The imagination can be a potent force in healing.
It’s no exaggeration that patients who cannot imagine themselves well are unlikely to be or stay so, and an increasing number of doctors and complementary practitioners agree. For example, in pain control clinics patients are taught to imagine the sore area going cool and numb, and visualise a dial or slide control representing the degree of pain and turn it down. It works because pain is a subjective experience highly susceptible to mental processes.
Try this: sit down comfortably, take a few deep breaths and focus your attention on your dominant hand. Imagine it getting warmer. What’s happening? Now imagine it getting cooler. Any difference? Experiments using sophisticated measuring equipment have registered significant changes in skin temperature when people use their imagination in this way.
Leading physicians such as Dr Carl Simonton, Dr Bernie Segal and Dr Dean Ornish have written and lectured widely about their experiences using the imagination to assist the healing process. Dr Simonton teaches his patients to visualise tumours shrinking and the cancer disappearing. Dr Ornish uses creative imagery, nutrition, exercise and group therapy to clear coronary heart blockages. Dr Segal uses a range of techniques to galvanise the healing power of the mind, including visualisation. In each case, the results are well documented. This author, too, has used it (with hypnosis) to relieve a range of conditions including eczema, frozen shoulder, muscular aches and pains, blushing, allergies, eczema, headaches, obesity, bed wetting and a variety of fears and phobias.
Using the imagination, especially the creative visual imagination, works because of two quirks of the unconscious mind (where the body’s automatic regulation systems are located). The first is, the unconscious processes pictures and feelings better than words and ideas. Tell your heart to speed up and nothing happens. Imagine yourself waking down a dark alley with the sound of footsteps getting louder behind you and suddenly a heavy hand on your shoulder…..
The other is even quirkier: the unconscious can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy, ‘real’ and imagined. That’s why people wake in a sweat after a bad dream and cry at the cinema. So if you create a mental image of yourself healthy and healed, your unconscious works to make it a reality.
Creative imagery has proved its worth in healing time and time again. Katy came to see me after suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for many years. It made her days miserable and kept her awake at night. IBS is a stress-related condition exacerbated by poor diet.
I took her through a couple of guided visualisations and encouraged her to practise at home. She relaxed deeply and imagined she was examining her bowel from the inside. In her imagination she created a vivid mental picture of the problem area. It looked rough, angry, red and sore. She then imagined herself smearing the affected area with healing oils and balms, sensing the discomfort melting away, seeing the angry red change to a healthy pink. Finally, she turned on a make-believe tap in the bloodstream which provided extra nutrients and oxygen, to encourage healthy bacteria to flow in.
Within two weeks the IBS had almost disappeared. After a month, it was completely clear.
Try it yourself, but first a word of warning: no amount of creative imagery alone will cure you unless you change bad habits and take necessary action in other areas (e.g. diet, exercise, rest etc.) too.
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How to Books, 2007