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Natural Awakenings Boston

The Healing Power of Illness

Oct 29, 2012 03:22PM ● By Alison Shaw


These days modern medicine can treat, if not cure, many illnesses, repair damaged bones and organs, correct biochemical imbalances and relieve pain. Many people owe their lives to the miraculous advances of medical science and alternative therapies. But in the quest to eliminate pain and disease, many tend to see illness as an enemy to be fought and defeated, whereas it can also be seen as a messenger to enhance healing on many levels.

Many ancient cultures embraced this kind of outlook, approaching “dis-eases” of body or mind as valuable messengers and symptoms of imbalances at all levels of life. Medical practitioners from these cultures acted more like guides, helping their patients to listen to the dis-ease and heed its message. In the ancient healing temples of Asclepius (named for the Greek God of healing), anyone in need of healing was led to a chamber and allowed to sleep, dream and receive symbolic visions from their unconscious. Even today, patients in Shamanic cultures are led on spiritual journeys to receive communication from higher parts of themselves for their physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

Modern science is now demonstrating that the body and mind affect each other in every moment. Emotional states such as stress, grief, and chronic anger cause biochemical changes in the body that can lead to illness. But there may be more to the body-mind connection than chemistry. CG Jung, the father of Jungian Psychoanalysis, described the body as an expression of the psyche. Integrative medicine practitioners following this line of thinking may encourage their clients to ask “How does what’s going on in my body reflect what’s going on in my life?” in order to open possibilities for healing the root causes of illness.

For example, someone who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has found no relief from conventional and alternative treatments might do well to stop fighting the fatigue and instead begin to dialogue with it. Those challenged with this illness could ask themselves, “What am I tired of?” and see what answers and insights emerge that may have been obscured by busy efforts to fight the fatigue. Once the information presents itself people can then address the critical root causes of their stress and depletion and make lifestyle changes for better health.

It is most useful to begin this work with a guide in the form of a trained practitioner. Body-centered therapies like Bioenergetics, Hakomi, art and dance therapy, and many energy healing and integrative bodywork modalities will explore physical and emotional issues from a body-mind-soul perspective. In the meantime, try listening to symptoms as metaphors with these simple steps:

  • The next time a symptom appears, take a quiet moment to relax and allow the physical sensations and emotional experiences to be there.
  • Be curious about their presence. Notice any images, words or moods that arise.
  • Hold these questions softly: What is this symptom saying? What is its purpose? What is it here to do for me? What does it need from me?
  • Do some writing or drawing or some form of art to allow these symbolic messages to come through.

While the answers to these questions and inquiries may not be clear at first, staying with the process can yield information that leads to healthy changes and true, lasting healing.

Alison Shaw and Bodymind Resourcing are located at 393 Mass. Ave. in Arlington. For more information call 781-646-0686 or visit

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