My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is one of many that challenge the conventional approach to medical care in which a patient is a passive character who just goes to the doctor and does (or ingests) whatever the doc tells them to. In the vein of works by Deepak Chopra and Bernie Siegal, this book is written by medical doctor who has different beliefs on healing. So what’s the niche of Mind Over Medicine, given that there are already a number of prominent medical doctors preaching the same message? That message is that your body is a healing machine and will do MOST (not ALL, none of these individuals advocates abandoning modern medical science) of the heavy lifting of healing, if you create the right conditions. Rankin presents results from scientific studies as the thrust of her book. I’m not really that familiar with Siegal, but you’ll find Rankin’s work a great deal less spiritual and more scientific than the works of Deepak Chopra.
There’s a lot of scientific interest in understanding why some people experience spontaneous remissions from the most lethal of ailments while others succumb to diseases that most people weather with ease. While many people will chalk it up to divine will or chakra nudging or having one’s demons expunged, these aren’t satisfying answers for the scientifically minded individual. However, neither is the extreme skeptic’s suggestion that these are just randomly distributed flukes of nature—and it’s a waste of time to try to explain the outliers. The latter being unsatisfying because phenomena like the placebo effect are well documented.
So what conclusion does Rankin draw from the scientific literature. As suggested earlier, the conclusion is that the body is extremely good at healing what ails it, but it has to be in the right mode to have this healing take place. What’s the right mode? It has to be in relaxed mode, or, in scientific parlance, the parasympathetic system must be engaged. The problem is that when a person is under stress, the body switches into a fight or flight mode. Humanity hasn’t really come to grips with the fact that work deadlines, fears about ailments, or fears that our spouse may be cheating aren’t really the same as our ancestor’s experience of being chased by a saber-tooth tiger. When that ancestor was being chased by a tiger, his or her body shut down everything that wasn’t germane to immediate survival (e.g. digestion is interrupted, blood isn’t evenly distributed but goes to lungs and skeletal muscles, etc.) The tiger chase is over shortly, and the body returns doing its regular at-rest functions (e.g. digesting, healing, etc.) However, if we let our stressors kick us into that immediate survival mode–and just having a disease can be stressing enough in itself–then our healing can be severely or completely curtailed.
Can faith healing, karma cleansing, chakra fluffing, or sugar pills contribute to healing? Sure, but not in the way that the faithful thinks. These systems–each of which has proponents who’ll swear they witnessed first-hand the power of faith or magic or invisible energy (and they are probably not lying)–work because the person who firmly believes in these therapies is able to relax and let their bodies can do what they do.
Does this mean that those who don’t believe in religion or cosmic energy manipulation are out of luck? No. You just skip the middleman and engage in activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or breathing exercises that allow you to put the body in a relaxed state. Secular meditation works just fine if practiced consistently, and particularly if one confronts, addresses, and eliminates the long-terms stressors in one’s life.
At the heart of the book is a discussion about how to go about performing one’s own diagnosis and writing one’s own prescription. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t about cutting the doctor out. In this case one is diagnosing one’s stressors and prescribing activities to eliminate them. This doesn’t mean one should pass up medical treatment or doctor’s advice. However, it may entail switching doctors if you have a doctor that firmly believes you are incapable of getting better—you don’t need any doubts about your body’s ability to do its thing being foist upon you.
I’d highly recommend this book for scientifically-minded individuals interested in learning how they can help their bodies get into a state conducive to healing.