Healing Cancer: NLP Meets Chi Kung
Dr Richard Bolstad & Margot Hamblett 2000. Edited: Richard Bolstad 2014
Part A: A Research Based Approach To Supporting Mind-Body Health in Clients With Cancer
Successes and Failures in Healing
We do not claim to heal or cure illnesses. We have a strong personal interest in assisting and supporting people who are healing from cancer. Like most NLP based health practitioners, we have seen clients recover from cancer while using NLP processes, and we have also seen clients die from cancer while using the processes. However we know that cancer can be healed using the mind-body's own processes, and people can heal in predictable ways. The methods used in the world's largest study on medicine-free healing of cancer are almost entirely familiar to NLP Practitioners, with one key exception. In the first part of this article we will document the research into these methods in China, and explain what seems to be their basis in psycho-neuro-immunology. In the second part of the article, we describe a format for the effective support of people healing from cancer and similar life threatening illnesses. We will also explain the one process which we consider is missing in current NLP support formats, and suggest some answers to one of the most disturbing questions in NLP: "If NLP is so good for promoting health, why do so many of our clients with cancer not improve?".
Over this century, health professionals in the west rediscovered the incredible power of the mind to heal the body. The first research demonstrating this in relation to cancer treatment was published by Dr Carl and Stephanie Simonton from Dallas Texas, in their book Getting Well Again (1978). Working with 159 people considered to have medically incurable cancer (average life expectancy 12 months) the Simontons reported two years later that 14 clients had no evidence of cancer at all, 29 had tumours which were stable or regressing, and almost all had lived well beyond the 12 month "limit" (p 11-12). Essentially, 10% were cured and 20% were curing themselves. The Simontons used a combination of biofeedback, visualisation, exercise, goalsetting, resolving internal conflicts, letting go of resentment, and engaging family support. They explained their success based on psychoneuroimmunology (the way the mind affects the nervous system which in turn affects the immune system).
In Mind-Body Therapy (1988) Ernest Rossi and David Cheek provided another coherent model for achieving this success, using ideodynamic communication (hypnotic communication with the unconscious mind). The publication of Beliefs (1990) by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom and Suzi Smith offered an NLP frame for understanding the same processes. This book begins with Dilts' breathtaking account of his mother healing from cancer soon after 4 days of NLP to change limiting beliefs and resolve internal conflicts. Six years later, Ian McDermott and Joseph O'Connor published NLP And Health (1996), a thorough review of how NLP techniques can be used to mobilise the immune system to maintain health and heal illness.
These models are exciting, and they still leave us with the question, "What about the other 70% in the Simontons' studies?". In the field of complementary healing, including in the NLP community, we have sometimes encountered a fear of statistical research. This is related in our experience to a kind of incongruity amongst "healers", who know that their methods only sometimes deliver the success they are advertising. Basically, they don't want to talk about (or even think about) the majority of their previous clients, who did not get cured. It is true that for individual clients, statistics are deceptive. If your cancer heals, it heals, and so you have not 10% success but 100% success. For us as NLP Practitioners though, our interest is also in supporting a larger group of people who could move into the situation of being fully healthy. We set goals, and for us the statistics do count. Later in this article, we will describe a methodology which could increase the Simontons' success fourfold.
What Is Cancer?
First, let us be clear that many people using NLP techniques to support their medical treatment have already reported cancer remission. New Zealand NLP Master Practitioner Anthony Wightman (1999, p 42) describes his successful healing of skin cancer and of leukaemia while using skills developed during his NLP Practitioner training. He imagined a laser burning out the cancer cells, and filled his body with "a golden glow which imbued all cells with health and removed any unhealthy cells". He ran an imaginary hot iron over the inside of the vein next to the skin cancer to stop any spread and bleeding when it dropped out (which it actually did a week after he began visualising). Before treating his skin cancer, he had it diagnosed by 3 separate doctors, all of whom claimed after his cure that they must have misdiagnosed a solar keratosis. His haematologist had a somewhat more difficult job explaining the change in his leukaemia. Anthony says "I believe we are only scratching the surface of our own capabilities and that the most promising area for research lies within our own minds, our own hearts, our own souls."
To understand what Anthony may have done, it's useful to know how the body normally keeps its cells healthy (Greer, 1999, p 236-241). Your body's cells don't just hold standardised genetic information about who you are. They also need to monitor where in your body they are, so they know what their particular job is within that whole community of cells. The cells in your skin, for example, need to know that they are skin cells. They do this partially by checking what cells are around them. If a cell has its genetic instructions damaged repeatedly, however, it can lose track of where it is and what job it is meant to be doing. This can happen due to toxic chemicals, radiation, or "free radicals" (chemicals which result from normal body oxidation, and accumulate with age). If a cell is damaged enough to lose track of where it fits in the community of cells, it is then described as more "undifferentiated" looking, and it may start dividing randomly, instead of at the rate needed to replace itself. It could then be described as a cancer cell. Actually, before reaching this stage, genetic damage is usually repaired. This is a possibility not often discussed in oncology (cancer treatment). However, the body is usually capable of repairing genetic damage unless there is some interference or inhibition of the immune response. Psychological depression has been shown to be one factor which inhibits such repair (Kiecolt-Glaser, 1985).
