What role does our brain play –other than to enforce discipline—when we decide to lose weight and build muscle? It turns out that our thoughts and beliefs can exert a profound ‘mind-over-matter’ transformative role based on nothing more than accessing our imagination.
A case in point involves a British woman who lost 56 pounds last year after five sessions with a hypnotist who convinced her to believe that she had undergone gastric stomach band surgery.
These hypnotic sessions invoking surgery were so vivid for 35-year-old Marion Corns that she declared in an interview with The Mirror newspaper: “Bizarrely, I can remember the clink of the surgeon’s knife and the smell of anaesthetic.”
Feeling certain that her stomach had tightened, she no longer had much of an appetite and as a result, lost an average of three pounds a week while avoiding any of the side effects that often accompany real gastric bands.
Our second piece of evidence about the mind’s impact on the body comes from a study published in the North American Journal of Psychology in 2007 titled “Mind Over Matter: Mental Training Increases Physical Strength,” by Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing.
Thirty male university athletes were randomly assigned to one of three groups: either a control group which did no exercise, or a group which actually did the hip flexor exercise, or a third group which only did visualization exercises imagining themselves to have physically done the hip flexor exercise.
After two weeks, those who did daily physical training had increased their hip strength by 28% compared to no increase in strength for the control group. But what seems astounding is that the visualization group also increased their strength by an average of 24%, almost equal to the group that really exercised. Both the mental and physical training groups also produced similar decreases in systolic blood pressure and heart rate as measured after the study.
These results demonstrating the power of the mind to transform the body support the findings from other studies, such as one done in 2004 (Ranganathan, et. al.) that focused on the little finger abductor muscles; the mental visualization group increased its strength by 40% above baseline in this study, almost comparable to the strength increase measured for the group that actually did finger exercises.
How far to fitness and good health can our beliefs take us?
The housekeeping staff of a major hotel was told by Harvard University researchers in 2007 that the exercise they got every day cleaning hotel rooms endowed them with superior fitness. A month later, as a group, these housekeepers had lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, their body mass index, and improved other fitness measurements, all without doing anything other than their normal routine. Their belief about being fit, based on programming from ‘authority figures,’ had set in motion changes in their body chemistry.
Previous studies in 1977 (Willard), 1984 (Barber), and 1992 (Ewin) showed how hypnosis and visualization can be used to disintegrate warts and even enlarge a woman’s breasts. So we know that the range of physical effects that can be triggered by thoughts and beliefs encompass much more than what placebo studies have thus far insinuated or proven.
What more remains to be discovered?
We are probably at the threshold of finding ways to expand ever wider the range of physical transformations that can be stimulated by our thoughts alone. This may revolutionize our understanding of aging and how to slow it, if not reverse it, using the synergy of placebo power, beliefs, visualizations, and the power of collective imagination to shape consensus reality.