Friday, March 02, 2007

The mind's eye : the healing power of the mind.

No one really knows what the mind is. However, through time immemorial, all kinds of wondrous and not so wondrous properties have been associated with the mind. Weakness, Strength, Cunning, Scholarship, a variety of things maybe associated with a mind. The mind , has never been physically probed, or analysed, or synthesized, and yet, in times of physical debility and times of trouble, the mind plays an extremely important part in actions of the human beings.

"The mind's eye has a special relationship with the healing system."

Dr Andrew Weil said that. And how true it is.

I have become a believer in the healing power of the mind after seeing several cases among friends and family.

My father , when in his mid seventies, was plagued by a bad back. A lifelong yoga practitioner, vegetarian, frequent meditator, he first looked upon the slight discomfort as an introduction to aging. It slowly aggravated to such an extent, that it became impossible to sit, say, at the dining table, to have a meal. It looked like he could indefinitely stand or sleep; nothing in between was good news.

Came a time when he had to eat his meals lying down on his stomach. And getting to that position and back involved an extremely painful transition.

We urged him to allow us to take him to an orthopaedic expert. Lest it sound like my father was ignorant of the progress and advances in medicine, it may be stated at the outset, that my father had some firm convictions, and suspicions , about doctors. He thought X-rays and MRI's were a planned way of making people spend unneccessary money.

The doctor who knew him and his philospohy, examined him, prescribed some NSAIDs that would also not upset his stomach, and advised some diagnostic tests. The doctor diagnosed a herniated disc and he also told us that such cases were often treated surgically.

Some huge alarm bells simply clanged in my fathers head, it seemed. He decided that there would be no surgery. A couple of days of NSAID's and his pain reduced. He could bend a liitle. He actually threw away the medicine. He then told us that he would handle this whole thing with yoga, and promptly consulted a a place which had lots of yoga exercise therapy with orthopaedic doctors as consultants.

He had all these ropes and belts (provided by this place) that he used in conjunction with chairs and tables and common things you could find in houses, and proceeded to practice his slow bending-stretching exrecises, along with some other recommended exercises , like deep breathing. Most important, he continued to will to himself, that he was going to come out of this "back-trap" as he called it.

A clear case of mind triumphing over physiology. Six months later when we visited him, he and my daughter went climbing on the hill and had a picnic there . His usual doctor just continued to shake his head disbelievingly.

Even more unusual is the case of a neighbour, a much younger woman, who simply got up one morning to find that she couldnt straighten her leg and stand, without some excruciating pain. It got to a point where the other leg would suddenly go numb. Sometimes, she would be sleeping and this intense pain would creep up her limbs. Lots of trips to the neurosurgeon, all kinds of diagnostic tests later, she was told she had an onset of Parkinsons. Some Parkinsons medication was advised. but it didnt suit her and she would suddenly get tremors in addition to intense sudden pain. With some anxiety prone members in her family, she started relying more and more on her friends. While the doctor was zeroing in on medication and appropriate dosage, she not only lost sleep, but also got into a panic about walking. Getting her to walk down the stairs would involve several of her friends cajoling her, agreeing to stand on either side, support her in case she wavered. Crossing the small road in front of her house involved huge thinking before she took the step after the first one. There was so much fear, and confusion, and pain, and fear of pain.

After increasing tremors , she reduced her medication with some improvement. Someone suggested acupuncture, ayurveda therapy , pressure points therapy, massage , and what have you. Thanks to her friends and extended-family encouragement, she tried everything with very minor improvement. She had no sleep for months, due to pain.

She, however, had one thing going for her. Her very strong mind. After the initial frightening pain experience which sort of pushed her into a hibernating shell, she slowly emerged out with the help of her friends. Limping, sometimes, even falling, tripping, she tried walking a little further everyday. An avid admirer of handicrafts and the arts, and an enthusiatic art and textile lover, she kept imagining she would get well, and one day attend the show which was held annually in their city.

