Dr. Lissa Rankin: “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself” | Talks at Google

February 29, 2020

excited to host Dr. Lissa Rankin today. It’s funny to say “doctor”
in front of your name. DR. LISSA RANKIN: I know. FEMALE SPEAKER: I call you
“Lissa.” But I met Lissa through a mutual friend, and
last year when I met Lissa she talked about this book
that was coming out. It’s all about her research and
the medical world that she comes from. So this is the book, “Mind Over
Medicine.” It’s available here as well for anyone
looking to purchase. But first a little bit
about Dr. Rankin. So Dr. Rankin is a mind-body
medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine
Institute Training Program for physicians and other health
care providers. And is “The New York Times”
best-selling author of “Mind Over Medicine– Scientific Proof You Can Heal
Yourself.” She is on a grassroots mission to put the
care back in health care and to heal our broken health care
system one doctor and patient at a time. Lissa blogs at
and has created two online communities, and She is also the author
of two other books. And Lissa will work on the focus
in an upcoming public television special that will
appear on PBS that she just finished taping, and she
delivered two popular TEDx talks, which are available
on her website. She’s also on the speaking
circuit with Hay House I Can Do It! conferences. Lissa’s work has also been
featured on over 30 television shows, over 50 radio shows, and
in publications such as “O” magazine, “The New York
Times,” WebMD, and CNN. She’s also a social networking
guru, and you can follow her on Twitter and on her blog,
which you can sign up for her newsletter daily. So without further ado, I will
hand it over to Lissa. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE] DR. LISSA RANKIN:
Hi, everyone. It’s so nice to see
you all here. So I want to tell you the story
of how I ended up being here in front of you, talking
about the things that I’m going to be talking
about today. In many ways, I’m the most
unlikely person on the planet to be talking about how
you can heal yourself. I was raised in a very
conventional upbringing with a physician father. I came to believe that in
order to get well, to be healthy, you do the things that
they teach us how to do in medical school, right? So my definition of “health”
meant, OK, so you eat well, you exercise daily, you get
enough sleep, you take your vitamins, you go to your
doctor for preventive maintenance, and you should
be healthy, right? Well, and I had once worked in
the inner city of Chicago. My patients were often very,
very poor, and they had very poor health habits. So it made sense to me that
these people were sick. Because when I was investigating
their health histories and that
sort of thing, they were eating poorly. They weren’t getting
enough sleep. They had many bad habits. Often they weren’t exercising
at all. So it kind of made sense to me
why these people were sick. Well, then I came
to Marin County. And I’m not from Marin, so I
had no idea what kind of people were in Marin County. But these people are proverbial
health nuts. I see you guys are smiling. Right? So I took a job at an
integrative medicine practice, and my patients were eating
their vegan diets. They were drinking their
daily green juice. They were working out with
personal trainers. They were getting eight hours
of sleep every night. They were taking
20 supplements. They were getting the best
medical care at places like Stanford and UCSF. So these people would come to
see me, and they’d have these laundry lists of chronic
health conditions. And it made no sense to me. I mean, these people should be
the healthiest people on the planet, and they were some
of the sickest people that I’d ever met. So it didn’t make any sense. Many of them, by the time they
had seen me, they had optimized everything that
Western medicine had to offer. So they had gone to all of their
fabulous doctors and had every fabulous test out there. So a few of them were
sort of practicing some functional medicine. And so some of them, I would
find the occasional lab test that someone else hadn’t
ordered, and I’d find some abnormality that we’d
be able to treat. And all of a sudden, it
would be like the lights had come on. They felt great and everything
was terrific. But that was maybe
10% of the time. And 90% of the time, I’d look
through everything that all the other doctors had done,
and I didn’t know how to explain why these people
were sick. So I did something
sort of radical. I decided, you know what,
maybe I’m not asking the right questions. Maybe the answer is not in their
medical record but in the rest of their life. So I redid my patient intake
form, the forms that you fill out when you go see
the doctor. So I was asking all the
