Why are we programmed to heal ourselves and what gets in the way of the process. An interesting article by Lissa Rankin the author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself discusses these points and in this post I hope to share these and extend my views on why I too feel we have so much more control over our healing than we ever thought possible.
Lissa begins by explaining that our minds thoughts, feelings and beliefs are perfectly designed to help us overcome illness. This I believe because in so many ways our body wants to get back to full health as quickly as we can. We can watch cuts heal, see how we overcome infections and how vaccinations teach our bodies to fight of infections. More than this there is an immense amount of evidence which shows how our body heals faster when we tell it too, or use our intuition to listen to its instructions. For example Dr Escudero who has performed many operations with only mind power for Anaesthesia discovered his patients recovered quicker than those who had the traditional chemical anaesthetic. This in my opinion is because the body was left to its own natural processes of healing. Another study by Kings College London shows that a people with a fighting spirit or accepting thoughts generally survived long after Breast Cancer than those who felt defeat by the diagnosis. This again demonstrates to me that if we focus our intent on supporting our body to heal weather consciously or unconsciously we empower the healing.
Another example of this is the work of Peggy Huddleston who created a five step mind-body technique to prepare patients for surgery. The research in to her method concluded that it significantly reduced anxiety before surgery and lessened the use of pain medication by 23-50% and enabled the patients to recovery faster all by having a clear intention and good mental preparation. If you would like to learn more, Peggy has written a really interesting book on the topic called Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques.
Our bodies are naturally designer to heal, just like when we cut our leg and it scabs over, or our bones repair after being separated with a break, though it even goes further as Lissa explains:
It knows how to kill cancer cells, fix broken proteins, slow aging, eliminate toxins, fight infections, get rid of foreign bodies, and otherwise keep you healthy. Things go awry and disease manifests when these self-repair mechanisms fail to function properly.
But what is this ‘awry’ Lissa talks about. Well there is alot of research that suggests the answer and in fact Peggy Huddleston is on the right path with reducing anxiety and stress. Dr. David Hamilton in his book How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body shares a 2004 study that collated data from 293 studies and stated that stress makes our immune system’s ability to fight off illness a lot less effective than when we are calm.
Far from being depressing this information, to me, is life affirming because it means we have control over our healing once we find the best way for us to reduce our anxiety and stress. Lissa comments ‘Only when your nervous system is in a relaxation response do your body’s self-repair mechanisms function!’ and there are many ways we can do this from hypnotherapy, meditation, guided imagery and visualisation. Some people may say at this point ‘if we need to do this work to put our body in the healing state then the body is not naturally designed to heal itself’. The argument to this is that stress was only designed to activate our ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ mechanism but modern life has many more ways of triggering this response as Lissa explains:
The stress response is there to protect you in case a tiger chases you. But these days, we’re pretty safe from tigers, and yet our stress responses get triggered, on average, over 50 times per day. How? The amygdala in your lizard brains perceives negative thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, such as financial fears, relationship worries, work stress, loneliness, or pessimism, as threats equally scary as a tiger. Then BOOM. The scaredy-cat amygdala goes on red alert, and when this happens, our bodies can’t repair themselves. No wonder we get sick!
By freeing ourselves from pessimism and stress and returning to our natural relaxed state we can really help our recovery and healing as a 1995 study by The American Psychosomatic Society discovered cancer was less likely to recur in people who are optimistic.
Our natural state is to heal and we have lots of ways in which we can make this happen but I personally feel it goes further than this. There are more and more examples of plasticity, a topic which Norman Doidge discusses in depth in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, where the brain heals itself by creating new routes, one example is the story of Pedro who recovered from a major stroke and paralysis to be able fully walk and talk again. There are also more extreme examples, like the work of Hratch Ogali who would help people with broken necks and backs to walk again even after Doctors had stated the patient would never do so. In a documentary about his work called ‘Miracle Steps’ Hratch helps a young lady called Gemma to regain the feeling of pain when a pin was pricked in her foot, we did not see if he helped her walk again however the feeling of pain can only be registered in the brain, so how was it getting there to be felt when the connection up the spine had been broken in Gemma’s car accident a few years earlier? Could it be the same way the brain makes new pathways with plasticity or is it some other way. Either way I feel we should be open to as many of the natural ways we can heal because sometimes the only thing limiting us is our belief and not being open to the possibilities.
I am a pragmatist, if there is no evidence I am realistic enough to know our current limits of recovery, for example I have never read or seen any evidence that we can grow back limbs like a salamander. That said I have seen many examples of how our body heals itself from other conditions naturally and the common factors involved in this are the reduction of stress, increased optimism and belief in its possibleility. This is supported by the Institute of Noetic Sciences who have develop a really interesting book sharing examples of Spontaneous Remission and have concluded on 8 factors they see time and time again in examples of the body healing itself.
I would like to leave you with these 8 factors and hopefully the belief that the body really does knows how to heal itself.