Toni had a recurrence of her Hodgkin’s disease, a type of cancer that affects the blood and lymph nodes. Hodgkin’s tends to lower your hemoglobin, or red blood cells, and Toni was in the hospital with a fever and anemia. Her hemoglobin was dangerously low. A transfusion was ordered. No stranger to the power of the mind to influence the body, she asked her physician if she could hold off for a couple of hours and take the test again. Then she called a couple of natural healers who work over the phone and, with their guidance, envisioned rich, healthy blood cells traveling throughout her circulatory system. Sure enough, when the test was repeated, it showed her hemoglobin levels had jumped upward. In fact, she had as many red blood cells as if she had received the recommended transfusion of a unit of blood. When Toni shared this story with me, I wasn’t surprised. I thought about how when I went to medical school, we were trained to see health mechanistically, without regard to the power of the mind to affect our health. The influence of emotions and thoughts on our physical bodies is known as the placebo effect. This powerful effect is considered at best a medical curiosity and at worst a phenomenon that makes it difficult to test the efficacy of new pharmaceutical drugs. I have learned through decades of experience with patients, as well as countless scientific studies, that the placebo effect is powerful physical medicine. It can be harnessed consciously to create better health. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?
“Body, Heal Thyself”
As children, we’re fascinated by our bodies’ ability to heal a scraped knee or broken bone. But as adults, we often forget about the body’s remarkable capacity for self-repair. The key to this repair is understanding there is a balance between immunity and pathogens. None of us is completely free of threats to our health. Every body has cancerous cells in it along with microorganisms that could cause illness if not kept in check. Everyone’s body has manmade toxins in the bloodstream and organs. There’s no way to live a perfectly clean life, free of all pathogens. In fact, the fear of pathogens making you sick will depress your immune system, making it more likely that you will get sick. The very origins of Western medicine are rooted in the study of pathology: the paradigm of war and fighting invaders. Health and those things that contribute to it are almost never studied or taught. So starting in utero we are programmed to think of our bodies and our environments as war zones requiring an armamentarium of pills and surgery to wage war on germs and on the body itself. We have largely overlooked the power of our immune systems and our innate ability to boost our immunity. The medical mind-set—and the fear that drives it—has to go. It’s time to reclaim the wisdom and power of the healer within. There’s no doubt that Western medicine can be very useful in addressing certain conditions that are acute. When you fall off a ladder and break your arm or get a concussion, of course you want to go to an emergency room for assistance. I’m a huge fan of Western medicine and its remarkable ability to replace a worn-out hip or address acute trauma. When an illness is life threatening, you want to be able to access the best medical tests and treatments available. Most ailments aren’t simply caused by a virus or single physical agent.
Diseases and disorders are part of nature’s way. Illness can give us that all-important nudge to look inward and deal with the emotions we’ve been avoiding for a lifetime. Years ago, Bernie Siegel, M.D., with whom I served as co-president of the American Holistic Medical Association, said, “The fundamental problem that most patients face is the inability to love themselves.” This is so true—and not just for patients but for all of us. Our challenge is to learn to love ourselves just as Spirit does: unconditionally. We should love ourselves not because of some achievement or service we provide to others, but simply because we are precious beings. This is the primary message that those who have passed over in death and then returned have to share. We are loved and appreciated more than we can ever know. And we can learn to care for ourselves from a loving standpoint—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually—as we would a precious child. Then our vitality is automatically boosted. Women have been taught to be perfectionists, constantly on the go, doing for others without stopping to rest until it’s absolutely necessary. Too often, we treat food as something to grab on the run. And we spend many hours sitting as we drive, work on computers, and so on. Exercise can seem like just another item to fit onto an overcrowded To Do list. We exhaust our bodies and our spirits trying to pack in all that we think we’re supposed to do. But our bodies were never meant to sit for prolonged periods. Nor were we designed for nutrient-poor fast food purchased at a drive-through window and eaten in quick bites at red lights. Sleep and rest are essential, as Arianna Huffington so powerfully demonstrates in her book Thrive (Harmony, 2014). Having a good night’s sleep solves most of my problems within a night or two because it boosts vitality, as does releasing any emotions and beliefs that restrict you from expressing your divine, woma nature. And continual daily movement—as simple as standing up and then sitting down at your computer or while watching TV—about 32 times per day—will boost your immunity and put the health-giving effects of gravity to work for you!
