WHY IT WORKS: THE SCIENCE
The fact that anatomical-physiological processes can be influenced by suggestions is very important for medicine, psychology, philosophy, and the other disciplines which deal with the mind-body problem.
-Theodore X. Barber, Changing “Unchangeable” Bodily Processes by Hypnotic Suggestions: A New Look at Hypnosis, Cognitions, Imagining, and the Mind-Body Problem, Imagination and Healing, pp. 69-118, 1984
The Mind/Body Connection
The use of mental imagery as a healing technique is well established. Countless instances of the invocation of imagery to facilitate therapeutic change can be cited. Psychotherapists, nurses, neurologists, dentists, anesthesiologists, and hypnotherapists are among the modern-day healers who employ imagery to alleviate the physical and psychological suffering of their clients. When was this technique first discovered and how effective is it?
Since the days of the ancient Egyptians and early there has been much curiosity about the mind-body connection. Over the centuries, trance has been used to circumvent the conscious mind and directly apply healing suggestions into the subconscious mind with amazing results. Do thoughts influence bodily function? Do our emotions contribute to our overall well-being? If negative suggestions can create an environment can the implementation of positive suggestions directed to the subconscious mind create new pathways for change and healing to occur? Present-day research has explored this relationship between the mind and body with researchers from Harvard, Stanford, the Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland Clinic’s Integrative Medicine Department, to name a few, seeking to understand how our subconscious mind informs us on a cellular level. First, we have to begin with the brain.
The brain is what we would call the central processing unit. It translates our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, memories imagination into patterns of nerve cell firing and its chemical releases. These are called and they the physiology and biochemistry of our body. Every event we experience signals unique and distinct patterns of nerve cell firings and their accompanying chemical release. This is own Neurosignatures are stored in your mind as memories. These memories consist of not only the physical senses but also the thoughts and feelings associated with a particular event. These memories can occur in different places. They can be stored in your body as body memory, muscle memory or cellular memory. They can be stored in your subconscious mind (no conscious memory) or your conscious mind (events of which you are consciously aware.)
Visualizations Create Change
An external event, like smelling a lemon, enters the brain and the distinct pattern of nerve cell firing happens. This is This creation of the is called “bottom-up” because of the signal coming from outside the body up to the brain. When you imagine an image or recall an image in your mind, a new is created. This kind of creation of the is called “top-down,” because the signal is coming from your brain (the top) and moves down the body through the release of different chemical messengers through the nerve cells as they fire.
Studies at Stanford University have shown, through PET scans, that our brain responds to a specific event the same whether it is real or imagined. In some aspects, our brain does not know the difference between a real event and one that is vividly imagined.
So, how does hypnosis work? The question of what happens physically during trance is not known for sure but has been theorized by William Kroger, M.D. and David Spiegel, M.D. The thought is that in the hypnotic induction process changes begin in the Hippocampus Cortex of the brain, which then produces chemicals that saturate the Corpus Callosum. Because of this saturation, the Corpus Callosum becomes more conductive, enhancing the flow of more information from one hemisphere of the brain to the other (much more so than normally happens).
When this activity becomes equalized (a state of equalization), trance happens. It is believed that information is now being processed by both sides of the brain. The nerve cells in the non-dominant part of the brain (that control habits of thought, feeling behavior) lose some of their electrical and the mind becomes more subject to change.
Did you know that the brain is not a rigid structure?
The brain has what is called “plasticity.” The brain is malleable and is continually reorganizing itself and changing its synaptic connections. Howard Cutler, M.D., in The Art of Happiness, talks about how the brain’s plasticity “appears to be the physiological basis for the possibility of transforming our minds. By mobilizing our thoughts and practicing new ways of thinking, we can reshape our nerve cells and change the way our brains work.” IMAGINE how you could create positive change in your life!
The mind/body connection is REAL! Remember going to the movies to see Jaws, or Jurassic Park, or A Nightmare on Elm Street? Did your heart race? Did the soundtrack cause you to get tense, even before something happened? Did you gasp or scream?
Of course, none of what you were experiencing was based on reality, but rather imaginative stories that were being acted out on screen. You were perfectly safe, but your bodies responded because your subconscious mind couldn’t tell the difference between real or imagined. We respond to our thoughts! We have invisible energies of thought, feeling, beliefs, attitudes imagination. Some of these invisible energies are manifested in our physical body and inform our behavior and responses (phobias, for example). It is the very basis, the very fabric of our physiology and biochemistry.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have been studying the benefits of mind/body interactions for more than 25 years. these invisible forces been found to bring about remarkable changes in the visible physiology and biochemistry of our bodies. These changes include positive health benefits for such conditions as high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic pain control, infertility, irregularities of heart rhythm, anxiety and depression, to name but a few.
In the book, The Healing Mind by Paul Martin, Ph.D., he writes, “Our mental state and physical health are inexorably intertwined and the relationship between mind and health is mediated by both our behavior and by biological connections between the brain and the immune system. Likewise, these connections work in both directions, so our physical health can influence our mental state. All illnesses have psychological and emotional consequences as well as causes.”
Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist, in his book Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles contends that our thoughts can activate changes in the activity of the cell membrane and thus alter our health. He believes that the cell membrane functions as the active intelligence of the cell. He calls it the “magical mem-brain.” When you have a thought, your mind sends out signals. These can be in the form of hormones, growth factors or other chemicals which stimulate oscillations of nerve cells which create a sort of field that influences other nerve cells and neurons. What is interesting is that at this point your brain can send out other signals by your central nervous system that override the cell membrane receptors that are responding to signals. According to Dr. Lipton, “The brain can ultimately control the activity of tissues and organs. I believe that the most powerful information processing by the brain is the domain of the subconscious and that it can shape tissue responses. These signals can actually influence the membrane to engage selected genes that then actively respond.... Hypnosis has the potential to directly engage the subconscious mind and produce amazing physiological, emotional and behavioral changes.”
In other words, it matters what you believe! Change your thoughts and you can change your life. Hypnosis is about self-empowerment!
FOR MORE INFORMATION about supporting research on the successful uses of hypnotherapy, please go to the “Further Reading” page.