Dr David Hamilton Visualisation

Did you catch my interview with Dr David Hamilton on Living is Easy this week? David is the author of Your Mind Can Heal Your Body published by Hay House. He spoke about the power of visualisation in healing your body from disease.

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Transcript of show


JOHN PETROZZI: Hi. Welcome to Living is Easy. I’m John Petrozzi, and thanks for joining us today. Well, today we’re going to meet a special guest on the show. He’s Doctor David Hamilton who’s a prolific writer and he has written a book which has just come out and it’s called “The Mind Can Heal the Body.” I’m really excited to have him on the show today, because I’d like to find out what is that I can share with you we can improve our health by improving our thoughts.

Hi, David, and thanks for coming on the show.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Oh, it’s wonderful to be here. How are you?

JOHN PETROZZI: Good. Thank you. It’s great to have you on the show. So you’ve done your Ph.D. in the study of the mind. Is that right?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Actually, no. What I did was Chemistry. I got my Ph.D. was building up drug molecules, [0:01:00] atoms together until you make what you call a molecule which becomes an actual drug.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: But my interest in the mind actually began when I finished that, because I moved on to a fulltime position at the Research of Development Sciences with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. And while I was there actually making drugs, you know, the subject was for heart disease and for cancer.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: And we had to test the drugs. And in testing we have to, perhaps you get one hundred patients on actual drug for the disease, and you get another patient, another hundred patients fake drug in, and then people know that it’s a placebo.

JOHN PETROZZI: Placebo. That’s right.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yeah. And many fake drugs, especially ones that I helped with, are made of nothing more than blackboard chalk.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: And so what interested me about that is when we give a hundred people a drug and we might find that 80 of them get better, we also give a hundred the fake drug and quite often we find 60 or 70 people got better, because they thought they were getting drugs.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: And so to me that was much more interesting than actually making the drugs.

JOHN PETROZZI: Yeah. Definitely.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yeah. And so I researched that and eventually resigned from the pharmaceutical industry, so that I could study it fulltime and write about it.

JOHN PETROZZI: Wow. So give us a run-down. How can our thoughts improve our health?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Well, in a very simple way, your daily attitude has an effect on your immune system. For example, people who generally have a positive or an optimistic outlook tend to have a stronger immune system on the whole than people who are generally pessimistic or generally have a negative attitude.

The heart takes actually the largest impact from attitude, like it’s well known now that if a person has a very aggressive attitude towards people, a very hostile attitude, then it’s actually damaging for the heart. But on the other side of it, people who tend to be kind, gentle, friendly towards others, and compassionate by nature, then their hearts tend to be, on the whole, healthier. That’s because of the way that our attitudes produce a chemical substance within the body which directly impacts the heart.

JOHN PETROZZI: So interesting. Because we’ve known for a long time now, that there’s a missing connection between the body and the mind, and I suppose science is sort of catching up with it now, isn’t it?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: It really is. And I think some of the major advantage that’s common to the study of the brain, because it’s very well known that the brain isn’t quite as hardwired as we used to think it was. I mean, many people have a view that when a person’s growing up, the brain is kind of moldable, you know, when you’re a child, the brain is growing and changing. But when you get to be a young adult, let’s say, 16 or 17, that the brain becomes hardwired.

That view now has been completely turned over. And we now know that the brain is actually always changing, it’s always molding, it’s like a dough before you put it in the oven to make bread. It’s always molding, and that happens up to the last seconds of your life. But where it really gets interesting is the fact that some of that molding occurs, and the phenomenon is called the “neuroplasticity”, I mean the plasticity of the brain.

Some of that neuroplasticity takes place in response to just what you’re thinking, even just what you’re imagining, by making a picture in your mind of your body, during, for example, or you’re imagining some of your dreams, your goals, actually causes these changes inside the brain. So, here we have “mind over matter” actually taking place at a level of the brain and actually, when we even just imagine ourselves and so well.

JOHN PETROZZI: Wonderful. I directed a patient of mine—because I’m a chiropractor—I’ve directed a patient of mine to your YouTube link today actually.


