Visualization — Using The Mind To Generate Health

By Charlene Day

Can You See This?

A woman is lying on her bed. She is wearing an attractive yellow pullover and casual blue slacks. It is late afternoon. The door to her room is shut; the phone is off the hook; her eyes are closed. Yet she doesn't appear to be sleeping. Her breathing changes and deepens in a rhythmic pattern. She sighs and you become aware of soft, gentle music in the background.

If you put yourself in her place, in her body, you would experience a feeling of relaxation and calm as you let tension go. You would not necessarily know it, but your blood pressure, metabolic and heart rate would decrease. You would notice that as you became more relaxed, you would feel your muscles relax and let go. A feeling of pleasant well-being would start to flow into your awareness. If you went inside the woman's mind, you would notice pictures flickering across the screen of her mind.

"Pictures in my mind?" you may say. "I'm the kind of person who doesn't see pictures." If so, try this: think of where you live. As soon as you think of your residence, a picture (or at least a felt sense) comes into your mind. How many windows does your living room have? Your kitchen? Once again, pictures will come into your mind, sometimes so briefly you think you didn't see anything. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all visualize or image. It is a normal function.

Why was the woman visualizing? She was coming down with a cold, and she was strengthening her immune system by visualizing.

Scientific evidence now confirms that what we think about or imagine is linked to our nervous system. In fact, a new specialty is emerging. It is called psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how thoughts and feelings (psycho) interact with our nervous system (neuron) to promote healing (immunology).

Using a language of biochemicals and nerves, the mind and body communicate constantly. The mind plays an important role in protecting us from disease, or helping us to recover. Visualization or imagery is one way we can harness the power of our mind.

Jeanne Achterberg, an eminent pioneer and leading researcher/practitioner in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, showed that cell-specific mental imagery can effect neutrophil or lymphocyte cell counts. Her subjects (30 of them) were randomly placed into two groups. Six weeks of training helped the subjects to visualize the location, movement and structure of either neutrophils or lymphocytes. Music was used to facilitate the visualization.

One group visualized changes in neutrophils; the other group visualized lymphocytes. White blood cell counts were measured before and after the final imagery session. The result was a statistically significant change in the lymphocytes for the lymphocyte-visualizing group (but no change in their neutrophil levels).

And for the neutrophil group, neutrophil levels changed, but lymphocyte levels did not, once again at levels unlikely to result from chance. The research is consistent with the view that measured immune system changes are cell specific. It suggests that imagery or visualization influences immune functioning.

There are many other related studies. One important aspect of all this research is that visualization does not appear to harm. The other (more important) is that visualization very often appears to influence immune function in line with what has been visualized.

If you would like to know more about imagery/visualization or about research in this area, I would suggest reading The Immune System Handbook. I designed the book to give anybody the tools to visualize for health promotion. It includes many specific, practical guidelines to help anyone visualize. And if you really are someone who has trouble visualizing, it also includes a short play which humorously illustrates all the major immune system players rushing about the stage.

It also gives a complete and readable survey of the immune system, including intuitively understandable cartoon illustrations of the immune system "characters", as well as many other self-care approaches to enhancing immune system functioning.

The woman in the yellow pullover feels refreshed. She gets up from the bed with renewed energy. She and her recharged immune system are ready to face the world again...

Charlene Day, author of The Immune System Handbook: Your Owner's Manual, is a wholistic health counsellor. She is available for slide presentations on the immune system, imagery, nutrition and mind/body healing. Her specialty is working with cancer clients and also acts as a spiritual support for those dying.

The Immune System Handbook is available at your local health food store, The Book Company or R. & R. Book Bar.

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