Change Your Mind, Change Your Life
Change your mind, change your life!
This is a true story, well known to many medical doctors.
In 1957 in a hospital in California, there was a patient, “Mr. Wright,” who had an advanced cancer called lymphosarcoma. All treatments had failed, and time was running out. Mr. Wright’s neck, chest, abdomen, armpits, and groin were filled with tumors the size of oranges, his spleen and liver were enlarged, and his cancer was causing his chest to fill up with two quarts of milky fluid every day, which had to be drained in order for him to breathe. His physician, Dr. West, didn’t expect him to live even a week.
But Mr. Wright desperately wanted to live, and when he heard about a promising new drug called Krebiozen he begged his doctor to treat him with it. However, the drug was only being offered in clinical trials to people who were believed to have at least three months left to live. Mr. Wright was too sick to qualify.
But Mr. Wright didn’t give up. Knowing the drug existed and believing the drug would be his miracle cure, he pestered his doctor until Dr. West reluctantly gave in and injected him with Krebiozen on a Friday.
The following Monday, Dr. West was shocked to find his patient walking around out of bed. Mr. Wright’s “tumor masses had melted like snowballs on a hot stove” and were half their original size. Ten days after the first dose of Krebiozen, Mr. Wright left the hospital, apparently cancer free.
Mr. Wright was the picture of health for another two months, praising Krebiozen as a miracle drug, until the scientific literature began reporting that Krebiozen didn’t seem to be effective after all. Mr. Wright, who trusted what he read in the literature, fell into a deep depression, and his cancer came back.
This time, Dr. West, who genuinely wanted to help save his patient, got creative. He told Mr. Wright that some of the initial supplies of the drug had deteriorated during shipping, making them less effective, but that he scored a new batch of highly concentrated, ultra-pure Krebiozen, which he could give him.
Dr. West then injected Mr. Wright with nothing but distilled water. And a seemingly miraculous thing happened – again. The tumors melted away, the fluid in his chest disappeared, and Mr. Wright was feeling great again for another two months.
Then the American Medical Association announced that a nationwide study of Krebiozen proved that the drug was utterly worthless. Hearing this, Mr. Wright lost all faith in his treatment. His cancer came right back, and he died two days later.
This medical history was written up by Rorschach test pioneer Dr. Bruno Klopfer in a 1957 issue of the Journal of Projective Techniques.
The mind at work
So what was going on with Mr. Wright? He was a prime example of two powerful forces having to do with the mind and health:
One is the placebo effect, the other is somewhat lesser known: the nocebo effect.
Most people have heard of the placebo effect, which is a substance containing no medication prescribed or given to reinforce a patient’s expectation to get well. In other words, if you believe you’ll get well, you will.
We also had in Mr. Wright’s case the nocebo effect: once he believed the drug he was treated with was worthless, his cancer returned. In other words, if you believe you’ll get sick, you will.
Placebos originated as fake treatments, such as sugar pills, saline injections or sham surgeries used in modern clinical trials to determine whether a particular drug, surgery or treatment is truly effective. Something was needed to compare the real treatment to.
But the amazing thing was that often, patients getting the placebo treatment would also get well, because they believed they would.
Here are just a few examples from the research:
- Half of asthma patients get symptom relief from a fake inhaler
- 40% of people with headaches get relief when given a placebo
- Half of people with colitis feel better after taking placebos
- Placebos are equally as effective as morphine in treating pain
Here’s another amazing examples of the power of the placebo effect:
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bruce Moseley was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine for a study intended to prove the effectiveness of knee surgery:
Patients in one group got Dr. Moseley’s famous knee surgery for real. The other group of patients underwent an elaborately crafted sham surgery: they were sedated, three incisions made in their knee, the patient was shown a prerecorded tape of someone else’s surgery on the video monitor, then they were sewn back up.
As expected, 1/3 of the patients getting the real surgery experienced resolution of their knee pain. But shockingly, the patients getting the sham surgery got the same results.
What’s going on?
Harvard University Cardiologist Herbert Benson, a pioneer in body-mind medicine, has done extensive research on the placebo effect. His research shows the placebo effect yields beneficial clinical results in 60-90% of diseases.
He believes the placebo effect depends on the positive beliefs and expectations on the part of the patient, the physician and a good relationship between the two. He also believes the placebo effect triggers memories in the central nervous system of what good health is, leading to events that result in feelings of well-being. He calls this “remembered wellness,” and that may be something towards which the body is always striving.
