The New Medical Paradigm: Self-Reliance Medicine and Other Emerging and Converging Trends An Interview with Patricia A. Norris, Ph.D.
Dr. Patricia Norris has been researching and working in the field of mind/body medicine for over 30 years, and is a recognized expert in the use of biofeedback, psychosynthesis, imagery and visualization, neurotherapy, energy medicine, and self-regulation techniques for integrating the body, mind, emotions, and spirit. She has conducted hundreds of workshops and seminars worldwide in these areas and, along with her husband, Dr. Steven Fahrion, has been in the vanguard of those researching the potential uses of neurotherapy. In addition, Dr. Norris has an extensive background in training patients in the use of various holistic self-care approaches, including many patients suffering from cancer, alcoholism, or addiction. Her most famous case involved her work with Garrett Porter, then nine years old, who was diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal brain tumor. Using imagery techniques and biofeedback, Dr. Norris was able to guide Garrett through an intensive year of therapy, after which his tumor completely disappeared. Today, he is a healthy man in is 30s, and many other cancer patients have experienced similar successes as a result of using the same techniques.
Past president of both the Biofeedback Society of America and the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM), Dr. Norris co-founded the Life Sciences Institute of Mind-Body health, Inc. in Topeka, Kansas, and serves as its Clinical Director. In the following, free ranging interview, she discusses the convergence of emergence trends that are shifting and reshaping medicine into an entirely new, and far more comprehensive paradigm, and shares techniques anyone can use to immediately begin enhancing their health and overall well-being.
Why don’t you start by providing us with a general overview of where you see health care and health care treatments going based on the work that you’ve been doing and the people that you’re in contact with.
I think that over the course of this new century, medicine is going to change almost entirely and people cannot now imagine how much will be changed. I think we’ll still have the wonderful high-tech medicine that we have now for emergencies and for very recalcitrant cases, but for the most part I believe almost all the techniques will be the ones that are now called complementary and alternative techniques. These are growing in research areas, and we are beginning to see a lot of proven efficacy, particularly for chronic conditions. I also think we are going to see more use of sound and light in healing, and more use of energy medicine techniques in general, as well as more people learning how to use them. The use of energy psychology techniques will also become more commonly available, I believe, as will neurotherapy. A lot of things are coming together now because of the interdisciplinary approach that’s being taken by the complementary medicine community. This is in direct contrast to the direction that allopathic medicine has taken, which is increasingly about specialization, with more and more physicians not really knowing what the physicians in the next area of specialization are doing. The complementary medical field is operating under a more inclusive umbrella and bringing practitioners of a wide variety of disciplines together. A good example of this is the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine, or ISSSEEM, which is going in its 12th year and is bringing together physicians, physicists, psychologists, psychophysiologists, and healers. I think this is the trend that we are moving towards, and with this trend is coming the growing realization that being well is something that everyone can learn. I think we will continue to see growing numbers of individuals taking personal responsibility for their well-being, and, of course, complementary medicine has a lot to offer in this area as well, due to its many types of effective self-care approaches.
In line with the self-responsibility and self-care you’re talking about, two things occur to me, both of which I know you have been researching for quite some time. The first has to do with how much each of us inherently does possess the capacity to self-regulate our health even though, for the most part, we may not be aware of this. My second thought has to do with role that our imagery, thoughts, emotions, and things of that nature also play in our health, both positively and adversely, when they are not regulated properly.
I think the imagery that we hold pretty much regulates everything that we do, not only our health, but also how well we learn, how well we can engage in various activities, and how well we communicate with others. Imagery precedes action on all levels, and certainly it has an enormous effect inside the body at all times. We take so much of this for granted, like, for example, the fact that the mind controls the body via the neuromuscular system. It controls every movement that we ever make. Some of it is unconscious, naturally. For example, if you are told that you have someone at the door, you’ll get a lot of mental images and probably the ones you will pay the least attention to is where the door is, and what it feels like to stand up, and what your legs feel like as you walk toward the door, and so on, because you learned all those activities long ago and now the unconscious does it all. But all of our deliberate actions start with an image of some kind and an intent of some kind that are very conscious.
How does this relate to managing illness and creating optimal wellness?
I think our bodies “believe” our images and intentions all the time, and they respond to any image that we have in our minds, conscious or unconscious. This can be illustrated simply and easily initially by just becoming aware of your salivary glands. Just tuning in and making mental contact with the salivary glands starts the salivation flowing.
