Have you learnt to enjoy obstacles?
Inscription from a Tibetan stone
Would that you were hot or cold
- Towards deep relaxation
- Control your blood vessels
- Talking to your heart
- How to blush, or not
- Radiate warmth
The Laws of Supply
I can remember how impressed I was in the first year at medical school when I first came across the wonders of the arterial tree, the complicated mesh of blood vessels which, intertwining with the tiny branches of the equally comprehensive nervous system, reach every part of our bodies.
If you think of the body as a country, then the circulation acts as the system of transport and purification: both vital functions. It is also the means of supply, furnishing all parts of the body with their relative needs. It consequently requires very careful control and this is administered by a part of the cerebral cortex close to the emotional centre. Here the orders are given for the heart to beat faster or slower, or for the blood vessels to contract or dilate. Other centres in the brain cause corresponding changes to take place simultaneously or shortly after in the tone of the muscles, the activity of the sweat glands and in our body temperature. Ninety-nine per cent of the processes connected with circulation are involuntary. Our conscious mind either totally fails to perceive them or does so only passively. Lie detectors are based on this principle. Avicenna, however, anticipated modern science by centuries. When a young lad from the Royal family was wasting away from some unknown disease, everyone remained mystified until the doctor ordered all the young women of the court to walk by as he was checking the youth's pulse. The emotional centres controlling the circulation act as they think fit: supposedly working for the good of the body as a whole, they are really a law unto themselves. But now I would like to make a small digression in order to consider a very painful problem for shy people.
Julius Caesar Chose Soldiers Who Blushed
In his work ‘The Expression of Sensations in Man and Animals’, Darwin wrote: ‘The blush of shame is the most individual and humane of all our facial expressions. It is caused by a rush of blood to the fine blood vessels of the face. We can induce laughter by tickling the skin, crying or frowning by a blow, and trembling by a threat, etc. But it is impossible to induce a blush…by any physical means… In this case, efforts should be directed towards the mind…’ Darwin deduced from this that anyone of very low IQ would rarely blush: thus the ability to blush was linked to a certain level of intelligence. It has nevertheless remained an attribute of which we are often ashamed.
Of course, if you do not blush this in no way reflects on your intellect: individuals vary a great deal in this, as in everything. Blushing can be hereditary. Darwin again, for example, noted a family in which it was the characteristic trait of both parents and all ten children: the daughters even blushed in exactly the same way as their mother. This was, of course, no more than genetic caprice. The really interesting thing is the link between blushing and social contact since it always occurs as a response to social stimuli, for instance, in conversation.
‘If I meet someone I know when I'm out in the street I blush. I blush if a stranger starts talking to, or even looks at me. And if I'm called out in front of the class I just go beetroot.’
People are (or will be) looking at me! People have noticed (or will notice) me! The thought, or simply just the fleeting subconscious suspicion, that this could be possible is quite sufficient to cause many people to blush.
We blush on different occasions: when we are criticised or praised, if we have been waiting for someone specially, or if we meet them unexpectedly in the street. An emotional attachment to someone and the feeling of being the centre of attention are probably the two major causes of blushing. They very often go together and are always determined by how we think we appear to others. People who are very highly-strung and suggestible may blush simply because they think the people they are with might possibly see something compromising in their behaviour. For example, someone may blush in case others think they are sexually interested in someone just mentioned in the conversation although, in fact, this is far from the truth. If we are susceptible to blushing we will blush at anything.
The subjective sensation of blushing does not always coincide with reality: some people flush without realising it, whilst others are convinced their cheeks are burning when there are no visible signs. But that in itself is of little significance. The real question is why people should be so tormented by blushes, whether real or imaginary. Why do we worry so much about this when many may see it as more of a plus than a minus?
I have closely questioned many who suffer from blushing about the reasons why it worries them, but I have rarely received a rational answer, more something along the lines of, ‘Blushing's bad because it is.’ Others feel it is so terrible because it gives you away and shows you are embarrassed. The obvious question arising from this is what is so wrong in appearing embarrassed; it seems a lot better than coming across as arrogant. Another viewpoint would be that you lose nothing, in fact the reverse, by showing your confusion and that, in any case, a blush in itself means very little: it could show you were angry, or happy, or just excited. Julius Caesar tended to choose men who blushed rather than those who turned pale for his army. According to Darwin, Cherkassian girls who were able to blush were the favourites in the Sultan's seraglio. All these arguments, however, have little effect. Those of us who blush are generally tormented by the sensation of our burning cheeks and the attention (imaginary at least 90% of the time) it arouses, and are unlikely to believe that anyone could ever think it a quality. If you delve a little deeper, it often turns out, in fact, that those of us who are concerned about blushing often find it hard to believe that anyone could think anything good about us at all. Lots of people blush but it is only a problem for those who are unduly worried by disapproval, criticism or ridicule, or who expect others to talk behind their backs.