conventional questions, but I started asking some
other questions. I started asking things like,
if you could break any rule and there were no consequences,
what rule would you break? And I started asking people
about their romantic life. Are you in a relationship,
and if so, are you happy? If not, do you wish you were? I started asking people
about their work. Do you love your job? Do you feel like
you’re in touch with your life’s purpose? Do you have a calling, and
if so, what is it? And I came across some
real doozies. I started asking people, if your
health condition had a message to teach you, what
is it here to teach you? And then the one that really
started being the mother lode for me, I asked people
what does your body need in order to heal? Now, when I started asking that
question, I thought that I would get treatment intuitions
from people, that maybe they’d tell me I think
I’ll skip the antidepressant and we’ll try the tryptophan
instead or something like that. And occasionally they would
say things like that. But more often than not, I’d
say, what does your body need in order to heal? And my patients would say things
like, I need to leave my abusive marriage. Or I need to quit my
soul-sucking job. Or I’ve got to get
my kid in rehab. Or I’ve got to deal with my
aging parent and get my mom out of my house. Or I need to finally
write my novel. And I’d say, well, great. You’ve just written the
prescription for yourself. Go do it. And they’d look at me and say,
well, I can’t do that, that would be crazy. Right? So I started talking to my
patients about, well, let’s assume for a minute that you
just answered the question of what does my body need
in order to heal and that it’s true. What if you actually did that
thing and your health conditions went away? Would you be willing
to do it then? And some of them would say, you
know what, actually not. I’d rather be sick than
have to follow through on what I just said. But some of my patients started
getting really brave. And so I was watching these
patients as they were going out into the world and sort
of making these courageous choices, often from this laundry
list of things that they’ve written out about the
answer to what does my body need in order to heal. And I started witnessing my
patients having these incredible, spontaneous
remissions from a whole host of health conditions. So I was not giving these people
any medical treatment. They had already gotten
the best medical treatment out there. And they were getting better,
and I couldn’t explain that. That didn’t make any sense
to my very logical, very scientific, very academically-educated doctor brain. It’s like, does not compute. I really couldn’t explain
what was going on. So I started researching
spontaneous remissions. This is a term the doctors use
to explain patients that get better either with no medical
treatment or with medical treatment deemed to be
inadequate for cure. So I started looking into this,
and I came across a database called the Spontaneous
Remission Project. And this is a database of over
3,500 case studies in the medical literature put together
by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. And they’re case studies that
doctors have written up as kind of medical mysteries, of
people that had everything from stage IV cancers
that disappeared. There was an HIV
positive person who became HIV negative. There’s a gunshot wound to
the head left untreated. And it wasn’t just
life-threatening illnesses like heart failure and
kidney failure. It was ordinary things, like
thyroid disease or autoimmune disorders or diabetes or
high blood pressure. So I was reading through these
case studies and this didn’t make any sense to me. Again, doctor brain
does not compute. Because I was not only a very
skeptical physician, but I was a very skeptical patient. So by the time I was 33 years
old, I had been diagnosed with a whole host of chronic
health conditions. And I was taking seven
medications that my doctors had told me I’d have to take
for the rest of my life. So being a doctor, and being
raised by a doctor, I believed my doctors. And I believed that these were
chronic conditions that I would have for the
rest of my life. So when I started reading these
cases of spontaneous remission, it was like
this light bulb going off in my mind. Like, wait a minute. Every single health condition
that I was dealing with myself, I was able to find a
case study of somebody who had that condition and got better
without medical treatment. And it was like a switch flipped
in my brain, where all of a sudden I started thinking,
what if my illnesses aren’t chronic? What if they’re not incurable? What if it’s possible that I
might not have to take seven medications for the
rest of my life? And it was really– have you
