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Overall Health Starts in the Mind

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It’s such a simple question but one that can lead to an interesting philosophical debate. In alternative healthcare circles, it’s an important metaphor for the issues clients bring with them when they walk through the door.

“As a hypnotist, I believe that the mind not only creates healing, but in many instances, it is the mind that creates illness,” explains Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock, of Hawaii Hypnosis Center, in Honolulu. “The more emerging technology teaches us about the brain, the more we understand the critical role that it plays in everything from addiction and chronic pain to insomnia and anxiety.”

One of the most exciting developments in neuroscience research is the understanding of neuroplasticity. This is, simply, the human brain’s amazing ability to change.

Even until roughly a decade ago, people believed the brain was pretty much set by the time we were about 20 years old. Research now shows this vital organ continues to be able to adapt, change and learn throughout our lives.

One example of the brain’s amazing ability to rewire can be found in the emerging methods of stroke rehabilitation. In the past, patients with reduced movement on one side were taught to use the unaffected side of their body to perform daily tasks. Newer rehab models seek to limit the use of the functional side in order to retrain the brain to use the weakened side. Therapists will use mittens or restraints to encourage patients to develop new neural pathways in the brain for use of the weakened side.

“What we’re discovering about the brain is revolutionary,” Beverly says. “It is constantly learning and adapting. That means that the brain can learn new ways to deal with everyday challenges, like addiction and chronic pain.”

Addiction treatment models have long suggested that a person is “always an addict.” Physicians in the past would tell chronic pain clients that they would “have to learn to live with it.” “That’s just not true anymore,” Beverly explains. “Even the older models of symptom management through medication are being more closely examined as our knowledge of the brain’s ability to rewire itself continues to expand.”

The previous question of the chicken or the egg leads to the approach that differentiates hypnotists from traditional mental health practices.

“A traditional approach suggests that brain chemistry imbalances lead to problems ranging from depression to trouble focusing in school,” Beverly says. “But what if the brain was actually creating the chemical imbalance due to the misapplication of something that it learned? Wouldn’t it be possible to relearn how to handle the triggers? We believe that in many cases it is possible to change the way the brain is experiencing emotions and then the response to feelings of sadness, anger, boredom and fear.”

One Hawaii Hypnosis Center client experienced debilitating panic attacks when even simply thinking about flying. The focus of the hypnosis work was twofold. First, hypnosis was used to uncover the source of the anxious feelings, which was not even related to a flight experience. Secondly, the client learned new ways to deal with the fear so that new response pathways in the brain could develop. When the old, fear-inducing pathways were no longer used and reinforced, they began to give way to new responses.

“That client was not only able to fly but was able to do so without having to be sedated,” Beverly says. “That made a huge difference in the quality of his travel experience.”

Examples of neuroplasticity in the brain exist worldwide. Nomadic tribal islanders, known as the Mawken, on the Burmese peninsula spend most of their lives on fishing boats. They have developed the ability to see clearly underwater by constricting the shape of the pupils and lenses in their eyes. Researchers studying this found that the tribal members’ brains had developed this clearer underwater vision method as an adaptation to their water-based environment.

Another example is found in a study of the brain of cab drivers and bus drivers in London. The hippocampus—a part of the brain responsible for navigation—was found to be larger and more developed in cab drivers than in bus drivers. This was shown to be due to the fact that cab drivers are constantly navigating, while bus drivers are limited to a set of unchanging bus routes. As the cab drivers navigate the city, their brains are learning, changing and growing.

What we know about the human brain continues to expand on an almost daily basis. Maybe the next brain question we ask is: Is there anything it cannot do?

Randy Hampton is a writer, social scientist, hypnotist and blogger living in Honolulu.  To learn more about Randy, visit, HawaiiHypnosisCenter.com

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