About Healing

TOPIC: What is the relationship between health and healing and the bodymind connection? How do such seemingly diverse modalities such as bodywork and hypnosis support healing? 
The Oxford dictionary defines the following words thus: - Health n. state of being well in body or mind; condition of body: Healthy n. having or conductive to good health: Heal v. restore to health; cure; become sound.
Capra (1982) extends the view that
"Health is really a multidimensional phenomenon involving interdependent physical, psychological, and social aspects" (p.353). Later Capra (1982) states, "Health, then is an experience of wellbeing resulting from a dynamic balance that involves the physical and psychological aspects of the organism; as well as its interactions with its natural and social environment" (p.354).
The Oxford Dictionary's mention of the body and the mind in the context of defining health has a link with the important concept in Capra's statement in is his notion that health is dependent on the dynamic balance between the physical and psychological aspects of an organism. Another way to talk about this is in terms of the `body' and the `mind' and to discuss the nature of the interconnections and dynamic balance in the body-mind or mind-body status of an organism or more specifically a person.
The Oxford Dictionary's definition of the word `heal' states that `to heal' is to `restore to health'. Inherent in this definition to `restore' indicates that there has been some disturbance in the natural balance and that this needs to be restored in order for health to be experienced. Also implied in this definition is that health is an innate or inherited state, the template if you like of how things should be; that there is an intelligence at work here that is part of a broader more universal intelligence that we share with all things in nature.

This innate intelligence is best described by Lonsdorf, Butler and Brown (1993):

Internal harmony is perhaps the most salient feature of all living systems, expressing the intelligent growth and regulation of all aspects of nature, from the blossoming of a rose to the rising of the tides to the movement of the planets. From cell to galaxies, all matter of life is arranged to uphold and express nature's intelligence in a vast universe of balance and cohesion. In this way the organised intelligence of the universe is a collection of many forms or bits of expressed intelligence, all life but all organised in different ways..........In humans, the material essence of nature's intelligence is called DNA. (p.13)
Health therefore is the natural optimal status of a person, and that a disturbance in the dynamic balance or internal homeostasis between the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of a person contributes to ill-health.

The essence of healing therefore is to do with re-establishing this dynamic balance between the multi-dimensional makeup of the organism or person.

Intrinsic in this approach is the belief that the organism has the capacity and capability to heal itself when given the right type of support to do so; that self-correction is an inherent given for the organism once it is alerted to an imbalance.