Your immune system will naturally have highs and lows. The lymphocytes, or white blood cells, can be observed in whorls in the walls of the uterus waxing and waning with the menstrual cycle, just as the moon does. Consequently, your immunity is low just before your period, which is why you might notice that you’re more prone to colds, migraines, and other ailments during those days just before and at the beginning of your period—if you’re still menstruating, that is. This monthly dip in immunity tends to disappear after menopause. To boost immunity, you have to do extra self-nourishing—which is why the menstrual cycle is such a powerful natural tool for learning the art of self-care. Anything less than loving, nurturing care for yourself will often result in cramps and PMS. The incredible inner healer in each of us is empowered by the ultimate healer: Divine Love (God). Working with this force, allowing it to fuel our lives, is the key to healing our unhealed wounds. Asking Divine Love to take away our anger, sadness, and resentment over unhealed traumas of the past is the answer. It’s only when we’re awakened to our exquisite sensitivity and empathetic nature that we can acknowledge the need to heal. Pain in all its many forms—whether emotional or physical—is actually a most powerful path to Divine Love. Only a direct connection with the Divine will heal us permanently. The ultimate healer, Divine Love, is an inner gardener of sorts. She tends to the plants without worrying that weeds will overtake her seedlings and block their sunlight. She prepares for new growth. She’s not a warrior out to battle a disease or virus and stomp it out with the help of a well-oiled medical army of procedures and pills. She’s a healer who knows the power of the body’s ability to generate and regenerate healthy cells, tissues, organs, and biological systems, and we can turn to her for help instead of just expecting a physician to heal us. Doctors can aid us in healing, but it’s the body and the Divine who do the work. Speaking of the body, a woman has to let go of the ingrained belief that her body is unclean, ugly, or flawed. We’ve been taught that the experience of the Divine is transcendent and the body is unclean and impure: it poops, pees, and bleeds. But while we’ve been taught to see our bodies as ugly, it’s through the body that we discover our divine nature. We should marvel at how beautifully designed our bodies and their systems are, and enjoy the gift of having an inner healer—the ability to boost our immunity, cleanse toxins, and repair our cells. We reflect Mother Earth’s ability to recycle and regenerate, reabsorbing the hormones we don’t need after they have served their purpose, pruning away what’s no longer needed, and creating new cells and neural networks in the brain. The body is not uncivilized and in need of taming, but the vessel for our creative life force and the temple in which we’re designed to live heaven on earth. When we recognize that we came here to live heaven on earth, we start to realize that our bodies are the only place in which we can do this. We stop denying our needs, start releasing the old emotional and physical toxins that have clogged up our energy centres, reclaim our energy and vitality, and awaken our inner healer. That’s when the real magic happens, from reinventing our lives to rebooting our health.
