How images in your brain communicates with your organs

Image by Elizabeth Feldman

If we didn’t have images and other senses, the brain would not be able to communicate with our organs.

The following is a quote from Holistic Online

“Imagery is the most fundamental language we have. Everything you do, the mind processes through images. When we recall events from our past or childhood, we think of pictures, images, sounds, pain, etc. It is hardly ever be through words.”

Images aren’t necessarily limited to visual but can be sounds, tastes, smells or a combination of sensations. A certain smell, for example, may invoke either pleasant or bad memories in you. Similarly, going to a place where you had a bad accident may instantly invoke visions of the accident and initiate flight or fight response.

Think, for example, of holding a fresh, juicy lemon in your hand. Perhaps you can feel its texture or see the vividness of its yellow skin. As you slice it open, you see the juice squirt out of it. The lemon’s tart aroma is overwhelming. Finally, you stick it in your mouth, suck on it and taste the sour flavor as the juices roll over your tongue.

More than likely, your body reacted in some way to that image. For example, you may have begun to salivate. I don’t know about you but when I think of certain foods, I start to salivate. (Mmm, think chocolate).

Imagery is the language that the mind uses to communicate with the body. You can’t really talk to a wart and say ‘Hey, go away,’ because that’s not the language that the brain uses to communicate with the body. You need to imagine that wart and see it shrinking. Imagery is the biological connection between the mind and body. As we will see, this is extremely useful in mind body healing. So take note.

How effective is imagery? The proof is in the pudding – clinical studies on the effectiveness of imagery

Imagery has been found to be very effective for the treatment of stress. Imagery is at the center of relaxation techniques designed to release brain chemicals that act as your body’s natural brain tranquilizers, lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels. By and large, researchers find that these techniques work. Because imagery relaxes the body, doctors specializing in imagery often recommend it for stress-related conditions such as headaches, chronic pain in the neck and back, high blood pressure, spastic colon, and cramping from premenstrual syndrome.

Researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio found that people with cancer who used imagery while receiving chemotherapy felt more relaxed, better prepared for their treatment and more positive about care than those who didn’t use the technique.

Several studies suggest that imagery can also boost your immunity. Danish researchers found increased natural killer cell activity among ten college students who imagined that their immune systems were becoming very effective. Natural killer cells are an important part of the immune system because they can recognize and destroy virus-infected cells, tumor cells and other invaders.

In another study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio found that seven people who suffered from recurrent canker sores in their mouths significantly reduced the frequency of their outbreaks after they began visualizing that the sores were bathed in a soothing coating of white blood cells.

Imagery can also help alter menstrual cycles and relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. In a preliminary study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that 12 of 15 women, ages 21 to 40, who used imagery for three months lengthened their monthly menstrual cycles by an average of nearly four days and slashed their perceived levels of premenstrual distress in half. They also reported fewer mood swings.

At the University of South Florida in Tampa, researchers asked 19 men and women, ages 56 to 75, who had chronic bronchitis and emphysema to rate their levels of anxiety, depression, fatigue and discomfort before and after they began using imagery. The researchers concluded that imagery significantly improved the overall quality of these people’s lives.

A study at Yale demonstrated that patients suffering from severe depression were helped by imagining scenes in which they were praised by people they admired- a clear boost to their self-esteem.

Visualization and other relaxation methods may produce significant benefits, often by helping to ease pain and lift depression. Research is continuing to determine whether even more spectacular results can be achieved.

A controlled study of fifty-five women examined the effects of imagery and relaxation on breast milk production in mothers of infants in a neonatal intensive care unit. They received a twenty-minute audiotape of progressive relaxation followed by guided imagery of pleasant surroundings, milk flowing in the breasts, and the baby’s warm skin against theirs. They produced more than twice as much milk as compared to those receiving only routine care.

In another study, a group of metastatic cancer patients using daily imagery for a year achieved significant improvements in NK cell activity and several other measures of immune functioning.

At Michigan State University, researchers found that students could use guided imagery to improve the functioning of certain white cells called neutrophils, important immune cells in defense against bacterial and fungal infection. They could also decrease, but not increase, white cell counts. At one point in the study, a form of imagery intended to increase neutrophil count unexpectedly caused a drop instead. Subsequently, students were taught imagery explicitly intended to keep the neutrophil count steady, while increasing their effectiveness. Both of these goals were achieved.

Other studies have shown that imagery can lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and help treat insomnia, obesity and phobias.

Two cases are quoted below from literature on the effectiveness of imagery.

A walk on the beach

Heidi, thirty-five, was scheduled for a round of chemotherapy for breast cancer. The treatment was to take place on Friday and she and her husband had tickets to fly to Hawaii on Saturday for a week’s vacation.

As is routine, she was called into the treatment center for a blood check on the Monday before to make sure her white cell count had recovered enough from the previous treatment to allow her to qualify for the next one. To her shock, she was told that her white count was only about half what it should be and she would probably have to forgo her vacation.

For four days she practiced imagery intensively several times a day, concentrating on raising her white count. She used images of the bone marrow releasing a steady, strong flow of white cells into her bloodstream and spreading throughout her body. She also imagined directing her breath into the bone marrow and thereby nourishing the stem cells (that produce the white cells) so that they could grow and release more white cells.

On that Friday, she went in for another blood test. Her white count had more than doubled. She was able to have the treatment and the next day was able to walk on the beach with her husband.

The vital fluid

Carol Anne was scheduled to undergo a complicated abdominal surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Her surgeon told her that patients undergoing this procedure typically lose ten to eleven units of blood.

For several days prior to the surgery, Carol Anne practiced a form of imagery in which she pictured her body going through the surgery without losing any blood, the tissues knitting back together smoothly, no complications, and a speedy recovery. She also imagined the look on the surgeon’s face when he realized that no blood had been lost.

The day after the surgery, the surgeon came into her room and congratulated her on how well she had come through the ordeal. To his amazement, she had required only one unit of blood. When she told him of her preparations, he smiled and walked out shaking his head.”

Have you used imagery and visualization techniques to help conquer any ailments or illnesses? What have been your results?

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