Nina Slanevskaya. Interdisciplinary Neuroscience
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  Healing

 

Mental energy instead of medicine

In the clinical practice, the treatment of physiological diseases of the body and brain by our mind gives unbelievable results. Brain scanning shows that “expectancies of sensory stimulation or internal imagery seem to share the same brain circuits as sensory stimulation or external images” (Findlay, 2008: 212). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) of the brain reveal permanent changes in distributing activity in certain parts of the brain as a result of cognitive therapy and placebo effect in the treatment of depression (Lommel, 2010). In other words, the thought of having the right treatment causes objective changes in brain functioning. Placebo triggers the same effect as medication or electrical and magnetic stimulation but without negative side effects. Thoughts change neurochemistry of the brain. Findlay reports, “Visualization training for participants with diseases that depress the immune system showed increases in neutrophils (WBCs) over a 90-day period in 20 patients with cancer, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and viral infections” (Findlay, 2008: 213). The training included 30-minutes of audio training with verbal suggestions, relaxation, and visualization instructions. Participants were instructed how to create self-healing mental images matching their disease. Visualization and meditation help to get significant improvement in treating dermatomyositis and immune microvasculopathy disorder.

Meditation is especially helpful in controlling our neurochemistry and very effective in treating mood disorders and depression. Yoga-nidra increases dopamine in the brain by 65%. Dopamine stimulates positive thoughts, pleasurable experience, increases the sense of well-being and sensory imagery (Newberg, Waldman, 2009: 55). The level of serotonin changes during such types of meditation as mindfulness, vipassana, insight, and transcendental meditation. The release of serotonin enhances visual imagery and sensory experience. Yoga that involves breathing and stretching shows an increase of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain by 27%, which helps to treat depression and anxiety (Newberg, Waldman, 56). Yoga can decrease migraine headaches, a risk of cardiovascular disease. It can even reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia (Newberg, Waldman, 2009: 161).
“Visualization, guided imagery, and self-hypnosis are specific variations of meditation and are effective in maintaining a healthy brain” (Newberg, Waldman, 2009: 160).
The neuroscientists Newberg and Waldman carried out an experiment to see how meditation affects the brain. They used Kirtan Kriya tradition, which included breathing, sounds, and movements (conscious regulation of one’s breath and movements of the fingers together with the pronunciation of sounds). The participants practiced it only 12 minutes a day during 8 weeks. They were promised that such practice would improve their brain work. One of them, Gus, wanted to improve memory and attention. After 8 weeks, Gus improved his results by 50% in the tests, others by 20%. If before training, it took Gus 107 seconds to do the task, after training for 8 weeks it took him only 68 seconds. The scanning of the brain showed a significant increase of neural activity in the prefrontal cortex (clearer thinking and focused attention upon the task), anterior cingulate cortex (better emotional regulation, error detection, learning and memory), basal ganglia (better control of body movements and emotions), and thalamus (better sensory perception) (Newberg, Waldman, 2009: 28-29). It means that without medication and less than for two months the work of neurons was changed due to the property of neuroplasticity of the brain and the practice of meditation.

Placebo effect was observed even in the patients suffering from Parkinson disease: some areas of the brain released more dopamine than usual, and it reduced muscle stiffness. fMRI reveals the activation of prefrontal cortex due to positive expectations, which alters the process of attention. Attention is directed at recovering (Lommel, 2010). “Placebos usually help a percentage of patients enrolled in the control group of a study, perhaps 35 to 45 percent. Thus, in recent decades, if a drug’s effect is statistically significant, which means that it is at least 5 percent better than a placebo, it can be licensed for use” (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007: 141).
Beauregard gives an example for the illustration of placebo effect (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007: 140). Janis Schonfeld, a forty-six-year-old interior designer was thinking about suicide when she saw a poster inviting to try the new generation of antidepressants. She enrolled in a drug study at UCLA. The EEG of her brain was made, and she started taking those new pills. The pills worked well, though she had nausea as a side effect, but she had been warned about it by her nurse. Schonfeld recovered from her depression completely. On her last visit, the doctor told her the truth. Neither Janis, nor the nurse had known that Janis had been in the control group and taken sugar pills, i.e. placebo. However, the recovery was genuine and the doctor confirmed it. “But the only drug she had received was an immaterial and immortal substance – hope” (Beauregard, O’Leary, 2007: 141). The patient’s mental belief in medicine and thought of recovery worked wonders. Neurophysiology and neurochemistry of the brain became better thanks to positive thinking.
Lommel concludes that consciousness cannot be regarded as the product of brain function. “In fact, sometimes the opposite seems to apply: the mind influences brain function, both in the short and long term as a result of the empirically proven principle of neuroplasticity” (Lommel, 2010: 224).

 

Art Therapy

Art therapy uses images on the paper as a recording of the internal state of a patient with which it is possible for a doctor to work: to direct the internal imagery towards convalescence by manipulating with images on the paper, paints and symbolic representation of the patient’s problem, and by showing him healthy processes to copy. The image on the paper made by a patient influences the work of the brain, and thus, the whole organism. It regulates emotions and affects the activated hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis stress response, and, therefore, art therapy can help to restore the immune system. If the HPA is damaged by a prolonged stress, its chronic activation produces a strong negative effect on the immune system: the thymus gland shrinks (thymus, bone marrow, spleen and lymph nodes are the main organs of the immune system) because the formation of new lymphocytes that constitute the thymic tissue reduces. The reduced immune activity allows cancer cells to multiply and divide without fighting with the immune system.
Findlay describes the case of a 38-year-old patient, called Jim, who had thyroid cancer (the tumor of 12mm by 5mm by 5mm)(Findlay, 2008). Jim decided to use imagery as part of his holistic treatment (imagery, traditional psychotherapy, recommendations of a Chinese herbal doctor, raw food diet, physical exercises, relaxation, and breathing techniques) instead of the removal of his thyroid and a lifetime of chemically regulated endocrine treatment. He came to the art therapy room every week for the eight-month period. With the help of relaxation technique Jim discovered the self-healing images (that was sunlight and healing light for Jim). The sunlight and healing light became his core images first on the paper and then in clay. He chose coloured clay and “the kinesthetic action of rolling out dots and twisting tendrils of light in colored clay became an almost ritualized practice in each session” (Findlay, 2008: 217). At one session, he made a small life-size pink ball of his tumour. Jim used green and yellow clay for showing how the light was eating up the pink ball. Jim became very emotional because he visualized, created, and experienced the annihilation of his tumour. The art therapist showed him biological images of the working of his killer cells and macrophages of the immune system, and Jim became even more emotional because of the accuracy of his spontaneous images. Three months after his holistic treatment and sessions, his tumour reduced by 28%, and six months later by 60%, and a bit later, when he visited his regular doctor, who had originally diagnosed him, the doctor did not find any remnant of the cancer.

Art therapy helps to treat complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) (King-West, Hass-Cohen, 2008) and Alzheimer’s disease (Galbraith, Subrin, Ross, 2008). The mental force of imagery regulates the work of our biological body and brain.

(in Nina Slanevskaya “Brain, Mind and Social Factors”, St. Petersburg, Centre for Interdisciplinary Neuroscience, 2014)

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Nina Slanevskaya. Interdisciplinary Neuroscience

 

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