The body expects cancer cells to appear occasionally, and certain white blood cells (lymphocytes) have the function of identifying these confused cells and marking them out so that other lymphocytes (for example "T cells" from the Thymus gland) can eliminate them. In case you were disturbed about the idea of eliminating cells, it's useful to know that every time you swallow, the inner lining of your mouth releases millions of cells which were past their "use by" date. "Recycling" might be a better term for this constant change of cells in the body, and the elimination of cancer cells is just another example of this. A disorder such as AIDS, that stops lymphocytes working, tends to result in the appearance of numerous cancers in the body. This suggests that normal, healthy bodies generate occasional cancer cells, and normal, healthy lymphocytes recycle those cancer cells naturally. The lymphocytes are the embodiment of an "immune system" which protects you from both external invasion and internal mistakes. Even when a cancer has developed beyond the level of one aberrant cell, this immune system continues to protect you. Increased number of killer cells and increased level of activity is strongly associated in research with the cancer being contained in one place, rather than spreading, and with cancer ceasing to reoccur after treatment (Mandeville et alia, 1982; Burford-Mason et alia, 1989).
In 1979, a crisis occurred at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories in California, where nuclear arms were being developed. A very high incidence of small skin pre-cancers and melanomas was found in staff. Virtually all were easily removed surgically. Dr Lydia Temoshok investigated the outbreak and determined that, in fact, the incidence was probably not higher than usual. The staff had been examined "with a fine tooth comb" and small lesions, which would otherwise have been eliminated by the immune system, were detected by the physicians. (Temoshok and Dreher, 1992, p 211). Biophysics researcher Dr Candace Pert (who discovered endorphins) says "It's a fact that every one of us has a number of tiny cancerous tumours growing in our bodies at every moment. The part of the immune system that is responsible for the destruction of these errant cells "do their job well" and these tiny tumours never grow large enough to cause us to become ill." (1999, p 192).
How Can We Help The Immune System?
Supporting the body's immune system assists it in the healing of cancer, just as external medical care may. We consider this to be the core of what NLP contributes to support of cancer treatment. Interestingly, very little advice is given by many oncologists (cancer specialists) about how to assist the immune system. Furthermore, many orthodox cancer treatments compromise the immune system by removing endocrine glands and lymphatic nodes, or by killing lymphocytes (both radiotherapy and chemotherapy lower lymphocyte levels). That doesn't mean that orthodox treatments are "wrong"; simply that they don't focus on building up the immune system, and in the final analysis the immune system is what we depend on to heal from and prevent cancer. NLP provides an effective model for enhancing immune response. This is useful both as an adjunct to orthodox treatment, and as an alternative choice where orthodox treatment has little expected success.
As always in NLP, we could benefit by being curious about people who are already successful in the way we desire to be. Dr Brendan O'Regan is a neurochemist who has collected a database of 3,500 medically documented cases of spontaneous remission of cancer. Dr Charles Weinstock leads the New York Psychosomatic Study group, and has commented on these cases that "Within a short period before the remission, ranging from days to a few months, there was an important change, such as a marriage, an ordination, the birth of a grandchild, or removal of a relationship that was unwanted. There was a psychosocial rehabilitation of one sort or another, and then the cancer was healed." (Weinstock, 1997).
There are two ways in which processes like NLP have been shown to promote this kind of shift in immune function. The first is by therapeutically changing the person's general state and attitude to life events. Research shows that bereavement and experimentally induced negative mood states both inhibit the body's lymphocyte production (Bartrop et alia 1977, Schleifer et alia 1983, Futterman et alia, 1994). Sustained grief and depression, then, are states which increase the risk of cancer. Any intervention which enables the person to let go of such negative states will have a positive effect on healing. Also, a proactive style of coping with stress is associated with enhanced T cell activity (Goodkin et alia, 1992). That is to say, when someone is in a state where they feel in charge of their life, and as if they are making choices about their future, a check of their T cells will show that these cells are more actively eliminating cancer cells. Research also shows that lymphocyte activity can be anchored using NLP anchoring (classical conditioning) techniques (Buske-Kirschbaum, 1992). This state of being in control of life, with the resultant improved immune response, can be anchored and enhanced like any state.
Short term educational psychotherapy can also increase both the percentage of T cells and their activity, by teaching the person how to respond resourcefully (Fawzy et alia, 1990, and 1993). These improvements due to short term therapy continue to intensify up to 6 months after the psychotherapy! On the other hand, longer term, problem focused psychotherapy may have a negative effect on survival. Psychologist Dr Hans Eysenck has warned of the dangers of traditional psychotherapy for some time. He describes a longitudinal study of 7000 inhabitants of Heidelberg, from 1973 to 1986. This study was designed to discover the health effects of psychotherapy. Clients in psychotherapy were able to be matched by age, sex, type and amount of smoking etc with controls. This study showed that cancer and heart disease were most prevalent in the group who had had two years or more of "therapy", less frequent in the group who had one year or more in "therapy", and least frequent in the group who had no "therapy" (Eysenck, 1992). Talking about what's wrong with life once a week for years is not healthy.
The second way in which NLP style interventions can promote immune function is by directly "instructing" the lymphocytes to do their job more effectively. This instruction is achieved by the person imagining their lymphocytes identifying and eliminating cancer cells. A metaphorical representation may be used; for example seeing the lymphocytes as hungry fish clearing weeds from a lake. People with cancer who are taught relaxation and guided imagery show significantly higher T cell activity than controls (Walker, 1997). Nicholas Hall, at the University of South Florida, describes a study in which he found that lymphocytes from women with breast cancer who did guided imagery, were both more effectively duplicating themselves and more effectively dissolving and engulfing cancer cells (Batt, 1994, p151). The effect of visualisation is so precise that when students are taught to imagine their lymphocytes doing one specific activity (in the research, they imagined the lymphocytes adhering to other cells better) then that specific activity will be enhanced and not others! (Hall et alia, 1992). How do scientists get these research results, which have been replicated with a number of different types of cancer? They actually take lymphocytes out of the person's body and place them in a test tube next to cancer cells from that same person. What is perhaps most amazing is to realise that once the cells have been "given their instructions" by visualisation, they continue to follow them even when removed from the body, or even after several months in the body.
