For several years now, I have been writing about, and teaching, a visualisation strategy of imagining illness turning into wellness. People often ask me how it works. I believe there’s a few things that contribute so I thought I’d briefly sketch out some of them in this blog.
1) Impact on the immune system
There’s a growing body of research that suggests that guided imagery elevates the immune system. Studies have shown positive changes in NK cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes, as well as in secretory immunoglobulin A, for example.
2) A person feels empowered rather than hopeless
Many people, when suffering from injury, illness or disease, feel a sense of hopelessness and that there isn’t anything they can do to facilitate their recovery. This can be stressful. Understanding that the mind impacts the body often gives people a sense of hope and a belief that they can, in fact, do something to help themselves, which can therefore reduce stress.
Thus, a consistent cultivation of hope or positive feeling might head a person in the direction of wellness just as a consistent experience of stress can have the opposite effect.
3) The impact of positive belief
The placebo effect is no longer viewed as just psychological. There is no question, now, that expectation and belief cause changes in the brain and body. The apparent limits of the placebo effect are now being explored and we’re learning that, to an extent, and depending upon the condition studied, the brain can create the chemistry it needs to create to give a person what they’re expecting to happen. Placebo pain relief comes, for example, because a person’s brain produces its own version of morphine.
4) Focusing of willpower
There’s a lot to be said for the impact of a will to live or a will to get better. Sometimes, it is the main ingredient some people need. It may not always produce seeming miracles, but it can certainly help.
5) The positive impact of repetitive visualising
I believe this plays a large role and suggests that neuroplasticity is taking place in the brain, which is where the brain undergoes physical changes. It takes consistency (repetition) to effect such change.
Essentially, the brain is ‘wiring in’ what a person is imagining taking place. It is well known to occur when a person visualises movement, for example, as in sports or rehabilitation. I personally believe, even though there is limited research on this, that the same kind of thing happens with visualisation to improve many other conditions.
Thus, repetitive visualisation might create physical change in the brain, which is accompanied by a physical change in the body, particularly in the region that a person’s attention is focused upon, but also in other systems of the body that are relevant to the change. There is some evidence that this might happen in the immune system.
In addition, visualisation studies show an increase in white blood cells over time as a person practices visualisation on a consistent basis. This might correlate with neuroplasticity in the brain, which also occurs over time.
6) Natural recovery or other positive factors
It’s also important to mention the natural course of something. Sometimes, a person might be on the road to recovery anyway. Visualisation might speed the process up or have little or no additional effect because the body is already doing what it needs to do.
Also, many people make lifestyle changes that positively impact their circumstances, which might involve changes in physical activity, diet, stress levels, change of environment, etc.
So, very briefly, this is what I believe is going on, or contributing, when a person uses visualisation techniques.
And please note, I’m certainly not suggesting that we use our minds instead of following medical advice, but that we use our minds in addition to medical advice. Many people, in fact, actually visualise their medicines doing the desired job. Some people receiving chemotherapy for cancer, for example, have visualised the chemo drugs as piranha fish or Pac men nibbling the tumour so that, in their imagination, the tumour (or tumours) is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
I’m currently working on the 10-Year Anniversary Edition of my book, ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’. I intend to include several new examples of the use of visualisation in this edition, as I did in the 1st Edition. If you have personally used visualisation as part of your recovery from injury, illness, or disease, and would like your visualisation story to be considered for the book, please email me on [email protected] Please include what you visualised, how often you visualised, and what the outcome was. Thanks. 🙂
Could please ask would this Help with a stroke patient thank you Karen Stanley
Hi Karen, There’s been some research into the successful use of visualisation for Stroke patients. The key was the repetitive imagination of movement of the impaired limbs. Typically, a visualisation session might last 30-60 minutes and be done 3 or 4 times a week – almost as if it were a mental physiotherapy session; not instead of physiotherapy, but IN ADDITION to physiotherapy. Here’s a few scientific papers on it:
S. J. Page, et al, ‘Mental Practice in Chronic Stroke: Results of a randomised, placebo-controlled trial’, Stroke, 2007, 38(4), 1293-1297
A. Y. Kho, et al, ‘Meta-Analysis on the effect of mental imagery on motor recovery of the hemiplegic upper extremity function’, Australian Occupational Therapy Journal’, 2014, 61(2), 38-44
The latter paper is a summary of all the research that has been done and recommends mental imagery as a “viable, safe, cost-effective intervention and rendering multiple and unlimited practice opportunities.”