More Than Just a Prescription
My understanding of our ability to access the healer within evolved over the course of several years. In medical school, I had learned to take a case history, diagnose, identify an appropriate intervention, give advice and perhaps a prescription, and send the patient on her way with the expectation that she would do the right thing for her health. I came to realize that helping women to get healthy involved much more than some educating and a prescription. In the 1980s, women would flock to my clinic because I had a reputation for taking their PMS symptoms seriously, which wasn’t the case with many ob/gyns back then. I would prescribe a regimen of reducing stress; avoiding caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and tobacco; and taking B vitamins, natural progesterone, and other supplements. Soon after following my advice, my patients would report that their symptoms had disappeared. But three months later, many were back where they had started. They had let the substances they were supposed to avoid creep back into their lives while their daily stresses remained the same. Needless to say, their symptoms also returned. Why didn’t my patients just continue to follow the doctor’s orders? I didn’t know how to motivate my patients to make the lifestyle changes permanent. As I talked to my patients, however, I began to see common patterns of childhood traumas, sexual abuse, memories of abuse, unaddressed marital problems, and all sorts of hidden emotional issues that rose to the surface during those days before their menstrual periods. I began to make the correlation between unresolved trauma and PMS symptoms. That’s when I realized that the menstrual cycle actually provided a powerful monthly opportunity for deep healing. At that point, I began to question why it was that so many women suffered as part of a perfectly natural biological cycle that followed the 28-day cycle of the moon. Why would the Creator make women this way? Over time, I realized that I, too, was emotionally sensitive and deeply in touch with my spirit premenstrually and during the first couple of days of my period. I started to see that not only was my experience common, it was a gift, an opportunity to reboot my life on all levels. Think of it this way: Just before and during your period, the tide is out. And everything on the bottom that you don’t want to see will be revealed. Your true needs—for rest, for nourishing food, for pleasure, for nurturance, and more—are signalled by the depth of your emotions. This isn’t a bad thing. Experiencing anger, sadness, fear, or jealousy is a biologically supported opportunity to transform yourself. Use your emotions as a guidance system that directs you to your true needs. Learn the lessons your feelings have to teach you.
As I was educating myself about how women have experienced menstruation in various places in the world throughout history, I read that certain Native American tribes relied on the intuitive knowledge of menstruating women to guide the tribe. It occurred to me that a woman who is not struggling with unhealed abuse or trauma could spend that sensitive time just before and during her period in a state of restoration and replenishment—just like the womb itself. She could become deeply in touch with the voice of her soul. Latham Thomas, the author of Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy (Hay House, 2012), is a modern yoga teacher and life coach who lives this wisdom in the hustle and bustle of New York City. Every month, she books time off during her periods and chooses to use those days to rejuvenate. Like indigenous women who moved into a separate tent for the days when they were menstruating, she is recognizing the sacred nature of this time. In addition, she realizes that this consciously applied self-care ritual provides her with more than enough energy and stamina to make up for any perceived loss of time. Her impressive monthly self-care is all the more stunning given how difficult it is for most of us to unplug at any time—especially in this age of information overload! According to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, we human beings create as much information in two days as we did from the dawn of civilization up through 2003. Despite the revolution in information technology, our cyclic nature has remained the same for millennia. We are still strongly connected with the tides and the moon. Our deep emotional needs don’t disappear just because our To Do lists have grown much longer. To achieve transformation, a woman has to get in touch with the emotions that lie hidden below the surface of her awareness. She needs to understand that each and every emotion signals a genuine need. She needs to rest and receive support and listen to her wise inner healer that is urging her to make changes in her life. When we find the courage to do this, we experience the health and well-being that are our birth rights as Smart women.
Your Emotional Guidance System
The inner healer knows that emotions are a potent guidance system to what healer Mercedes Kirkel calls our “divine attributes.” The heavier, darker emotions such as grief and anger have to be expressed and transformed so we can flourish. We experience this healing release through tears, movement, and sound. The matriarchal cultures of old understood the power of dance and song to heal the tribe and reconnect the community to the life force itself. As they danced, sang, or chanted, people experienced the full range of emotions from joy to sorrow. As the tears flowed, anger and grief left the body and returned to the sacred Source. Author Rita Schiano wrote, “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.” These so-called “negative” emotions are powerful indicators of unmet needs, and those needs are part of our humanity. For most of us, this is a revelation. We all have needs for connection, intimacy, validation, safety, love, belonging, and rest, to name just a few. But most of us have been led to believe that we should somehow sublimate our needs to the needs of others. When we do this, our emotions have to shout louder and louder—often through physical symptoms—in order to get our attention. The next time you feel anger or resentment, just sit with the feeling—do not blame yourself or anyone else for it. Don’t kill the “messenger.” Just stay with what you are feeling so you can discover its message for you. Then ask yourself, “What is it that I need right now that I don’t have?” Then name the need. Here’s an example: You’re in a hurry and someone pulls ahead of you into a parking spot you were waiting for. In that moment, you feel anger or frustration. You take a moment and simply allow the feeling of that to wash over you. You feel the emotion fully, without trying to change it. Then you say to yourself, “What do I need?” The answer might be one of the following: More leisure time so I’m not always in a hurry. Respect from the other driver. More sleep—so I don’t feel so frazzled all the time. Simply acknowledging the need is the first step toward getting that need met.
