By James P. Nicolai, MD Medical Director of the Andrew Weil, MD, Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval Spa and Resort Author of Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living
I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Oz about the mysterious power of spontaneous healing. How does a mother of three with late stage lymphoma, sent home to die with no treatment, find herself in complete remission two years later? Most doctors relegate these stories to the corner and categorize them as rare, unknown obscurities. Dr. Jeff Rediger and I are fascinated by them and want to know more.
What’s Going On Here?
Jeff Rediger is a psychiatrist and medical director at McLean Hospital in Boston, where he also serves as instructor at Harvard Medical School and is founder of the Center for Psychological & Spiritual Development in Cambridge.
His passion lies in studying cases of spontaneous healing, while documenting them with medical and factual evidence. In one of our conversations, Dr. Rediger relays an amazing story of an individual with multiple myeloma, who went into an MRI machine with a significantly large tumor of the spine. He had a profound, unexplainable healing experience during the procedure, and came out of it with no tumor – only healed bone in its place.
Are You Kidding Me? How Does This Happen?
I know that the body has a healing system – that it can repair and regenerate itself. I also know that the body wants to be healthy – that it wants to come back to a state of balance, where all systems operate efficiently.
Unfortunately, our conscious mind has little to do with this process; in fact it is more likely to get in the way of things – especially with how fast our mental chatter is running these days. The random thoughts and feelings that invade our conscious mind usually run counter to our healing system, rather than nurturing or strengthening it. In order to heal ourselves, we need to get out of our heads and focus on the language of our hearts.
The Language of the Heart
As I was doing research on spontaneous healing, I interviewed a 72-year-old woman with an amazing story. Maria Elena Cairo was married at the age of 20 in the heart of Mexico. She had three kids by the time she was 25. Her marriage was toxic and abusive. She felt trapped and couldn’t get out. Divorce in the 1950s in Mexico did not happen. When she was 26, she was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic cervical cancer. Medical treatment was too expensive and not an option. She received no chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
The turning point came when her mother suddenly died, and she realized that at any moment in time, the lives of those important to her could be gone. It made her think about her life differently, including the life she had with her three kids.
Suddenly, she wanted to be alive in every sense of the word. Her cancer was a symbol for change, and so she did, changing everything in her life. She left her husband, becoming a social outcast in her family, and eventually moving her children to Arizona. She found a yoga teacher, changed her diet and became an energy healer, practicing reiki and other touch therapies. As she says, “As I opened my heart, the answers came.”
Healing came when she opened her heart and began to listen. She is now 72 years old, cancer-free, and continues her work helping others to do the same.
The language of the heart is fascinating. I’ve written about this in my book, Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living. First of all, we’ve discovered that the heart has its own independent nervous system – a brain with at least 40,000 neurons – that sends more signals upward than the brain sends downward. It can literally tell the brain what to do. Not only does it do this through nerve signals, the heart also talks to the brain and body via rhythms and energy. The drumbeat of the heart can synchronize biological systems when it is beating rhythmically.
We’ve also discovered that the heart generates an electromagnetic field that permeates every cell in the body and also radiates outwardly away from the body in all directions into the space around us. It can be measured with present-day technology outwards of about eight feet. This field communicates with the brain and the rest of the body, but evidence also suggests that this energetic information contained in the heart’s field can also be detected by the people around us.
We Can Feel Each Other’s Hearts
We’ve discovered that heart rate variability (HRV), the dynamic, beat-to-beat changes in heart rhythms, is a window into the optimum state we call Healing mode. HRV can demonstrate a look or pattern that is different when we are functioning in this peak state – living in our hearts – as opposed to when we are in our heads or reacting poorly to the stress in our lives.
Emotion is key here: Negative emotions or just having too much mental chatter produces a random, chaotic, jerky pattern to HRV. However, when we are able to shift focus out of our heads and into our hearts, breathing more rhythmically and accessing positive emotion, our HRV pattern appears more ordered, fluid and harmonic. It looks like a wave, flowing in sync, rhythmically up and down.
I teach guests at Miraval how to access this state in three simple steps:
- Practice Heart Focus by shifting your attention to the area around your heart. Do this with your senses, touching your chest, feeling the warmth of your hand there; say the word “heart” and notice what it feels like; invite a heart-felt image or color to come to your mind’s eye.
- Practice Heart Breathing as you let your breath get fuller, deeper and more rhythmically even. Count four-in and four-out, imagining a wave of warmth and compassion coming into the center of your chest.
- Create and Sustain a Heart Feeling by accessing a feeling of gratitude or appreciation for someone or something in your life. Heart feelings can also include the positive feelings you’ve had when you are living true to yourself or accomplishing something important, or the sense of satisfaction when you know you’ve done something meaningful for yourself or others. Breathe this feeling into the center of your chest, specifically the area around your heart.
Do this heart-centered meditation for five minutes as a practice. Try it anytime you feel you need a state of calm and balance as a way to prepare for something important or to repair from a stressful event.
Getting out of your head and into your heart is a fantastic skill to exercise in the midst of real world stress. When we access our hearts, we open the door to the healing response, letting it shift us out of chaos and into a state of balance and harmony.
Getting to the heart of the matter is where Healing Mode lives.