It is by understanding this near miraculous ability of the organism to heal itself that is vital in this equation, just as when there is an injury to soft tissue or a fracture of a bone, the process of healing occurs almost immediately without any conscious involvement on the part of the person who has sustained the injury. This ability to heal is therefore a integral part of the body's inherent wisdom. Recognising this healing potential is fundamental in being able to consciously support the body in what it is in fact designed to do.
In order to do this it is useful to explore the body-mind or mind-body connections in some detail. The increasing information available from researchers such as Candice Pert (Rossi,1993, p.148,157,229)., in the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), defined by Goleman & Gurin (1995) as "psycho for mind, neuro for the neuroendocrine system (he nervous and hormonal systems), and immunology for the immune system"(p.7). is exciting in showing us the ability to communicate with the unconscious mind through our conscious thoughts, sensations and emotions. The central link in this communication process is the limbic-hypothalamic system in the brain and the `information messenger' are known as neuropeptides. These neuropeptides have been found flowing out of the hypothalamus and into the pituitary, the body's master gland which helps regulate dozens of bodily processes, including the release of the flight-or-fight stress hormones from the adrenal glands.
Dr Hans Selye did ground breaking research in the 1930's developing a theory on how mental and/or physical stress is transduced into "psychosomatic problems" by these hormones of the "hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis" of the endocrine system. (Rossi, 1993 p.28)
Poole (1993, p.80) says that the limbic-hypothalamic system of the brain has a direct link with the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. The autonomic nervous system consists of two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympatheic systems. Studies indicate that prolonged stress can suppress the body's immune response. The hormones involved in this process, the corticosteroids come from the outer cortex of the adrenal gland. They raise blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and have been shown to prompt mood changes especially depression.
Poole (1993, p.80) writes:
The inside, or medulla, of the adrenal glands secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine, the same fight-or-flight chemicals released by portions of the autonomic nervous system. These hormones increase the heart rate and blood pressure and shunt blood to the larger vessels in times of stress.
Yet another fascinating and important variable in this equation is the impact that psychological factors have in defining the person's response to an internal or external stressor. This is demonstrated by the following research by Sapolsky, in which two monkeys are deprived of food to the point where metabolic homeostasis is disturbed to an equal extent in both animals. Rossi (1993) writes:
the two monkeys differed in one critical way. While both were deprived on any nutrition, the second was fed a non-nutricous flavoured placebo. That monkey did not secrete glucocorticoids, whereas the first one had a sizable stress-response. Nothing in the world of Selye and the physiologists could have predicted this outcome because their homeostatic balance was equally disturbed (they were equally hypoglycemic). The second monkey did not perceive things to be as stressful as the first one. (p.74)
Therefore, obviously, what a person thinks and their attitude to a given situation defines their physiological response, in terms of whether it is experienced as stressful or not.
These results have a monumental impact on our understanding of the complexities and yet the elegance of the body's neurological, psychological and biological makeup. Lonsdorf et al (1993) state:
PNI research has demonstrated that our thoughts and emotions change our body more swiftly and effectively than any external medicine, suggesting that healing is a single organised process of thought, feelings, and cells working together, all aspects of health occurring within the body and mind simultaneously. (p.49)
The above information clearly shows the link between prolonged stress and a disturbance in the natural dynamic balance of a organism or person leading to ill-health. The physiological changes that occur as a result of stress can obviously be extremely detrimental over time.
These changes in the homeostasis of the organism or person form the basis of why diverse modalities such as hypnosis and massage or bodywork have been found to be effective in alleviating some of these imbalances. To be able to understand the complexities of the mind-body or body-mind connection enables an interception into the communication pathways that can remind the mind-body of it's inherent capacity to heal, and for the subsequent physiological changes to occur.
Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. This is usually facilitated by a practitioner trained in hypnotherapy (alternatively people can be trained in self-hypnosis), utilising a direct or indirect form of induction to take the person into a trance-like state of consciousness, and whilst in this state the therapist utilises a range of suggestions or images to instigate change. Rossi (1993) writes "Indeed, virtually all modern approaches to mind-body communication attempt to facilitate the process of converting works, images, sensations, ideas, beliefs, and expectations into the healing, physiological processes of the body" (p26).
It is believed that hypnosis works by being able to communicate with the mind via the limbic-hypothalamic system which is the main centre for the transduction of thoughts, feelings and sensations into physiological change through the network of the communication with the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. This is made easier to comprehend if we understand that the mind and body are part of one information system as (Rossi, 1993, p67) espouses:

Mind and body are both aspects of the one information system. Life is an information system. Biology is a process of information transduction. Mind and body are two facets or two ways of conceptualising this this single information system.

There have been numerous documented accounts of the benefits of hypnosis which range from reducing the level of damage to the skin following severe burns; the elimination of warts; general stress reduction; in the stopping of certain behaviours such as smoking; reduction of blood pressure, to name a few. (Rossi, 1993)

Extraordinarily, Rossi (1993) describes how even genes can be modulated via hypnosis (p.190-195) which excusing the pun is `mind blowing'.

Whilst hypnosis is able to effect change in the mind-body connections, it does so using the mind as its vehicle for accessing change for healing.

Another valuable yet seemingly different approach, that has at times similar healing outcomes, is working with the body utilising a modality known as bodywork in order to communicate with the unconscious mind via the body. A good description of what is meant by bodywork and how it works is made by Capra (1982)

The therapies that try to facilitate harmony, balance, and integration through physical methods have recently become known collectively as bodywork. They deal with the nervous system, the muscle system, and various other tissues, and with the interplay and coordinated movement of all these components. Bodywork therapy is based on the belief that all our activities, thoughts and feelings are reflected in the physical organism, manifesting themselves in our posture and movements, in tensions and in many other signs of `body language'. The body as a whole is a reflection of the psyche and work on either one will also change the other. (p.380)