That certainly what’s happening for me right now.
That’s what happens almost inevitably. And if you make mental contact with the lacrimal glands that feed moisture to the eyes, your eyes will begin to water a little bit. It may not seem detectable, but if you were measuring tearing flow, usually you can detect an increase. Or, if somebody tells me not to blink, it becomes almost impossible not to do so because the urge to blink is there. So, to get back to your question, inside the body everything is directed by the imagery we have, which is a major factor among all the other influences.
There’s a microbiologist and cellular chemist at Stanford University named Bruce Lipton who has been studying the behavior of cells and it’s kind of mind blowing what he and his research team are discovering, the essence of which is that, genes don’t determine things — that this was a mistaken assumption that we’ve been operating under for the last 50 years, and in his lectures around the country he provides examples of the experiments that verify this. For example, experiments have shown that you can take all the genes out of the cell, and it will go right on functioning perfectly well. Lipton’s work has shown that the “brain in the cell” is in the receptors of the cell, and that the receptors determine which genes will be selected. What determines how the receptors behave is the environment, including emotions, attitudes, and our mental imagery, and if receptors don’t get activated, no message can get into the cell and its genes cannot be expressed. Lipton states that genes never decide to express themselves; they are always selected through the cell mechanism and through the receptors, and these in turn are affected by the environment, which includes our beliefs and images. I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that all of the immune system cells have receptors for the brain’s chemical messengers — neurohormones and neurotransmitters — so that anything that brain can “say” chemically, the immune system can “hear” and act on. The immune system is really powerful. If we could leave it alone a little more or trust it a little more, it could make us well from many more things. I’ve often seen examples of this in the work I’ve done with cancer patients. Garrett is the most famous example because of our book, but there are probably 20 other patients from that time who succeeded against expectations, and several hundred who succeeded in general. And what their successes illustrate is how powerfully imagery is the basis of, or determines, much of our psychophysiological processes, and it intercedes because many of these other processes are automatic. That’s what the autonomic nervous system means. It operates automatically so that, for instance, we don’t have to interact with our heart to keep it beating. But if you consciously turn your attention to your heart it immediately begins to behave in a slightly different manner, and then you can speed it up or slow it down just by visualizing.
Provide an example of how that would work.
Let me first of all tell you how I discovered this. When we were doing the biofeedback research at the Menninger Clinic, between 1972 and 1980, one of the things we did was demonstrate heart rate control. We would hook people up to their equipment, and I was really amazed to see that everyone could influence their heart right away, without needing to be taught how to do it. You can influence your heart rate too, Larry, if you think about what your heart feels like when you’re really excited, or if I suggest that you’re going to do something very exciting in a few minutes. As we talk about that, your heart will speed up — maybe a little, maybe quite a bit. It varies from individual to individual, but it will actually speed up. At Menninger the equipment that we measured it with had a rising tone as the heart rate sped up, and descending tone when the heart rate decreased, and we saw this happening with everyone we worked with. Every time we get excited or even think about being excited, our heart speeds up a little bit. Now imagine how wonderful it is reading a good book, or sitting by the lake with nothing to do. You feel so comfortable and warm in your favorite place. As you just imagine how that feels, your heart will slow down. With a bit of training and practice, anyone can learn how to positively influence their heart rate. In the Menninger experiments, I had one psychiatrist with hypertension whose baseline heart rate was consistently around 88, and who was taking high blood pressure medication. Over a period of time, he lowered it to 70 beats per minute as part of the training.
You can use the same types of visualizations to influence any of the organs or systems in the body. And this works in other ways, too. For example, if you were drinking coffee and you believed that I put an emetic into it, something that would make you nauseated, most likely you would feel nauseated. Norman Cousins told this wonderful story about how one time at the Los Angeles Coliseum two or three people got sick to their stomach who drank Coke from a certain Coke machine. So somebody announced over the loud speaker said not to drink Coke from such and such machine. Everybody who had been drinking Coke, regardless of what machine they’d gotten it from, started to feel sick, and before long people starting vomiting. Later they found out it wasn’t even the Coke; the whole thing had been a mistake.
So it was the power of suggestion.
