Pondering the Mind-Body Connection – Placebos, Sarno, and Bates

March 28, 2011

Photo by Esparta

Placebos without Deception

I recently heard about the “Placebos without Deception” study, “A Randomized controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Prior to that study, the placebo effect was thought to work only when people weren’t aware that it was being used. A person was given a sugar pill instead of actual medication, and they got better because they believed it was the real thing. There is of course an ethical roadblock when experimenting with the placebo effect. In the study, patients were taught about the placebo effect and were then actually told that they were being given a sugar pill. They were instructed to treat the pill as if it was real medication. Surprisingly, 59% of the patients experienced relief from symptoms. Some attributed this to the ritual of taking medication. Others, simply to the mind’s amazing healing abilities. The placebo effect is very important when it comes to mind-body healing because it’s an acknowledgement by the medical community of the mind’s ability to heal.

John E. Sarno – TMS

I came across John E. Sarno’s theories on TMS via Richard Nikoley’s blog. Richard had been experiencing debilitating shoulder pain and after some hesitation and skepticism, he gave Sarno a try at the recommendation of others. It helped him greatly.

After reading some book reviews and doing a bit of background research on Sarno, I decided to give him a try for some chronic knee pain. I’ve only started applying his theories, so it’d be premature to jump to any conclusions, but I’ve had some success, think his theories make sense, and feel positive about the direction I’m heading with it.

Sarno will get his own post when/if the times comes. In the meantime, I’m very interested in the mind-body connection. I’ve always been fascinated by both psychology and natural health, so my interest in mind-body healing is no surprise. I’m starting to feel like my paleo / primal diet is becoming increasingly dialed in, and I’m on the right path with how I’m eating. It’s the mind aspect that I routinely neglect. And the more I read about it, the more I feel that it’s an area that deserves much more focus. As Dr. Kurt Harris pointed out recently, diet isn’t a cure-all, and there are many other facets to health and life.

The Mind-Body Connection

The mind-body realization was even more evident to me when I re-read some of William H. Bates’ work. (Someone else who warrants a separate post). I’ve been having computer eye strain issues lately, and I’ve tried to apply Sarno’s concepts to it, hypothesizing that computer eye strain may be a repetitive strain injury of the eye (Sarno considers repetitive stress injuries to be manifestations of TMS). Then I thought back to Bates and realized that he and Sarno were thinking along the same lines, except Sarno focuses on the back, and Bates on the eyes. Bates basically believes that all eye problems are caused by strain, and that the only way to have perfect eyesight and healthy eyes is to relax the mind. To me, that sounds pretty similar to Sarno, who believes that most chronic pain is due to tension. I suppose the main difference is that Sarno focuses on the psychological aspect, with a Freudian foundation. However, some people are not in complete agreement with those Freudian explanations, and say you can still benefit from his theories without fully subscribing to the Freudian ideology. I myself had some problems identifying with the Freudian-based approach.

However, the essence of what both Sarno and Bates are saying, is that physical pain is caused by a stressful/tense mind. This realization had a really big impact on me. How many of our physical problems are potentially caused by a distressed mind? A lot of us eat well and exercise, but overlook mental well-being.

Considering how much we have to potentially gain from a truly healthy state of mind, the amount of time most of us spend on this aspect of health seems extremely disproportionate.   But in a way, that’s an exciting realization, because there is so much potential improvement to be had.

What are your thoughts on the mind-body connection?

Leave a Comment


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex October 31, 2011 at 12:56 PM

I too have been wondering about my eye strain/tightness in my eyes being due to stress/tension in the mind. I’ve gone through all of the physical treatments for eye strain and I still haven’t been able to get significant relief from it. It just popped up out of nowhere too when I started a new job as a web designer. I had been doing web design and computer stuff for years and years before I started the job and never remember having eye strain until I began working there. Have you had any success with the TMS approach to your eye strain?


[email protected] January 5, 2012 at 8:48 PM

Hi Alex, thanks for stopping by. I’ve had less eye strain lately, but I think that it had to do with decreased computer usage. As my usage ramps up again, I’m going to see if I the TMS approach helps. I hope you’ve had some success with eliminating your eye strain. You might find both Sarno’s and Bates’ work interesting/helpful.


alex April 13, 2013 at 4:54 PM

hi just wondering if the TMS approach has been helping you with your eye strain issues? i would habe responded much sooner than this but never got a notification you posted.

[email protected] April 15, 2013 at 9:18 AM

Hi. I’m still a believer in TMS but I can’t say I’ve been dedicated enough to applying it to come to any conclusions. The link between eye strain, TMS, Bates, etc. makes logical sense to me though, and it’s still something I’d like to spend more time exploring…


Alex April 15, 2013 at 2:22 PM

Yeah for me thats a huge signal this is TMS causing my eye strain. As your computer usage decreased your pain did but that doesn’t happen to me. My pain/eyestrain is with me 24/7 no matter what I’m doing. I went on vacation multiple times where I didn’t touch a computer for days and had the same pulling/eyestrain sensation in my eyes its like a tightness in the inner corners of the eye.

I guess thats one of the bigger indicators if mind body or not is whether it’s with you 24/7 when you’re not even doing anything that could aggravate it. I told this to my doctor when I was still in vision therapy a couple years ago and he had no way to explain why this was happening.


[email protected] April 15, 2013 at 2:37 PM

It could very well be TMS.. have you noticed anything that causes your symptoms to go away? Also, have you ever looked into the Bates method?


Alex April 18, 2013 at 7:52 AM

No haven’t really looked at the bates method. I hear he thinks similarly though that mental strain is the cause of all eye problems. What makes my symptoms lessen is feelings of hope and when my anxiety about them decreases. If i’m distracted the pain goes down too. However no physical treatments work for me. I know computer vision syndrome is in vogue right now which makes it hard to defeat doubt in the mind. I’ve tried absolutely everything to relieve eye strain and nothing has worked.


[email protected] April 18, 2013 at 6:16 PM

Having just read what you wrote, I really think you should give Bates a try. Because you’re right, he does believe it’s all linked to mental strain, but at the same time he provides some tangible stuff that you can actually do (e.g. palming which is super basic). If you’re looking for some online support with it, this girl’s great http://sorrisi.wordpress.com/. But most importantly I recommend Bates’ original book and compilation of magazines (not the later book re-written by I believe it was his wife). Also, I don’t recommend any eye “exercises”. That’s not what Bates is about…


Alex April 19, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Yeah I did the whole eye exercise thing for many many months. I spent 6 months in in office vision therapy, 5 months home vision therapy, various months doing eye exercises on my own, etc. Didn’t do shit for my problem in fact it got worse. Since Bates is along the same lines as Sarno in saying that mental strain is the cause of the symptoms I am interested in reading his stuff. Do you have any particular books you know of that are good by Bates? Also I’m going ot check out that site.


[email protected] April 19, 2013 at 7:04 PM

This is Bates’ original book, free online http://www.visionsofjoy.org/pdfs/BatesPerfectSightWG.pdf ; This is a compilation of stuff written by him, also very good http://www.amazon.com/Better-Eyesight-Complete-Magazines-William/dp/1556433514/ref=pd_sim_b_3 ; this is not by Bates but discusses similar stuff – I think it’s better to understand Bates first though so that you can navigate what to ignore http://www.amazon.com/Relearning-See-Improve-Eyesight-Naturally/dp/1556433417/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1366423135&sr=8-8&keywords=bates+vision ;I would recommend starting with “palming” – doesn’t work for everyone, but works for many http://sorrisi.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/5-suggestions-for-palming/


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