Dr. Mario Martinez also points out the value of righteous anger—the kind that flares up when the innocence of someone around us, or our own innocence, is threatened. If someone is nasty to a waitress who is serving you, for example, it’s perfectly healthy to express how you feel about this rather than remaining silent. We must allow ourselves to feel our righteous anger when appropriate and take some kind of healthy action that is suitable to the situation. Sometimes that might mean waiting till we get home to blow off some steam. Affirm that you have the power to get that need met—either through another person or through your connection with the Divine. By listening to the messages your emotions bring you, and honouring them, you can experience ageless living rather than be weighed down by old resentments and grief that will affect you at a cellular level. You can bring in joy, generate nitric oxide, and tap the wisdom of your inner healer to repair your body, mind, and spirit.
How The Inner Healer Works
Most of us share a culturally supported belief that disease and infirmity are inevitable. They are normal in our culture, yes. The most common chronic degenerative diseases today—heart disease, arthritis, cancer, dementia, and diabetes—start with chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels, combined with a diet high in sugar that causes uneven blood sugar levels, create insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and oxidation, which are the root causes of all chronic degenerative disease. If inflammation isn’t checked, it causes tissue damage in the lining of the blood vessels. Those damaged blood vessels then attract platelets that stick together and adhere to the walls of the vessels as plaques. The result is hardening of the arteries—and this happens in the brain too. Oxidation causes cellular damage, particularly to the mitochondria, which are the power centres of the cells. The vast majority of cancers also develop over time and in stages. In a healthy body, cells replicate and then die so that they can be replaced by newer, younger cells that are less prone to mutations. One of the important effects of cell death, or apoptosis, is to cause mutated cells to die before they can replicate and begin to form tumours. Cell death is triggered by the mitochondria. If a cell’s DNA has been damaged by a mutation (in most cases, more than one mutation), that cell’s mitochondria may not do their job properly. The damaged cell continues to live and reproduce, fed by promoters such as excess oestrogen, trans fats, and excess blood sugar. The cluster of mutated cells that results has long been referred to as a carcinoma in situ, meaning cancer (carcinoma) in a specific limited location (in situ). It also means that the microscopic cancer has not invaded the surrounding tissue. Carcinoma in situ is commonly called stage 0 cancer—an unfortunate name that has led thousands of people to have treatments they didn’t need.
That’s because up until recently, we did not understand the biology of this type of cell. Researcher H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., an expert on cancer screening, calls these kinds of clusters things we will die with but not from. In the vast majority of cases, the immune system simply prevents abnormal cells from growing any further. Unfortunately, it is this indolent, benign kind of change that is most often picked up on medical screening tests. And it is also true that when abnormal cells are not destroyed by the immune system, if a network of blood vessels forms to supply them with nutrients, they can become a cancer that is invasive. Cells may then break off and travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body, which is known as metastasis. Cancers are staged according to how far they have metastasized in the body, with stage 4 being the most invasive and widespread. Nearly all cancer deaths occur at this stage. Now let’s put things into perspective. The conventional approach to cancer is “early diagnosis” because of the belief that removing a cancer through surgery, radiation, or drugs when it is at its earliest stages is the best way to cure it. Unfortunately, this approach is far from benign. Consider that each of us makes cancer cells every day, but we never know it because our bodies heal themselves. A study published in the November 2008 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine followed more than 200,000 Norwegian women between the ages of 50 and 64 for two consecutive years. Half received regular mammograms and breast exams while the other half had no regular screening. The women who underwent screening had 22 percent more breast cancer than the unscreened group.
