” is derived). The New Testament records multiple uses of “hupnos” (Matthew 1:24, Luke 9:32, John 11:13, Acts 20:9, Romans 13:11). Hupnos was used by the angel of the Lord to convince Joseph about the immaculate conception when Mary was found already with child. Jesus and His disciples used hupnos to teach, as did Paul the Apostle. Hupnos is irrefutably linked to multiple spectacular New Testament miracles. The people who translated the King James version of the Bible did not understand the hupnos concept or even have a word for it, so they inaccurately translated hupnos as “sleep,” and its useful religious and medical benefits were lost for centuries. In New Testament Greek, the word for sleep and hypnos are unambiguous and completely clear, like the way picante and caliente are unambiguous in Spanish, but both translate to “hot” in less-expressive English.
Franz Anton Mesmer brought hypnosis back to public attention 100 years after the King James Bible was inaccurately translated. Since then, numerous stage hypnotists and magicians gave hypnosis an evil manipulative connotation, when it was common among religious teachers thousands of years ago.
Early Psychiatrists picked up on hypnosis as a pathway into their patients’ hidden subconscious mind. Without realizing it, some modern board-certified licensed physicians incorrectly thought that they could use hypnosis to regress their patients into previous lives, when their unjustified arrogance was actually unknowingly leading their patients into a world of pure imaginary miraculous fiction.
Decades ago, the highly-respected Stanford Medical Research Institute’s Hypnosis Lab documented the significant real-world power of mind-over-body post-hypnotic suggestions. Clearly, hypnosis CAN be used to alter or drive home powerful mental images that significantly influence decision-making processes and the functions of our multiple self-healing mechanisms, but there is the possibility of inept detrimental application and abuse of hypnotic authoritative power.
Hypnosis is not used widely in modern American medical practice, since it takes longer for an over-worked physician to develop in a patient, and it is less consistent than just injecting a patient with a powerful neurotoxic anesthetic or myopically prescribing a narcotic pain killer.
Self-hypnosis is a meditative image-altering mental state that is similar to mystic religious practices found in effective Middle Eastern and Far Eastern medical practices. Self-hypnosis takes time to learn, but it can be both pleasant and effective for changing bad stimulus/imagery/response conditioning, establishing new good habits, lifestyles and behaviors, etc. Simple mental imaging of “going to one’s happy place” is a mild but effective form of self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis can go hand-in-glove with self-healing, only if the person is comfortable with it.
Touch Therapy, Laying On Hands and Healing Touch Practitioners - May be able to assist the healing process through relaxing the person. Skin-to-skin contact brings an immediate feeling of warmth. General body massage, especially the back and scalp can elicit a relaxed healing recuperative response. You are more likely to be healthy and live longer if you have supportive friends and family. Touch is a pleasurable sensation that can release “oxytocin,” which is a pleasurable bonding compound that gives one a sense of belonging and being appreciated. Even superficial hugs with casual acquaintances are helpful, but affectionate cuddling for hours with a committed respected life partner can bring a wonderful sense of contentment. This is clearly the case when a mother calmly nurses her child. Both mother and child receive significant immune system benefits. Infants that are regularly cuddled and hugged for long periods of time are much healthier that those that are not.
Although many of us deny ourselves such interpersonal intimacy, we still next to be touched regularly by someone we have emotional ties to. Most certainly, being touched lightly by a caring person can put a sick or injured person in a relaxed and assured state of mind. Even just a simple holding of hands and smiles can be very effective. (See Joyful Dancing). Simple touching reinforces fanciful mental imaging. There is a powerful emotional healing benefit, just knowing that someone in this mixed up world cares about me.
Therapeutic Massage, Osteopathic and Chiropractic Licensed Physicians – Often effective specializations of Touch Therapy, with expert skills and physiological and placebo effect knowledge that can help improve the body’s own self-healing mechanisms.
Petting Animals – Regularly petting cute soft cuddly animals (real or toy) has been shown to improve the healing process, especially in children and elderly patients. “Warm fuzzies” are linked to positive happy times and stress reduction, which helps enable our immune system to do the best that it can in a given situation.
