Healing and the Mind: By Bill Moyers – Healing From Within (4 of 6)

In ‘Healing and the Mind’ Bill Moyers talks with physicians, scientists, therapists, and patients – people who are taking a new look at the meaning of sickness and health. In a series of fascinating and provocative interviews, he discusses their search for answers to perplexing questions: How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?” In the fourth part of the series, Bill Moyers examines two therapies – Buddhist meditation and group psychotherapy – that involve neither drugs nor surgery. Both teach patients to use their minds to improve the healing capacities within their bodies.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn: Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Bill visits Dr. Kabat Zinn’s Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, to understand how a Buddhist meditation technique is used to complement mainstream western medicine. Dr. Kabat-Zinn left a promising career as a microbiologist to start the Stress Reduction Clinic 13 years ago and since, has seen over 5,000 patients who could no longer be helped by mainstream medicine.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” – Dhammapada (Buddhist scripture)

The 8-week MBSR program sees people from all walks of life – truck drivers, businessmen, homemakers, teachers etc., who are suffering from a wide range of illnesses – heart conditions, back injuries, HIV etc. and who can no longer benefit from drugs/surgery. Almost all of them are initially skeptical about enrolling for a meditation program.

1. Meditation is not mystical but experiential

To dispel any myths about the nature of meditation, the group first participates in an ‘eating meditation.’ They are asked to close their eyes and eat a raisin – yes,  a RAISIN – with complete mindfulness and awareness!

This simple task is intended to make people realize that meditation is not mystical but experiential. It is simply  about bringing one’s awareness to the present moment and in doing so, deepening one’s mental/ emotional/ psychological state.

Of course, it is definitely easier said than done. However, over the 8 week period, participants begin to understand the logic behind the technique and realise that like most people, they too are far from truly experiencing this level of mindfulness.

2. Separate pain from the thoughts associated with it

In the second stage, participants learn how to observe their sensation so that they can uncouple the experience of a sensation (eg. pain) from the thoughts they associate with that sensation (“this pain will kill me,” “I am being punished by this pain”, etc).

Visible progress is made every week. In addition to the measurable physical benefits (eg. pain reduction), participants become more self-aware and by the end of the program, express newfound feelings of joy and awareness which makes them view life in a more positive manner.

Dr. David Spiegel: Group Psychotherapy

Another study (which shows that participating in group psychotherapy improves survival rates women with metastatic breast cancer) also highlights the mind-body link and how one’s inner state can support healing.

Bill interacts with Dr. Spiegel, a professor at Stanford University, who led a study involving 86 women with metastatic breast cancer.

Dr. Spiegel believes that talking about one’s feelings helps acknowledge them and therefore prevents them from taking control over us. He facilitates the group members to confront their fears of death and dying, by accepting and facing the illness with all their resources and ensuring that it does not isolate them from their family and friends. In this supportive environment, the body finds healthier ways of coping with the illness.

Group therapy is also designed to involve the family members of those experiencing cancer so that the family members also have a safe-space to vent their feelings, share experiences and thus gain a better understanding of how to support to their loved ones.

Read our article on Spiegel’s renowned research on how support groups can double cancer survival rates.

A compelling case

Through these two interviews and demonstrations, Bill Moyers makes a compelling case that healing begins from within; an idea that the scientific community is slowly but surely opening up to.

Reflection

  • If healing begins from within, how can you learn to access your inner resources?
  • How comfortable are you to acknowledging and express your true feelings? What is a ‘safe-space’ where you can do this?
  • What if you were to share your fears and concerns with a loved one or a personal cancer coach?

Resources

Healing & The Mind‘ by Bill Moyers

Author

After obtaining a degree in Psychology, Vidya Ramaswamy felt her subject learning had been limited since it stopped with the study of the mind. Believing that humans are “whole” beings, she decided to pursue a discipline which appreciates the inter-connection between body-mind-spirit. She qualified herself as a Clinical Hypnotherapist from the California Hypnosis Institute of India (CHII). Vidya now works with cancer patients on a daily basis as a Treatment-Coordinator/ Therapist at the Ojus-Sampurnah Integrative Medicine Clinic in Bangalore and practices as an independent Hypnotherapist as well.

More from this series

Title About the article
1. Introduction to Healing & The Mind In this landmark series, Bill’s aim is to present his answers to the ever-perplexing questions : How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?
2. The Mystery of Qi In this part of the series, Bill Moyers, with the help of his guide, David Eisenberg, (MD from Harvard Medical School), travels through Beijing and Shanghai, exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and its approach to healing through ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chi’), the vital energy force.
3. The Mind-Body Connection How do emotions translate into chemicals in our bodies? How do thoughts and feelings influence health? How can we collaborate with our bodies to encourage healing?
4.Healing From Within In the third part of the series, Bill Moyers offers new insights into how the mind and body are intimately interconnected.
5.The Art of Healing In the fourth part of the series, Bill Moyers examines two therapies – Buddhist meditation and group psychotherapy – that involve neither drugs nor surgery
6.Wounded Healers In the final part of the series, Bill Moyers aptly completes the circle by focusing on real people and their real stories and emphasising the ‘human connection’ that is so crucial in the doctor-patient relationship.

 

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