The researchers concluded that the women who weren’t screened probably had the same number of cancers, but their bodies had corrected the abnormalities on their own. What happens when we become too aggressive in trying to “fix” conditions that our bodies might heal naturally? Since mass mammography screening was started in 1980, 1.3 million women have been diagnosed with so-called breast cancer that was really just ductal carcinoma in situ, which would never have become clinically evident. Far too many women have been diagnosed and then over treated with bilateral mastectomies, radiation, or pharmaceutical drugs to eradicate cancer. Seventy thousand women were over diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 alone. Though some women obviously benefitted from earlier diagnosis, the vast majority did not. We all know women who have died of breast cancer, so it feels like a very real threat to our health. Even so, most women overestimate their risk of dying from the disease. Sixty to 80 percent of breast cancer cases occur in post menopause, are not aggressive, and do not metastasize. So while breast cancer can occur in younger women or be aggressive, neither of these scenarios is the most common. It’s easy to forget this when you walk by the local park during breast cancer awareness month and see a field of pink cut-outs of women representing deaths from breast cancer, a display designed to scare you into getting a mammogram.
Education and awareness about any disease can distort our perceptions of risk and generate a lot of unnecessary fear. If we’re going to advocate awareness, here’s what to be aware of at all times: Your immune system is designed to kick into gear and fight any pathogens or germs that enter the system. As you make choices that strengthen your immune system—such as finding things to feel joyful about—it becomes better able to surround, weaken, and kill pathogens. The tools of Western medicine should be used when appropriate, but not as the first and only way of maintaining health and fostering agelessness. A physician can help you monitor symptoms of imbalances and pay attention to signs that you need to do more to enhance your health, but it’s the Creator working within you that heals. Real health comes from Divine Love and infuses your body with vitality.
Seventy-five percent of people over 65 are on medications, and on average, they’re taking five different drugs. Most of these medications aren’t necessary. The “tribe” I hang with vibrates in another reality entirely. I’ve heard my friend and colleague Gladys McGarey, M.D., say, “Ninety-three and prescription-free.” She’s still actively involved in changing the culture of medicine by lobbying in Washington and traveling around the world improving maternal and fatal health. Our unthinking acceptance of concepts like “prescription drugs for seniors” points to a mentality that drives people to see aging as an inevitable process of deterioration and decline. If you do have chronic health issues that need to be addressed, you may benefit from medications that control symptoms and, in some cases, halt processes such as inflammation or control conditions like high blood pressure. But do yourself a favour. When you take your medication each day, affirm your ability to be whole and healthy and well. It’s entirely possible that your need for the pill will just go away on its own. In the meantime, be grateful for the availability of a medication that is helpful!
Although Western medicine is too focused on medications and surgery, there is some good news on the medical front. Improvements include team treatment, such as ob/gyns now assembling obstetrics teams that include different types of medical professionals. Kaiser encourages group appointments for diabetics and other groups who can swap recipes and form wellness circles, whether in person or online. Medical schools are teaching new doctors about inflammation and the disease process. And ob/gyns are finally questioning the high rate of C-sections and labour inductions, which have doubled the rate of maternal death over the past 30 years. Labour inductions have also contributed to the birth of far too many premature babies—simply because we’re so intervention driven! Pregnancy serves as a good metaphor: the body has its own timing and we have to stop aggressively intervening to try to control it. As more patients and healers recognize this truth, we’ll see more changes in our health care systems—but don’t hold your breath waiting. Access your own healing power now. It’s right there waiting for you.