The placebo effect is some of the strongest evidence of the body’s ability to self-heal.
What’s going on can also be explained scientifically by the relatively new field of psycho-neuro-immunology, or PNI, which studies how the mind affects the body. It’s providing new evidence of the connection between thoughts and health.
In a word: mind body medicine.
I once heard a doctor giving a lecture and he asked,
“Who here believes the mind and body are connected?”
Everyone raised their hands
His reply? “I don’t.” The audience gasped.
But then he added, “Because they’re not separate!”
PNI research has demonstrated the existence in the body of chemicals known as neuropeptides, which are triggered by our emotions and then circulate in the bloodstream.
- Release hormones
- Increase or decrease cell size
- Change cell activity
Neuropeptides are associated with emotions. If a negative emotion is “held onto” there may be a physical manifestation in the form of illness. If the emotion is released, the cells will return to normal size.
Holding onto an emotion would be something like being angry at your first boyfriend who jilted you at the altar, and you just can’t let go of it, even after 10 years. Every time you think of it, you get angry. That anger can eventually turn into illness in the body.
More instances of belief affecting health
PNI research demonstrated that letting go of negative emotions such as grief, anger, sorrow and fear is essential for good health and that suppression of emotions, particularly grief and anger, is associated with incidence of breast cancer.
And I think most people intuitively know this. Many years ago I was in a wallpaper store and overheard two women talking about a mutual friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. When one shared that their friends’ cancer had returned, the other woman said, “Well, it’s no wonder, with all the heartache she’s been through.”
One reason that spiritual healing can be so effective in people dealing with illness is that the client may release long-held emotions, which can be called a “healing realignment”.
In the film classic Annie Hall, Diane Keaton announces she’s leaving the Woody Allen character for another man. He doesn’t have any sort of reaction and she asks Woody Allen why he isn’t angry. He replied, “I don’t get angry. I grow a tumor instead.”
Every time I share that story I get a laugh because people recognize the truth in it.
I had a personal experience of this once when I had a cold and was talking to a very wise Native American friend. He asked, “Who are you mad it?” And the amazing thing is that I was mad at someone. And my anger manifested into a cold.
It’s also been found that positive emotions can stimulate immune system activity. One of my favorite stories comes from well-known holistic M.D. Bernie Siegal about a patient in the cardiac ICU who overheard doctors say he had a “gallop rhythm” in his heart. A gallop rhythm is a dangerous condition but this patient assumed it meant his heart was strong as a horse. Because of that perception, the patient’s overall status improved dramatically, and he got out of the coronary intensive care unit in record time.
Additionally, repeated thoughts and emotions create nerve pathways in the brain. This tells us why affirmations are important. Guided imagery has been scientifically documented to ease chronic pain when drugs can’t.
All professional athletes do mental rehearsal, or visualization, because the brain can’t tell the difference between what you visualize and what you physically do. It can’t tell the difference between my raising my right arm and simply visualizing raising my arm.
Visualization has long been a part of professional sports. Tennis star Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “battle of the sexes” in the Houston Astrodome in 1973. She was using visualization in the 1960s,and athletes today are doing it more and more.
But it can help anyone, not just professional athletes.
Some years ago, as an adult, I took up horseback riding. It was something I’d wanted to do for many years.
I was taking lessons at a stable in California that taught all levels, from children up to adults. Twice a year they held equestrian shows in which students were highly encouraged to participate.
I placed seventh in the first show I participated in, and I wasn’t too happy about it. By the next show six months later, I wanted to do much better. I was jumping by this time so it would be a much more challenging event for me.
To guarantee a good outcome, the day before the show, I went to the stable office and got a copy of the layout of the course I was going to be riding. I went home and visualized riding it, over and over. I visualized how I’d enter the arena on the horse, how we’d approach each jump, where I’d change his lead, and how we’d stop at the end.
I probably rode that course at least 30 times in my mind. So, the next day, it was practically effortless on my part to know exactly what to do and how to do it.
My mental outlook was so clear, that when I was at the gate ready to enter the arena, the coach said, “Start your trot when the rider in front of you reaches the last jump.”
I was actually planning to canter the course and could have been thrown by her telling me to trot, but I was so clear on what I was to do, I didn’t let her comment change my plan.
I started my canter and went on to ride the course perfectly, winning the blue ribbon for that event and silver cup for overall best in my age group.
I don’t tell you this story to boast, but to offer an example of what mental rehearsal and visualization can do. I was far from the best rider in any of my classes, but because of my preparation, I had a personal best.