It's also important to understand that there are more than 100 different forms of cancer, ranging from cancers which are almost certain to be solved by simple surgery (such as many skin cancers) to cancers which are very difficult to treat using conventional methods. Much of the research on psychological alteration of immune response (eg lymphocyte reactions) has been done with easily treatable cancers such as early stage breast cancer and melanoma, where orthodox treatments are likely to be highly successful anyway. On the other hand, much of the research on the clinical effectiveness of psychological interventions (how likely they are to result in cure or longer-term survival in "real life") has been done with somewhat more serious cases. This is because when simple surgical cure is available, not many clients are willing to risk being in a long term clinical trial of an untested visualisation technique. For the Simontons' patients, however, psychological treatments offered an otherwise unavailable hope. Clinical data from other studies of clients with more serious cancer has supported the Simontons' work. Even one session a week of cognitive therapy improved survival for women with late stage breast cancer by 18 months and resulted in 6% surviving to see the research published ten years later (all the control group died within 4 years; see Spiegel, 1989). Similar results have been achieved in other groups with late stage breast cancer (Kogon et alia, 1997), malignant melanoma (Fawzey et alia, 1993) and leukaemia (Richardson et alia, 1990). While merely increasing survival time is not our aim, these results are often as significant as the results of palliative chemotherapy treatment, without the distressing side effects. We can expect that the same psychological techniques have even more power with smaller, more contained and easily treatable cancers, while respecting the inappropriateness of doing clinical trials on these operable cancers.
Evidence to the Contrary?
The most famous attack on the value of psychosocial approaches to cancer treatment came in 1990 with the publication of research on women with breast cancer at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre in England. The report, published in the medical journal The Lancet (Bagenal et alia, 1990), suggested that women who used the visualisation, meditation, exercise, nutritional and social support offered by the centre actually had lower survival rates than controls. A group of women involved with the centre immediately challenged flaws in the research methodology, pointing out (for example) that the Bristol women had more advanced tumours than the control group, and were in a different age range with a higher risk of cancer metastasis. They suggested that the study was a deliberate attempt to discredit complementary cancer treatments. The women's struggle, lead to the researchers admitting to "flaws", the Charity Commission criticising the research they had funded, and the Royal College of Physicians setting up a "fraud squad". Their story is told in the book "Fighting Spirit" (Goodare ed, 1996). We mention it here because oncologists sometimes still remember the original study, rather than the controversy that essentially invalidated it. It reminds us that even something published in a reputable medical journal may be based on assumptions that are limited or even on simple mistakes.
Mobilising The Immune System To Protect Against Cancer
Many of the studies described previously refer to the effect of mood and life attitudes on lymphocyte responses. These results are most likely related to research which suggests that there are two key psychological factors associated with the development of cancer: 1) loss of a crucial relationship perceived as a "reason for living", and 2) unexpressed hostility. In one study, 72% of cancer patients were identified as having lost a crucial relationship recently as compared to 12% of controls. In the same study, 47% of cancer patients were rated as having unexpressed hostility, as compared to 25% of controls. This enabled a researcher to predict which clients were likely to have cancer with 95% accuracy, simply based on these two variables. The probability that this number of correct predictions would occur by chance was less than one in a thousand (ie the difference is statistically significant). (LeShan, 1984, p 26-27).
One aim of NLP support for people with cancer will be removing these two variables (loss of reason for living, and unexpressed hostility), and improving the person's state by:
- Creating a sense of mission.
- Setting future goals aligned with that mission.
- Healing grief and depression.
- Letting go of resentment and anger.
- Learning skills to express emotion effectively.
- Resolving internal and external conflicts.
- Developing a proactive coping style rather than a passive/helpless one.
To state this more positively, we might say that the existence of cancer is sometimes able to be viewed as a message from the person's immune system, telling them that they need to let go of certain stressful emotions, resolve internal conflicts, and create a life worth living. The only risk of this model for understanding illness is that it suggests that the continued existence of cancer cells presupposes an ongoing "psychological parts" conflict. When clients do not immediately have their cancer dissolve after using the NLP techniques such as parts integration, Time Line Therapy(TM) techniques, re-imprinting, core transformation etc, NLP Practitioners then tend to ask "What's wrong?" In fact, nothing may be wrong. Some people take time to heal (see the description of Zhineng Chi Kung below), and not everyone responds in the same way to the same visualisations. The most useful response may be to continue visualising healing. If someone has had difficulty spelling, and we do the NLP trauma recovery process on all their distressing memories of spelling, we don't necessarily ask "What's wrong?" just because they misspell another word. We tend to accept that their brain is learning the new process. A similar acceptance may be useful here.
NLP processes can also teach the person how to visualise the immune system responding effectively to cancer. Dilts, Hallbom and Smith (1990, p 153-156) express concern about the use of visualisation which encourages a "war" metaphor, saying that it may encourage internal parts conflict. They propose instead the use of images such as sheep grazing on weeds. The Simontons' research revealed that certain factors made visualisation more successful in healing cancer (Simonton et alia, 1980, p 136-160). These factors included:
- Learning how to relax fully.
- Visualising the cancer cells as weak and confused rather than "aggressive".
- Visualising the lymphocytes as numerous, powerful, energetic and ready to eliminate or recycle cancer cells.
- Associating into the experience of being your lymphocytes.
- Visualising cancer treatments as powerful and positive, with any side damage to healthy cells being easily repaired.
