One hears a great deal about Mind/Body medicine from an increasingly wide variety of media sources. It is therefore quite logical and practical for one to ask just what is meant by the term mind/body medicine. In the ancient fable of the three blind men describing the elephant, there ensued three descriptions of the elephant, each depending upon which part of the elephant the blind man contacted. This is pretty much the case with attempts to define mind/body medicine today. This is why I thought it a good idea to write a simplified discussion designed to give the patient new to the scene a workable understanding of what this term might mean.
For purposes of this discussion, I shall greatly simplify the topic by referring to some of the more commonly used methods. Since all of these involve mental activity I suppose each could correctly be referred to as Mind/Body medicine. The working relationship of mind and body is not a new concept. The scientific Greeks thought of the two as inseparable for a healthy body. For centuries this was not challenged. With the dawn of the age of modern medicine, there appears to have been a separation of the two. One of the more obvious reasons for this was the advancement of inoculations which made the contracting of some diseases impossible regardless of the state of a persons mind. There is an exponentially expanding volume of observations in recent times which gives a solid indication that the cognitive, or mental, element is of enormous significance in dealing with many diseases including cancer. There are many, many more forms that could be included in a discussion of mind/body medicine but this discussion is limited to the following, each of which the patient can do for themselves.
The principal methods of what could rightly be called Mind/Body medicine that I wish to discuss in this article are: relaxation, prayer, meditation and guided imagery. It should be obvious that these are closely related and can be practiced in combination for increased efficacy.
• RELAXATION: The pioneering work in this field was that of Harvard Professor Herbert Benson. His monumental book, “The Relaxation Response” gives a wonderful description of the healing power of relaxation and should be considered a must read for anyone interested in learning more of Mind/Body medicine. The value of relaxation as a weapon is graphically presented. I once laughing suggested that we all owe a lot to Herb for teaching us how to simultaneously relax and fight like hell! Relaxation is not an abundant quantity around a cancer ward where the emotions on the faces suggest great anxiety. Along those lines it is worthwhile to recall that there are two kinds of pain. Anguish is the pain we feel whereas anxiety is the pain we fear and this can be a very real killer. Relaxation is a logical first step in dealing with this deadly form of pain.
• PRAYER: One of the things that I discovered in the cancer fight is that prayer, both direct and intercessory (prayers offered for another by the person praying) is a powerful weapon in the battle. Its effectiveness has been scientifically documented in a clinical trial involving over 400 patients in the cardiac care center of the University of San Francisco. This was reported in a paper by Dr. Randy Byrd. I soon discovered that prayer must be both serious and ongoing. Think of it as a medicine that calls for repeated daily doses until the symptoms disappear. It is not just a question of believing in the power of prayer. It is mandatory that the patient actually do it. After all, one could appreciate the value of water and still die of thirst if he/she did not continue to drink it! There is a treasure trove worth mining on this subject in the Holy Bible. I have personally known several devout “prayer warriors” who can point to this and this alone in getting rid of their cancer.
• MEDITATION; Meditation is the logical next step after relaxation and, in fact, can only be effectively done when in a relaxed state. Some characteristics of a meditation program would be; a room or place as far from distractions as possible, a mental device such as a word, phrase or passage to be repeated continually or a fixed gaze on a distant object (mantra). A comfortable position or posture. The “lotus” position of Yoga is a notable one of these. It is alright to lie down if sleep does not ensue. This should continue for at least 20 minutes.
• GUIDED IMAGERY; This is the one that I discovered on my journey down the healing road for metastatic kidney cancer. In the above forms, the individuals own mind is the only one involved. With this method, we introduce another mind into the mix for the purpose of supplying guidance to the relaxed mind. It should be noted that in this form of mind/body medicine, since the remarks of the guide are directed to the patient’s subconscious mind, it is both permissible and preferred that the patient fall asleep during the exercise. This enables the subconscious to focus on the directed task at hand without the conflicting effects of stray noises or other distractions to the conscious mind. The patient uses a recorded message that initially puts the patient in a relaxed state and then provides healing inputs to the elements of the immune system via the subconscious mind. In my view, Candace Pert in her remarkable book, “The Molecules of Emotion” provides the scientific explanation of why this very thing is possible. For years I have been met with the charge that guided imagery has no scientific basis. From the perspective of history, I have come to the conclusion that the tendency of cancer researchers to ignore the mental aspect of healing by purposely excluding it from treatment amounts to a deadly form of junk science.
One of the early pioneers in the field of guided imagery, Dr. Carl Simonton made the remarkable observation that 100% of all cancer patients practice guided imagery, albeit of a negative sort. This occurs at the instant the dreadful diagnosis is delivered and unless dealt with, can continue all the way to the morgue. I know that in my case, in that moment my mind was filled with horrible recollections of loved ones suffering and dying of cancer. There is a danger herein that these thoughts can be interpreted by the subconscious mind to be a command signal for history to repeat. One of the first tasks for mind/body medicine, regardless of the form it takes, is to redirect this thought process into a healing direction.