1920s, however, scientists considered such ideas no more than superstition or
religious folly. The mind and body were believed wholly separate things, and it
was considered absurd that mere thoughts might heal. Of course everyone knew
thoughts could arouse the body sexually, excite fear or anger with a
consequently faster pulse and heartbeat, and so on; but fight illness?
But in the
third decade of the twentieth century, J.H. Schultz, a German physician,
created "Autogenic Training," in which patients sitting or lying in a relaxed
state would imagine "mental contact" with the afflicted parts of their bodies.
In effect, the patients were calling on their unconscious minds to aid them in
the healing process. The technique, still in wide use throughout Europe as an
adjunct to more conventional medical treatment, has been extensively studied
and its effectiveness richly documented. Four separate studies, for example,
showed that between 50 and 100 percent of asthma patients who practiced the
exercises were able to alleviate all symptoms of the disease. Another study
found that 70 percent of gastritis sufferers were significantly helped by
In the 1930s
two medical researchers named Chappell and Stevenson worked with 52 peptic
ulcer patients receiving identical treatment and dietary supervision. The
researchers enlisted 32 members of the group in an experiment. Whenever they
felt anxiety coming on, they were to visualize pleasant experiences.
later the visualizing patients had no more ulcer symptoms. When dietary
restrictions were lifted, all but one resumed normal eating habits with no
further problems. The 20 patients in the control group, whose symptoms had been
relieved only by conventional medical treatment, had their symptoms return as
soon as they tried to eat normal food.
52 patients had suffered from ulcer problems for at least two years prior to
the experiment, three years after the conclusion of the test only two members
of the visualization group still had ulcer problems!
rather more controversial, visualization-healing method was promoted by American
opthamologist William Bates early in this century. Working from the principle
that the act of seeing involves both a sense impression on the eye and the
interpretation of that signal by the brain, Bates claimed, "When you can
remember or imagine a thing as well with your eyes open as you can with your
eyes closed, your vision will improve promptly." That’s because, he said, a
sharp mental image helps the eye to relax, assume its normal shape and send an
impression the brain recognizes as sharper. "Perfect memory of any object
increases mental relaxation, which results in a relaxation of the eyes, and
both together result in better vision."
years scientists have sought to document the idea inherent in all
visualization-healing techniques that the mind can exercise control over the
autonomic nervous system.
As early as
the first decade of this century the noted British scholar and writer W. Y.
Evans-Wentz visited Tibet and came back with incredible reports of what he had
witnessed there. He said he had seen yogis sitting naked in the snow for hours
at a stretch, and not only that, but the snow around them actually melted! The
yogis told Evans-Wentz that they were able to generate an enormous amount of
body heat by visualizing a sun inside them.
later, during the 1930s, a Soviet psychologist named A.R. Luria, along with
associates at the All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine, worked with a
talented mentalist. The study involved a patient identified only as S. The
study revealed S’s abilities were greatly facilitated by his phenomenal ability
to hold vivid mental images he had recorded years earlier.
really interested the scientists was his ability to increase his pulse rate
from its normal 70 beats a minute to 100, and then to take it back to 70.
S said to
the astonished investigators, "What do you find so strange about it? I simply
sense myself running after a train that has just begun to pull out. I have to
catch up with the last car if I’m to make it. Is it any wonder then that my
heartbeat increases? After that, I saw myself lying in bed, perfectly still,
trying to fall asleep … I could see myself beginning to drop off … breathing
became regular and my heart started to beat more slowly and evenly."
scientific documentation of this ability was obtained in the 1960s by Elmer
Green, head of the Menninger Foundation’s Psychophysiology Laboratory in
Topeka, Kansas. Green and his colleagues worked with Swami Rama, who
demonstrated that through concentration he could change his body temperature,
increase or decrease (and, in one instance, even stop) his heartbeat, and
control his brain waves.