- Seeing yourself reaching your life's purpose and achieving goals as a result of healing.
Beliefs and Representations of Healing
Creating these internal representations of healing is closely related to the notion of generating a placebo effect by creating a belief that healing can occur. However, there is a subtle difference. The person does not need to absolutely "believe" in the internal representations for them to work. They simply need to be willing to make the representations consistently. Dr David C. McClelland and Carol Kirshnit of Boston University have published a study which clearly explains this, while demonstrating that caring is another significant emotional state for immune responsiveness (McClelland and Kirshnit, 1988). In this research, subjects are shown a variety of movies, and their level of Immunoglobulin A (a blood chemical which is the first line of defence against viruses and other pathogens) is monitored before and after. Gardening films and political propaganda have no effect, but a film of Mother Teresa caring for people in Calcutta caused a sharp rise in levels of the immune chemical. Interestingly, many of the subjects in this study, when questioned after, said that they did not approve of Mother Teresa and doubted the genuineness of her work. But their bodies didn't mind. Their immunity level rose anyway. The fact that they had held the internal representations of caring in their mind was more important than the theories they considered about it.
Psychologist Bruno Klopfer (1957) cites perhaps the most famous example of the healing power of belief in the story of an American cancer patient named Mr. Wright. Mr. Wright had a extremely advanced lymphosarcoma; a cancer which had spread via the lymph system through his whole body. Because his life expectancy was less than three months, Mr. Wright did not qualify for treatment with an experimental new drug called Krebiozen, being tested at the hospital. However Mr. Wright believed that Krebiozen was his one hope. He pleaded with Dr Klopfer until the doctor finally agreed to give him a test injection. The result was miraculous. In a few days the orange-sized tumours, which had spread through his body, were half the size. Within ten days, Klopfer had agreed to give him the full test treatments, and Mr. Wright was well enough to leave the hospital. In two weeks he had moved from surviving only with an intravenous drip and oxygen mask, to flying home, piloting his own plane. However after two months of perfect health, Mr. Wright read the newspaper reports on the Krebiozen treatments. The tests were a failure; Krebiozen had no measurable effect. In a few days the tumours had regrown and Mr. Wright was again given only weeks to live. At this point, Dr Klopfer decided to experiment. He told Mr. Wright that the original tests were done with poor quality Krebiozen, and a new super-refined, double strength product was now available. He then began a series of injections of "super Krebiozen" (really using pure water). Mr. Wright's second recovery was even faster. Again, he flew away, symptom-free. His beliefs had cured him.
Supporting The Immune System Physically: Diet
There are many things that can be done to support the immune system physically of course, so visualisation is only one way that people with cancer can take action to complement their medical care. Dietary change is a fairly obvious intervention to enhance immune response. The association between cigarette smoking and cancer production is now well known, but that between alcohol consumption and cancer (Lundberg and Passik, 1997) is less well known yet equally concerning. The importance of consuming a diet based on fruit and vegetables to increase antioxidant levels (antioxidants such as vitamin C and E prevent cancer causing damage to cells) is quite well known. The importance of shifting to Omega 3 and Omega 9 fatty acids, rather than the Omega 6 fatty acids found in most margarines or cooking oils (Rose, 1997) is less widely understood, but thoroughly researched. Omega 9 fatty acids are found in Olive oil and Canola oil. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish and shellfish oils (such as the New Zealand shellfish oil Lyprinol) and in linseed (flax seed) oil. Dr Lilian Thompson in Toronto has been giving her cancer patients 25 grams of ground linseed a day (in a muffin) and producing a consistent reduction in tumour size in the 1-3 weeks between diagnosis and surgery to remove the cancer. This is a greater reduction in tumour size than seen with chemotherapy, and produced by a completely safe, enjoyable dosage of an ordinary food. Omega 3 fatty acids seem to enter the tissue and create an environment which nourishes the immune system (Block, 1999, p 247).
Many alternative approaches to cancer treatment are based on a belief that cancer is a systemic disorder caused by the body's inability to detoxify itself. While detoxification can be a useful process, the use of rigorous "detoxifying" diets, enemas and herbal remedies (such as the formula developed by Harry Hoxsey, 1901-1974) is not in itself a proven "cure" for cancer and may be quite stressful for the body, if done less carefully. However some of the particular plants in the Hoxsey formula (red clover, burdock, buckthorn, barberry, licorice etc) are beginning to deliver research results for other reasons. Red clover, for example, is a rich source of phyto-oestrogens (a type of antioxidant also found in soy products) which appear to protect against hormone related cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer (Ingram, 1997). Furthermore, evidence linking chemical additives in food to cancer (eg see Wolff, 1993) also suggests that "detoxifying the body", by removing these additives gently, makes sense. Researchers at the University of Southern California, led by Dr Chia-Wei Cheng, showed in 2014 that fasting for few days actually promotes a revitalisation of the immune cells, allowing the body to rid itself of malfunctioning cells (Cheng et alia, 2014)
Supporting The Immune System Physically: Mobilising Body Energy
In China, as in the west, orthodox medicine co-exists with a number of complementary systems for healing. One of these is the 5000 year old science of Chi Kung (Qigong). "Chi" refers to body energy of the type demonstrated in EEG measures of brain waves and ECG measures of heart function. Practitioners of Chi Kung claim to be able to direct body energy in order to cause specified effects in cells, including enhancing the activity of lymphocytes and removing cancer cells.