But what is the power of suggestion? It’s the effect of the visualization. That’s exactly what it is. And how does that operate? Why is it powerful? Because what you visualize is what happens. Because the brain can’t always tell the difference between an event and an image. For instance, if you see a tiger running towards you, you’ll get a huge arousal response, but if you see a shadow that you think is a tiger running toward you, you’ll also have that response. If you actually believe that the shadow is a tiger, your response will be just as large as if the tiger was there. That’s a pretty interesting response, and I think that we’re now learning what some of the power behind thought is, and some of the ways that we can use that power to influence our health.
Let’s discuss the other side of that issue. In the work that you do with people with cancer, for instance, are you finding a common ground in terms of the type of imagery that people with cancer, or who are prone to cancer, characteristically have?
Actually, it’s almost the opposite, because imagery is very idiosyncratic. I have a list of elements that make for effective imagery, and the very first one is that the imagery needs to fit the person’s own experiences and, secondly, the imagery needs to be congruent with their values and beliefs. I think that the common ground has to do more with the amount of confidence that people begin to get in their ability to affect change – their sense of empowerment, or their sense of self-reliance, their sense that they can make a difference. Things tend not to work if we don’t believe in them. If somebody told Olympic athletes, “Only one person is going to get the gold medal, it probably won’t be you,” that attitude would change how they would train and practice. The same holds true for cancer patients, and any other patient faced with a life-threatening illness. A lot of the time, they will either die or survive based upon what their doctor tells them, and part of that has to do with our society’s visualization about cancer, or about any kind of death. If a doctor tells a patient, “You have five years to live,” often that patient will literally die five years to the day. I knew someone quite well who was told that by his physician, and five years later he just died on the spot. But I think that was self-generated primarily; he died because he conformed his beliefs about his survival to his physician’s prognosis.
It’s very useful to think about two things when we’re talking about imagery and visualization. One is that, even though the words are used loosely, they are in fact two distinct processes. The visualization process is the process of intent involving what we wish to have happen, and which creates a purposeful set of instructions to the body. For now we could say that intentional images make up the visualization, and that working with such images usually involves a certain amount of precision. Whereas unconscious imagery works automatically for better or worse, we need to make the effort to focus consciously and with intention on the results we want if our visualizations are to be most effective.
Imagery, on the other hand, is spontaneous and not intentional; it’s coming back to us from the body. It is composed of the unconscious images and beliefs that we already hold. If you have the unconscious belief that something is not going to work, your image will come back and tell you that. That’s why it’s important to work together with the imagery you already have and the visualization of what it is you want to have happen.
Although you say imagery is idiosyncratic, would it be accurate, based on your experience, to say that people with chronic conditions, are predisposed to have the type of imagery related to a the sense that they are helpless or that they are not at cause?
I think that’s generally true. And they also usually have all these pictures of what they’re going to feel like, even with simple matters. For instance, someone outside in chilly weather might think, “I’m going to have a cold tomorrow,” and they will in fact be more likely to have a cold the next day.
Learning to use positive, effective imagery is one of the things that biofeedback is good for. Learning control begins to give people some confidence because, for instance, with temperature control, as they learn to warm their hands, that quiets the autonomic nervous system. An inevitable result of warming your hands in this manner is that it will lower the entire autonomic arousal and decrease the sympathetic nervous system activation, and then the person starts to feel better. If they have symptoms, they can make them go away or lessen them, and so they begin to feel empowered. This was very true with Garrett. He was very good at the hand warming and he really noticed the difference, and that gave him confidence. But, to continue with this idea about visualization and imagery, I usually start out with trying to find out about the imagery the person already has.
How do you go about doing that?
Usually with a trip inside the body after they have some facility with doing some other kinds of imagery. All of us use imagery to get around in the world, but this usually goes unnoticed. Sometimes people say, “I never image.” Or they will close their eyes and say, “I don’t see anything.” The way that I overcome that is to help people become aware that they do in fact have many images that they rely upon all the time. I might ask, “Do you think you’ll recognize your wife next time you see her?”, and of course the answer will be yes, but then I ask, “How do you know it’s her?” And the reply will be, “Well, I know what she looks like.” Okay, that’s your image. Then people begin to realize that they hold images of everything and that’s how we recognize each other — by recognizing the image that we hold.
I find it’s often helpful to instruct people who are having trouble not to close their eyes during this process, because when they close their eyes, it seems they expect to see little slide projections of the images on their eye lids. Occasionally I think people do see in that kind of very sharp detail, but for most of us the image appears in “the mind’s eye.” Like thinking about someone. Most of us don’t actually see their face floating in the space in front of us when we think about them.