Healing Story - There is a classic story about a young prince who had a deformed body. When his father wanted to make a statue to honor of the Prince, the boy asked that it portray him with a strong, straight body. Although it would not look like the boy when it was first made, the King agreed and commissioned the statue. Every day, the deformed boy looked at the statue and visualized himself to be healthy and strong. As he grew, his body slowly became straight and strong - just like the statue. The boy in this story apparently had a condition that deformed his youthful body. We must assume that his body cured the ailment and the boys mind only needed a self image expectation to grow into.
Laughter and Humor Therapy - In the 1960s, Norman Cousin effectively used funny movies and laughter to help cure his otherwise hopeless debilitating disease. He later wrote a book on "Laughter Therapy" that promoted this method. Patch Adams and many others have had notable success with the concept. Today, the American Cancer Society references Laughter Therapy as potentially beneficial, without scientific proof. Having experienced its many benefits myself, I recommend that participating in humorous situations is even more beneficial than passively watching television situation comedies.
Laughing out loud immediately induces healthy respiration (a problem for many ill people). Tightening the upper cheek muscles with a big smile opens sinus passages. The creative frontal lobe of our brain is fed by blood vessels that flow through the nasal sinus cavities. The brain is a 7/24 hotbed of metabolic activity. It appreciates having its blood supply cooled. When the brain gets too hot, our stress level increases and we become grumpy, irritable and more sensitive to migraine pain. Laughter releases calming endorphins (endogenous opioids) and reduces immunosuppressing cytokines, etc. Increasing cool blood flow to the frontal lobe, that is loaded with endorphins and immunoenhancing cytokines can reduce inflammation, stress-related pain, avoid psychosomatic illness, and accelerate the healing process. If we simply smile and laugh when we are stressed, depressed or “feeling blue”, we will quickly become happier, healthier individuals. Mental conditioning to amplify the good things in life (count your blessings) and learn to laugh at the bad things around us is a powerful physician prescription for the world’s best medicine – Laughter.
I signed up for a non-threatening, non-credit Improv Comedy class and had a wonderful time – I’ve attended five semesters of comedy classes so far, and I plan to go back for more. Encouraging people to laugh with and at you carries over into less stressful interpersonal interactions. If I make a mistake (as all humans do every day) then I won’t get “up tight” about it, but rather we will laugh about it together and move on as happier healthier people.
The Improv Comedy capability to think on your feet and interact well with fellow human beings can make us happier, healthier, more likeable individuals. Jerry Seinfeld pointed out that the number one fear for most people is speaking in front of a group, and the number two fear is dying. If we attend a funeral, most of us would rather be in the box rather than than giving the eulogy – Frightening for some, but very funny to me!
Overcoming irrational phobias (like the fear of social failure) empowers stress-free healthy living. If you get in front of a friendly group of Improv Comedy students (who are sympathetic, since they will soon be on the stage themselves), and you make a dumb mistake, and everyone laughs at you, that really is NOT a BAD thing. When everyone laughs together at stupid mistakes, you learn to enjoy taking risks and experimenting with audience interaction. It reconditions your mental images, makes you less “up tight”, and reveals a friendly person who is much more fun to be around. Comedy classes are not for everyone, but I love it myself.
Faith Healing - Part of the very-real healing process is mental. A person’s faith in a cure can clearly enhance the body’s natural ability to heal itself, but there is also the mystic / spiritual aspect of such healing that may appear to be nothing short of “miraculous.” Certainly, there is much about the healing process that we do not understand. I am sure that a trip to the moon would have been considered a miracle two thousand years ago.
In Jesus time, people incorrectly thought that the heart was the source of certain types of decision making processes, rather than just a blood pump. This conceptual error permeates our language to this day. The mind, body and spirit are closely integrated within our unified being. Mind / body interactions are complex and more difficult to understand than the chips in a personal computer, but we do not have to understand everything at the lowest level of detailed complexity, in order for the body to perform almost magical self-healing. Perception is far more important than reality anyway, especially with what we now know about the placebo effect.