At the First World Conference For Academic Exchange of Medical Qigong in Beijing in 1988, a large number of research studies on the effects of chi kung on cancer cells in culture, and clinical cancer results were presented. Generally, these studies used "emitted chi" which means that a Chi Kung Practitioner held their hands near the cells to be altered and intentionally sent bio-electrical energy to the cells. In one large set of studies, 20 minutes of chi treatment of cancer cells killed 13% to 36% of cells, while control cells that were simply held showed no effect (Feng Li-da et alia, 1988). In another, cancer spread in mice was reduced markedly by the use of emitted chi (Cao Xuetao et alia, 1988). In a third study, mice which had their immune system suppressed by cortisone were divided into groups and rechecked after 24 hours. Those who received emitted chi had lymphocyte numbers and other measures of immunity back to normal, while those untreated showed no improvement (Li Caixi et alia, 1988).
To date, the most dramatic clinical results of chi kung are reported by the Huaxia Zhineng Qigong Clinic and Training Centre in Qinhuangdao, China (formerly in Zigachong). We visited this centre in 1998. Founded by western trained physician Dr Pang Ming, it has over 600 staff, including 26 western trained doctors, and treats 4000-7000 people at any given time. Residents (called students because they are learning to use chi kung, rather than simply being "treated") are checked medically after each 24 day treatment period. Most of the people treated have been told that there is no orthodox treatment available for their condition. Most of them have inoperable cancers. Results at the Centre are classified as:
- Cured (no symptoms of illness, and no signs on EKG, ultrasound, X-ray, CT etc)
- Very Effective (almost no symptoms, and dramatic improvement on instruments)
- Effective (detectable improvements)
- Ineffective (no change or even worsening symptoms)
In the centre's first published results, (Huaxia Zhineng Centre, 1991; Chan, 1999, p vii) data on 7,936 students showed that 15.2% were cured, 37.68% very effective, and 42.09% effective. That is to say, after a month, 52% were classified as cured or almost cured, and overall 95% had improved in some way.
Furthermore, each week certain students with defined tumours are selected to have direct chi treatment by staff, the results being displayed on ultrasound and recorded on video. Luke Chan, the teacher who has taken Zhineng Chi Kung to the west (under the name Chi Lel (TM), see Chan, 1999) describes observing a session where 8 students are treated in this way. After less than one minute of treatment, 5 of these cancers actually disappeared immediately (and were undetectable at ten day followup) and one diminished.
The high success rate at the Centre is achieved by a structured use of visualisation, affirmation, belief change and attitudinal (metaprogram) change, as well as the core chi kung exercises. The work of the Huaxia Zhineng centre has replicated the western mind-body healing methods described previously and added an important new dimension. In doing so, it offers us a model for an integrated NLP approach to successfully promoting healthy functioning in up to 95% of clients in medical treatment for cancer. This approach will be explained in the second part of this article.
Part B: An Integrated Format For Mind-Body Health
Zhineng Chi Kung As A Framework For Integrating The NLP Techniques
In the first part of this article, we reviewed the research on mind-body healing of cancer. We documented the growing number of studies demonstrating direct anti-cancer effects of a positive mood, a proactive style of response to stress, the ability to release anger and grief, a belief in one's ability to heal, and the ability to imagine white blood cells removing cancer cells. We pointed out that so far this mind-body methodology could reliably support remission for 10-30% of clients with advanced cancers. We then discussed the research being done at the Huaxia Zhineng Centre in China, where 1-3 months treatment programs for 300,000 people with "incurable" diseases has been associated with some medically documented improvement for over 95% of clients and in dramatic healing for 52%. 4224 Scientific Research papers have been published on the method, involving 90 different Chinese Universities (Jin and Marcello, 1999, p 47-51). This makes it the most thoroughly researched form of Chi Kung. Chinese government agencies have repeatedly identified it as the most effective health enhancing chi kung form known. These results are being achieved through the integrated use of visualisation, affirmation, belief change and attitudinal (what NLP calls metaprogram-based) change, as well as the core chi kung (traditional Chinese "energy work") exercises.
We were extremely interested to observe the Huaxia Zhineng Centre in June 1998. It was, frankly, hard to believe the continuing sequence of first-hand, individual stories which we heard there, describing apparently miraculous cures. In our training in 1999 with Luke Chan, we met a number of westerners who reported the same results from their practise of the Zhineng Chi Kung (under his trademark "Chi Lel"; see Chan, 1999). We have trained in several models of "energy work", including other forms of Chi Kung, Reiki (3rd degree), Huna, Therapeutic Touch, and Transformational Process. Each of these methods can claim anecdotal successes. What the Huaxia Zhineng Centre claimed to be achieving puts Zhineng Chi Kung in a totally different category.
As approved teachers of Chi Le we are interested in delivering this simple method to as many people as possible. As NLP Trainers, we have been interested in modelling just what it is that produces its results. We have identified several key factors:
"Belief": Full Sensory Representations of Healing
Belief is identified by Dr Pang Ming as one of the four components of Zhineng Chi Kung. In practice, firstly, students repeat to themselves several affirmations while doing the exercises ("Blood and chi are plentiful!", "All body energy channels are open!", "All illness disappears now!" and "Body functions return to normal!"). These auditory representations do refer to the problem being solved, and the research at the centre has shown that there is an important balance here. The fact that a specific illness needs to be healed seems important to refer to, and at the same time, the student's focus needs to be on the image of universal healing energy. In fact, the main instruction given by teachers is to think of the illness as completely healed NOW (an instruction repeatedly given in Chinese as "Hao La!"). Also, sometimes students are instructed to stop thinking about the symptom and to just think "blue sky", ie to turn their attention away from the problem.
Secondly, students perform several visualisations as they practice. They imagine their body expanding to fill the whole universe, so that they and the universe are one. They imagine releasing any illness to the universe, and then absorbing healing energy from the universe. They imagine the 10 million people who are currently practitioners and teachers of Zhineng Chi Kung practising with them.