Describe the process of taking people through a tour of their body.
After they begin to realize that, yes, they are imaging, I usually do a four-step process. Step one is to image that they are in front of their house. To look at it and notice its color, where the door is, and so forth. Then imagine that you just opened the door. What do you see? It’s fun to do this, and people see all kinds of things. The second step is to now imagine a fantastic castle that you can create in your mind, making it any kind of a castle you want. Imagine that you’re looking at the front of it. What kind of a castle is it? Can you see the entrance to it? What are the doors made out of? What do they look like? No one says they don’t see anything; everyone comes up with a castle.
The third step involves exploring a cave, and this helps them over the initial discomfort they might have of going down into a place that’s a little dark or unusual. We might have light shining in the entrance so they can stand there and look in, or they can explore it with a flashlight or a minor’s lamp. They have everything they need. I like to do this before going into the body, because I don’t want anyone to get scared in their body. I try to alleviate that possibility as much as possible.
And the fourth step is going into the body. There are a lot of different ways you can go in — you can be in a little bubble of air and be inhaled; you can imagine you’re a small person entering into the mind’s eye — however people want to do it is fine. By this time I will have shown them films, pictures, and graphics so that they will have seen their immune system in action. It’s partly an educative process; when people can see things it makes a difference.
Throughout this process, as images come up, we work with them. A client may express an image representing either a fear or a new growth that wasn’t known by anyone. But you can work with them in this space. I’m thinking now of a woman who had metastatic breast cancer. It was in her bones, her shoulder, her arm, and one rib, and they were taking about a quart and a half of fluid every other week from her body, so it was an advanced metastatic breast disease. She was interesting to work with in several ways. People usually welcome varying degrees of prayer or spiritual support, but in her case she wanted none of it. She told me, “I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in all that stuff, I just want the science.” I said that’s fine. She did the visualization and imagery work every day and also really practiced the stress management tools she learned. She made a lot of changes and got control over certain irritating symptoms that she had that were not related to the cancer, and started to feel a lot more empowered. Her relationship with her husband also improved enormously during this time, which helped too, and she got well against initial expectations.
Later on, when she was free of cancer, she developed a pain in her lower chest, and she described it as looking something like lightning. It seemed to her that it went from the bottom of her left lung over to behind her belly button, and it was shaped like a red zigzag going down to where it hurt. So we worked with that image, imagining that she could gently stroke it and straighten it out and ease it, and change the color a little bit, and so on. We worked with her own image and the pain went away and didn’t come back. I have no idea what that the red lightning image was symbolic of, or whether there was a stitch in the nerve pathway, but it didn’t matter. We just worked with the image that she had, visualized it changing, and it did.
How long was it before she was free of cancer after you started to work with her?
About a year and half I think.
What was her prognosis when she came to you?
The prognosis was very poor. Once cancer is widely metastasized like that and in the bones, they just hope to extend your life. The five-year chance goes down to two percent, or something like that, but I don’t pay that much attention to the statistics and try to help patients not to obsess about them. People tend to believe in the odds. If the statistics indicate that there is an 80 percent chance of dying, they think their chance of dying is 80 percent, and I convince them that the statistics don’t have anything to do with them as an individual, and also point out that we can change our odds, no matter what they are. Let’s suppose for instance, that your chance right now of running a mile without stopping is about zero but you really want to get to the mile. If you can start out by just walking around the block once or twice, and then, a bit later, go around the block ten times and then maybe run around it, maybe in six months, if you practice everyday you can run a mile without stopping. What doctors really should say, if patients or their families insist on being told the statistics, is, “In this particular case, about 80 percent don’t survive, but 20 percent do, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure you’re in that 20 percent.” I think that would make a huge difference in patients’ outlook, survival, and in how they would approach their treatment.
Let’s move back to a discussion of the converging trends you mentioned earlier.It seems obvious to me that the research we’ve been discussing regarding imagery and visualization and its ramifications will become more emphasized in the future of health care. What else do you foresee happening?