The means of communication with the unconscious is via exactly the same pathways as utilised in hypnosis, i.e. the neuropeptide receptors which are also situated throughout the body including in skin tissue. These `information messengers', the neuropeptides communicate with the mind through the limbic-hypothalamic system to create physiological change; e.g. one effect being on the autonomic nervous system to bring forth the parasympathetic effects to create a relaxation response, which in turn creates a return to to homeostasis in the individual with implications for improved immune function. Ford (1993) says:

Neuropeptide receptor sites have been found to be present throughout the body, in muscle tissue, in the spinal cord and around organs and in the blood stream in the monocytes. These receptor sites accept only matching molecules in the form of neuropeptides which Pert and others described as "information messengers" (p.53).

In less scientific terms Lowen (1969) talks about the bodys capacity to heal when he writes:

...they must experience their physical tension as a limitation of personality, and the release of this tension as a liberation of personality. The discovery that the body has a life of its own and the capacity to heal itself is a revelation of hope. The realisation that the body has its own wisdom and logic inspires a new respect for the instinctive forces of life (p.210)

Another interesting view related to working with the body to create healing, is in this example related to adult survivors of sexual abuse made again by Ford (1993):

While the body is both the instrument and object of sexual and physical abuse, we primarily treat abusers and survivors with various forms of talk therapy. This is a half solution because the body does not have a central role in the recovery process.......Years later, when evidence of the abuse surfaces, how can we ignore the body's role in the healing process? After all, the body was intimately involved in the original trauma. I believe these feeling and memories can be best accessed through the body, and that talking is often the least effective or meaningful way of reaching these stored experiences. Touch and movement - the body's native language - can be powerful therapeutic tools in recovery and healing. (p. 19,20)

Yet, maybe the relationship between the two modalities of hypnosis and bodywork are greater than one would first consider. Rossi (1993) when writing about the early days of hypnosis says:

Hypnosis in its early days of "animal magnetism", was associated by touch by making rhythmical "passes" over the patient's body (the therapists hand would lightly stroke or in some cases not even touch, but hover over the patient's body) in one direction for about 15-20 minutes to induce profoundly deep trances and then in the opposite direction to awaken the patient from trance. (p. 206)
Rossi (1993) goes on to say "The English surgeon, James Esdaile (1808-1959) became famous or performing surgical amputations with this form of hypnotic anaesthesia on the natives of India who believed in him" (p. 206)
Maybe it is not important which modality is used. What is important is the compelling evidence that both have the ability to create positive change in the dynamic balance or homeostasis of the body. It is by their very ability to create a dialogue between the mind and the body, a dialogue that utilises "images, sensations, ideas, beliefs" (Rossi, 1993 p.26) to engage the mind's powerful ability to instigate action in such a way that changes occurs within the physiological, neurological and immunological systems of the body.
This ability for change to occur as a consequence of this dialogue is profound.
It is as if the dialogue reminds or re-awakens the natural intelligence of the individual as well as inviting and encouraging a return to a dynamic balance, the essential ingredient for healing, health and wellbeing to prevail.
This is the essence of what it means to support healing. This powerful dialogue between the mind and the body utilising either hypnosis or bodywork facilitates a return to a state of health and wellbeing for the individual.

© Ellie Large


Capra, F. (1983). The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture. London: Flamingo.

Ford, C. W. (1993). Compassionate Touch: The Role of Human of Human Touch in Healing and Recovery . New York: Fireside/Parkside.

Goleman, D. & Gurin, J. (1995). Mind Body Medicine, How to Use Your Mind for Better Health. Marrickville: Choice Books.

Lonsdorf, N., Butler, V., & Brown, M. (1993). A Women's Best Medicine: Health,

Happiness, and Long Life through Maharishi Ayur-Veda. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

Lowen, A. (1969). The Betrayal of the Body New York: Macmillan.

Poole, W. (1993). The Heart of Healing. Atlanta, Georgia: Turner.

Rossi, E. (1993). Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. New York: Norton. 

Reference Books for more 'healing related' books  

email: info@creativewellness.com.au
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