If this strikes home, it may be helpful to acknowledge, even if at only a rational level, that you attract neither more nor less attention than anyone else; that even if you were particularly flushed or pale people would still treat you more or less the same. The kind of attitude to aim at is perhaps one that enables you to think along the lines of, ‘Let anyone who wants to have a jolly good look at me. I am as I am, which is fine for me and I don’t want to be different.’ It would also be beneficial to use Auto-Training in social situations (especially exercises for freeing the muscles and the breathing) so as to remain comfortably relaxed the whole time.
One final point on the subject of blushing: have you ever thought about not just letting yourself blush, but being positively glad that you can do so? A lot of people would like to but cannot. Or you could go even further and try blushing for no reason at all since many consider it attractive; only remember that, when you make a conscious attempt to blush, you will find it much more difficult to do so.
How About Blushing to Order?
Darwin noticed that in countries where people wear few or no clothes blushes cover the whole body or the parts that are usually exposed, and that they are always a response to similar types of stimuli.
‘The act of directing the attention onto a certain part of the body arrests the normal tonic contraction of blood-vessels in the area. Consequently, the vessels are more or less relaxed and are instantaneously filled with arterial blood.’
This, according to Darwin, is the physiological mechanism of blushing. It is quite logical: evolution has ensured that we direct our attention onto a certain part of the body when preparing to move it. To perform the action it will require an increased supply of blood: the more blood there is, the greater the rate of metabolism and, consequently, the better the performance. The natural chain (attention - increased blood supply - increased rate of metabolism) evidently makes it possible for us to influence our bodies consciously as, for example, in yoga.
There is, however, still a great deal we do not yet understand. Why, for instance, is someone who blushes easily nevertheless unable to do so to order, even if his or her attention is focused firmly on the cheeks? The blood vessels clearly reject this intervention and react solely to subconscious commands. The ability to dilate the blood vessels is one of the basic skills of Auto-Training.
Warmth at Will
In fact, cats can teach us a lot about this. Dilating the blood vessels is conducive to rest and helps restore energy: this is probably why animals try to rest in the warm and never miss a chance of lying in the sun or near a source of heat. You must have noticed that blissful sensation of thawing out when you come in from the cold and finally stand in front of the fire or by a radiator; and how difficult it usually is then to keep your eyes open. Conversely, how hard it is to fall asleep if your hands and feet are cold! (Although extreme cold slows the circulation down and is also accompanied by irresistible drowsiness).
To calm down and fall asleep requires the relaxation not only of the muscles but also of the blood vessels, or, to be more exact, a redistribution of their tone: the blood vessels dilate and receive extra blood at the expense of the brain. This has been demonstrated experimentally. The subject was asked to lie down whilst still awake on a finely tuned see-saw in a horizontal position. As he fell asleep, his legs tipped the scale and his head rose. When he engaged in intense mental or emotional activity, the reverse occurred, but if he imagined he was dancing, blood again flowed to his legs and the see-saw moved.
Along with the inventor Sergei Jogansen, I constructed a small and simple device consisting of an amp meter and a thermoelectric meter which can be fixed to a finger or any other part of the body. When in place, the apparatus should be left for a short time until the needle has settled and it can then be used to show suggested and auto-suggested changes in skin temperature. By inducing a sensation of warmth in the area of the meter, it is possible to move the needle a number of degrees. The reverse operation is more difficult but also possible.
You can also try to move the needle without suggesting warmth. I asked several subjects to do this without explaining the principles of the experiment. They all stated that the skin under the meter warmed up, whilst several even experienced a tingling sensation.
Think back to one of the preparatory concentration exercises, the fixation of the finger (see Chapter 6). The pulsating in the finger and the subjective and objective rise in temperature usually occur without any special Auto-Suggestion of heat.
The pulsation of the finger can thus serve as the starting point for more extensive temperature training. Once you have managed to attain pulsating and a rise in temperature, even if it is just in the index finger of one hand, it is not particularly difficult to spread the sensation to your neighbouring fingers. This sometimes happens of its own accord. It is then easy to transmit the sensation further up the hand and the arm. If you prefer, you can start with the whole hand straight away.
Assume an Auto-Training pose. Relax and free the breathing. Concentrate on your right hand: imagine it is getting steadily warmer.
A verbal formula (which may be combined with rhythmic breathing):
My hand's getting warmer,
the fingers are pleasantly warm,
the palm's warming up,
a soft warmth fills my hand,
warmth is streaming along the fingers,
flowing into the fingertips,
flooding the nails.
