There are many online definitions of the word visualization. According to Wikipedia, it is the process of creating internal mental images. On the Brigham and Women’s Hospital website I found a very interesting article (to read the entire article, please click on http://tinyurl.com/2aawlp) by Lain Chroust Ehmann titled Visualization: the Power of the Mind’s Eye, which begins in the following manner: Athletes have long recognized the power of creating victory in their minds before a big game. So common is the practice that phrases like ‘mental imagery’ and ‘the zone’ have moved into the vocabulary of everyone from couch potatoes to high-powered business people. Though not a new phenomenon, visualization â‚¬"the belief that we can create our own realities in the physical world by first creating images in our minds â‚¬"is just beginning to be recognized as a legitimate life enhancement technique. Research suggests that visualization boosts the immune system, assists in relaxation, and might potentially help people live longer. Here we go! Visualization can boost the immune system and help with relaxation. Not to mention the third item listed! I can personally vouch for the relaxation part, and, even though I have no way of checking how visualization is affecting my immune system, I am certain it is doing that, too. This article, like the one written by Hans Yeager (see below), also gives a few pointers for those who have no idea how to begin visualizing and would like to read a good introduction to this topic. Let me say from personal experience that it doesn’t take much effort to visualize. Just find a comfortable seat, or lie down, close your eyes, and begin relaxing. I will give a few pointers of my own at the end of this page.
I never thought of myself as someone who would meditate or visualize. I am a very down-to-earth person. But here I am, more than a year after being diagnosed with MM, visualizing all sorts of scenarios in which I annihilate my MM cells. After visualizing, I feel as relaxed as one of my cats waking up from an afternoon nap in the sun. Hans Yeager (who passed away on April 2007, unfortunately) wrote a very interesting article titled The Participation of the Mind in the Healing of Cancer, which can be found on the Beating Myeloma website at: www.beating-myeloma.org He speaks about the importance of stimulating our immune systems to recognize and fight cancer. One of my favourite excerpts is: One of the reasons why cancer is able to grow is because the immune system has not been able to identify the cancer. For this reason, cancer is more difficult to knock out with visualization than is the common cold. That doesn’t mean that visualization doesn’t work with cancer. It just means that it takes more work. Visualization can be the trick that wakes up your immune system to recognize the cancer. He makes another important statement: we must believe in our course of treatment. So, whether it be curcumin or Revlimid, we must believe that it will work. Just for the record, even though I began taking curcumin without any idea if it would work or not, I believed it would. I wonder if curcumin would have worked as well if I had taken it with a ho-hum attitude. Of course, I don’t mean that we can simply wish away our cancer. What I am saying is that if we try to use the still largely unknown powers of our minds, we can help our bodies fight cancer. It’s another instrument we can use. A few pointers. I close my eyes, and relax, first, as I mentioned above. I also find it easier to visualize while listening to music. Indeed, music influences what I visualize. My favourite (now) is the soundtrack from the Chronicles of Narnia. Second favourite: soundtrack from the Harry Potter series. Third: Reiki music. It has to be just music, no words. Words are distracting, in my opinion.
There is a lot of evidence that our emotions have an impact on our immune system. A 2002 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine showed that people with negative emotions were less resistant to the common cold than people with positive emotions. More on this study can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/39e3bs In another fascinating study, 25 people took part in an eight-week meditation training program, with 16 others as a control group, i.e., nonmeditators. At the end of the program, both groups were vaccinated with the influenza vaccine. The results were extraordinary. The meditators had a higher antibody response to the vaccine than those in the control group. Also, brain electrical activity was measured, and there were significant differences between the two groups, demonstrating that there is a connection between the mind and the immune system: To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a reliable effect of meditation on an in vivo measure of immune function. The complete study, titled Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation and published in the 2003 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/35c24a
If you are interested in learning more about visualization and the importance of the mind during the healing process, www.beating-myeloma.org is a valuable resource. Here you will find a series of articles, such as The Mind-Body Interaction with Disease, which begins with an interesting historical outline of this topic, and then provides a scientific presentation on how the mind-body connection works. An excerpt: Evidence of a causal link between an impaired stress response and susceptibility to inflammatory disease comes from pharmacological and surgical studies. So, if we are stressed and depressed, we are more likely to get ill, as we have seen in the "common cold" study mentioned above. The mind’s importance in the healing process was known as far back as ancient Greece, but has been largely ignored by modern medicine.
We need to re-establish the connection between our brains and our immune systems.
Another article, The Mind-Body Connection, tells the story of David Emerson, a remarkable man (I couldn’t agree more, having had many e-mail exchanges with him) who was told to go home and die by his doctors. There was nothing more that conventional medicine could do for him. After following his own alternative treatment path, which you can read about on his website www.beating-myeloma.org , he is alive and kicking, 13 years later. An inspiring story.
How and what to visualize? Hans Yeager talks about this in the section titled The Healing Process (in the above-mentioned article), and says that it doesn’t matter if we picture a metaphorical or a realistic attack on our cancer cells. We can visualize anything we want. I prefer a metaphorical attack. In real life, I am a peace-lover, but in my visualization worlds I am most frequently in the middle of different bloody battlegrounds, which almost always have to do with killing my MM cells in a variety of ghastly ways. Usually, I am dressed in a Medieval suit of armour, charging down a hill on horseback (in my real life, the only times I have been close to a horse is when I have walked through Piazza Duomo, where the Cathedral is located, in the centre of Florence, where carriages and horses are standing still, awaiting tourists). In this guise, I hunt down the foot soldiers from the army of Myeloma, and mercilessly mutilate and slaughter them.
Of course, not all MM or cancer patients have to have murderous visions. The visions can be less aggressive. Indeed, it is always a good idea to end a visualization session with a positive image. I frequently visualize myself as a healthy person running along a beach on Cape Cod, MA, where I lived many years ago. So, visualize whatever works for you. And if you would like to send me some suggestions, please do, and I will post them with your permission.
In sum, let’s wake up our immune systems!
January 10 2008 UPDATE: A recent Mayo Clinic report talks about the benefits of guided imagery. You can read about it here: http://tinyurl.com/ythf5x An excerpt, which is practically the whole thing!: “Aristotle and Hippocrates believed in the power of images in the brain to enliven the heart and body. Today, research shows they were right. Guided imagery is helping patients use the full range of the body’s healing capacity […]. Guided imagery is more than listening to relaxing sounds. It’s a learning process to listen to someone’s voice, relax the breathing and consciously direct the ability to imagine. The effect of guided vivid imagery sends a message to the emotional control center of the brain. From there, the message is passed along to the body’s endocrine, immune and autonomic nervous systems. These systems influence a wide range of bodily functions, including heart and breathing rates and blood pressure.”
Guided imagery apparently can reduce side effects from conventional cancer treatments, reduce fear and anxiety before surgery and help manage stress and headaches.
March 11 2008 words of wisdom: I received this from a myeloma list friend (thanks!). Wise words, in my view.
This is something that everyone can relate to in one way or another.
There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and noticed she had only three hairs on her head.
‘Well,’she said, ‘I think I’ll braid my hair today.’ So she did, and she had a wonderful day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.
‘Hmmm,’ she said, ‘I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today.’ So she did, and she had a grand day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘today I’m going to wear my hair in a pony tail.’ So she did, and she had a fun, fun day.
The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head.
‘YEAH!’ she exclaimed, ‘I don’t have to fix my hair today!’
Attitude is everything.
Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.