guys heard the story of the four-minute mile? Yeah, I see you guys nodding. So exercise physiologists once
believed that it was impossible, humanly,
physiologically impossible, for a human being
to run a mile in less than four minutes. And nobody had ever done it. It was kind of this world-wide
belief in the athletic community that this
was impossible. And then Roger Bannister
ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. And now almost every world-class
runner has run a sub-four-minute mile. So it was like that belief
that it was impossible suddenly shifted everything for
the world of athletics. And reading the Spontaneous
Remission Project and then going through even more case
studies in the medical literature was like
that for me. It was like all of a sudden
everything shifted, and I suddenly started thinking, what
if it’s possible that I could have a spontaneous
remission? What if it’s possible
that you could have a spontaneous remission? And I was watching my patients
do this by asking the question, what does my body
need in order to heal, and then getting really brave. So one of the case studies
that I came across was recently in “The New
York Times,” this guy Stamatis Moraitis. So Stamatis Moraitis was a Greek
war veteran who came to the United States in the 1940s
with a combat-mangled arm. So they fixed his arm. He wound up getting a job in
manual labor, and he married a Greek-American woman, settled
down, had kids. And one day Stamatis was at work
and he was getting really short of breath. So he goes to see the doctor,
and the doctor tells him, you have terminal lung cancer. And basically tells him he’s
got nine months to live. So they offered him aggressive
treatment, but they said it’s really not going to extend your
life very much, and the side effects are going
to be rough. So Stamatis decided, well, if I
only have nine months left, I’d rather skip the treatment. And I might as well
save some money. I don’t have a whole
lot of money. I might as well save the
money for my wife. So he and his wife decided to
move back to his native Ikaria, a small island
in Greece. He figured he might as well be
buried in the graveyard with his ancestors, overlooking
the Aegean Sea. So they moved back to Ikaria,
and they move in with Stamatis’ parents. And word gets out. Friends hear that he’s back. And they start coming and
bringing bottles of wine and board games to play. He figures, hey, I’m dying
in nine months, I might as well die happy. So this goes on. He decides he’s going
to plant a garden. He doesn’t really expect that
he’s going to be around to harvest it, but he thought it
would be lovely for his wife to be able to pick
some vegetables and think about him. And he starts going back
to the old church that he grew up in– reconnected with his faith
and with the people that he grew up with. So one thing leads to another
and actually the vegetables come to harvest. And he’s feeling well enough to
harvest the vegetables, so he decides he’s going to start
tending the untended vineyards on his parents’ property. And he winds up making
some wine. Well, long story short, that was
45 years ago, and Stamatis Moraitis turned 98
years old on New Year’s Day of this year. So 25 years after his initial
diagnosis, he decides he’s going to go back to the United
States and track down his doctors to find out
what happened. And apparently, they
were all dead. So stories like this made me
really start to question, what’s going on here? And the question that kept
coming into my mind was, can the mind really heal the body? You hear about it, sort of
this new age folklore. And I had read some books about
mind-body medicine, and none of them seemed very
well-substantiated from a scientific perspective. So I was curious. I was intrigued. I mean, it’s a nice idea. But, again, my skeptical brain
sort of thinking, that sounds like, at best, wishful thinking,
and at worst, just good old fashioned snake
oil selling quackery. But then I started investigating
further. Is there any evidence that the
mind can heal the body? And that’s when I realized that
the medical establishment has been proving that the
mind can heal the body for over 50 years. We call it the placebo effect. Right? You guys have all heard
of the placebo effect. It’s this thing we kind of
brush under the carpet in Western medicine. We know it’s there. We know that in clinical trials,
when you give people a sugar pill or a saline
injection or, most effectively, a fake surgery, 18%
to 80% of them get better. So they know they might be
getting either the real treatment or this fake
treatment, but they don’t know which they’re getting and
neither does their doctor. So on average it’s about 30% to
35% of people get better. And certainly, as a doctor, I
know about the placebo effect. It’s out there. We’re sort of taught about it. But nobody really explains it. What’s happening when 30% to 35%