Don't Fear Your Genes!
Genes are a blueprint, not a destiny. It concerns me that so many women have been influenced to have unnecessary drastic surgery because of fears of their genes betraying them. We now have women undergoing a voluntary double mastectomy not only after breast cancer but also, sometimes, just out of fear that they might get breast cancer because they carry a gene mutation that might put them at high risk. What the media tends to ignore outright is the role of epigenetics, or gene expression, in disease. Scientists now know that our DNA contains not only coding in the form of genes, but also some of the triggers that turn on certain genes at certain times to specific degrees. We have more control over epigenetics than most believe. When the Human Genome Project began in the 1990s, researchers believed they would identify more than 120,000 genes. To their surprise, they found we have only 25,000—fewer than can be found in an ear of corn or a fruit fly. It’s not the genes, but the expression of the genes that determines the vast majority of our experiences. The science of epigenetics is still in its infancy, but we know that gene expression is strongly influenced by beliefs and emotions as well as by lifestyle choices. The so-called “junk” DNA, which scientists first believed was unnecessary duplicate coding, may be the key to understanding gene expression—and learning how to influence it. The fact that we initially assumed that this important part of our DNA must be “junk,” just because we didn’t see a purpose to it, says a lot about how closed-minded we can be about the incredible systems in the human body.
Scientists know your DNA reflects the genetic legacy of your parents, their parents, and your ancestors. It’s possible that it also reflects their emotional experiences. As researchers learn more about our DNA, maybe we’ll find that our cells have encoded the traumas of our ancestors. Experiments in mice have shown that aversion to certain smells is passed down to the offspring after the parental mice were trained to avoid a certain smell by being shocked every time they smelled it. While we know that a family history of heart disease may mean close relatives share genes and genetic markers, if we look back, we can often see in family stories hearts that are broken, conflicted, and prevented from loving fully. In my family, people tend to die of heart disease prematurely. My maternal grandmother died of a heart attack at 68. But my mother, who is nearly 90, says, “That has nothing to do with me.” She is not living under the emotional constrictions that her mother did, and she’s living a healthy, active life. If she has a “bad gene” for heart disease, she hasn’t expressed it yet and may never do so. Energies outside of our bodies affect our health as well. None of us is an island, and we are affected by the beliefs of our families, friends, and cultures. You may also find yourself taking on the emotions of others empathically, which will affect your stress levels. Have you ever walked away from a conversation or even a phone call feeling as though you could lie down and fall asleep? That’s because that person was, literally, draining your life force. Dr. Mario Martinez points out that our experience of our health is also very much dependent upon the beliefs held within our culture. Migraines are one example; they’re perceived and treated differently in different countries. In France, they are seen as related to the liver. In England, they are considered digestive. And in the U.S., they’re thought to be neurovascular. Consequently, the treatments differ from country to country.
Radiation and pollution are just two external forces that influence what happens in our bodies and which genes are expressed. Radiation causes DNA damage that can lead to cancer unless the process of cellular damage is quelled. Thankfully, sunlight—which produces radiation—also helps your body generate vitamin D, a vital nutrient for good health. In fact, experts estimate that having optimal levels of vitamin D in the body cuts your risk of cancer in half! The fact that you have a gene for a particular disease doesn’t mean the gene will express. It’s estimated that 80 percent of all illnesses begin in the mind. If you like a garden metaphor, you can think of Spirit as the wind, rain, and sun. The mind plants the seeds. The body is the garden. Are you going to plant fear or are you going to plant faith and water it with a positive mind-set and good health habits? When you choose to take care of yourself not just by focusing on the physical health of a particular organ or system but by relaxing into your oneness with the Creator—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—you are influencing your genes’ expression. Love and live with a fullness of heart, free of any fear of what might be encoded in your DNA.