One of the areas gaining attention is the studies of prayer and how they have a healing effect. These studies are demonstrations of fields in which we are immersed. We live in a physical field, we live in energy fields, we live in mental and emotional fields, and we live in what is sometimes referred to as the planetary field of mind, the field in which people have knowledge outside their local time-space coordinates, if you will, like the mother in the States knowing when her son is killed in Germany. She may see him, he may talk to her, or she may just have the feeling exactly at the time of his death. Because the message is loud enough and emotionally meaningful, it gets through. But we exist in this field of mind all the time. That’s how ESP happens and I think that’s how the prayer effects happen. People receive it directly. I don’t think that prayer works by intercession, even though prayer for healing is called intercessory prayer. If you take 300 people who are sick and divide them into two groups, only one of which is prayed for, I don’t think God is saying, “Oh, they’re praying for these 150 people, so I’m going to make them well, but I don’t hear any prayers for the other 150 people, so I’ll let them stay sick.” It can’t be that way, no matter what kind of a God one believes in. The prayers work because of our connections in the field of mind. What’s interesting, though, is there is some evidence that shows that when people’s families are praying for them they sometimes get worse. The reason for that seems to be that they have hidden agendas and other things going on. The kind of abstract prayer that’s done by prayer groups that pray for the best and focus on the person’s highest good have been shown to be very effective.
In the final analysis the human body is kind of like an energy structure held together by DNA messages, but the substance of the planet is just flowing in and out of us. For instance, we breathe in and out so many times a day and the air that we breathe in is breathed out by the people around us, and vice versa. I read in ParadeMagazine some years ago, that in every 20 breaths the likelihood is almost 100 percent that at least one atom of oxygen that we’re inhaling was once in the body of Jesus.
Or Julius Caesar.
Or Julius Caesar, or Hitler, or the guy next door, or somebody in China, or whomever because there is a finite amount of oxygen on our planet. IThe same air that we’re breathing was here thousands of years ago.
Then think of all the liquid that we drink and then dump down the drain, where eventually it may find its way to the ocean and be evaporated and come back in the rain clouds. Water flows in a river, a bear might drink it, or it may end up in a flower garden and then evaporate there, etc. Our body is 75 percent water, and water is constantly moving through us as our bodies participate in the water cycle. On the cellular level the body is constantly renewing itself, mostly in days or weeks. And on the intercellular level, the level of atoms and molecules, this process of renewal is a lot faster. Atoms and molecules are coming in to our bodies, and others are eliminated constantly as we breathe, eat, drink, and recycle. That is how I think healing at a distance works. We’re all part of it, with all other living things. If we could see it on the level of atoms and molecules, we would see all of these exchanging substances of air, water, and food flowing through us, and through all of life.
What implications does this have for health and well-being?
The enormous plasticity of the body. How much it is constantly remaking itself, and what holds it together? Partly, I think, it is DNA, but I think the other thing, and more scientists are coming to believe this, is consciousness. Consciousness is what gets all the substances that flow through us to behave in the same way over and over again.
Based on what you just said about the vast permutations of the body, and how quickly it changes at the intercellular level, there really is no logical reason to assume, let’s say, that just because a person currently has acute stage four cancer, he needs to have acute stage four cancer three or four months from now.
I think that’s true. As we come to better understand these fields and the enormous plasticity of the body, and we learn to work with them, we will learn to do more self-healing, and have more knowledge of how to go about it. Even if we don’t have this knowledge, the confidence that we can heal can be of tremendous help to us. In my book with Garrett, I also mentioned a patient named Tommy, who had stage 4B Hodgkin’s disease when we started working together. That’s considered terminal, yet he got well and he’s still well. I know him to this day, and he’s an active adult in his 30’s now. So that is the possibility.
Aside from visualization, what else did you use with Tommy and Garrett?
The other important component was the self-regulation skills which biofeedback teaches and helps people acquire. These help people to not only manage their stress more effectively, but to literally direct blood flow anywhere in their body, to be able to relax their muscles completely, and to influence their heart rate, and so on. This empowers them and builds their confidence, and works very well with visualization and imagery.
I also use the principles and some exercises of psychosynthesis with just about every cancer patient on a level that is suitable for them.
What does the psychosynthesis add to the picture, and how do you employ it?
It’s another effective avenue for self-discovery, in terms of our true self. It’s very empowering, and helps people to recognize they are more than they thought they were. We may bring certain sub-personalities into awareness, allowing people to realize they don’t have to be identified with them. They are able to deeply realize that they have this tendency or condition, but they are not that tendency. It is very helpful, and is a part of my background and philosophy of treatment in the drug addiction program, with cancer patients, and in fact with all of my clients.
I think increasing numbers of people are now recognizing that illness can represent an opportunity for making these discoveries about our true nature that can occur during the psychosynthesis process, and that true healing can be a journey of transformation, into an expanded view of ourselves.So what you’re describing, I believe, is another element of the integrated model of care that will be part of the medicine of the future.