of people get better from getting a sugar pill? So I started investigating
the placebo effect. I thought, is it just
in their minds? Are they just feeling better? But no, it’s physiologically
measurable. These people in these
clinical trials, their bronchi are dilating. Their warts are disappearing. Their colons are becoming
less inflamed. There’s measurable
physiological things that are happening. Bald guys getting sugar pills
in the Rogaine studies actually grew hair. So it’s not just
in their minds. It’s something physiological
happening in the body. So it sort of led me down this
rabbit hole of my own research, of one question
after another. I found that the mind can not
only heal the body, the mind can harm the body. There’s something called the
nocebo effect, which is the evil twin of the
placebo effect. Those same clinical trials where
18% to 80% of people get better from taking a sugar pill,
we also have to warn those people when they’re in
those studies of the side effects that they might get if
they’re getting a real drug. Right? So we tell them, here’s
the side effects. Well, an equally high percentage
of people actually get those side effects when
they’re not getting the drug. They’re getting the
sugar pill. So thinking that we might
actually be at risk of these side effects actually makes
people get these side effects. And there’s much more dramatic
instances of things like that. There’s case studies all over
the medical literature of people that were told that
they were going to die in three months, for example, of
a cancer diagnosis, and then they die almost exactly three
months to the date, and on autopsy, it turns out they
don’t have cancer. So there’s all kinds of studies
out there showing that when we have negative beliefs
about our health– and many of us do. Many of us are programmed with
negative beliefs about our health from an early age. We have those, oh, breast cancer
runs in my family, therefore, I’m at risk of
breast cancer, thoughts. Or we have, I’m always going
to be battling my weight because my parents always
battled their weight. Or even just something simple,
like I can’t heal myself. I’m dependent on doctors
to heal me. So I actually, when I was doing
this research, I have a seven year old, and at the time,
my daughter was four. And I was reading all the data
showing that basically, our subconscious minds get
programmed by the time we’re about six, and that 90% to 95%
of the time, we’re operating from these beliefs of our
subconscious mind that are often programmed into us
by the time we’re six. So I was noticing my husband,
when my daughter would get injured or when she’d get a cold
or something, he’d start pretending he’s an ambulance. And he’s going around
going [SIREN NOISE] we’ve got to take an Sienna
to the kid factory. We’ve got to get
her a new knee. Or, we’ve got to get her a
new throat, or whatever. And I told my husband, we’ve
got to stop doing that. Because we’re programming our
child to think that the solution is at the
kid factory. That she needs to go, and that
it’s outside of her, this ability to get well. So we started reprogramming,
and we started telling her, you know what, we’re going to
put this Band-Aid on your knee so that you’ll feel better while
your body heals itself. And I’m going to give you this
cough syrup so that you’re going to feel a little better
while your body heals itself from this cold. And now she’s great. I mean, she’s so programmed. So people talk about being sick,
and she’s like, it’s OK, your body knows how
to heal itself. So I was reading about all of
this and I’m researching all of this, and I’m slowly getting
kind of accustomed to the idea of like, oh, maybe the
mind can heal the body. There’s so much research, and
it’s all included in my book “Mind Over Medicine– Scientific Proof That You Can
Heal Yourself.” So I was chronicling all of this as I
was going, but my skeptic brain really needed
an explanation. What’s happening here? How do we explain this? I needed a physiologic
explanation. It’s not magic. It can’t be magic, right? So I started researching what
explanations are out there of how the placebo effect works. And what I found is that
researchers believe that some combination of the positive
belief that they’re going to get well– people are in this
clinical trial, they’re going to get the new wonder
drug or the new fancy surgery or whatever. So they believe that they’re
getting the real treatment, and so they believe the real
treatment’s going to work. So it’s that combination of
positive belief and then there’s also this element of the
nurturing care of somebody in a white coat saying,
I believe this is going to help you. And we put a lot of
meaning in that. We’re conditioned to believe
that if somebody in a white coat says, this is going to
