When I meditate, I either keep my pulse, or count the seconds I inhale and exhale. When I first started, I realized how bad I was at controlling my breathing; I was exhaling too hard, the rhythm felt unnatural, my counting would get off, things like that. As I began to practice, in my deepest meditations I can inhale and exhale 30 seconds each, and I'm honestly no zen master by any means. It gets easier with practice! Here's an excerpt from Ted Grossbart's book, Skin Deep.
He's an awesome Harvard Psychologist that's worked with a lot of patients with skin conditions, and these exercises will benefit anyone, skin condition or not.
Utilizing some form of biofeedback in addition to these exercises (or any sort of meditation) is a great way to relax, reduce stress, and improve overall health. Eventually, you won't even have to sit down and concentrate to bring about the meditative state, you'll be able to assume the state (at least partially) by will. Best wishes to you and your mom!
These exercises are based on the power of belief, but it's difficult to believe
they'll work until you've seen some results. Self-doubt will creep in as you learn this
unfamiliar process, and healthy skepticism is only realistic. As you learn to
coordinate parts of yourself you've never used before, there's bound to be a
discouraging period when nothing comes together. Imaging is a skill; like playing the
piano or windsurfing, it improves with practice. If you haven't felt a bit foolish at
times, you're playing it too safe. If you haven't quit in discouragement, then started
over a few times, you haven't really started.
If there's a single key to making these techniques work, it's making sure they
don't become work. Keep your eye on their gamelike quality. They're a productive,
grown-up version of "Let's pretend" and they shouldn't be drudgery or a struggle.
They're not a prescription to be swallowed, not an exercise to do for me, your
dermatologist, or your family, but something soothing and enhancing to do for
EXERCISE I: IDEAL WELL-BEING
Just as stress and trouble strain every system of your body, happiness is good for
your health. When you feel at peace and self-confident, when all seems right with the
world, the chances are that all is right within as well. What we're going to do is use
these pinnacles of well-being as a reservoir of good emotional and physiological
When you are in the healing state, let your mind range over your life until it
finds a time – a moment, a day, a year – when everything came together, when you
felt good about being yourself, when others were loving and supportive, when your
dreams, if not fulfilled, at least seemed very possible – a spring morning of your soul.
The moment of well-being means different things to different people.
For some, it's the combination of a pleasant setting and a loving relationship; for others, an
achievement that gave a rich sense of mastery. One of my patients chose her first job
as a reporter; being paid to write gave her enormous satisfaction. Another chose the
afterglow of a small dinner party where warm, supportive conversation gave a
wonderful feeling of intimacy shared with his best friend. A financial consultant went
way back to his days as the star of a Little League team that won the New England
championship. A midwestern executive simply couldn't improve on her own living
room, with soft music and soft light in the wide windows.
The important thing is to chose a time and place when you felt the warmth of
good feelings about yourself and your life. Once you've found it, you can go back
there whenever you like to enjoy its mental and physical benefits. Don't hesitate to
embellish an already delightful moment. If your life hasn't provided the right
situation, improvise: imagine what such a moment would be like or idealize a real-life
experience that came close but didn't quite ring the bell.
Sit and induce the healing state of mind and then imagine this scene as clearly
and completely as possible. Let the scene build up layers: sights, sounds, the
sensation of sun or breeze on your skin, the particular light, the tang of the air. Add
detail to detail as the scene grows vivid. For some, the image is a tableau that replays
itself like a tape loop. Others enter the scene and let it play itself out of its own
accord. In any case, let your mind do it; you're simply a spectator, not the producer,
director, or critic of the movie. All you have to do is watch, feel, and enjoy the
These benefits include the relaxation response, but the exercise also summons
up and strengthens a wealth of good feelings about the self. Every time you revisit it,
your ideal well-being moment reminds you of your possibilities – who you are at
your best. In ways that scientists are now actively investigating, imagining ideal wellbeing
edges your body toward the corresponding physiological state, a healthy
person with healthy skin.
EXERCISE 2: CREATING THE IDEAL IMAGINARY ENVIRONMENT
Now we're going to focus imagination power where it's needed most: your skin.
Examples of how the mind can influence skin physiology abound. Some thoughts can
make you blush, to take a simple example. In an ingenious demonstration, Japanese
researchers led volunteers sensitive to the lacquer tree (which is similar to poison
ivy) under an ordinary tree that was made up to resemble a lacquer tree. The
volunteers had nearly full-scale skin eruptions triggered by nothing more than an
image and an expectation.
In this exercise, you'll imagine yourself in the environment most likely to make
your skin comfortable and healthy. To begin, take some time and write down
everything that makes your skin feel better and worse. Emphasize concrete things,
such as heat, cold, sunlight, coolness, dryness, friction, or a smooth surface. Think of
creams, ice, warm compresses. Times and places – extend your list to psychological
factors, if you wish. Your guide is your own experience. What has made your skin feel
better? What has soothed it, relieved itching, eased burning and pain?
