Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
A group of patients waiting for colon and rectal surgery at the
Cleveland Clinic Foundation were asked to listen to an audio tape specially
prepared for them. The researchers asked the surgery patients to
listen to the tape twice a day, without any interruption, for three days
prior to, and six days after the surgery. The portion of the tape
was played for them during the actual surgery and in the recovery room.
Listening to the tape had a very positive effect on the surgery patients.
In the pre-surgery period, when anxiety typically rises for awaiting patients,
it went down for them. These patients also did better after the surgery.
Their level of pain and anxiety was significantly lower compared to the
control group, that is, the patients who didn't listen to the tape.
They needed only about half the amount of narcotic pain pills than did
the control group, and their bowel functions also returned much more quickly.
So what was this powerful and magical stuff the researchers had put
on the tape? Well, it was nothing more than a story and a song.
The tape included soft and soothing music, and a story that took patients,
in their imagination, to a "special place," a place that was safe, supportive,
and relaxing. The tape was intended to help patients become calm
and focused. Incidentally, during the surgery and in the recovery
room, patients only listened to the musical portion of the tape.
To find something that you can enjoy while waiting for surgery is a
very healthy thing to do. These patients enjoyed listening to the
tape and reported that it helped them to sleep better, feel better, worry
less, and hurt less. They experienced nausea, vomiting, and disrupted
bowel functions just about the same as control group patients did.
However, they were able to relax more and had an increased sense of physical
and emotional wellbeing. They were so convinced by the benefits of
the tape that they pleaded their doctors to give the tape to everyone who
went for an abdominal surgery.
The tape consisted of a technique called, "guided imagery." In
a guided imagery, recorded instructions are provided to guide a listener
create specific mental images, such as of a warm sea beach, a creek in
the woods, or a cool breeze on the top of the hill. In the above
experiment, the guided imagery given to the surgery patients helped them
to imagine that they were in a safe, calming, and relaxing place.
Music made it easier to imagine such a place. When the patients imagined
being in a safe, pleasing, and relaxing place, it helped them to calm their
concerns or fears about surgery.
Skeptics dismiss the use of imagery because they believe imagination
is not real. They argue how something that is not real can be of
any benefit to them. The fact is that imagination is real, in the
sense that it has real physical effects. For instance, during a dream,
(dream is imagination) your body responds with joy, fear, anger, or sadness.
Almost everyone, sometime in their life, has woken up from a nightmare
with a very real pounding heart and a real sweating body.
Researchers hooked movie watchers with biofeedback machines to study
their physiological response when they were watching a horror movie on
television. One person's pulse rate jumped from 72 to 99 beats
per minute. Another person's finger temperature dropped from 90 to
an icy cold temperature of 30. Why did these real physical changes
occur? After all, the movie watchers knew it was only a movie, not
a real event. Nonetheless, their bodies still reacted as if it was
a real event. The reason is that our brain often cannot distinguish
whether we are imagining something or actually experiencing it. When
a person realizes that, he or she realizes the power of imagination.
Picture yourself holding a lemon in your hand, the drops of lemon
juice dropping on your tongue, and your mouth will most probably begin
to water. Picture yourself lying under the sun on a sandy beach and
your body will respond to some degree as if you are actually there.
When you create vivid visual images of places, people and things, and imagine
the smell, taste, and touch that go with your visual images, you create
almost real experiences for your body and mind. Your imagination
can be a very powerful resource in relieving stress, pain, fear, or other
types of discomforts.
When guided imagery is used for the purpose of stimulating the
body's natural healing powers, it is called, "healing imagery." Healing
imagery was first used in cancer patients. Cancer patients imagined
their tumors shrinking, cancer cells being destroyed, or their immune cells
multiplying. Since then, healing imageries have been tried for a
variety of medical conditions.
To relieve tension and stress, imagine a tight, twisted rope, slowly
untwisting or, tension swirling out of your body, draining downward until
it drains out through your toes. To strengthen your immune function,
imagine white blood cells rapidly multiplying like millions of seeds bursting
from a giant ripe seedpod. To ease asthma, imagine that the tiny
elastic rubber bands that constrict your airways pop open. For arteries,
imagine a miniature Roto Rooter truck cleaning out your clogged pipes.
Use images that are vivid, strong, and meaningful for you.
You can create any image you like. It doesn't have to be a medically
accurate image. If you feel good when you imagine something, it's
the right one for you. If you adhere to your medical treatment, your
imagination can't harm you. Just be creative in your imagination.
file: newspaper/healthy index: mindbody, healing imagery 12/20/97