help you, that it will. So researchers believe that that
combination of positive belief and the nurturing care
of a health care provider leads to changes in the brain
that are translated into the physiology of the body
through a whole cascade of hormonal changes. So let me explain
this for you. I’m going to give you a little
neuroanatomy lesson first. So there’s this part of our
brain called the amygdala. And the amygdala is in
the limbic brain. So this is not your thinking,
rational, logical forebrain. It’s the ancient lizard part
of your primordial brain. And the amygdala’s primary
job is to keep on the alert for danger. So have you guys seen those
meerkats at the zoo, the little prairie dogs? I love them. They’re always sitting there,
and there’s always the meerkat sentry up on the mound, kind of
looking around to make sure that there’s not a tiger
on the loose. And it’s their job to signal
to the whole community if something’s coming. So the amygdala, I like to think
of it as it’s sort of like that meerkat, the sentry
up on the mound. It’s always trying to protect
you, so it’s always on the lookout for danger. And this is a good
thing, right? Because if there’s a tiger on
the loose, then this is something that we need. Because what happens is if the
amygdala sees that there’s a tiger on the loose, all of
a sudden the amygdala can communicate with the
hypothalamus, which communicates with the pituitary
gland that talks to the adrenal gland. And all of a sudden the adrenal
gland is spitting out cortisol and epinephrine. So you’re now in the middle of
a fight or flight response. Right? So Walter Cannon at
Harvard called this the stress response. And it’s there to protect you. It’s so that when you’re in
stress response and your life is in danger, your heart
rate goes up. Your blood pressure goes up. You get blood flow to the large
muscle groups so you can outrun the tiger. So this is here to protect
you, right? But the problem is the amygdala
is not smart. So it can’t tell the difference
between there’s a tiger on the loose and you’re
about to get eaten or nobody loves me. Or my family has a history of
breast cancer and so I might get breast cancer. Or I hate my job. Or even something simple, like
somebody just spilled red wine on my white carpet. As far as your amygdala is
concerned, all of those are equal threats. So whenever you have a thought
like that, the amygdala starts this hormonal cascade and the
body is full of cortisol and epinephrine. Now fortunately, there’s an
equal and opposite reaction called the relaxation response,
which is when the body is in the parasympathetic
nervous system. So the fight or flight is the
sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous
system is the homeostatic state of the nervous system. So in the relaxation response,
all of those stress hormones go away and the body releases
healing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, nitric
oxide, endorphins. These are all hormones that
help the body heal. So here’s the one thing– if you
get only one thing from my talk today, this is what
I want you to hear. The body is beautifully
equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms. We know this. They teach us this in
medical school. It’s in our physiology
textbooks. So we know that we all make
cancer cells every day. We fight the cancer cells. Our body knows how to do that. We’re all exposed to infectious
agents all the time, right? But we fight the infectious
agents. They don’t make us sick
most of the time. We have broken proteins. The body knows how to fix
things like that. But here’s what I didn’t
know until I started doing this research. The body’s natural self-repair
mechanisms only operate when the body is in relaxation
response. So any time your body’s in
stress response, those mechanisms are disabled. So that was a huge realization
for me because we’re only supposed to be in stress
response in emergencies. I was just driving to Munster,
Indiana, last week to go speak to a bunch of people at a cancer
center, and all of a sudden two tires on the left
side of the car blew out. And the car literally
almost tipped over. Just something in the road
got into the tires. And all of a sudden, I noticed
myself in that stress response, right? Because all of a sudden, I’ve
got to figure out how to– I’m going 65 on the highway. I’ve got to get this
car off, safely, to the shoulder, right? So this is good. My body is supposed
to be in a stress response during that time. So I’m wrangling the car. I’ve got cortisol
and epinephrine coursing through my veins. I managed to get the
car safely off to the side of the road. Now, if I were an animal, as
soon as I’m safe, my amygdala would say, you’re safe now. And that stress hormone
would go down. The stress response