I hope that helps. 🙂
Thanks Hon 🙂
I used creative visualization while going through chemotherapy and radiation for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As well as to manage the variety of daily side effects and post treatment neuropathy. Sparkles were my visual tool and I had fun with it. Creating different scenarios to visualize healing and using sparkles in various forms to guide the chemo to the cells while protecting healthy cells. Visualizing the mass in my chest as a large orange and shrinking to a mandarin and finally a tiny wild blueberry. During radiation I switched up the visualization to 5 green beams and using sparkle shields to protect my vital organs. My inner child enjoyed the creative visualization.
During my illness and treatment I did no internet searches. Instead I did what came naturally to me, which was listening to my body, frequent visualization scenarios, and being mindful of words and thoughts.
Thank you so very much for this post. It’s affirming to know that my intuition was guiding me in a beautiful way. 🙂
Thanks Cynthia. This is such a lovely visualisation. Thanks for posting. 🙂
I listened to your talk on The Hay House Healing summit and was wondering if you have the meditation you did at the end of the program available? It was incredible and i felt relief almost immediately. Would love to have that available so i can use it as a guide. Thank you so much. So much of what you said about it pharmacy struck a nerve with me since my sister was prescribed so many drugs from different doctors that it eventually killed her. Thank you again.
Hi Carol, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. I’ll soon be placing the meditation on my website as a free download. There’s also a version on Amazon called, ‘Quantum Field Healing’, but rather than paying for it, you may as well have the free version. It’ll be on my site by around mid-September (2018), along with some other free visualisation tools, including a visualisation to target the immune system. 🙂
Could I please ask if this would help in any way with stress/anxiety issues. Many thanks, Janice Bell.
Hi Janice, I know of someone who suffered from regular panic attacks who imagined the word ‘panic’ as a large word above her as a symbol of how she felt. Each night, when she went to bed, she imagined getting out of bed, leaving the word hovering above the bed, and going downstairs to where she kept the kitchen scissors. She imagined returning with the scissors and then cutting the word ‘panic’ onto loads and loads of tiny bits. Then she imagined crumpling them in a ball and taking them outside to the recycle bin, placing them in it and slamming the lid shut. It stopped her panic attacks. She still practices the visualisation as it helps her feel a sense of control. Typically, people with stress, anxiety tend to use ‘symbolic’ visualisations like this as there’s nothing physical to focus the mind on. The word on the paper served as a symbol of how she felt. The key, then, is to simply change the symbol to reflect how you want to feel. For this person, it was destroying it altogether. I hope that helps. 🙂
Thank you so much David!!! I really appreciate it.
Thank you David, that is very much appreciated, I will give that a try.
Dr. Lissa’s book called Mind Over Medicine has hundreds of instances proving every single thing you’ve just mentioned. I am so glad I am re-reading this again…restores my faith in the power of a human mind!
Let’s take a moment to be super grateful every bit our body, our temple does for us!
Thanks a lot for sharing this with us David. We may subconsciously know all this but a soul needs to (quite often…) re-member 😉
Love & Light,
Healer. Health Coach. Life Coach. Happiness Advocate. Passionate Blogger.
I recal when I was 19 and had a horrific accident at tgeater college in Pasadena, Ca. I was told my knee, where a coat hook from a ballet bar had protruded underneath while practicing the Jitterbug with a partner, would never be pain free and would aggravate me all my life.
Surgery was done to explore the extent of the damage. The impact was so great during the incident that my head was taped down to a stretcher because the shock had been so bad.
At the moment the doctor told me, after many appointments and surgery, that my knee would never be normal again, I heard myself say silently that it was not true. That I would have a normal functioning knee( I was very active in fitness biking and gym routines and had lots of plans with that for the future).
Something in me took over and it was a sense of. ‘I’m not going down that Dr’s path’. I was not angry with him just not interested in his viewpoint.
Again, this was a very severe injury bearing my full weight upon a protruding hook from the top of a ballet bar directly under my right kneecap.
I am now 50, and except for 2 years after the injury, where I constantly told myself my knee will be perfect, I have had no knee problems ever. I am a master cetified personal trainer, spend large amounts of time outdoors on uneven surfaces ‘playing’, and am getting ready to do the annual Garden of Life 5k for fun.
I believe my instant visualization of my knee being just fine coupled with my inability to entertain such a foreign thought about my knee affecting me the rest of my life- created my long term state of being free from any diagnosis. My naevity of the severity of the damage and noninterest in delving into that world of an injured knee showed me tge power of belief and has served me well!
Thank you, Kelly Rabbitt, Florida