Thirdly, a state of love and joyfulness is promoted. Students smile as they do the exercises, and make a point of smiling at each other when they complete each process. Their helping others is considered a therapeutic act, reminding one of the research showing that feeling love or caring increases immune response. Doing Zhineng Chi Kung is not like doing aerobics. It is a meditation; a joyful celebration of life. Many students comment on the powerful experience of love and caring from their teachers also.
Fourthly, belief in the possibility of mind-body healing is sustained in Chi Lel by hearing or reading stories of people who have healed (by what NLP calls Ericksonian metaphor). In the Centre in China, three people tell their stories before each practise session. In the west, practitioners can read stories from Luke Chan's book 101 Miracles of Natural Healing (Chan, 1999).
Fifthly, the active movements of the chi kung processes are themselves a kinesthetic representation of healing. The movements symbolically reach out to draw energy from the universe and then direct energy into the body, creating the kind of metaphor discussed in western research on "embodied consciousness". This sequence is identifiable in the simplest method of all, called La Chi. Luke Chan explains La Chi thus (Chan, 1999, p 150):
"Put your hands close to each other so that fingers and palms almost touch each other. Relaxing your shoulders and hands, slowly open your hands to the sides. Then close your hands until the palms and fingers almost touch. Repeat these opening and closing movements many times. Very soon you will feel some sensations between your hands. These sensations are caused by chi gathering from the universe. Then deliver this chi into where is needed in your body. For instance if you have a headache, deliver chi into your head by doing the opening and closing movements near your head. When doing the opening movement, imagine that your illness disappears into infinity; when doing the closing movement, imagine that you are delivering life energy into where it is needed. Meanwhile, suggest to yourself that chi is healing you and that you have recovered."
When people first come to the Huaxia Zhineng Centre, many of them are unable to stand up and do the main chi kung exercise sequence (a 15-30 minute tai-chi like process called "Lift Chi Up and Pour Chi Down"). La Chi is adequate to begin the healing process. As a kinesthetic swish, we believe it adds a crucial ingredient missing from most western visualisations used by people in cancer treatment. In NLP terms, the existence of illness possibly demonstrates the person's ability to "somatise" their problems (to represent their problems kinesthetically). If we only use visual and auditory/auditory digital (verbal) techniques to imagine healing, we may miss the key way they have generated the problem. The use of a kinesthetic representation of healing is the key exception which we believe has limited NLP's success when used supporting medical care for cancer. We suggest that even the use of La Chi would significantly improve on the results obtained by the Simontons and other researchers in the west. Repeated kinesthetic representations of healing have been a missing link in the NLP approach.
Furthermore, an examination of the success of chi kung reveals that some precisely "tuned" electromagnetic energy is involved in the success of the method. At Huaxia Zhineng Centre, research studies show that the teachers are able to recharge electric batteries with their hands (Jin and Marcello, 1999, p 51). Chi Kung teachers in Beijing repeatedly demonstrate their ability to light an actual light bulb, while it is not plugged in, simply by holding it (Eisenberg with Wright, 1995, p 222-226).
The Chi Kung Understanding of Internal Representations
In traditional Chinese Taoist philosophy, the mind is described as having two parts. The "yang" mind is rational and sensible, and attempts to differentiate real from unreal and make decisions accordingly. The "yin" mind "cannot distinguish fantasies from realities, and acts on everything you believe in." (Chan, 1993, p 45). A person can learn to use this ability of the yin mind. Luke Chan tells the story of a Chinese Prince who led his army on a long desert march. When his soldiers rebelled out of thirst, one of his generals recommended executing the leaders of the rebellion to ensure obedience. But after some thought, the Prince spoke to his army. He told them that just beyond the desert were trees full of sour lemons and bitter plums. He asked them to imagine biting into these fruit, and had them taste the fruit. Saliva filled the soldiers' mouths, and they were relieved of their thirst, enabling them to continue on their march to success.
Successful practice of chi kung is based on this same understanding of the power of the yin (unconscious) mind to create bodily results when directed by rich internal representations.
Entering a State of Rapport and Trance
The teacher leading a chi kung session at Huaxia Zhineng centre begins by surveying the group present and imagining that they are harmonised with each other and with the world around them. The group are invited to relax together, and imagine that all the other chi kung practitioners around the world are with them. The slow calm voice of the teacher is designed to invite them into a group trance. Their rapport with each other is considered an important part of creating this "chi field". In the Taoist philosophy which underpins traditional chi kung, the universe is considered a unitary organism, and the practitioner is one with it (Chan, 1993, p 97). The chi kung movements seem to embody this experience. Even the inward and outward movements of La Chi are an expression of harmony with the yin-yang movement of the universe itself. Profound meditative states and experiences of ecstasy are commonly reported by practitioners as their body becomes accustomed to the method. Some understanding of chi (Bolstad and Hamblett, 1998) is useful for this process to work. Once a person has practised chi kung for some time, the trance-like or meditative state called "the chi kung state" is anchored to (associated with) simple actions such as the use of La Chi.
In NLP we have become used to instant healing. We have techniques for resolving anxiety in ten minutes. This is both a blessing and a risk in supporting cancer treatment. It is a blessing because extremely fast remissions do sometimes occur. In our NLP training we have met several people who have experienced "miracle self-cures". We talked with two people who had large tumours dissolve from their bodies within days of attending a Time Line Therapy (TM) weekend training. One had needed to be carried into the training with her medication ready. We met them both over a year later, with their bodies completely cancer-free. In training in Chi Lel, we have also come across several examples of "miracle cures". In Chicago there is a woman Catherine who had advanced Multiple Sclerosis. Three years ago, when she met people she always explained that the reason she staggered and had to hold the wall and slurred her speech was not because she was drunk but that she had MS. That was three years ago. She went to the Huaxia Zhineng Centre for two weeks and Dr. Pang visited while she was there. He pulled her out of the lunch line and "applied Chi" to her. All her symptoms disappeared and she has since had two CAT scans showing there has been no growth of MS lesions in over two years.
