Most of us have heard stories involving mind over matter principles. People walking over hot coals is the first one that pops into my mind. Such a feat is rather extreme and far removed from our daily lives, but learning to harness the power of the mind is a sure way to improve your life! Biofeedback, hypnosis, and the Relaxation Response are three effective approaches (among many) to use to utilize our minds more efficiently. Before discussing the approaches just mentioned, I’d like to look at a few examples of mind over matter in action, so to speak, to give more credence to the practice.
Mind over Matter Examples
The first example comes from Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe. In the book he relates the story of Jack Schwarz, a Dutch-born author and lecturer who was able to willfully control his body’s internal biological processes (p. 102). In the 1970’s Mr. Schwarz submitted to examination by doctors at the Menninger Foundation, among others. In these studies, large, six-inch sailmaker’s needles were stuck completely through Schwarz’s arms without bleeding, without flinching on the part of Schwarz, and without his producing any beta brain waves as would be expected from a person in pain! He did not bleed when the needles were removed, and the puncture holes closed up tightly. Additionally, Mr. Schwarz altered his brain wave rhythms at will, held burning cigarettes against his flesh without injury, and carried live coals in his hands. He stated that he had learned to control pain while held in a Nazi concentration camp, and that it was his belief that anyone can learn voluntary control of their body (p. 103).
Another example from Talbot’s book involves another Dutchman, Mirin Dajo. In the 1940’s Dajo gave public performances in which an assistant would stick a fencing foil completely through his body experiencing no harm or pain. He later submitted himself to scientific scrutiny at the request of a Swiss doctor, entering the Zurich cantonal hospital on May 31st, 1947 (p.103). In full view of the chief of surgery of the hospital, several other doctors, students, and journalists, Dajo’s assistant then pierced him through with the fencing foil. Dajo submitted to x-rays where it was undeniable that he was impaled. Twenty minutes later, the foil was removed, leaving only two faint scars (p.104).
Now these are two amazing examples of the mind over matter phenomenon!! I have no interest in getting stuck with needles or pierced through with a fencing foil, but these examples really pique my interest regarding the potentials they demonstrate! I have had my own experience with mind over matter, albeit on a much less dramatic scale. I had a bad case of eczema on both of my hands—eczema is an itchy, scaly, irritating skin condition. I took steroids and anti-itching medicines, used creams, and even wore white cotton gloves to protect against irritants. These treatments helped, but when the steroids wore off, the condition returned. Finally, I decided to try a tape I had come across—Bob Griswold’s, entitled HEALTH. I listened every morning for a month, no longer on any medicines, and the eczema went away, never to return! The tape did involve a bit of visualization, which will be talked about on the Positive Words page of this web-site, but to me it remains an example of mind over matter—my mind, brought about a change in my matter/skin!
Hopefully by now, you are at least open to the idea that our minds can do some amazing things in the physical world. So now let’s look at some of the methods people use to develop this ability!
Mind Over Matter Practices
Biofeedback is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a type of complementary and alternative medicine called mind-body therapy. It’s designed to enable you — in mind-over-matter fashion — to use your thoughts and will to control your body. Biofeedback is based on the idea, confirmed by scientific studies, that people have the innate potential to influence with their minds many of the automatic, involuntary functions of their bodies” (Mayoclinic.com). It can be used for a variety of physical and mental conditions including stress-related issues, asthma, headaches, hot flashes, high blood pressure, incontinence to name just a few. There are several different forms of biofeedback and sessions with a biofeedback therapist last generally from 30 minutes to one hour. Some therapists get certified and can be found through the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA). Insurance may or may not cover treatments. It is not completely understood how biofeedback works, but it is one widely accepted method of exercising the power of mind over matter!
Hypnosis is another relatively common method of using our minds to effect change in our bodies. Contrary to what might pop into your mind at the mention of the word, hypnosis is much like the state of mind you’re in when you are “lost” in a book or movie. Much like biofeedback, the precise way that hypnosis works is not really understood and it too can help with a variety of medical conditions (Mayoclinic.com). Hypnotherapy is not regulated in most states so it is wise to be careful when choosing a therapist. Here are some good questions to ask a potential therapist, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Do you have training in a field such as psychology, medicine, social work or dentistry?
- Are you licensed in your specialty in this state?
- Where did you go to school, and where did you do your internship, residency or both?
- If you’re a lay hypnotist, how much training have you had and from what school?
- What professional organizations do you belong to?
- How long have you been in practice?
- What are your fees? Does insurance cover your services?
There are also various books which show you how to try hypnosis on your own. One such book that I actually read was Instant Self-Hypnosis: How to Hypnotize Yourself with Your Eyes Open by Forbes Robbins Blair. I have to confess that I never fully practiced this method, although I enjoyed reading the book! So I cannot offer a first-hand opinion regarding its effectiveness. It does get a lot of good reviews at Amazon, however. Another book that I have considered in the past is The Self-Hypnosis Diet by Steven and Joy Gurgevich. What draws me to this book is that it is recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil—someone I trust and admire. Additionally, there are various hypnosis CD’s available. Glenn Harrold (Lose Weight Now (Diviniti))is one who seems to get consistently good reviews. The point is, there are many inexpensive ways to try a little hypnosis on your own if a hypnotherapist seems too expensive or inaccessible! Check it out!
The Relaxation Response
The final approach I will discuss regarding mind over matter practices is the Relaxation Response. This was created by Dr. Herbert Benson, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. This method was introduced around 1975 and is a basic and simple way to relax the body by focusing the mind on the breath. It differs from the other methods just discussed because it is more passive. I consider it with the other methods because it has been proven to have many physical benefits, although these happen more peripherally, and not by direct intention. Visit relaxationresponse.org for a free introduction to this method along with some history, or get the book, The Relaxation Response, for yourself!