Week 6: Guided Visualization, A Fertility Mind-Body Tool

How We Can Proactively Use Our Brains as Tools for the Health and Balance of our Bodies

Over the last two weeks, we talked about the influence our emotions and negative thought patterns have on the delicate balance of our endocrine – or hormonal system – as well as our overall health. As Bernie Siegel M.D. discusses it, changing our thought patterns is one essential “tool in our mind-body toolkit.” The other tool is our visual capability, the topic of this week’s How Einstein Would Get Pregnant series. I’ll first cover the basics of exactly what we mean by visualization, how this therapy is used in lots of areas of medicine today, and how we can apply this tool to fertility and overall well-being.

Guided visualization, also called guided imagery or even hypnotherapy, is the act of using the brain’s imagination and the brain’s “seeing ability” to proactively relax, reduce the effects of depression and anxiety – and even bring about real physiological changes for improving health, well-being – and of course fertility.

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The mind and the body are constantly chatting back and forth. 99.9% of the time this is something that is done completely on autopilot. Your brain tells your body to breath in oxygen. Your brain motivates and supports your immune system to attack invading illnesses. Your mouth waters when you visualize something very juicy to eat. It has been shown that our thoughts work in images or pictures and it is the way our mind and body communicate with each other.

So is it possible to consciously direct the functions of the body? According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a powerful mind-body connection is activated when you turn the power of the cerebral cortex inward – or using the mind’s eye visualization ability. In layman’s term – the body doesn’t know the difference between something that you are only visualizing versus what you are actually experiencing. This was proven when Olympic athletes were connected to EKG machines and imagined running through their athletic performance with their eyes closed. The exact same muscles fired as when they actually performed their event. If the muscles fired by only visualizing the body running and moving, then what else can we direct the body to do using our mind’s eye?

Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion, comments in her book that she was able to consciously direct the release of endorphins running through her body by visualizing her hypothalamus releasing endorphins. Her knowledge of the physical aspects of her body allowed her to perform this easily and directly. She also was a pioneer in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology – or the study of the mind-brain-body connection and identifying how molecules of our emotions are literally translated throughout the body in complex feedback loop mechanisms.

So what is the possibility of turning this visual capability inward and using it to “see” our reproductive cycle and fertility being balanced, healthy and even seeing the sperm and the egg meet right after ovulation? Granted we only have our anecdotal stories at this point (no formal study of our programs have been completed) but what we hear truly amazes us.   From women reporting restoration of ovulation (see Kate’s review of our programs here), feeling empowered and in control even through a very stressful IVF cycle and – yes – to becoming pregnant (one woman finally got pregnant after six years of trying to conceive the first month she used our Natural Cycle program).

We believe it’s possible based on what has been studied using guided visualization and therapy in other areas of medicine.   Let’s explore some of those studies now.

The Scientific Studies Surrounding Guided Visualization

There have been studies completed using guided visualization in a broad range of health-related problems including cancer, asthma and bronchitis, depression – as well as women’s health including menstrual cycle lengthening and breast milk production (we have listed all of these studies and summarized them in this table as well).

In all of these studies, two major results keep showing up:  patients using guided visualization tend to feel better from a physiological stand-point, and they have a physical response as well.  My theory on the improved feelings of well-being is that we always feel better when we feel in greater control over our situation and body, which guided visualization helps one accomplish.

The physical response I believe stems from the clear communication on a cellular level between our minds and bodies as well as the fact that our body doesn’t necessarily know what it is physically doing versus what we are just imaging.  According to Dr. Bernie Siegel, this allows our thoughts to “trick” the body.  The studies show patients with terminal cancer living twice as long as those not using these techniques, improving white blood cells and immune response and even improving breast milk supply and lengthening menstrual cycles and reducing symptoms of PMS.  Incredible stuff!

One note of caution, however. We are not scientists or medical professionals, so we have no way of basing whether or not these studies have received scientific credit from the community at large. Nor do we represent that this list encompasses all of the studies completed.

Applying to Fertility

I’ll never forget standing in my kitchen – with a great deal of knowledge about guided visualization because of my fascination with the subject – and thinking about helping my friend Stephanie.  After about six months of trying, she was having no luck and having increasingly emotional worry and stress. After having gone through my secondary infertility issues, I was stirred to help her on almost a primal level.

The fact that women who are TTCing literally start to define themselves by the current cycle day ….and coupled that with the fact that every single day our bodies are changing to gear up for ovulation, fertilization and implantation – that we could have a visualization and relaxation session geared for every single day of the cycle.  My “a-ha” moment!

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Bob Ellal November 5, 2010, 10:43 am

    Excellent article. I used both meditation and visualization during my four bouts of supposedly terminal lymphoma in the early nineties. Meditation in the form of qigong–Chinese internal energy exercises. And visualization to “encourage” my body’s immune system to rise to the challenge of eliminating cancer cells. I can’t say that these techniques destroyed the cancer–the chemotherapy eventually did. But engaging the mind/body connection kept me strong throughout the ordeal, reinforced my will to survive, and importantly–took me out of the “fight-or-flight” syndrome that pumps adrenal hormones into the body that interfere with the body’s healing mechanisms. And the deep abdominal breathing techniques also “charged” my lymphatic system–a vital part of the immune system–to operate more efficiently–as this system depends on breathing and muscular action to pump.

    I’d recommend both visualization and meditation–engaging the mind, then getting “behind” it–to anyone confronting any health crisis.

    Regards,

    Bob Ellal

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