The blissful warmth's growing,
the palm's getting warmer,
burning with warmth, pulsating,
The warmth's enveloping my wrist,
the elbow's warming up,
the whole arm's warm,
from the shoulders to the fingertips…
It is usually fairly easy to induce a sensation of warmth; it is probably the easiest operation in Auto-Training. You can feel the warmth originating inside your hand and spreading right through it. It sometimes feels as though your hand is being warmed from outside and the warmth enveloping it in an invisible veil. The pulsation of the fingers and the hand indicates that your attention is focused on the mild stimulation of the blood vessels which we rarely notice.
If mental and verbal formulas are ineffective, imagine that your hand is sinking into a hot bath, that you are holding it on a warm radiator or in front of a fire; that it is cotton wool soaking up warm water, an earthenware jug filled with hot milk, or something similar.
You may be wondering why we begin with the hand. This is because, thanks to its very active role in a large number of different functions, it is most responsive to conscious control and is the most versatile part of the body. When you have induced warmth in one hand it often spreads to the other and then through the whole body. The vascular system is inclined to produce blanket reactions and the whole supply network is set on alert as soon as an order is received from above. This can be exploited straight away, inducing at one session a sensation of warmth in the arms and legs:
Warmth's flooding my arms,
filled with pulsating warmth
right up to the shoulders, the collar-bone, shoulder-blades.
Warmth's flowing through
my legs, chest, stomach, back,
through my whole body…
Shultz recommended that his patients pay particular attention to the formula:
‘My solar plexus is radiating heat.’
The solar plexus is a network of nerves situated midway between the chest and the stomach. The effect of the formula is to warm both these areas and to relax the smooth muscles of the digestive system, stomach, intestines, kidneys, and gall bladder.
This can greatly help some neuroses and internal disorders, but it is not essential for typical, regular Auto-Training practice. A ‘laying on of hands’, which will be explained later this chapter, can be used in its place. The final stage of a full temperature exercise (that is, one aiming to induce warmth throughout the body) ends with the formula:
My whole body's radiating warmth,
becoming a sun,
You can include this exercise as often as you like in your routine Auto-Training. In psychotherapeutic practice, the Auto-Suggestion of warmth is often combined with that of heaviness which, generally more difficult to induce, will be dealt with later (Chapter 12). Auto-Suggestion of warmth can be used either independently or combined with relaxation, for example:
‘My hand's soft, warm and relaxed’
or, indeed, with any other exercises.
The combination of warmth and relaxed breathing is particularly effective.
Breathe in the way described earlier (Chapter 10, freeing the breathing). Let your attention pulsate: as you breathe in and begin to breathe out, concentrate on the pleasure of breathing; for the rest of the exhalation and the pause before the next breath, transfer your attention to the points you wish to warm up (perhaps your hands, or legs, or your whole body at once). At the same time, imagine that you are absorbing heat as you breathe in, and are sending it around your body as you exhale. This is a fairly pleasant exercise which, like most exercises using rhythmic breathing, tends to get you involved very quickly. Do not, however, get too carried away and do not start breathing more deeply than usual. Once you have mastered this exercise, you can adapt it to suit yourself using other Auto-Suggestions.
If you are inclined to feel cold when you are anxious, you can calm yourself down with warmth without needing to relax deeply: you are literally carrying a psychological hot water-bottle around with you. If you have high blood pressure, Auto-Suggestions of heat (especially, ‘my legs are warm’) help the pressure to drop and stabilise, particularly if you finish with vascular toning up.
A few adepts at Auto-Training can instantly dilate their blood vessels until they stand out visibly, the area reddens and the temperature rises approximately 1°C in 5-10 minutes. After one patient of mine suffering from serious stenocardia had mastered vascular Auto-Training, in particular raising the temperature of the left hand, shoulder and shoulder-blade, his attacks ceased completely. Temperature Auto-Training is a valuable prophylactic measure for all normally healthy people of forty plus.
These exercises are most difficult for smokers since their blood-vessels are, as a rule, chronically contracted and correspondingly unresponsive. If you have serious heart disease with oedema, or a thrombosis, or if you have recently suffered a heart attack, then under no circumstances should you attempt this type of Auto-Training since your blood-vessels require complete rest.
A Cool Head…
Folk wisdom suggests you keep a cool head and warm feet. A cold shower has long been proposed as an effective way of dealing with young ‘hotheads’. A rush of blood to the head is very familiar to anyone who is highly-strung: a signal that the emotional centres in the brain are receiving an extra supply of blood. A cool head is indeed incompatible with strong emotions of any kind. Convinced that the temperature of the head drops during hypnotic sleep, Shultz recommended the following Auto-Suggestion:
Forehead pleasantly cool.’
