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 Mind/Body Medicine: The Psychophysiological Approach 
 

So remarkable were Schwarz's feats in autonomic self-control that Elmer Green, Ph.D., from the Menninger Institute studied him intensely and wrote several papers concerning his abilities. From all scientific tests available to us, it seems that Jack Schwarz is constructed exactly like every other human being-he bleeds and hurts normally, unless he enters a certain state of concentration and produces mental imagery to change these normally unconscious reactions.

While visiting Green at Menninger, I was able to view his experiments wherein Swami Rama demonstrated his ability to throw his heart into and out of atrial fibrillation at will. I also watched a movie that Green had made in India of an Indian yogi being buried alive for eight hours. He was able to slow his breathing to less than once every few minutes, and to decrease his metabolic rate to such a low level that the meager amount of air in the coffin was able to sustain him.

Numerous books have been published in the past decade presenting an ever-increasing amount of evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the development and course of most commonly encountered physical diseases are dependent, at least in part, on

  1. The amount of stress the individual has been experiencing. In general, the greater the amount of stress the greater the likelihood of disease. There are also indications that the negative effects of stress are cumulative-the number of changes a person has had to deal with, mentally and emotionally, over the past two years is directly related to that person's likelihood of developing a disease within the next six months.
  2. The individual's ability to effectively deal with stress, and return the body to a healthy equilibrium.
  3. How the person view himself or herself and the disease-his or her self-image and the image he or she forms to represent the disease to the conscious mind.
  4. Way of life. The person whose way of life includes smoking or drinking as an outlet for tension is paving the way for diseases he or she would be protected from to a greater degree if he or she found other ways to eliminate accumulated tension in the body. Similarly, people who eat for emotional reasons may find that excessive weight vastly increases their likelihood of becoming ill and dying from diseases such as hypertension, coronary thrombosis, or musculoskeletal problems.
The evidence at present, in my opinion, does not imply that all human diseases are the result of stress, the inability to cope with stress, attitude, or way of life. Those that are, however, should obviously be approached through the mind and emotion in addition to physically. This, of course, creates a dilemma-in any given case, it is impossible for anyone, including the patient, to tell to what degree, if any, psychophysiological factors are playing a part. One can either assume they are not, and resign oneself to a life of repeated attacks and symptomatic drug treatment, or explore the unconscious connections and attempt to facilitate the healing process. This latter decision seems to be an especially reasonable one in view of the experiences of those who have shown that the healing rate of even such obviously externally induced problems as animal bites and surgical incisions can be markedly altered through a simple relaxation or hypnotic induction combined with the proper imagery or suggestions.

If unconscious activity, then, is fundamental to all healing, and if it can change the functioning of different organs, what is the mechanism by which this is accomplished? Is there some way, other than the nineteenth-century hypnotists' "universal Animal Magnetic Fluid," to conceptualize this process? Finding this would lead to a better understanding of human disease as well as provide a mechanism through which we could eliminate or ameliorate many diseases and prevent others from ever occurring.

The Conscious Control of Chemical and Physical Changes
Have you ever stopped to consider that you can, by the use of your conscious mind, initiate, halt, or alter the rate of the complicated chemical reactions that take place in your body cells?

The chemist never "sees" the chemical molecules interact with each other, but merely adds substances together under certain conditions and exerts a limited control over only such minor factors as whether a chemical reaction starts, stops, or changes its rate. The physicist requires the most complicated equipment to detect small quantities of substance, and when it comes to speaking about a single molecule or atom, the physicist's knowledge and reasoning become highly speculative.

Our bodies however, don't suffer from these limitations. Our cells are familiar with atoms and electrons, and deal with them constantly throughout our entire lives. During every minute your body is combining oxygen molecules and sugar molecules in a specific manner so as to produce energy. If each of us (assuming we were all healthy) were to take a small amount of phenobarbital, it would go to the same place in each person's body and be detoxified through exactly the same kind of chemical reaction. If you catch a cold this winter, it may be a form of virus that has never before been present on the Earth; yet your body will likely be able to analyze its chemical structure and produce an antibody molecule that fits it so exactly that the foreign entity is completely inactivated and the disease soon eradicated.

One thing we all take for granted is the means by which we contract and relax muscles. When you contract a muscle, you are actually producing many specific chemical changes according to a certain specific pattern.

The contraction occurs because of a specific chemical reaction that is repeated over and over again at certain points along the fibrils. When the muscle maintains a certain degree of contraction, the chemical reaction must continue. When you relax the muscle, chemical reaction ceases. If you now consider the speed and delicacy with which your eyelids may be fluttered, the power of the legs of a sprinter, and the extraordinary control of a watchmaker's fingers, you can get an idea of how intricate is our molecular control of these chemical reactions.

