From the Independent:
How to think yourself better
Positive thinking can help
ease pain, improve fitness and prevent illness. Anastasia Stephens
explains how to harness the power of your mind
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
A new Australian study suggests that the faster speed that athletes achieve
when taking performance-enhancing drugs is all in the mind. The study
compared athletes on growth hormones with those given a placebo. Those
taking the dummy pills sprinted faster, jumped higher and were able to lift
heavier weights than those taking the hormones. The results imply that if
you think you will perform better, you really will. That's not news to many
professional athletes who for years have used creative visualisation to
boost performance. "If you visualise being stronger, running faster or
winning, you are priming your nervous system to do just that," says Dr
Aimee Kimball, the director of mental training in sports medicine at the
University of Pittsburgh. "Studies have found that the method can
enhance physical performance significantly, sometimes by 20 per cent or more."
What to do: Visualise your forthcoming race or match. See yourself win
with ease, confidence and coordination, in as much detail as possible. Feel
the appropriate emotions as you play and win, and get a sense that you
really "know" you can do it.
Imagining longer menstrual cycles and less menstrual pain may be able to
actually alter your cycle, according to researchers at Massachusetts General
Hospital in Boston. Twelve out of 15 women who used imagery for three months
lengthened their menstrual cycles by nearly four days. They also slashed
their perceived levels of premenstrual distress in half and reported fewer
What to do: Focus on the area around your womb. Imagine any bloating,
tension, heaviness or pain dispersing in a watery mist. Imagine the area
immersed in a cooling light of whatever colour springs to mind.
MOOD AND SELF-ESTEEM
Visualisation may be able to help depression caused by all sorts of factors.
In a study at the University of South Florida, guided visualization
significantly lessened symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue in
patients with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. According to a study in the
Journal of Holistic Nursing, the method alleviated depression and improved
self-esteem in women suffering from post-natal depression.
What to do: Imagine yourself in a calm, beautiful place, smiling. You
are surrounded by friends who are praising you for your qualities. Imagine
feeling joyful and strong while getting what you want, and doing what you
want in the world.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis suggested that women
could increase the actual size of their breasts simply by imagining it.
Thirty-five women attended hypnosis sessions in which they were asked to
visualise images of their breasts pulsating, with warm water flowing over
them, helping them to grow. After 12 weeks, 84 per cent of the women's
breasts had grown, by an average of 1.3in. A stunning 46 per cent of them
needed a larger bra size.
What to do: The study raises the possibility that you could use the
mind for tissue regrowth of all sorts – especially to help healing. If you
are bruised or injured, vividly imagine the area emersed in a healing white
light. In this light, see your tissue becoming "vitalised" and
growing back until the area is fully healed. Repeat two or three times a
Leading gastroenterologists are calling for hypnotherapy to be used more
widely in treating irritable bowel syndrome. Images such a fast-flowing
river in the gut slowing down and soothing the bowel may be able to
significantly improve IBS symptoms, say researchers at King's College
London. In one study at Withington Hospital, 12 weeks of hypnotherapy helped
71 per cent of patients ease their IBS symptoms for five years after the
What to do: Sitting quietly, imagine your whole body becoming softer
and heavier, limb by limb. Visualise a soothing river flowing through your
gut. Imagine the river flow first at the "current speed" of your
bowel, then slow it down to the "imagined" speed needed for
symptoms to cease.
The simple act of relaxing before a medical procedure could bring a whole
range of benefits. In a study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York,
hypnosis-induced relaxation was given to 200 breast cancer patients who
needed a biopsy. After 15 minutes of hypnotherapy, which included
suggestions for relaxation and pleasant mental images, the women needed less
anaesthetic during the procedure. They also reported less pain, nausea,
fatigue and emotional distress afterwards.
What to do: Before a stressful event, spend 10 minutes consciously
relaxing each limb of your body, allowing each area to "melt" away
stress and to become heavier, calmer and more peaceful.
In a study at University College London, migraine sufferers reported a
decrease in the intensity of their headaches after being trained in guided
imagery, though electronic monitoring devices showed no change in migraine
What to do: Joanne Walters says: "Breathing deeply, imagine your
headache wash away as a stream of cool blue light or fluid runs through your
head, dispersing the pain and calming the whole area down."
Imagining that your immune system is strong may be all that you need to do to
increase your body's levels of natural killer (NK) cells – the ones that
kill viruses and cancer cells – according to Danish researchers. While it is
far from being a cancer treatment, cancer patients using daily imagery for a
year managed to increase the numbers of a range of immune cells.
What to do: Find an image for a strong immune system that you most
closely relate to – such as a coloured light pulsing in the area that needs
attention, or an army of fighting cells destroying an invader. Feel your
body as stronger and healthier as your immune system "wins".
A study in a neonatal intensive care unit in Holland found that women produced
more than twice as much milk when, on a daily basis, they imagined milk
flowing from their breasts and the baby's warm skin against theirs.
What to do: As in the study, imagine your milk flowing freely through
your nipples to your baby's mouth. There is as much milk as you need.
Vividly imagine the warmth and smell of the milk and how it feels in your
breast. Spend 10 minutes doing this exercise twice daily.
Anastasia Stephens is a medical herbalist and hypnotherapist at London's
Hale Clinic (020-7631 0156) and a member of the General Hypnotherapy
Standards Council. www.anastasiastephens.com