I think that’s true.
Tied in with this is the question of spiritual or distant healing. You talked about prayer in that regard. What about the potential of laying on of hands techniques, Qigong, and so forth?
To my mind, the most interesting research study in energy measurements of states of consciousness and energy medicine is the work referred to as the copper wall research. We conducted this research at Menninger between 1983 and 1991. Elmer Green was the principle investigator and designed the studies. It had been his intention to explore relationships of electrophysiology and lucidity ever since he read that Tibetan meditators were trained in self-awareness “lucidity” while seated on a thick glass vessel, isolated from electrical ground, in front of a north wall covered with thick copper, and with a magnet with north pole up, suspended over their heads. Green understood that this setup might well serve to conserve an electrostatic charge that builds up during meditation, and eventually he developed instrumentation and procedures for detecting and measuring the body-potential phenomena in and around the bodies of the experimental subjects. A lab was built with a copper wall on glass blocks (late, four walls, all electrically isolated from one another), and with a platform raised on glass blocks where meditators, and later healers, sat. We believe that electrostatic and electromagnetic phenomena are correlates of other subtle forms of human energy systems, as described in yogic theory, and by healers and seers.
I participated in this research as a meditating research subject in two different double-blind experiments, sitting in the copper wall environment for many 45 minute sessions, gazing at my reflection in the copper wall under random conditions of magnet north up, south, up, and absent. The wall was connected to a polygraph in another room, and demonstrated that the heart rate could be picked up five feet away from a subject. Right this minute, if a sufficiently sensitive detector was placed five feet or more away from you or me, our heart beats would be picked up. In the absence of detectors, of course, our heart beats are nevertheless radiating at least that far. Voltages connected with body-potentials were collected, and for “regular” meditators body-potential surges did not exceed 4 volts. In subsequent experiments a number of healers were studied, both while meditating and during actual healing sessions with patients. In similar 45 minute meditation sessions, many body-potential surges greater than 4 volts were found; and during healing, as much as 190 volts were sometimes recorded. This seminal research sets the stage for other studies that will begin to shed light on many aspects of human subtle energy systems and human potential.
There is one study of Qigong I’d like to mention, published in the journal Subtle Energies in 1994 and titled “Effects of Qigong on cell-free myosin phosphorylation: preliminary experiments.” Phosphorylation is a process that combines phosphate with an organic compound in the body, in this case myosin, which makes up about 65 percent of the body’s total muscle protein. This process helps regulate the contraction of smooth muscles found in the arteries, the digestive tract, and so forth. Now most of the things in our body are subject to magnetism and electricity and so are affected by them, and that is certainly true of myosin. In the study, the researchers first used magnets and they saw a certain reduction response from the myosin according to the amount of magnetism that was applied. Then two Qigong masters, standing two to six feet away from the samplings, produced responses similar to that of the magnets. The question one could ask is whether the results in both cases were due to a magnetic effect. To determine this, the researchers next placed the myosin samples inside of boxes made out of mu-metal, which is opaque to magnetic fields. This time, when the magnets were placed around the box nothing happened; there was no response in the myosin. However, the Qigong masters were still able to produce an effect. The researchers who conducted the study wrote, “The results of these preliminary experiments demonstrate that Qigong practice can consistently effect a biologically relevant enzyme system. The interaction requires no physical contact between the practitioner and the sample or the body.” They also stated that the mechanisms by which the Qigong masters produced these effects are not yet clear. The actual effect may come from the etheric energy.
Right now, we can’t measure the etheric energy itself, although we can measure its electromagnetic correlates. However, it’s getting to the point where we are going to be able to make such measurements, and that will make a very big difference in our understanding and acceptance of these types of energy medicine and will, I think, result in them becoming much more widely available.
Sound and light therapies will also be used more widely as forms of medicine in the future. We are learning an enormous amount about the healing effects of both of these modalities. Sound and light are both vibrations that effect our physical bodies by their effects on our energy bodies, and this relationship is being scientifically explored.