JOHN PETROZZI: Because you’ve got this great YouTube video on the way to describing in simple terms how the body basically changes by your thoughts changing every period of time. And you had a great example there of how cancers can start to resolve and be eaten away through visualisation that you described actually using coffee beans. What’s the research that you’ve seen and what are the stories that you’ve seen over the time in terms of people healing from diseases such as cancer?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Oh, I have so many stories. I mean, when I first resigned from the pharmaceutical industry and started researching, and then explaining to people, you know, that the mind can heal the body, I had hundreds of people talk to me and say “You know I used to have cancer, or arthritis, or diabetes, or even high blood pressure, or broken bones” anything that classically happens to people, and they would describe a visualisation that they did.

What struck me most is that about 90% or 95% of these people were telling me the exact same thing. In other words, they used the same visualisation principle. And to give you a really broad example, the most, the single most common visualisation that people use, who have cancer, is they imagine the tumor, or tumors, inside the body being eaten away with Pac-Man or piranha fish. People who take chemotherapy for example, the most common visualisation for that is they imagine the chemo agents as Pac-Man or piranha nibbling away, going “chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp.”


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: “Chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp” nibbling away at the tumor. In their imagination, they’re imagining the tumor becoming smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, until it completely disappears. And people who take radiotherapy sometimes imagine the same thing, or they imagine radiation, instead of Pac-Man or piranha, like lightning bolts actually blowing chunks off the tumor and once again the tumors are getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Many people imagine tumors as made out of like ice and they begin to melt, and as they’re melting, once again, they’re getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

Notice the similarity in the story: they’re smaller and smaller and smaller. Basically what they do is imagine something at the beginning and then they imagine what it would be like at the end in a completely healed state, and they convert it faster into the seconds.

JOHN PETROZZI: That’s great.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: For example, a typical visualisation of people who have some kind of form of heart disease is to imagine walking through their arteries and steam-cleaning them by blowing steam and hot water and actually blowing cholesterol out of the way and melting a plaque and calcium deposits and actually just cleaning out the entire artery.

JOHN PETROZZI: Beautiful. So it’s really, it just comes down to your own imagination, doesn’t it?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: It’s really your imagination. And what’s fascinating about it is, some of the recent research in the brain would suggest that the reason why this is working for people is because the brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imaginary. For example, in one of the studies done in Harvard University, they had people sit in front of a piano and they were asked to play a simple combination of notes in the piano with each of the fingers, so it was something on the lines of “pom-pom- pom-pom- pom-pom- pom-pom- pom… pom-pom- pom-pom- pom-pom- pom-pom- pom.”

And they have to do this repetitively for over and over and over again for two hours straight in five consecutive days. And looking at images of the brain, we find that the area of the brain connected to the finger muscles have actually grown like a muscle. That’s what you need to think yourself and use this analogy that the brain changes so much and it actually grows like a muscle or shrinks if you don’t exercise it.

But the amazing part of this experiment is a separate group of people were asked to do the same thing but instead of having a piano in front of them, they had to imagine it. So they had to just imagine going “pom-pom-pom-pom-pom-pom-pom-pom-pom.” But astonishingly, after the five days, the area of their brain had also massively grown, compared to both sides. The brain cell, it couldn’t actually distinguish between who had actually played the notes and who had done the note-playing in their own imagination.

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s just amazing, isn’t it?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yes, incredible! The brain doesn’t distinguish between real and imaginary. And I personally think that of the hundreds of stories I heard of people healing themselves by using their imagination, then what actually happen at that very phenomenon that the brain somehow is thinking or recording what we are doing, we’re imagining as real fact, and its somehow helping the balance of the chemistry of the body in the direction of wellbeing instead of in the direction of sickness.

JOHN PETROZZI: So, athletes have been using these techniques for years, haven’t they? I’ve been told that coaches take their athletes, particularly their lead athletes, through the visualisation of competing particular races, whether it’s Olympics or any type of race. They visualise how they’re going to take off and how they’re going to accelerate through the race and particularly finish in front. So it’s been used a lot in athletes and it’s just fantastic that it’s being used now in healing.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: I personally, when I was a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry, I had the same job in the evenings; I was an athletics coach myself.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: [0:10:10.] I was the coach for the long jump and triple jump. And I was then the manager of the under-twenties team for the whole club. And I did that; I trained all the athletes to watch, to train them. I taught them how to use visualisation, to imagine themselves doing their events and scored it if it was a long jump, a triple jump. For some middle athlete, then I had to manage it with [their strength] and imagine them doing it the best they could be, and they had to do it over and over and over again.