The ultimate formula for calming yourself down by means of vascular control is:
‘Body warm (relaxed and warm/ heavy and war/, soft and warm),
It is, however, much more difficult to induce cold than warmth and it is often virtually impossible. It is not worth persisting too much if you find very great difficulty. If you are inclined to suffer from vascular spasms accompanied by headaches, it is better to leave it out altogether and replace it with the Auto-Suggestion:
Face relaxed and warm,
cheeks soft and warm,
temples nicely warm…
(Evidently this is one case when, instead of ‘keeping a cool head and warm feet’, it is better to follow the immortal words of Gargantua: ‘Make sure you keep covered your legs and your head, but otherwise copy the beasts of the wood’).
…And a Warm Heart
Yogis state that the heart is as capricious and shy as an Arab stallion. It is best to treat it with tender respect, to use gentle persuasion and never to resort to intimidation: it is your heart, after all, not just any old organ you can raise your voice to from time to time.
It is ideal if you have a regular doctor who can get to know just how your heart reacts. If you have anything wrong (heart disease or diagnosed steno-cardia, for example), then you should visit him or her regularly.
You can also help yourself, and this will not interfere with medical treatment in any way. Relaxing the body, the mind and the breathing is always good for the heart.
Do Not Be Too Demanding
Those of us who are prone to excessive worry often experience unpleasant sensations in the region of the heart and sometimes sharp pains when there is no physical cause whatsoever either in the heart itself or the coronary blood-vessels: it is simply psychosomatic. Before this is finally diagnosed as pseudo-steno-cardia, however, usually there has been considerable anxiety for all concerned.
Some people experience pseudo pains and unpleasant sensations in the region of the heart soon after beginning Auto-Training. In my experience, this is usually because they are a little too zealous in their initial approach to the exercises although some subconscious doubts and fears remain. I generally recommend that they practise less intensely for a while, though just as regularly, and that they stop trying so hard, stop feeling that they have to make tangible progress. Any initial discomfort of this kind usually disappears fairly soon without any aftereffects whatsoever.
There is no need to pay special attention to your heart in routine Auto-Training. If it persists in grumbling although medical evidence suggests there is nothing wrong, it simply means that it has fallen out with your emotions for some reason: Auto-Training is then at your service. If relaxing the body and the breathing does not help and if the Auto-Suggestion of warmth, particularly in the left hand, is no good either, then try the following Auto-Suggestion:
Heartbeat calm and even,
calm and light,
calm and precise,
calm and confident,
calm and powerful,
heart beats with a gentle rhythm,
I trust my heart.
If you ever get to listen to you heart its beat should be light and joyous, like pleasant music.
My chest feels light,
whole chest is free,
warmth along the ribs,
light warmth in the chest,
right side of the chest warm,
left collar-bone warm,
a pleasant warmth in my left side,
left shoulder warm,
warmth below the left shoulder-blade.
Concentrating in this way will help the heart calm down, the surrounding blood vessels will dilate and the likelihood of your experiencing a spasm or pain will be reduced.
In Your Own Hands
You have probably often noticed how, without thinking, people often hold or rub a bruise or a part of their body that is hurting. We instinctively know how we can help ourselves: the warmth of the hand and the slight massage dilate the blood vessels in the painful area and improve the blood flow, whilst the sensation of the massage on the skin helps deaden the pain impulses sent to the brain. We have probably all experienced the relief of a hand gently smoothing our forehead when we have a headache. Faith healers help their patients by laying their hands on or around the source of pain: this is not as naive as it may at first sound since it combines faith in a cure with a light and very natural action on the localised vessels and nerves.
It is, therefore, possible to help ourselves in this way, not half instinctively as we usually do, but with a clear idea of what we are doing and, above all, concentrating hard. If you have just a little patience as well, then you will find this can help relieve various ailments (aches and pains, for example, spasms, colic, irritations, and so on).
It is very simple: place your hands on the necessary spot (your stomach, say, or around your heart) and induce a sensation of warmth in the usual way, starting with your hand. When you begin to feel the Auto-Suggestion is working, imagine that the warmth is flowing into the painful spot, which you can also massage lightly if you like. You will soon find that the part of your body under your hand is indeed getting warmer until it feels as though you have put a hot water-bottle or a mustard pack on it.
If you succeed in this, it is possible that different kinds of seizure, even attacks of steno-cardia, may disappear. Some people have found it very effective. As always, best results are achieved if you start early enough to intercept the initial stages of any undesirable state. It is a highly effective form of laying on of hands.
We are now at the very heart of Auto-Training. Perhaps even today you will get some inner realization that will help you find peace of mind, or perhaps you will feel you are just about to grasp it when it disappears. In either case do not delude yourself and do not give up in despair. Auto-Training is a friend for life and it is as unwise to doubt it as it is to expect it to work wonders overnight. Like many friends, it needs your attention and will take offence if you neglect it. Its main aim is to be a constant reminder and proof that the most reliable and resourceful Doctor is always within.