n her office in Little Rock, Arkansas, a thirty-nine-year-old woman sits deep in meditation. A regular meditator, she has been practicing for almost nine years and invariably finds it helps her relax. Today, however, her practice will take on a new twist. Using a simple visualization technique she will attempt to control her immune system under the watchful eyes of several researchers from the University of Arkansas Medical faculty. It’s part of an experiment to further understand the remarkable mind/body connection.
The team is headed by psychiatrist G. Richard Smith, who wants to see if the woman can turn her immune system’s response up or down like the volume of a radio. The experiment begins with a simple injection of chicken pox virus on the underside of the woman’s arm. Because she has already had chicken pox, the researchers know she can’t develop the disease from the injection. But they also know that her immune system will “recognize” the virus and respond to it by causing a small bump to rise at the injection site within 48 hours.
Sure enough, a nickel-size bump appears and then slowly fades over the next four to five days. Blood samples confirm the skin test: Her white blood cell count increases as her immune system confronts the virus.