A cure for the common cold? Really?
by Sigrid Heath with Cassia Berman
June 19, 2008 01:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I wrote a health column a few weeks ago about editor Brian Hollander's broken rib, warning that there was nothing much to do about it but suffer and be patient, Cassia Berman, an occasional contributor for Ulster Publishing who does healing using ancient Chinese energy techniques, wrote back telling me that she had had good outcomes using energy healing for broken ribs.

I invited her to write a column describing her work. The result was very interesting.

Last week I wrote about my (un)common cold and again urged patience and gentle palliative care, watching for symptoms of bacterial infection and calling your doctor before they advance too far. Cassia called me and said, "I've had success curing the common cold." I said that if this is true, she should be a very wealthy woman and Kleenex futures could be in trouble.

So we continue our conversation, the skeptic and the healer, about different approaches to wellness and responses to illness.

Any one of about 200 different viruses can cause what we recognize as a cold. The symptoms result from our immune system's response to this invader, the rhinovirus. You know all about it: the nasal congestion, runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, chest congestion, and general discomfort. Unlike influenza or a bacterial infection, colds tend not to involve a high fever or serious pain. But they're most unpleasant and can have you feeling lousy for as long as two weeks.

What part of this process - from when the virus lands on the cilia in your nose, to the cascade of immune system responses that ensue - is helped by energy healing?

First, let me say, I consider myself "a very wealthy woman" in terms of the inner treasures which money can't buy but are the natural results of the practices I do. In the material wealth department, it's not easy to sell what I have to offer, and I wish I had some of those Kleenex futures myself.

Most people don't yet understand how simple and effective energy healing can be, and until they experience it for themselves, find it hard to believe it can help them.

Allow me to circle around your question. According to traditional Chinese medicine, every problem is a problem of energy not circulating properly. An acupuncturist uses needles to open and balance the flow of energy through specific points on the meridians, the rivers of energy that run through the body. The techniques I was taught by Master T.K. Shih, a 5th generation master of energy healing, founder of the Chinese Healing Arts Center, predate the use of needles, and involve using the mind, breathing and proper alignment of the body to redirect and balance the body's energy. In Qi healing, a practitioner cleans, strengthens and balances a client's energy without touching the body; in Qigong, you learn how to do it for yourself.

You can intervene with a cold at any stage of its development, but it's best to strengthen the immune system before anything happens, and I'm a walking example that this works. From childhood through my twenties, my immune and respiratory systems were weak, and I was very vulnerable to whatever cold, flu or virus was going around. When I started doing T'ai Chi thirty years ago, I pretty much stopped getting sick. At first it seemed magical, but years later, when I began studying the basics of classical Chinese medicine with Master Shih, I came to understand that when the body relaxes in its proper alignment, which a good T'ai Chi or Qigong teacher will teach you to do, your energy flows properly, your breathing and all body functions improve, and your immune system becomes strong.

But what if you already show signs of bacterial infection?

Recently Woodstock resident Thea Hambright, a skeptic like yourself, was coming down with a cold. It was following the same pattern it had for sixty-something years - headache, stuffiness, she was feeling miserable, and fully expected within hours to feel worse. I persuaded her to let me work on her. Without touching, I energetically cleared her nasal passages, throat and chest, and strengthened her overall energy. As I worked on her, though she didn't feel any strong sensations of energy, she gradually felt the congestion and discomfort leaving her system. Within a half hour, she felt great. That day she did more than she usually would have. The cold was completely gone, never came back, and she's still delighted.

That was a bit of a side-slip, Cassia, and while your answer reinforces the importance of intervening before a more serious infection develops, I have to add that, should your cold devolve into pain and fever, go see your doctor. But once you're flat on your back, gurgling phlegm, how can energy healing help?

I've worked on people when they've had the kind of cold that lingers for weeks. I've essentially done the same thing, energetically cleaned the head, throat and chest. People feel relief very quickly, and the cold is gone for good.

The power of suggestion also comes into play. I've heard people say, "Oh, there's this cold going around, and everyone's getting it, and once you get it, it doesn't go away." Our subconscious is surprisingly obedient to such messages - science is studying this. When I hear people talking like that, I say to myself, "I'm not getting that cold!" And I don't.

But, being human, once every few years, there's a glitch in my system and I do get the start of a cold. I've found using Qigong and mentally cleaning my lung meridian, I can usually work a cold out of my system in a day or so. The only time that didn't work was a few years ago, one spring, when I got what I thought was a cold, with unbelievable amounts of mucus. It lasted for three months, and I was disappointed with myself for not being able to shake it. Then my landlords replaced the kitchen floor, took out huge amounts of rotten, moldy wood, and when they were done the mucus was gone. It was very interesting to see how my body defended itself.

What's missing from the classic approach: fluids and bed rest?

Cleaning the body with fluids moves toxins out of the body. Resting allows the body to martial its forces to fight the infection. Eventually, as you say, with patience, the cold will run its course, and you'll gradually get your strength and mojo back. But correcting and strengthening your energy hastens the process.

Sometimes, emotionally, a person might feel like taking a break from life or work, and having a cold might be the only way to justify taking time out. In addition, in the Chinese view of the body, each organ houses an emotion. The emotion of grieving lives in the lungs, and sometimes - not all the time! - if there's a feeling of grief unexpressed, it might affect the lungs and cause a cold or other respiratory problem. It's very interesting when you start to explore these connections. The integration of mind, body and breathing makes you better able to process whatever feelings you might have been suppressing.

This sounds like it would take years of belief-adjustment - how does it work? Isn't it just enough to get some serious R & R, allowing my immune system to do its work?

As Master Shih would say, "How to do?" Real relaxation is an art. In the Chinese sense it doesn't mean vegging out or deadening yourself with some form of entertainment or substance, it means coming into vibrant balance and alignment with our own life force. In our society, there are so many factors that interfere with the proper functioning of the immune system. Reducing stress is a huge subject in itself.

For all our advanced science and technology, we've lost connection with what it is to stay healthy. Of all the systems I've observed, if you want to learn to relax, reduce stress, and strengthen your immune system, I think the Chinese offers the simplest, most direct techniques. Gesundheit, Sigrid!

Heath's conclusion

Here's my problem: while much of this approach makes sense in a metaphoric way, I don't understand what happens on a cellular level, so my mind/body interaction is noisy with questions: how does it work? Exactly how is the virus neutralized? When I visualize, as instructed, the crap moving out of my body, what happens (or is supposed to happen) to achieve this? What are the limitations of energy healing? Clearly, it helps to believe it's going to work, as Cassia's declaration, 'I'm not catching that cold!' illustrates. But Cassia describes the process as science and I need more scientific language to help me make sense of it.

I am uncomfortable when an adherent of alternative modalities suggests that all western approaches are aligned with the dark side - Big Pharma/AMA cabals, etc. Cassia doesn't do this; if she did, our dialogue would be impossible. And I am interested when a western medicine practitioner is open to holistic approaches, as mine is. But I want to know more about how these different disciplines can work together.

So I'm still skeptical -- curious but skeptical.++

Cassia Berman teaches Qigong and T'ai Chi classes in Woodstock, and does private sessions in Qi healing and medical Qigong. She is also certified to teach Master Shih's Qi healing intensive, for which acupuncturists can receive PDA/CEUs. She can be reached at 679-9457.

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