Note: Before I begin, let me say that modern medicine can often be miraculous in its power to heal. Sometimes there is no substitute for a good surgeon, a life-saving antibiotic or the strong medicines that can prolong the quality and quantity of our lives. However, there are many conditions that continue to baffle medicine that can and are successfully treated with alternative practices.
Words can have a big impact on us, especially foreign sounding medical jargon like those long, multi-syllabic concoctions that describe a disease condition. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the word cancer. But whether the words are simple or complex, the fact that they come from a doctor can make them seem as if they were written by the hand of god on a stone tablet.
The psychological impression that medical disease terminology evokes can be deep, and damaging. I’ve seen this happen to some of my yoga therapy clients. For example, degenerative disc disease is neither a disease nor is it degenerative according to one of my yoga therapy teachers, Neil Pearson, founding president of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Disc problems are associated with aging and poor condition. Discs may bulge or rupture, but they do not degenerate
But when a patient hears this diagnosis all kinds of fears may be conjured up that actually inhibit the patient from increasing daily function and reducing or eliminating pain. The psychological damage done by those official-sounding words often seem to be a sentence of damnation to which there is little recourse. Nevertheless, a regular practice of therapeutic yoga postures can often relieve the suffering of a person so diagnosed.
Another recent example that comes to mind is Sacroiliac Dysfunction. A new client of mine recently presented with this diagnosis. Often it is associated with cartilage wear and tear in the joint. One of the first results you’ll find if you google the term is a surgical technique that is advertised as “minimally invasive.”
My client, a former dancer, who also has lower lumbar disc ruptures due to an equestrian accident, has responded well to yoga therapy and chiropractic treatment. Her chronic pain is now nearly gone and she moves with a freedom she hasn’t had in a long time. Fortunately, she had previous yoga experience and didn’t let her diagnosis make her feel disempowered.
Often though, patients seem to get locked into a diagnosis like it’s an immutable fact of life about which they can do very little, which is rarely the case. Taking control of our health rather than asking a medical professional to “fix” us can make all the difference in the world. It did for me when I refused to believe that Crohn’s Disease was incurable. For over a decade I have lived without the specter of this awful digestive scourge and have no fear of it ever returning. Though medicine does not have a cure, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure or that we can’t heal ourselves without medicine.
Last year, at the age of 62 I had a routine colonoscopy. My results were nearly perfect. The doctor commented that it was very unusual for a person with Crohn’s Disease not to be taking medicine to remain in “remission.” What surprised me though was his utter lack of curiosity about how I had achieved and maintained my excellent condition.
Through the stress management skills I’ve learned from yoga and meditation and a diet of whole foods, I no longer get sick or even have an inkling of symptoms. I’ve got news for the medical profession: I don’t have Crohn’s Disease. I’m the only one among my many family members who have been likewise stricken to reverse my illness and be completely healthy.
The point I’m trying to make is that the human body may get “out of balance” in any number of ways. This doesn’t mean that we are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering, constant medical care and the inconvenience and expense that go along with it. The truth is quite to the contrary. It is more common than we realize that ordinary people like myself refuse to believe that they are helpless. Everyday thousands of people chart a new course for themselves and explore healing methods that lead them to a new world of bountiful health they’d previously been led to believe did not exist.
In her recent book, Radical Remission, Kelly Turner, PhD, studied over a thousand cases of what may be called spontaneous remission from cancer. Or course, these remissions weren’t spontaneous in the sense that they came out of nowhere. Turner identified nine things that all these cancer patients did for themselves that helped them get well, even after their doctors told they were going to die and began hospice care. One of those things was taking control of their health.
When doctors announce these terrifying diagnoses they think they’re being realistic, but often their words crush hope, hope that can and does lead to healing. Andrew Weil calls this “medical hexing.” Because of the position of authority a doctor occupies, patients often take that statement as the last word.
As Lissa Rankin, M.D., points out in her book, Mind Over Medicine, patients frequently imbibe a doctor’s pronouncements about their disease hook, line and sinker. They give up hope and die. This is the “nocebo” effect, where patients believe the worst and suffer accordingly.
Conversely, Rankin, with copious studies and examples demonstrates the power of the famous placebo effect. When given an inert treatment, patients recover from the even the most devastating diseases including cancer. A prime example is Mr. Wright who was dying of terminal cancer. His doctor gave him an experimental drug. Mr. Wright recovered in a miraculously short time. But when news surfaced that showed the medicine to be ineffective, Wright’s cancer returned. His doctor, now quite aware of the powerful placebo effect told him the medicine he’d been given was tainted, but that he now had a pure, more potent batch to give him. Again, Wright recovered. And again, when a national news story proclaimed the medicine worthless, Wright’s health faltered and he died soon thereafter.
What both Turner and Rankin are demonstrating is that there is no such thing as an incurable disease. Just because medicine has no cure, it assumes that no other treatment could possibly stimulate the body to heal itself.
In my next post I’ll explore the nine things that Kelly Turner discovered that help even the most hopeless cancer patients heal and go on to live many years full of accomplishment and happiness.
Until then, remember, a diagnosis is simply a description from a system that does not recognize any other possible way to heal. It is not a prophecy of doom. Rather, it can be the door that opens to a new world of knowledge, liberation and health as we take control of our lives and discover a world of possibilities beyond conventional medicine.