But the risk of knowing about fast cures is that we tend to wonder what went "wrong" when it doesn't happen. The fact is that after a month of doing at least 6 hours of chi kung a day, only 52% of people at the Centre have no symptoms of their problem. Of the 101 examples in Luke Chan's book (Chan, 1999) approximately half took more than 3 months to fully heal. The teachers at the centre say that if the student's chi happens to be perfectly harmonised with the chi of a teacher, or of the centre itself (ie if they are in total rapport with the teachers), then instantaneous healing will occur, but otherwise it takes time for their body to generate or absorb the chi needed. Most people attempting to treat cancer using psychological methods tend to underestimate the time needed. Louise Hay, one of the "gurus" of cancer self-healing, took six months of doing full time, intense psychotherapy, visualisation and a detoxifying diet to heal her vaginal cancer. Basically, it's a major commitment to do this. At the centre, someone will actually begin by doing a minimum of 6-8 hours of La Chi a day. And at the end of three months they don't despair if they haven't healed yet. They carry on. Many people actually describe how their cancer enlarged before the chi began to reduce it. The extraordinary success the centre achieves requires total commitment.
Another important point to consider is that commitment to a simple strategy may be more effective than trying every method going to "see if it works". Luke Chan uses the analogy of digging for water. You've been told that there is water down under the ground, and if you dig a well you'll reach it. The problem is that many people dig down ten feet and lose confidence. Then they move to another place and dig down ten feet. They end up with 20 wells each going down ten feet. But the water may be 100 feet down. It's a hard lesson to accept, because cancer is a dangerous condition. Whatever decision a person makes about treatment and about complementary health care, they can never be 100% sure they've chosen the very best place to dig their well. And each day they spend focused on healing seems like one less day just to enjoy life, spend time with friends and family, and have fun. Medical advice can be less than helpful, because most doctors do not have access to the information in this article, or any other reliable information about treatment alternatives. In our experience, most oncologists are motivated by a great sense of love, and by an enormous fear of cancer. This fear is communicated to their clients as a disbelief in the ability of the immune system. The problem is compounded for the person with cancer because every second friend and every health professional has another idea about the right way to solve this problem. It's tempting to read all the books they give you, try all the therapies they recommend, and take all the food supplements they urge on you. It's easy to dig twenty wells, but in the end one good deep well may be all you need for health to spring forth.
Stories Of Commitment
Luke Chan's book (1999) contains records of 101 interviews he conducted with people who had healed themselves at Huaxia Zhineng Centre. They emphasise the importance of commitment.
In 1990, Lin Shua-Hua, aged 52, was diagnosed with a malignant tumour of her oesophagus (throat). She had had two tumours removed surgically over the previous 20 years, but doctors advised her that this one was inoperable. Fed intravenously, her weight soon fell to 79 pounds, and she lay in bed waiting to die. Her son, though, had had an unusual experience. He used to wear gloves to school to cover a number of wart like growths on his hands. By practising Chi Lel for 15 days, he cured this problem. Now he begged his mother to try the method. At first she needed three people to carry her in to the Chi Lel sessions, where she would do La Chi. After 20 days, she was able to walk, though her stomach began to hurt. Her teacher reframed this as a positive response to chi. Within 3 months, her health had returned to normal, and doctors found that her tumour was gone. She now teaches at the Huaxia Zhineng Centre (Chan, 1999, p 18).
In 1988, Wu Zhong-Chiong, age 39, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and told she probably only had 3 months to live. Because of a heart condition (climbing the 5 flights of stairs to her home, she needed to rest ten times), she was unable to undergo chemotherapy. She began to do Chi Lel. It took four years before she was cancer free. But by that time, she was able to climb the five flights of stairs without even breathing heavily. Her heart condition had also disappeared. She now teaches at the centre (Chan, 1999, p 26)
50 year old Li Chong-Cheng had surgery for liver cancer in 1991. Three months later, doctors told him that the cancer had spread to his lungs and he had less than two months to live. A neighbour taught him Chi Lel, and for the next six months he practised by himself. His tumours remained stable. In 1992, he decided that he needed to make an "all or nothing" commitment to the method. He travelled to the centre, and began practising from early morning until late at night. After two months, there was no sign of any tumour at either site, and he has remained cancer free since (Chan, 1999, p 61).
Alternative or Complementary Therapy?
We have met many people who had life threatening cancers and are now cancer free, having never used surgery, radiotherapy or medication of any kind. We have been to the Centre in China where that result is the norm. Right now there are 7000 people there using simple movements, visualisations and affirmations for 6 hours a day [nb this article was written some time ago and the centre is no longer allowed to accept such large numbers of clients]. In 3 months, over 3500 of them will have completed their healing. Most of the rest will continue to heal over the next months and years. But in the end no-one can make the decision as to which treatments are "appropriate" for the person with cancer except that person themselves. The same techniques we have been describing as a associated with spontaneous remission from cancer are also a valuable support for persons undergoing orthodox cancer treatments. We have talked to people who did one hour of Chi Lel a day throughout their chemotherapy, and managed to keep their white blood cell count in the normal range throughout that time (to the astonishment of their oncologists). We know people who have healed from major surgery in a fraction of the time predicted, by using Chi Lel and NLP.