The idea is to design an environment that will combine everything that's good
for your skin, a setting where all forces conspire to make your skin feel as good as
possible. You may develop this ideal imaginary environment by simply adding
together the things that make your skin feel good and subtracting those that make it
feel bad, but most people find it profitable to let their creativity take a hand. Let the
environment bubble up from the riches of your unconscious. Logic and consistency
Your imaginary environment can be hot and cold at the same time, icy
but warm – if this is where you imagine your skin to be most happy, so be it.
Among my patients, the single most popular imaginary environment motif has
been the ocean. One woman who had plantar warts imagined wading in the cool sea
on a favorite beach in Maine; a woman with eczema imagined herself on a hot,
steamy tropical seaside. Airy images are second in popularity. Many people like to
feel themselves floating free on the clouds or soaring through the sky like a sea gull
as the cool air rushes past.
For some, the imaginary environment is a skin-soothing experience at the
center of a psychologically rewarding situation. A violinist with hand eczema
imagined listening to a favorite piece of music with her father in a pleasant, rustic
summer setting and picking up a drink in a frosty glass; the coolness of the glass, the
exaltation of the music, and the comfort of a close relationship with her sometimes
elusive father made this scene triply soothing for her skin and herself. A young man
with hives used the image of a drizzling, humid morning in Cambridge after he'd
finished his exams. The damp, cool air eased his skin from the outside as his freedom
from the usual burden of anxieties and pressures relieved the tension that often
exacerbated it from within.
Remember, you are the sole expert on your ideal imaginary environment. One
does not fit all, and it's not a matter of tailoring the prescription to the specific
problem. A majority of people with psoriasis, for example, find warmth and sunlight
helpful, but for the minority for whom coolness works better, the ideal environment
will be a northern pine forest, not a tropical beach.
Give your imagination free rein to invent an ideal environment; let it include
features that don't exist in this imperfect world (what else is imagination for?). For you, the epitome of soothing relief may be swimming the backstroke in an Olympicsize
vat of yogurt. If cold cream makes your skin feel a little better for a little while,
perhaps some quintessential moisturizing lotion, which concentrates five hundred
bottles of water in a single vial, will multiply the feeling.
You may want to use your experiences with medicated lotions and creams.
Many people get some improvement with steroid ointments but are concerned about
side effects and avoid using them too frequently. Your mind's "conceptual cortisone"
can become just as effective with no side effects.
As with the ideal well-being exercise, the idea is to imagine clearly and in as
much detail as possible. Use the healing state's power to focus your mind and turn
your imaginings into vivid reality, building up the scene in layers of sight, sound,
smell, tang of air, quality of light. If you're walking on a beach, make it a particular
beach, whether Martha's Vineyard or Puerto Vallarta. Is it noontime sun? Late
afternoon? Fresh, bright moming? T-shirt? Bikini? Nude? Whether you're walking,
sitting, or lying down, imagine the feeling in your muscles and joints, the body
consciousness that belongs to the activity. Imagine the visceral sensation of peace or
excitement that goes along with dawn in the mountains or sunset on rocks sprayed
by pounding surf. This is an exercise for the poet in you.
The more real you imagine the ideal imaginary environment, the more real the
physiological changes that belong to it will be. These are valuable in two ways. First
is simple symptom relief. The idea of this exercise is to imagine conditions and
situations that will make your skin feel better, make the itching stop, ease the
burning and the pain. This relief usually lingers for well beyond the exercise time
itself. The exercise also nudges your skin's physiology toward a healthier state. A
world full of things that your skin likes is also a world full of whatever your skin,
disease dislikes: an internal climate less hospitable to illness.
Very slight physiological changes can have large results. I call this the
Houseplant Effect in honor of the exquisite sensitivity displayed by many of the
creatures with which we share our homes. A plant that shrivels and withers in a
sunny window may do fine if you alter its living conditions slightly and put it in
partial shade; another will perk up and thrive in a corner that's five degrees warmer
(or cooler) than the corner where it seemed destined for geranium heaven.
I made the point earlier that a chronic skin problem is often a matter of delicate
balance – it's a disease that never gets completely better or continually worse.
Anything that will nudge the balance toward health can make a critical difference; as
with a houseplant, a slight change in the physiological environment may turn the
trick. The small but real bodily changes that accompany the ideal imaginary
environment can make life that much less easy for the virus, bacteria, or
inflammatory process that is bedeviling your skin.
There's no rigid prescription for the ideal imaginary environment. Simply enter
the healing state and remain in the environment as long as it feels right – five, ten, or
twenty minutes. Repeat the exercise as often as you have the time and need the relief
it brings. Many people find that practice brings speed and depth; the more you do the
exercise, the more easily you find and enter the ideal environment. Your body
becomes conditioned to the rhythm of the procedure and will move smoothly from
one step to the next.