I explained to them that as they do that, the brain thinks it’s really happening. What the brain does is that it stimulates the action muscles and helps the muscles to grow, adapt and evolve in exactly the way they need to be to meet the picture that you’re sending in their imagination. And you know, it doesn’t even find its way into clinical environment now, because such is the power of it that people who had a stroke are now being taught the visualisation.

For individual studies, a group of people who had a stroke are given a normal set of course on physiotherapy and another group are given the same set of course on physiotherapy, but in addition, they’re given an extra one hour a day when they have to imagine themselves using any impaired limb. So for example, they had impairment of their left arm, then for that one hour a day they had to imagine doing practical tasks with their left arm. They imagine lifting up a cup of tea and drinking it, putting it back down on the table, lifting up and drinking it, putting it back on the table, and doing this repetitively, repetitively. After six weeks, those who have done the visualization have recovered substantially, greater amounts of movement than those who only did the physiotherapy.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: And it’s exciting how they actually do it, the repetition of imagining yourself performing at the highest level over and over and over again, and the brain begins to adapt the same signals to the muscles and the muscles begin to grow and change exactly the same.

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s just amazing. Two things came up for me as we’re talking about this, David. I suppose one of them is really “How much can you help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves?” So if someone is so stuck in negative thoughts that they think their disease can never be cured with a particular drug or an operation and they’re ingrained with that, and if you do take them through a series or a course of visualisation, do you think that their body can start to reject the visualisation because they’ve got some sort of, I don’t know, sabotaging process going on inside them that’s going to stop them?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: I think you’re right. I think that does often happen. A person really has to choose to do visualisation. And the reason I say “choose” is because it’s not something we just do once and get actually healed.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: You know. For some people actually, to be honest with you, I met a number of people who just have to do it once and somehow they believe that it’s enough, and that somehow activates an extreme version of the placebo effect.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: And that simple single bonus is enough to heal or not is more common than we think. But for the average person, it takes the process of visualising something. So if a person doesn’t really think it’s going to work, then not only would they sabotage themselves for not believing it’s going to work but they won’t actually do the amount of work required to get it to work.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: So for example, in that piano study I described where they had to repetitively play the notes in their mind for two hours straight in five consecutive days, that takes a lot of work. So if a person doesn’t even believe it, then they’re not likely to do as much.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: But the way I often help people in this perspective is I encourage them to read some of the findings and not to make an obvious [0:14:02] your body. In the first part of the book, I have all the up-to-date findings that can absolutely categorically confirm that what you think about impact the health of your physical body. Even skeptical people—once they read that research—cannot help but realise, “My goodness, my thoughts really do affect my body.” And that works for many people as the motivating factor that gets around the skepticism and they say, “Okay. Yeah. I think I’m willing to just give this a ‘go’ now because I can understand now that there is something behind it that’s not just some pie-in-the-sky idea. It’s something that actually has solid foundation in science.

JOHN PETROZZI: Yeah. Wow. So, on the same stream of thought, I suppose, David, how much faith, confidence, and belief do you need to have in a particular thing, whether it’s visualisation or an exercise or something, for it to work and for it to break through, I don’t know, through a placebo effect or whatever you call it, just for it to have an effect?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: It’s useful to believe in what you do, because the placebo effect is happening all the time. When a person takes a pharmaceutical drug, if they believe in it, it works much better than if they don’t. And for example, in many countries in the world, you can buy a cheap version of aspirin or an expensive version of aspirin and even though they’re the same thing—in the UK, we have paracetamol, and you can buy an expensive or a cheap version—now they’re exactly the same substance but the expensive version in general works about 25% better than the cheap version. And the only difference between them–

JOHN PETROZZI: It’s just the price.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: The only difference between them is the price.  But we have the story in our mind, we think, that more expensive equals better.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: So that is like a belief or “This one must be better because it’s three times the price or five times the price.”