Whatever decisions the person with cancer makes, it seems to us that there are certain reliable guidelines for using NLP to help the body. To summarise, from the point of view of the NLP Practitioner, these include:
Resourceful State For The Practitioner: To assist someone facing cancer, the NLP Practitioner benefits from having a sound understanding of the power of the immune system. We have aimed in the first part of this article to provide some of the scientific and anecdotal backing for your belief that the mind can support body healing, even when someone has cancer. Part of being resourceful as a helper is to understand that you are not claiming that you can "cure", "heal" or otherwise influence the course of cancer, but merely supporting the normal healthy immune functioning of a person undergoing medical care that they have decided on in discussion with qualified medical professionals.
Establish Rapport: It's important to begin by establishing what the client's understanding of their situation is, and acknowledging their fear while remaining resourceful. Within each session, establishing rapport involves (for chi kung practitioners) creating a "chi field" by imagining that you, the client, and all other healers are one, and one with the universe itself. You don't, of course, need to believe in chi fields etc: the visualisation is effective in itself.
SPECIFY Outcomes: The research on mobilising the immune system shows that the outcome "To heal from cancer" is not an adequate one. The immune system is most successfully mobilised by having the person clarify what they want to live for. It is also useful to establish markers that would let the person know that they are healing. At the Huaxia Zhineng Centre, each person is checked medically once every 24 days, so that even subtle healing changes can be detected. It is important to be able to celebrate all positive changes, not merely to wait for a "total cure".
Open Up The Person's Model of the World: For the person to use this methodology, they will benefit from several important reframes, including:
- An understanding that internal representations affect the immune response. Even the Prince's lemon demonstration is useful to make this clear. Telling the stories of people who have healed from cancer (eg see Dilts, Hallbom and Smith, 1990 and Chan, 1999) is an important use of Ericksonian metaphor.
- An understanding that significant events generating unresolved grief and anger may have weakened the immune system, and need to be cleared before it can strengthen fully.
- An understanding that all actions, including eating and exercise choices are an opportunity for reminding the unconscious mind that you want to live; so that the whole lifestyle will be re-examined in a healing light.
- An understanding of the importance of absolute commitment, proactive response to stress and a willingness to keep going until (to use the Chi Lel phrase) "the chi arrives".
- An understanding that cancer could be reframed as an important message from the unconscious mind-body, urging you to make more fundamental and life affirming changes.
Leading (Using NLP-Related Change Techniques)
- Define a clear sense of mission.
- Set future goals aligned with that mission and place them in the future time line, including the goal of healing.
- Clarify values for each significant area of life and check that goals are aligned with them.
- Clear stressful emotions (especially resentment, anger, grief and depression) and limiting decisions from the past time line using Re-imprinting or Time Line Therapy (TM) techniques.
- Resolve any conflicts, including conflicts related to limiting beliefs about healing, using Parts Integration.
- Establish communication with the unconscious mind (eg using finger signals) and clarify the positive intention of any part not totally supportive of healing. Establish agreement from the unconscious mind to heal fully.
- Identify any possible secondary gain resulting from the effects of the cancer, and take real life steps to meet the intention behind that fully.
- Learn how to communicate successfully interpersonally and ensure that any conflicts with significant others are resolved (see Bolstad and Hamblett, 1998).
- Adjust diet to support healing fully.
- Take time each day to visualise the immune system (the lymphocytes in particular) responding appropriately and healing the body.
- Do Zhineng Chi Kung (Chi Lel) every day for 1-8 hours. Remember that at the centre, 6-8 hours a day is associated with complete healing in 52% of cases within 3 months.
Verify Change: Celebrate all changes, no matter how small. Reframe any changes related to the above activities as messages from the unconscious mind that healing is occurring.
Exit: Ensure an ongoing commitment to honour the changes that the unconscious mind has signalled the need for.
Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Trainer and Chi Kung teacher. He can be reached at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland. He and those who study with him have worked successfully with many people undergoing medical treatment for cancer.
Margot Hamblett, who co-wrote this article, was an NLP Trainer and died of cancer in 2001. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in April 2001. Over the four months after her surgery, a collection of swollen lymph nodes emerged on Margot's neck and upper chest (indications of cancer recurrence). These had reached walnut size and were associated with considerable pain by the time (September 17th, 2000) she decided to begin doing six hours of traditional Chinese Chi Kung exercises a day. Doing this was quite tiring because Margot had been losing weight since the surgery, and was taking large doses of opiate pain killers for back and chest pain. But amazingly, by September 18th, one day after starting her new regimen, all Margots pain had gone and she stopped taking the pain killers. After another 4 days, Margot wrote in her diary "I feel great; happy, optimistic and energetic." Two days later, the lumps in her neck and chest had shrunk. She had trouble finding them anymore, as they were the size of apple pips. She began to put on weight. In one week she had produced a dramatic turnaround in her health.
Sadly, a reverse turning point seemed to occur later, when Margot began to get new chest pain, and decided to reduce the intensity of the Chi Kung she was doing. Margot's condition deteriorated, and she died in 2001. There are so many factors involved in such a condition that there is no simple answer to the question "Why?" But there are answers to another question: "What worked?" This is a fundamental NLP question and I want to conclude this article by sharing Margot's answer with you. In her diary, on September 26th 2000, Margot wrote "Yesterday afternoon I felt waves of love and happiness.... At times I feel so loved and loving; that love is so abundant." Written at a time of sudden, dramatic remission, this is a clue to the source of all such healing. My hope is that you will use it, not just to help others, but to help yourself.
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Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: email@example.com Website: http://www.transformations.net.nz