If medical science offers no hope of an effective cure, then most certainly, fervent sincere prayer is one of very few remaining alternatives. Positive prayer, introspection and meditation all have the potential to enhance our self-healing ability. However, there is a potential risk of clinging only to religious alternatives, when God has given us the capacity to understand much more about modern nutrition and medicine. I had a wonderful personal friend who sadly died an early death from a simple infection that could have been quickly cleared up with common antibiotics (which were refused for personal religious reasons). Faith healing has the very real danger of being duped by unscrupulous televangelists, etc., but the basis for psychoneuroimmunology has a solid foundation in medical science. The concept that you chose to mentally activate your own placebo effect must be something that you believe in and are comfortable with.
Nutritional Therapy and Fitness Training – Clearly, nutrition and exercise can have dramatic positive or negative impacts on health, happiness, longevity and general well being. We discuss these topics extensively in our other materials. (See Joyful Aging main menu). Our mental image about our nutrition and exercise also can impact our health and happiness. If we think what we are doing is “good for us”, then we will (on average) be healthier and happier than those who constantly say: “I know that I shouldn’t, but …” (I am going to do myself long-term permanent damage anyway). If you believe that your lifestyle is bad for you, then it surely will be. The placebo or nocebo impact is based on (accurate or inaccurate) internalized beliefs, self-fulfilling expectations and perception, more than on reality. It is much better if we continually study what we eat and how we exercise, so that our decision-making perceptions come close to reality. The topics are extremely complex, controversial and different for every individual, but that merely means that we should study them all the more, not give up and do many things that we know are bad for us, long term.
Biofeedback – We can learn to wiggle our ears by looking in a mirror and working at it for a very long time. We can control our weight by paying careful attention to a precise weight scale – repeat what works, avoid what doesn’t. We can learn which things in the forest are safe to eat, by trying them all and remembering which ones kill us. (chuckle) Alternatively, we might observe what healthy animals eat and try that first (until we discover that our stomach is not like a cow’s).
Diabetics can adjust their food intake and insulin levels by daily monitoring of serum glucose levels with a microprocessor-based personal portable glucometer. We can learn to relax, block stress, eliminate aging accelerating inflammation and migraine headaches, and change our brain waves with brain electrical activity monitors. We can learn to explicitly command our heart rate to go up or down at will, by merely tuning in on the sound of blood pumping past our ear drums.
We can create a four-degree temperature differential between our two hands, with two accurate rapid-feedback thermometers and mental imaging of one hand being in hot water and one hand being in ice. We can double the number of white blood cells delivered to a cut with mental imaging and biofeedback imagery / response training. We can take control of many bodily functions that were previously thought to be “automatic.” Yogis have been gaining respect for knowing how to do it for centuries. Humans have great difficulty learning lessons that have long feedback cycles (like the time required to develop lung cancer, etc.)
Other Therapies - There are many other methods that are advertised to improve the healing process, such as aroma therapy, et.al. They may help positive mental imaging and be effective for some people, but many perfumes and especially burning incense and scented candles release complex toxic pollutants that can have negative health implications, based on long-term regular exposure, in much the same way that smoking is linked to cancer. We should be open minded about other alternatives, but apply scientific method in evaluating controversial solutions, to what is essentially a mystical magical issue of mental perception.
Which Method To Use - If you have physical damage or injury (a broken bone, laceration, etc.), it is always best to start with a licensed physician. You can receive medication to relieve your discomfort, as well as prevent infection or further damage. A cast, surgery, etc. may be essential. Then you can use any combination of mental methods to enhance the healing process - according to your sincere beliefs and what makes you comfortable in your current situation.
Disease prevention and healing can be significantly influenced by positive mental images, attitudes and healthy lifestyle alternatives. Medicines can relieve pain, reduce inflammation and infection. Some can enhance the healing process by blocking things that disrupt it. Most medicines have unpleasant potential side effects. A combination of medicine, mental and spiritual methods can be synergistic in maintaining and regaining health and happiness. It may be better to believe that you have multiple alternative paths to success than only one unreliable way to achieve what you desire.
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