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Our Innate Ability to Heal Ourselves

by Kris Needham(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 102 - August 2004

It is widely accepted by doctors, healers and laypeople alike that illness is a breakdown in the otherwise healthy, balanced functioning of the body. To many people, illness is something that comes from 'out there', brought about by external factors – environment (pollution, pesticides, germs, etc.), lifestyle (smoking, diet, alcohol, stress, drugs, etc.) and hereditary disease. If we accept the premise that ill health is something that happens 'to' us, then it follows that all the treatment necessary to cure these illnesses can also be done 'to' us. This way we cut ourselves out of the equation as far as health and healing are concerned.

Consequently, we visit the doctor whenever any signs or symptoms of illness develop. We want them to eradicate the symptoms quickly and with the minimum of fuss. We view the medical profession as omnipotent, able to diagnose, treat and cure all illness. We are shocked when a health professional we have consulted, having listened to the litany of symptoms, examined and tested all possibilities, can only tentatively hypothesize as to the nature and cause of our malady. Surely they have all the answers? The truth is, they don't. And the more we expect them to, the more difficult it is for them to admit they don't. If they're brave enough to do so, we then label them incompetent and go elsewhere for our cure. All of which adds up to one thing: as medicine makes such amazing discoveries and advances, we increasingly feel it is unnecessary, and are therefore unwilling, to take responsibility for our own ill health.

The Role of the Emotions

We are losing our ability to access the innate healing potential we have within us. Some healing takes place without any conscious effort, such as cuts, bruises, broken bones, etc. We may apply certain remedies (synthetic or natural) to speed up the healing process, or we may immobilize a broken bone so that it can heal in its natural shape. However, it is not the creams, ointments or splints that do the healing. It is the body. And it does it perfectly.

Unfortunately, the more we rely on external weapons (in the form of drugs) to fight the battle of illness, the less equipped we are to heal naturally. The substances secreted by the body in times of illness or injury are rendered obsolete by artificial chemical intervention, and thus are unable to carry out their inherent function to the same degree once the 'unnatural' substance has been withdrawn. Candace Pert has demonstrated that receptors in the cells of the body (and not only in the brain where it was once believed all control of bodily functions lay) are the perfect fit for certain ligands (natural or synthetic substances). When a ligand connects with a receptor it passes on vital information to that cell – information that triggers any number of activities from the manufacture of new proteins, to changes in behaviour or mood. It is Pert's discovery of opiate receptors (and subsequently the relationship between receptors, peptides and emotions) that is changing the way science views the effects of emotion on the chemistry of the body – or 'bodymind'.

This is very important, as we tend to focus our attention on the physical aspects of keeping ourselves healthy and ignore the emotional dimension – our thoughts and feelings, even our spirit. Yet, in light of this new knowledge about emotions, it is obvious that they too, are a part of our responsibility to manage our own health.

We Make Ourselves Ill

What all this means is that, apart from external factors, our thoughts and feelings are also making us ill, and it is our thoughts and feelings that can make or keep us well. For some this theory is very contentious. People don't want to believe that they have in some way caused their illness. But research is proving more and more that what we think and feel affects our health in many ways. We only have to consider the power we have to create physical reactions in our bodies without coming into contact with the actual stimulus. For instance, if I were to describe in detail the process of cutting open a lemon, its texture, the way the juice squirts as the knife penetrates the rind, the fresh tangy smell and, finally, the taste, sharp and acidic, you would, to some degree, physically experience the sense of seeing, smelling, tasting, experiencing a lemon: yet it only exists in words, your mind would do the rest.

Now consider how easy it is to talk yourself into a cold. You wake up and notice a tickly sensation at the back of your throat, or your nose feels a bit blocked, signs that would often precipitate a full-blown cold. So now you begin to look for other signs to confirm your diagnosis. All day you validate your belief that you are getting a cold. Now you're feeling shivery, or hot, now achy. Before the end of the day, you do have all the symptoms of a cold – or do you? If you try to give someone a cold, it takes more than a virus. Experimenters have incubated cold viruses, placed them directly on the mucous lining of the nose and found that their subjects came down with colds only 12 per cent of the time. So perhaps a cold isn't always really a cold, but a belief in the existence of a cold. Perhaps the body has obliged by following your commands and thus produced all the symptoms of a cold, but without the presence of a virus.

Understanding the relationship between the mind and the body, or more correctly, the fact that they are one and the same, is the first and most important step in accessing the healer within. It may be that somewhere along the line we were responsible for bringing about imbalance in the delicate, finely tuned functions of the body and its drive to maintain health; however, we only promote more damage if we get caught up in the cycle of blame and guilt. The nature of illness is not to punish, it is to make us become whole. This is the only way our bodymind has of letting us know that something is not as it should be.

One of the most important teachings of Samuel Hannemann, the German physician who developed homeopathy, concerns the danger of suppressing visible symptoms of illness. He used the example of an itching, red rash on the skin. Better to have the disease on the surface of the body, he taught, because from the surface it can exit outward.

Significance of Symptoms

Illness draws our attention to itself through symptoms. There is growing belief that the nature of a particular illness and, more importantly, where it is located, makes known to us the origin of this interruption in health: the interruption usually being related to emotional or psychological imbalance. If this is so, symptoms are the signpost to regaining homeostasis or balance and need to be treated as such. Thus it is counter-productive to try to suppress symptoms, or even to fear them. If we learn to work with our symptoms, (and our emotions), we engage in the ongoing, unconscious bodymind communication, thereby completing the vital link in the chain of events that maintain harmony and health.