would stop. Because those stress responses
are only supposed to last about 90 seconds after
the threat is gone. But what starts happening? Right? My brain suddenly starts going,
like, oh no, I’m still far from where I’m speaking. And I suddenly now have
two flat tires. I’m going to miss my speech. I’m going to disappoint
the event planner. I can’t even– where is my AAA card? My wallet was stolen. I don’t have my AAA card. This isn’t even my car. I’m driving my best
friend’s car. These thoughts, right? We have these spiraling
stress responses. And I was really aware in the
moment of like, oh, this is how it happens, right? And this is how it happens
for most of us. So on average, we have about 50
stress responses per day. And people who hate their jobs
or they’re in difficult relationships, they probably
have more like 100. And every time we have a stress
response, our body’s natural self-healing capacities
are disabled. They don’t work. So this is how the placebo
effect works. When we have that positive
belief that we’re getting the wonder drug, and when it’s
delivered to us by a nurturing health care provider, the
amygdala is calmed down. So before the person comes in to
the clinical trial, they’re usually nervous and
scared, right? Their amygdala is firing. You’ve got an illness. Things aren’t right. Things are at risk. The little meerkat’s
out there. But that combination of positive
belief and the nurturing care of the right kind
of health care provider can calm the amygdala down. And all of a sudden,
the body’s filled with the healing hormones. And voila, the body starts to
heal itself, even though all you’re getting is
a sugar pill. So the next question that sort
of was coming into my brain was, well, we’re not all in
clinical trials, right? Should we all be going around
popping sugar pills? Or is there some other way
that we can do that? That we can have that same sort
of placebo effect in a way that we can maybe control. So one of the things I was
researching, when I was looking at spontaneous
remissions and patients who had had these kind of medical
mysteries was, were these all just flukes? Was Stamatis Moraitis
just lucky? Or is there something that
these people were doing? Was there something proactive
that they were doing? And I came across the research
of Dr. Kelly Turner, who did her PhD thesis– she studied at Harvard
and UC Berkeley– and she did her thesis on people
who had had spontaneous remissions from stage
IV cancers. And she was interviewing these
patients, as well as the often alternative health care
providers that had facilitated their healing journeys. And she was trying to figure
out, was there something in common? Could she learn something
from these people about how to heal ourselves? And what she found is that there
were six behaviors that these people had in common. And only two of them were the
sort of things that a forward-thinking doctor
might have prescribed. One of them was changing your
diet to more vegetable-based, often gluten free
sort of diet. And the other was taking some
sort of supplement that the patient believed was really
going to help strengthen their immune system, help fight
off the cancer. The other four things, and
they’re all listed in “Mind Over Medicine,” the other four
things were all things that were happening here. They weren’t medical
treatments per se. So that’s when I started
getting really curious. Like what could we do to flip
on our body’s natural self-repair mechanisms the way
people in clinical trials have them flipped on when they’re
getting a placebo? So the whole second part of my
book is about the research that I found showing that in
order to be healthy, we need more than just a healthy diet,
a healthy exercise regimen, getting enough sleep, taking
your vitamins, getting your pap smears, or whatever. Right? We need healthy relationships. We need healthy professional
lives. We need a healthy
spiritual life. A healthy creative life. A healthy sex life. We need a healthy relationship
with our money. We need to live and work in
healthy environments. We need to have healthy minds. And this is why my patients
in Marin were sick. Right? I mean, I love kale. I drink my green juice, five
green juices a day. I’m a big fan of
a healthy diet. But the reality is that no
amount of kale can counter balance the poisonous effects
of chronic repetitive stress responses in the body and all
that cortisol and epinephrine, which not only turns off the
body’s self-repair mechanisms, it also poisons the heart. It has all kinds of other
negative effects on the body. So I wanted to try to figure
out, how can I help people activate those natural
self-repair mechanisms? How can we have the benefit of
the placebo effect without having to take a sugar pill? So I came up with a new wellness
model that I teach in “Mind Over Medicine.”