And then someone suggested Kombucha, the fermented probiotic tea drink to her husband. Supposedly to help with his insomnia and anxiety. It seemed to work for him, and she decided to try it. Simply because it was really a food, not a medicine. Her upward looking mind allowed her to think of it that way, instead of cowering behind prescriptions and traumatic doctor visits. She also started watching a daily yoga program on TV and did some of the deep breathing exercises they showed, along with them.

Turns out, the first day she drank the kombucha tea, was the first night she actually slept. Ecstatic , she continued to drink a cup everyday, of freshly brewed kombucha green tea. It wasnt really magic. She had read all kinds of things about it when her husband decided to try the tea. Now she found it helped. Slowly, she reduced her Parkinson medication to the bare minimum, and continued with her deep breathing exercises and kombucha tea.

She just called a few days ago, to tell us about her purchases at the recent exhibition. She had with her, her niece who volunteered to carry a small folding chair for her, and she had a wonderful time, slowly walking, nay, limping across the ground, smilingly admiring the wonderful items in the various stalls, , buying stuff for her house and family. Her "walking friends " also came along with her, and no one had a dry eye, as she walked up to her front door, carrying as many parcels as she could, her niece and the "chair" beside her.

The mind has an amazing healing capacity. Its not as if this lady is completely OK. She gets pain, sometimes she worries; but she is thrilled to bits, that she can go everywhere now , limping though she may be, occassionally holding on to friends and family, who are just amazed at her progress. There are tears, but most of the time, they are those of happiness, and gratitude for what she has achieved.

There have been amazing stories of cancer patients.

Two people in the same extended family. One of our family friends, a very cheerful, outgoing lady, was suddenly diagnosed with breast cancer, when a pain that started when she was on a ladder pushing something into the loft, refused to go away. There was a lump that had caused the pain, biopsies were done, and a partial mastectomy was advised and promptly conduvted. This lady was so cheerful about the whole thing , and the post operative period that the doctor complimented her . For five years she was cancer free. And one fine day ,they found it was back. This time she was advised chemotherapy.

Her brother-in law, older to her, in the meanwhile , got diagnosed with cancer of the prostrate gland, and was also advised various therapies and treatments.

What happened amazes us to this day.

The brother-in-law, simply said, "what is, is. I was managing fine till yesterday. Just because you tell me something, things wont change overnight. I will continue my life as before, maybe with some nutritional and vitamin etc advice from you, but there will be no chemo...".

The lady insisted on all the chemotherapies, radiations and what have you. She was poorer for it. Somehow, that onslaught on the body also weakened her mind. She used to imagine the spread of her cancer, an exmple of visualisation gone all wrong. Her cancer slowly , really spread, and we often wondered if it had affected her mind.

In the meanwhile, her brother-in-law, still hale and hearty, albeit a bit aged now, continues his daily routine, with some physical restrictions. But he partcipates in all family events, takes great interest in whats happeneing around him, follows his own exercise regimen, and keeps in touch with his doctor, still adamant about not undertaking the invasive cancer treatment.

The lady recently passed away, the cancer having attacked just about everywhere. She knew she was dying, didnt like it, and was essentially mentally traumatised, along with her worried immediate family. Her brother in law, elder to her in age, attended her funeral, stoic in his demeanor, wondering how cancer could treat two people so differently. Agreed, various types of cancers have various speeds of growing, and varying prognoses, depending on at what stage they were diagnosed. But this is about having a decent quality of life in the "time of cancer.

In semi terminal situations, limitations of physiology and mind, may often lose out against cancer, but what is clear at this point, is that in the early stages, some kind of strength of mind, a strong belief in yourself and your healing, and self assertion about doing everything to fight this scourge, may often postpone the final trauma, offering a vast improvement in quality of life. Prayer has often been known to help. Its more about willing yourself to get well (with divine help), rather than pleading for miracles.

What is amazing, is that the mind can be so powerful. We dont know where it sits, probably in the brain, who knows. But it surely exists. And is a very powerful tool for us. Sometimes, all we need to do is change how we use it.

As the Dalai Lama, one of the wise men of our times, has said :

"If you don't like what's happening in your life, change your mind."

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