One of the most important teachings of Samuel Hannemann, the German physician who developed homeopathy, concerns the danger of suppressing visible symptoms of illness. He used the example of an itching, red rash on the skin. Better to have the disease on the surface of the body, he taught, because from the surface it can exit outward. Suppressive measures may drive a disease process inward toward more vital organs. The rash may disappear, but worse trouble may appear down the road, trouble that may resist the strongest suppressive treatments.

Healing Out and In

Once we have acknowledged the message from the symptom, taken on board what it is trying to tell us, we can then begin to act accordingly. As illness is very often triggered by a combination of factors, both external and/or internal, it would be advisable to approach our striving for health and wellness in a way that combines these factors, such as through a change of diet. For most illnesses, a modified diet that may only have to last for several weeks or months is the best course of action to promote healing. One vital element of diet is our intake of water. Tea, coffee, alcohol and soft drinks are not substitutes for this essential component. Water is needed for every bodily function. By eating healthily and drinking more water, we provide the ligands that carry those vital messages to our cells with a healthy environment in which to function. Imagine owning the most beautiful, delicate, rare orchid and feeding it with cooking oil, syrup and whiskey. I doubt that it would survive very long. Soon the results of such neglect would show in the colour and condition of the flowers, leaves, stems and roots. We would realize we were doing something wrong and change the way we treated our precious commodity, providing it with care and attention that would promote healthy growth and development. Why should we treat our bodies any differently? As well as a healthy diet, it would also be a good idea to include some regular, gentle physical activity, thus strengthening muscles and bones and so preventing conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis and even diabetes.

Having dealt with external factors that can promote better health, we can now move on to how we can promote healing from within. There are many ways of communicating with the inner self. A walk in the park, listening to relaxing music, painting, daydreaming, yoga, meditation and visualization are just some activities that lead to contact with the internal environment of the body – the unconscious. When we send healing messages from our conscious selves to our unconscious (as in the form of affirmations or images), we reverse our usual reliance on left-brain logical thought in favour of right-brain intuition and emotion. As Jeanne Achterberg explains in her book, Imagery in Healing, "The specific functions that have been attributed to the right hemisphere, and the connections between it and other brain and body components, support the premise that images can and do carry information from the conscious fore to the far reaches of the cells."

All of the above activities will naturally lead to a reduction in stress levels. Stress, as I am sure we are all aware, is the biggest contributor to many major illnesses and conditions. We all have stress in our live, and we need a certain amount of stress in order to function productively. However, it is being ill equipped to deal with modern day stresses that causes problems. If you do suffer from stress or stress-related illness, look at how you can change your life to reduce that stress. If that is not possible, then how about just including some relaxation time? By making relaxation a regular part of your life, you communicate to your inner self that you are important and special.

The Role of Healer

It is important to understand that you do not have to take on full responsibility for regaining or maintaining health. What I have outlined above is only part of the journey to health available to you, but it is a vital part. What is also important is that you have, or establish, a network of healers that you can call on whenever necessary. Everyone is capable of giving some form of healing, be they professional health practitioners or just friends who make you smile. Laughter can improve your health. When you laugh, your lungs and your heart are exercised; but, more importantly, special healing hormones are released inside your body. After a good laugh, your blood pressure will be lower, your breathing easier and you will sleep better.

There are many avenues to improved health; some of which, as we have seen, require little or no financial outlay, and can be accessed without having to consult a professional. However, if you are interested in including regular sessions of physical, emotional or psychological support on your journey to optimum health, you need only read the complementary practitioner list in this magazine to discover the wealth of therapies available: including yoga, massage, ayurveda and hypnotherapy, all of which can help you to access, communicate with and encourage the healer within, so restoring the body's own healing ability. Deepak Chopra, in his book, Quantum Healing, summed it up when he said that, "the living body is the best pharmacy ever devised. It produces diuretics, painkillers, tranquillisers, sleeping pills, antibiotics …everything manufactured by the drug companies, but better. The dosage is just right and given on time; side-effects are minimal or non-existent; and the directions for using the drug are included in the drug itself, as part of its built-in intelligence." All that is left for us to do is to trust our innate ability to heal, thereby letting our body get on with doing what it does best. This way we can take control of our health and thus, once more, restore harmony and balance within.

Further Reading

1. Pert CB. Molecules of Emotion. Simon & Shuster. London. 1998. 2nd ed. Pocket Books. London. 1999. ISBN 0-671-03397-2)
2. Weil A. Spontaneous Healing. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. USA. 1995. 3rd ed. Warner. 1997. ISBN 0-7515-1767-4)
3. Seigel BS. Peace, Love and Healing. Harper & Row. New York. c1989. ISBN 0-06-091705-9.
4. Dethlefsen T & Dahlke R. The Healing Power of Illness. Element Books Ltd. Dorset. 1990. ISBN 1-86204-080-X
5. Coleman V. Mind Over Body. Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1989. ISBN 0-600-567-222.
6. Chopra D. Quantum Healing. Bantam Books. New York. 1989. ISBN 0-553-05368-X.

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About Kris Needham

Kris Needham holds diplomas in Hypno-Psychotherapy, Adv. Counselling, Aromatherapy, Dream Therapy and Colour Therapy, and is a trained Bach Flower practitioner. She has been interested in the mind-body connection for many years and applies a psychosomatic approach to all her work. Kris teaches counselling, and a variety of subjects connected with improving health, relaxation, confidence, and creativity. She co-owns the Penny Lane Therapy Centre in Liverpool and is co-founder of Insideout, which runs creative residential weekends in the Lake District. She can be contacted at Penny Lane Therapy Centre, 115 Penny Lane, Allerton, Liverpool, L18 1DF: Tel: 0151-283 2899; krisneedham@hotmail.com

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