It’s based on something called a cairn. Have you guys seen these? I love cairns. And they’re all over
San Francisco. When you’re at the marina,
they’re stacked along the water there. And it’s amazing because they’re
so simultaneously strong and fragile, right? I mean, they can withstand waves
crashing upon them, and yet you get one of those stones
out of balance and the whole thing falls apart. So I created a wellness
model based on this. I call it the whole
health cairn. And it’s based on all of the
data that shows that every single one of these facets of
your health is scientifically proven to affect the health
of your body. So for example, people with
strong sense of community, they have half the rate of heart
disease as people who are lonely. And there’s tons of research
looking at relationships and health, and there’s a whole
chapter in “Mind Over Medicine” about that,
about the effects of loneliness on health. So researchers concluded, after
looking at all of this data, that alleviating your
loneliness is more important for the health of your body
than starting an exercise program or quitting smoking. But when was the last time your
doctor put a prescription that said alleviate
your loneliness? Work stress is another huge
thing that can trigger our stress responses and disable
our natural self-repair mechanisms. In Japan, they even have a word
for death by overwork. It’s called “karoshi.” And
I include in “Mind Over Medicine” all of the data
showing how much work stress affects our physical bodies. Financial stress, same thing. So many people in this country
worried about money and the amygdala cannot tell the
difference between, oh my goodness, how am I going to pay
my bills, and there’s a tiger on the loose. So what I realized is that
every stone in this whole health cairn can either trigger
stress responses or it can trigger relaxation
responses. Right? So if you’re in a loving,
nurturing relationship, then that’s going to fill your body
with oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, endorphins,
these healing hormones, because the amygdala
is calmed down. Whereas if you’re in a stressful
relationship, things aren’t going well, you’re going
to be triggering stress responses all the time. So each one of these stones in
the whole health cairn is essential to the health
of our bodies. So it led me to go back to my
patients and help them look at their lives. And I started teaching my
patients what I call the six steps to healing yourself. And these are all step by step
listed out in “Mind Over Medicine.” But based on what I learned,
essentially– this is the six steps. Number one is you have to
believe that it’s possible. It was huge for me when I
realized that my illnesses were are all illnesses that at
least somebody had had a spontaneous remission from. And I’m now down to half the
dose of one of my seven medications, having done this
six step process for myself. But it all had to start with
me shifting my belief. I had to believe that these
weren’t chronic, incurable illnesses, but that I
could get better. And you all have to do the same
if there’s any health conditions you’re dealing with,
and I’m not even talking about necessarily a diagnosis. For so many people there’s
this epidemic of just not really being sick but
not being vital. We’ve sort of settled
for being well. And I know. So many of my patients in
Marin were like this. They’d come in and they
just feel tired. They’re having body aches or
headaches or backaches. They’ve lost their libido. They’re just not feeling– their mood is kind
of in the toilet. They’re not feeling vital. So I started thinking of health
on sort of a spectrum. There’s, like, sick
people, right? Where they have a diagnosis. They have abnormal
laboratory tests. They have abnormal
vital signs. And then there’s well
people, who– in the medical establishment,
these are the people who have normal blood tests. They have normal vital signs. But they still don’t necessarily
feel great. So these people are often very
frustrated because they come to doctors thinking that we’re
going to have the solution, and we fail them very often. Because what they want to be
is they want to be vital. They want to feel just electric
with energy, like overflowing with life force. And what I realized is this is
how we become overflowing with life force. We go through this process. So step one is believe that it’s
possible that you could get well, that you
could be vital. Step two is finding
the right support. So what I found in the
scientific data is that it’s sort of a misnomer to say that
you can heal yourself, because the reality is the body can heal
itself, but the body more effectively heals itself with
the support of someone else who believes that you
can heal yourself, with the right healer. I’m now training doctors and
other health care providers at the Whole Health Medicine
Institute how to be that kind of healer. Because doctors can be both the
placebo effect, you know. They can be that nurturing care
that calms the amygdala. That doctor that says, you’re
not going to go through this alone. I believe in you. I know that you can get through