After you've begun to feel at home in the ideal imaginary environment, you may
find it possible to enter it briefly almost at will. In addition to your regular sessions,
summon the image up to flash through your mind dozens of times a day whenever
you need it, a healing resource of inestimable value.
An Additional Technique
Some patients have successfully used a variant of the ideal imaginary environment
inspired by a technique used for pain control. Imagine your hand filled to the brim
with the most healing and soothing sensations imaginable. In effect, concentrate all
the best features, the most comforting feelings, of the ideal imaginary environment,
distilled to their essence, and pour them into the hand. When that feeling is real and
full in the hand, pass it lightly over troubled areas of your skin. Imagine the healing,
soothing sensation pouring forth from your fingertips, suffusing and flowing over
them, leaving no room for itching, burning, or pain. When the healing sensations
begin to run out, simply withdraw the hand for a few moments, let it fill up again, and
then replace it on the affected area for renewed relief.xlvii
EXERCISE 3: THE CELLULAR BATTLE
Your skin disorder can be thought of as a battle: the virus or bacteria against your
body's immune system (as in herpes, shingles, and warts) or simply the forces of
health against whatever it is that is disrupting your body's natural good order. In this
last self-fulfilling prophecy exercise, you will visualize the forces of health
themselves, right among the cells, and encourage them by imagining them
overcoming whatever foreign agent or disordered process is causing your skin grief.
For inspiration, consider work that has been done with cancer patients.
Pioneering doctors such as Simonton and associates in Texas guide their patients to
imagine the struggle that is taking place between cancer cells and their bodies'
defense forces. The patients are encouraged to personalize the struggle, to come up
with meaningful images of cancer cells and the immune cells and other forces that
oppose them: white knights against gray, greasy goblins, for example. In theory,
imagining the power and potency of the body's defenses as victorious may
strengthen the forces of health, much as grief and depression weaken immune
I've used a similar technique with my herpes patients. Herpes recurrences
reflect a struggle between a virus and the immune system. When the immune system
is stronger, the virus is kept in its place; when the virus gets the upper hand, it comes
out of its hiding places and into an active lesion. (The same process occurs in shingles
I ask my herpes patients to imagine what the struggle looks like, what the
herpes virus is like, to them, and what kinds of forces oppose them. Using the focused
power of the healing state, they image the battle with the forces of health victorious.
Images on the cellular level are as personal as the well-being and ideal environment
images. A professor saw the virus as little asterisks and his body
washing them away like a fire hydrant with a gush of water. A dress designer saw thevirus as long fish, and the body's defenses as swordfish that swim up alongside and
skewer them. To an artist, the virus was black and brittle, like freeze-dried coffee, to
be burned by his body and flushed away.
The essential process is making the struggle real and finding a way to
participate in it actively to aid your own body in getting well. Your body's drive
toward life and health is mysterious – no one knows exactly what the forces are and
how they work. Here is a way to make them concrete and encourage them.
This exercise may be applied to any skin problem. It helps to have a notion of
the physiology of the disease; knowing just what is or may be going wrong helps you
envision your body's efforts to stop the process and correct the disorder.
Psoriasis, for example, involves the rapid growth of cells that come to the surface of the skin
before they're fully mature. One patient imagined them being "half-cooked" and
served up by a short-order cook under pressure from his boss. His healing image was
simply a more understanding boss, who encouraged the cook to slow down.
A woman with hyperhidrosis – excessive perspiration – imagined a small,
lovable cleaning woman with a mop who relentlessly mopped up excess perspiration
inside the cells themselves, leaving her skin clean and dry.
A patient with recurrent skin infections imagined each one as the wound of an
arrow, then imagined a transparent shield between her skin and the slings and
arrows of daily life. Everything shot at her bounced off the shield, which had an
added psychological meaning: while she was growing up, her often sadistic parents
continually shot barbs of verbal and physical abuse at her.
Your images can be as close to or as far from physiological reality (as you
understand it) as you wish, as long as they are a personally meaningful way to make
the struggle concrete and tilt in your favor. A scientifically inclined person may image
viruses as they appeared in his college biology textbook, with anatomically correct
lymphocytes their conquering enemy. A more mathematical imagination may see the
viruses as polyhedral soccer balls to be deflated by a man with a needle. You may
contrive a full-scale drama with little people dressed up as cells and body parts, á la
Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to
In any case, keep in mind how powerful your body's healthful forces are – and
remember how they routinely protect you from all manner of viruses and bacteria
that thickly inhabit the world we live in. Aid this already powerful system by
imagining allies that you endow with everything you consider strongest and most
powerful in yourself. Concentrate the power you already have and bring it to bear in
Edited by tim12, 05 August 2011 - 06:35 PM.