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: So the placebo effect is there with all pharmaceutical drugs but it’s also there with visualisation, it’s there with holistic therapy – it’s kind of with everything really. If you believe in the person who is helping you, who’s your therapist, or your doctor, or your nurse, and if you believe in what you see and have faith that they’re helping you, then that will all go back to the placebo effect.

And just to get around the idea of people, many people think of placebo effect is just a fluffy, you know, subjective thing in your mind, but now we absolutely know from neuroscience research that placebo effect causes real, measurable changes inside the brain, real measurable changes into the heart, the cardiovascular system, the entire body. So it’s no longer just a subjective pie-in-the-sky idea. The placebo effect actually causes measureable, what we call, pharmacological effect in the body, so it’s a real mind-body phenomenon.

So when you believe in a therapist, when you believe in a doctor, when you believe in their opinion, in what they suggest you could try, even if that’s visualisation, there is always, there’s impact of your believing in it which will always bring the power of what you do. So if a person visualizing to support what they’re receiving—visualisation does not mean you have to give up any other medication or any other therapy, whether that’s holistic therapy, chiropractic, or whether that is drugs—it means you use your mind in addition to whatever else you’re receiving, you visualise as well.

Just understanding that this does have an effect on your body, impacts or raises, not only the power of the visualisation, but also raises the power of the therapy or the healing modality that you’re experiencing as well. So you’re getting a double hype from it.


DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Having that extra belief, or even just faith in what you’re trying to do, or even of hope—“I hope that this might work”—even hope raises the power of the placebo with that as well.

JOHN PETROZZI: Because that is what it all comes down to, isn’t it? It’s all about changing brain plasticity. Like you said before, you call it “neuroplasticity.”


JOHN PETROZZI: The nervous system’s always adapting and changing to whatever we fill it, so essentially it’s the circuitry in our brain that’s creating our form and our structure and our chemistry and our whole health. So if someone’s using this in the reverse, as in, negative plus terrible, loss against me, blah, blah, blah, the nervous system’s going to start to adapt to that and you’ll get lack for luck and your chemistry is going to start to go off and so will your physical health. Is that right?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: You’re absolutely correct. You’re absolutely correct. In fact, scientists used to determine—and some of your listeners have heard this before—it’s called the “nocebo effect.” The nocebo effect is the exact opposite of the placebo effect. Where the placebo effect is you believe that it’s going to work on, you’re thinking positively about it and you get better, the nocebo effect is you don’t think it’s going to work or you think you will get more sick or you have negative thoughts about the condition and you end up getting more sick because you believe in that. It does the opposite of the placebo effect on the brain, it alters the brain circuitry, the nervous system, so that you reproduce in the body exactly what you’re expecting to get.

So, with the placebo effect, you expect to get well, with the nocebo effect, you expect to get sick. As you just pointed out, your nervous system adapts to it, responds to it, and the body begins to get more sick only because you’re expecting it to, because you’re telling it with your own mind, whether you actually believe in something or even feeling it, so you find that you’re saying “I’ll never get back to fitness” or “I’m really sick” and affirming this over and over and over again. Thus, most of the things that happen have negative impact to the nervous system.

JOHN PETROZZI: So I suppose if you have a loved one, or a friend, or a family member who says “I feel terrible today” and “Aw, gee, I’m feeling so sick,” maybe the most caring and loving thing we can do for them is to say, “Hey, better stop saying those sorts of things and think about how well you’ll be in the next couple of days.” Do you think that’ll help?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yeah. You said that in such a nice way, though, a gentle reminder. “Maybe you will do better, just think of how well you’ll be in a couple of days or a couple of weeks” and just giving someone hope and a target to aim for immediately interrupts that thinking pattern of “I am sick, I will not get better” and then that gentle reminder is the only action we need to do to just kind of change them in what they’re saying and what they’re thinking about in that precise moment and just help them in the direction of positivity which will ultimately have a more beneficial effect on them.