The work of Sharry Edwards is an example of what is being done in terms of using sound for healing purposes. Another example is the highly successful research program in Germany conducted by Peter Hubner, who creates music according to what he calls “microcosmic principles.” He has created a series of music CDs which contain harmonic frequencies for aiding a variety of conditions, including heart conditions, sleep disorders, headaches, general pain, digestive problems, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and stress relief. In Germany, doctors give people prescriptions for his music because it’s been so thoroughly researched. I met first met Hubner at a conference in Switzerland in 1997, where I showed a movie of a healer doing bioenergy. When he saw it he said the healer was working with the same microcosmic principles that he composed music with. This is another example of how these various healing disciplines we’re discussing may be interrelated and converging. This, to me, is one of the most exciting things, because now there is more dialogue than ever before between the researchers and practitioners in these areas. I think all of them tie together in the realm of subtle energy, and energy medicine will be a big part of the medicine of the future.
As all of these disciplines start to converge, what can we as individuals do to make use of them in order to self-regulate and optimize our health and our overall-well being?
Apart from availing ourselves of these things individually according to what seems to harmonize with us right now, I don’t have a ready answer. Two things need to happen, I believe. One is a different doctor-patient approach, where interdisciplinary teams of practitioners would actually meet together with the patient, so that a person wouldn’t have to separately see, say, a psychiatrist for antidepression medication, a psychologist for therapy, and a physician for gastroenteritis. Rather, there would be an interdisciplinary team that would meet with the patient, and the patient would be the most important member of this team. And from this meeting an integrated therapeutic that would most fit the patient and his or her symptoms would be decided upon by the group and the patient together. There would be special diagnostic tests when necessary, and the tests would come back to this team. Instead of dividing the patient up into a bunch of pieces, as it were, with one doctor treating one piece and another doctor treating another piece, etc., which is the model that is most prevalent now.
The second thing that needs to happen is to have all the different forms of energy medicine also available in one place, along with things like diet, nutrition, detoxification therapies, and bodywork. You know what I would really love to see in the future? A modern day version of the healing centers that existed many centuries ago in Greece. Then, people would consult an oracle and then go to a place where there was beautiful music and beautiful art, and temples, they’d bathe in special waters, and would do certain tasks, and be guided towards receiving certain spiritual insights about themselves and their condition. I’d like to see this model reinvented in the future so that we would have health clinics that would really be directed toward the whole person, and geared towards a total, transpersonal healing, not just a curing of whatever disease the person might have.
How far away do you think we are from that?
I know we are moving in that direction. People like Dr. Norman Shealy and others around the country have created proximities of that, but we’re still years, and probably decades away, from where this will become standard practice and generally available. It’s available now, but unfortunately it’s not yet in the reach of everybody.
Of course, other changes need to be made, as well. People need to have more freedom in terms of their health care choices. There needs to be more funding for and controlled studies of all of these therapies to bring them into the mainstream.
My thinking has always been that the changes that need to occur, will not occur within the organizational structure of health care in this country. It will occur because of patient demand.
I absolutely agree. In the meantime, though, in terms of self-care, or what I like to think of as self-reliance medicine, the people who are attracted to this can to some extent create their own programs right now. The information for doing so is now becoming more and more available.
Could provide some guidelines for how they can go about doing that? Because I think that’s the most empowering aspect within this new paradigm we’re talking about.
Absolutely. It is.
The way to go about doing it is, first of all, to see what appeals to you. Become aware of what your options are. Use the Internet, read books, attend conferences, workshops, and trainings, and then begin applying what you learn within an environment of your own creation. In addition, once you decide what you want to do, you need to know that the time has passed for equivocation. Move forward with confidence, because your mental attitude is one of the most important elements.
One of the techniques that I would like to see more people use is the thermal form of biofeedback I mentioned earlier. Hand warming is very easy to learn, and it’s like having a golden key into the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The reason for that is because, in the innervation [nerve supply] of the body from the sympathetic and the parasympathetic sides of the ANS, only the blood vessels in the hands and the feet have innervation solely from the sympathetic. When people warm their hands in this fashion, the only way they can do it is by lowering the sympathetic side of ANS activity. The parasympathetic isn’t involved in hadn warming, whereas heart rate, the hair rising up on your skin, the dilation of pupils, digestive track activity — all the autonomic organs, glands, and their functions are innervated from both the parasympathetic and sympathetic. They have a GO button and a STOP button, if you will. But the hands and the bottom of the feet are innervated from the sympathetic side, and when you warm your hands, it can only be accomplished by lowering sympathetic arousal.