If, while you are sitting alone in your bedroom at night, you hear what sounds like stealthy footsteps somewhere in your house, you might begin to perspire. You might also have noticed that you perspire when speaking in front of a group of people or when being introduced to an important person. In both of these cases, the chemical changes represented by the production of perspiration are produced because of what you are thinking rather than because of a change in temperature. Once again, your body is initiating certain chemical reactions: each sweat cell must move molecules of sodium and chlorine out of your bloodstream, mix them with water, and discharge them onto the surface of your skin.

Perhaps you can recall a time when you almost fell off a roof or when you narrowly avoided an automobile accident. A few seconds later you felt a shocklike tingling throughout your body, followed by rapid heartbeat and respiration. The cells of your body had manipulated chemicals, releasing adrenalin into your bloodstream. Your experience resulted from the changes in your nerve endings, changes produced by this chemical.

During World War II a study showed that people who read the newspaper during breakfast developed ulcers much more frequently than a similar group of people who did not read the newspaper while eating. The emotions produced when the reports of the war were read caused chemical changes, such as changes in gastric secretion and spasm and tension in involuntary muscles.

You can probably think of hundreds of other ways in which a person's thoughts or imaginings can produce or inhibit chemical reactions in the cells of the body. You will find that you are quite familiar with the ability of your body to outperform even the most well-equipped chemical or physical laboratory in this respect. You may, however, have given little thought to the fact that you can actually learn to control these chemical reactions consciously. Although the bodily responses discussed in the examples just mentioned seem to be related to the external environment, it is actually the imagination that is ultimately responsible for initiating these responses. For instance, you will not perspire if you recognize immediately that the nighttime noises are made by your dog. It is your imagination of danger that gives rise to the perspiration, not the danger itself!

Perhaps the role of the imagination will be understood clearly through a little experience. Sweat! That's right-start sweating!

You are probably finding this impossible to do. Yet if suddenly your door flew open and an angry grizzly bear walked in, you would probably find it easy to sweat. Yet nothing would have been physically done to you! Your imagination, or mental image of what might happen, would be producing the response. And if your ability to produce fantasy is strong enough, you can picture that bear in your mind's eye so clearly that your sweat glands will respond to the image.

The Evolution of Imagination
The sciences of archaeology, biology, and physics indicate that the earliest forms of life on our planet seem to have been organisms of only one cell. This cell was responsible for obtaining food, digesting it, and eliminating waste. It was responsible for reproduction and respiration and defense. All of its processes were centralized and controlled by its nucleus.

As time passed, groups of cells began to join together, forming clumps and even hollow balls. Each cluster-forming organism, or colonial organism, was equal to its neighbor. Each was also responsible for its own life processes, and journeying together was mainly a convenience.

Still more time passed, and the animals and plants living on the Earth became more complicated. Specialization began to take place: certain cells were responsible for obtaining food, others for locomotion, and still others for defense. Around this time a problem arose. For those animals that had developed the ability to move, to feel, and to react to sensations, it became necessary to coordinate the activities of these different groups of cells. To put it simply, the eye had to communicate to the foot the location of the food so that the mouth could be taken to it!

Thus was born the need for a communications system or, as we call it in biology, a nervous system. The nervous system consists of specialized cells whose job it is to carry messages back and forth to other groups of cells (organs).

As organisms became more and more complicated, a central area for coordinating activities became necessary. If you imagine a town in which all the phones are connected to each other without going through a central switchboard, you have an idea of the confusion that might have occurred in animals or plants if some kind of brain had not been developed.

Nature found this new organ most valuable for coping with the changing conditions in the world. Areas were developed to store information gleaned from the surroundings, so that it could be used if similar conditions arose later. In other words, animals gained the capacity to learn.

The development of a fixed body temperature led to the appearance of the mammals. Delicate, finely controlled brains could now be developed, and the lives of these animals became dependent more upon their ability to learn and adapt in their individual surroundings than upon limited sets of reflexes passed on genetically, such as those that govern the life of paramecium or a mosquito.

These abilities seem to have reached a zenith with the human, whose versatile body and complex brain are crowned by the specialized function of the nervous system that we experience as the conscious mind. As mammals evolved more adaptable, flexible bodies, nature found it necessary to develop this special part to control the brain itself. Just as the lower centers of the brain, or unconscious mind, is responsible for maintaining the coordination of your body during such activities as swimming or playing tennis, the higher centers, or conscious mind, is responsible for maintaining the overall coordination of the unconscious mind. It is the conscious mind that decides whether to have the unconscious mind play tennis or simply sit and watch because you are only a spectator at a championship match. And, tracing it all the way back, this elaborate cortical structure still serves the primitive function of allowing all the cells of the body to communicate with each other.

(Excerpted from Opening Your Inner 'I': Discover Healing Imagery Through Selective Awareness ISBN: 0890876428)
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