Visualize yourself as well. Do affirmations as to your good health and good outcomes. It works.
Other’s attitudes and actions toward the patient impacts them also. I heard a South African M.D. speak at a conference. This doctor had studied with a shaman of South Africa, known asa Witch doctor. The witch doctors say that a doctor telling a patient they have six months to live is practicing black magic. Because you should never take away hope.
In hospitals where experiments have been carried out about the Doctors’ attitude to a patient’s recovery, it has been proven that if the surgeon is positive and expects his patient to recover then the chances of recovery are that much greater. If everyone goes around expecting that patient to get worse – they will get worse.
One of the remarkable things about the story of Mr. Wright is the degree to which his doctor supported him and worked to give him the treatment he desired.
Progressive cancer clinics such as the Lemmen-Holten Cancer Clinic in Michigan say in their literature, “we see you as a survivor from the day of your diagnosis.” That positive attitude is essential in supporting the patient. And that’s the type of health care practitioners you want on your team.
Changing negative thoughts to positive
Many of us have been programmed from childhood to use negative language without thinking about it and to think ill of ourselves.
My teacher Bear Heart said, “The best advice I can give to anyone at any time is: never complete a negative thought or sentence. Because if you think it, it goes into the computer in your head and can come true.”
Learning to think and speak positively can be like learning a new language, but it can be done with practice. I know because I did it. I used to be very negative in my twenties. If anyone asked me how I was doing I’d go into a litany of how hard my life was.
Then I learned about the power of our words and thoughts and started changing my tune. My life changed as a result.
In a previous episode, I interviewed Spiritual Healing instructor David Karg who shared his mantra, “Every little cell in my body is healthy, every little cell in my body is well. “ I’ve started doing it and have found it works.
Bruce Lipton’s book “The Biology of Belief” proved that every cell in our body has a consciousness and they talk to one another. And our own words and consciousness can impact them also.
Use affirmations to improve your health and your life.
A limiting belief that has permeated the New Age
Please don’t think that if you get sick it’s because you thought yourself into it. We also are subject to impure food, contaminants in the environment and the collective consciousness; all the more reason to eat well, exercise and protect ourselves daily.
Medical intuitive and best-selling author Carolyn Myss says this:
“A central misconception of today’s holistic culture is the belief that all illness results from personal negativity, either from tragic past experiences, from negative attitudes that contaminate our minds and bodies, or from bad past-life karma. Yet negativity is not the only source of illness: it can also emerge as the answer to a prayer. It can physically guide us onto a path of insight and learning upon which we would otherwise never have set foot. It may be a catalyst for expanding personal consciousness as well as for understanding the greater meaning of life.”
And some spiritual teachers say that before we’re born, we choose the life circumstances that will help our spiritual growth, including choosing our parents, our illnesses and the manner and time of our death.
One study showed a 70% survival rate among cancer patients who used it as a vehicle to learn “what is the lesson in this?” Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” ask, “Why is this happening for me?”
Some cancer survivors actually say the diagnosis was the best thing that ever happened to them because of the changes it caused them to make in their lives.
As far as negative thinking contributing to illness, the kind of causal effect I’m talking about is focusing on a specific outcome, and even expecting it. Like Elvis Presley, who lost his mother of a heart attack when she was 42. His biggest fear was he’d die at the same age of the same thing. He obsessed over it. And guess what happened? He had a heart attack and died at the age of 42.
Health Benefits of Positive Thinking
Researchers continue to explore the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health. They include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
And if you tend towards negative thinking, here’s something you can do to reverse it: Smile! Even fake smiling reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. If you’re having a hard time feeling positive, watch a funny video on YouTube. I’m inclined towards cat videos, myself.
In the classic best seller, Anatomy of an Illness, author Norman Cousins recounts his recovery from a life-threatening illness, partially by watching old episodes of Candid Camera and Marx Brothers movies. Humor was a main ingredient in his recovery.
In the words of Socrates, “There is no illness of the body apart from the mind.”
We can best support our family and friends by sharing this information, encouraging a positive outlook and positive language. Perhaps suggest affirmations for them to work with. Because all that positivity will enhance their immune system and contribute to their wellbeing, and yours.
In the words of one of my Native American teachers, “If you think you can, you can. Period.”
Spiritual Healing can support health by clearing stuck emotions. Read more about it here: https://mollylarkin.com/private_session/
Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller “The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman.” She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes, podcast and blog at www.MollyLarkin.com