You can make an analogy to driving a car. The gas pedal revs the engine up and provides the energy to make the car go, and the brakes slow the car down or bring it to a stop. When we are under stress, it is like revving the engine and holding the brakes down at the same time. If we work under stress for a prolonged period, it’s like driving the car with both the gas and the brake pedal pressed to the floor. People know exactly what that feels like inside when you describe this.
Hand warming is a method of self-regulation that is akin to lifting up on the accelerator in the car, without having to use the brakes. It eases up on the sympathetic outflow, restoring normal blood flow to the glands and organs. The heart slows down, breathing relaxes and deepens, and the body moves in a direction opposite to the fight or flight response. It leads to what Wolfgang Luthe termed the “autogenic shift,” and what Herbert Benson termed “the relaxation response.” People feel it very definitely occurring at a certain point, when hand warmth is achieved. It’s powerful, is easily learned, and accessible to everybody. It can help almost anything that ails you.
How does one actually do it?
Hold your hands in front of you with your palms toward you, and then bend your fingers gently forward until they are over the base of the hand, so that you form a kind of a hollow with your fingers and your palm. Then turn one hand over and slip its fingers into that space so that you’re holding hands with yourself in a gentle way. Don’t grip your fingers Then drop your hands into your lap, find a position that’s comfortable, and let your shoulders, arms, and everything else relax. And then focus your attention just on your hands, feeling what they feel like, however they feel.
Now see if you can feel your little fingers, their entire volume. Feel the proximal knuckle, then the distal knuckle, and then the tips of the little finger. Feel under the fingernail, the whole fingernail bed — just be aware of it in a sensory way. I usually spend five minutes or so initially with people doing this, sensing with each finger. Most everybody can pretty quickly feel a tingling, a pulse, or a warmth as they focus on each finger. If you have a little temperature meter or thermometer taped to the end of your fingers, you will see that the temperature climbs. The goal is, while keeping your hands together, to get your temperature to 97 degrees or above; that’s about where the autogenic shift occurs. For some people, it occurs at a bit lower temperature. With practice, this becomes very easy to do and occurs automatically, like what happens when you focus sensory attention on your saliva glands.
Typically, how long would you recommend that people practice this?
If they just want to learn relaxation, I would suggest they spend ten or fifteen minutes at a time. For general stress management and to boost immune function, do it several times during the day. As I tell the cancer patients I work with, the immune system is the most active when we are the most relaxed, and it’s the most inactive when we are really aroused. When we’re stressed, anxious, upset, feeling helpless and hopeless, immune function is diminished. So, with cancer patients, for instance, I suggest they do it several times or more a day, including before their visualization work and during visualization. Once the skill is acquired, which for most people takes two weeks or less, then warming can be done in response to every stab of pain or discomfort and every anxiety, depending on what’s going on in the body. Simultaneously imagine sending a flood of white cells to the affected organ. Every time we feel a pain our body is saying, “I need help.” Sometimes the signal is small, like when we’ve been sitting in one position too long — we adjust our posture without even thinking about it — but in every discomfort the body is asking for some relief. Hand warming is a way for us to help to relieve anxiety and pain.
This accomplishes a lot of things. For example, patients who have cancer or some other serious disease are often really mad at their bodies. They literally think, “My body betrayed me,” and that’s a very unhealthful attitude. So I try to have them relate to their bodies’ pain signals as they would to their child. If the child told them, “My tummy is really hurting,” they would reply, “Come here, let me help you,” instead of, “Get out of here. I don’t want to see you until you feel better.” Often we treat our bodies with rejection. We try to ignore it or push it away, or we get mad at it. But if there is something to do in response to these pain signals, such as had warming, your attitude tends to change and, as a result, you feel more empowered.
Hand warming is also useful for handling emotional issues. For example, a person might be watching TV or having a conversation, not thinking of cancer, then all of a sudden a remembering and a feeling of dread arises over the condition. Instead of panicking, the person can use pain or fear as a reminder, an opportunity to again warm the hands, use a visualization, and trigger that autonomic shift into relaxation.
In addition, once this skill is mastered, it is always there when needed. You can get to the point where every time you think about your hands being warm, they automatically start to warm. Just like, every time you think about your saliva glands, you automatically start to salivate.
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By Dr. Norris
I Choose Life: The Dynamics of Visualization and Biofeedback. (with Garrett Porter) (Stillpoint Publishing), 1987.
Why Me? Harnessing the Healing Power of the Human Spirit. (with Garrett Porter) (Stillpoint Publishing), 1985.