JOHN PETROZZI: Because sometimes it’s quite difficult for someone who is feeling the effects of a disease or an illness. They’re feeling so down and hopeless about everything. Sometimes, it’s difficult for them to accept something that’s, I suppose, feeling positive or different to what they’re feeling.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Oh, yes, definitely. And that’s where your loved ones come in, that’s where, you know, where the family members and people who understand the mind can exert a force from the body, can help out, so that person doesn’t have to feel alone. What they’re going through with alone, they have family and friends who are willing to help support them. And if he feels that support, just to help them to be more positive, help them to believe a lot more. It can mean that for every therapy or I could say drug regime they’re experiencing or receiving, or any holistic therapy or healing technique they’re receiving, even just a gentle encouragement will definitely work in their understanding that what they think about and what’s in their mind can have an effect.

Even just helping them to imagine, after receiving the therapy or the drug, to just imagine themselves, even just for five minutes a day, just imagine themselves getting better, how they would be when they’re fully well, and to just to do this as often as they can, at least for five minutes a day—it doesn’t take a lot of work to do that—then that five minutes a day can actually change a lot and really move beyond even feeling really negative about something. It only takes such short periods of time a day.

JOHN PETROZZI: Repetition, huh?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yeah. It’s a repetition of it.

JOHN PETROZZI: David, I’m really interested to see where this word ‘placebo’ is going to go in the next ten or 20 or 30 years because, I suppose—you know, I’ve been in chiropractic for a while—I suppose 15 years ago, they used to put the results to chiropractic down to just a placebo effect. It’s just because the person is kind and they say nice things that’s why you feel better. And, you know, that’s all good, but actually we know, as chiropractors, that there’s a lot more going on when we do a spinal adjustment to the neuroplasticity of the spine and the brain.


JOHN PETROZZI: So, I’m really interested to see what happens with this word ‘placebo’ over the next little while, particularly with this sort of research that’s coming out, like you have done, and many other scientists have done. Where do you think this word’s going to go over the next little while?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: You know, that’s a really good question because they already, frankly, beginning to change very, very quickly. The ‘placebo’— and many neuroscientists, the ones studying the brain are only just beginning to show the conflict and healing effect to prove, to really see that the mind really does exert a phenomenal influence in the body. It’s no longer just a placebo or what placebo really suggests, “It’s all in the mind,” but researching for the word like ‘healing effect.’

It immediately gets you thinking another way what ‘healing effect’ is supposed to mean. It’s a meaning that you attach to this thing. It’s the thinking in your own mind that actually exerts a real biochemical effect in your body. And I think more and more doctors, more and more mainstream scientists have no choice, really, but to accept that the placebo effect isn’t just something in your own imagination or your thinking that absolutely, 100%, wholeheartedly, impact the brain, impact the structure of the brain, impacts the plasticity of the entire brain, impacts the cells of the body and even impacts us slightly to the genetic level.

For there is a very [0:24:32] compared to when I was in the pharmaceutical industry ten years ago. Many body scientists see that there’s been a great acceptance of many of the principles now, and I think in the next ten years or so, we’re going to see a very different picture of the people who are routinely being encouraged to be positive, routinely being encouraged not just to be generally positive but to direct their imagination in a positive way whether that’s through visualisation or not, and doctors understanding that it’s not just placebo effect because there is no such thing. There is just what you imagine of what accepting a real biological effect on the body.

JOHN PETROZZI: It is really exciting, David, really, really exciting. We’ve come to the end of the show, unfortunately. I could talk about this for a day.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Oh, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.

JOHN PETROZZI: Oh, great! David, thanks very much for coming on the show. I think you have a website that people can have look at as well. Is that right?

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Yeah. It’s drdavidhamilton.com.

JOHN PETROZZI: Correct. I’ve seen the research paper so it’s a fascinating read.


JOHN PETROZZI: Thanks, David. I’d like you to be on the show again at another time, so we’ll keep in touch.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: I’ll look forward to that day.

JOHN PETROZZI: Great! Thank you.

DR. DAVID HAMILTON: Well, enjoy your day.

JOHN PETROZZI: Thank you. And that was Dr. David Hamilton, who has written a book called “The Mind Can Heal the Body.” So check it out. It’s a really great read. I hope that the information we spoke about today is going to have a positive impact on your life and the life of your friends and family.

Thanks for listening today. Yeah, you can listen to this podcast again on www.livingiseasy.com.au. I’m John Petrozzi. Until next time, stay well and stay happy.

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