It’s all just a placebo effect


I’m currently reading a book called “Anatomy of an Illness” by Norman Cousins. The book is essentially about the patient taking responsibility for recovering from an illness. It’s based on Cousins’ own experience from recovering from a very serious condition. There is a huge emphasis on the placebo effect, which will be explained in a later post. But I just wanted to share with you two excerpts from the book that I think everyone should read…

“[from Dr. Zhivago] Your health is bound to be affected…if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just fiction; it’s part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space, and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.”

“It is doubtful whether the placebo- or any drug, for that matter- would get very far without a patient’s robust will to live. For the will to live is a window on the future. It opens the individual to such help as the outside world has to offer, and it connects that help to the body’s own capability for fighting disease. It enables the human body to make the most of itself. The placebo has a role to play in transforming he will to live from a poetical conception to a physical reality and a governing force.”

“When I asked Dr. Schweitzer how he accounted for the fact that anyone could possibly expect to become well after having been treated by a witch doctor, he said that I was asking him to divulge a secret that doctors have carried around inside them ever since Hippocrates. But I’ll tell you anyway… The witch doctor succeeds for the same reason all the rest of us succeed. Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. They come to us not knowing that truth. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.” The placebo is the doctor who resides within. 

This idea of placebo- using something innocuous, yet tangible and very real- to treat sickness and disease got me thinking about how the placebo effect is similar to a physical asana practice in yoga. Start with the real, physical and tangible (asana, pranayama) and then eventually move inward to what can’t be seen, but what you have the inherent power to do (dharana, dhyana) for ultimate self healing. My mind is turning, in a good way. To be continued. 

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