this, and we’re going to do it together. That is very calming
to the amygdala. The body’s natural self-repair
mechanisms are more likely to be optimized in that
situation. But the opposite is also true. The doctor can be the nocebo. So my mom recently, she had a
sore neck and she went to see the doctor. And the doctor did an x-ray and
found an abnormality on the x-ray and ordered an MRI. And my mom asked why? Why the MRI? And he said, well, because it’s probably metastatic cancer. And he turned around and walked
out of the room without a single comforting word. And you can imagine my mother,
who is a big fan of my work and has read “Mind Over
Medicine” and practices this in her own life. My phone rings, and
my mom says, my amygdala is freaking out. Because her doctor just said the
C-bomb without any other explanation. That is exactly what the
body doesn’t need. If she had metastatic cancer,
he did the worst thing a doctor could do, because he
triggered her amygdala rather than being a calming
influence. So my mother, being smart about
this, she said, I need to look at my whole health cairn
right now, and I need your help walking me
through how am I going through the week. Because if I do have metastatic
cancer, I want to make sure my body’s natural
self-repair mechanisms are totally optimized, right? So my mom and I walked through
all of these stones in her whole health cairn. How can we activate relaxation
responses in your body? And how can we make sure to
reduce any stress responses in your body this week? And my mother wrote what I call
writing the prescription. And she included all of these
things that she was going to plan to do that week, and she
was religious about it. Well, fortunately, my mom went
in to get her MRI and it turned out to be a
Schmorl’s node. It’s this benign lesion that
doesn’t need any further treatment or follow up. But I told my mom, this was a
huge a-ha to me, because I realized we shouldn’t
have to wait for a metastatic cancer diagnosis. Everything that she put on that
list, I said, mom, you need to be doing
this every day. Right? This is how you live to be 98
years old, like Stamatis Moraitis, who is still healthy
and vital to this day. We can live to be 98 by figuring
out how do we reduce stress responses
in our bodies? How do we increase relaxation
responses in our bodies? So step three is all about
listening to your intuition, to that part of you I call your
inner pilot light, which is the foundation stone of
the whole health cairn. This is your inner doctor. This is the part of you that
knows better than anybody how your body is going
to heal itself. So as doctors, we like to think
that I know your body better than you do. Ostensibly, I went to school
for 12 years and spent 10 years of medical practice
becoming a body expert. But the reality is you know your
body better than anybody, because nobody but you knows how
you’re going to be able to balance your whole health
cairn in this way. So my agent, my literary agent
Michele Martin, she was the first person to read my book. And she called me after reading
it and she said, Lissa, you changed my life. Because she said, honestly,
before I read your book, I thought my body was none
of my business. She said, I thought it
was like my car. You know, my car breaks
down, I take it to the auto mechanic. I expect the auto mechanic to
fix it and hand it back to me perfectly fixed. She said, I was doing the
same thing with my body. She said, but after reading your
book, I realize my body is my business, because I am the
gatekeeper of my mind and it is my responsibility to calm
my amygdala and optimize my body’s natural self-healing
mechanisms. And that step three part of
listening to your intuition is all about that. It’s about listening to that
voice that knows the answer to the question, what does my body
need in order to heal? So step four is all about
diagnosing the underlying root causes of illness. It’s figuring out what is
triggering your stress responses and which ways might
you activate relaxation responses that you’re
not optimizing. So in the book, there’s a whole
series of questions that were some of the questions that
I asked on my patient intake form that are really
intended to help people identify what might be
out of balance in my whole health cairn. Which stone is toppling here? Which stone isn’t at peak
performance right now? And how can I reduce those
stress responses and increase those relaxation responses in
my body so that my body’s natural self-repair mechanisms
are fully functional? And step five is basically, once
you’ve done that, it’s writing the prescription
for yourself. So it’s answering the question,
what does my body need in order to heal, and
putting into place all of those steps that you’ve
written for yourself. So this takes a lot of courage,
because it’s one thing to identify the issues. When I was asking my patients,
what does your body need in order to heal, and they
were saying, I need to divorce my husband. I need to quit my job. I need to sell my business. That’s one thing. One woman said I need
to move to Santa Fe. And I said, Santa Fe? Why Santa Fe? And she said, I don’t know. But I have a vacation home in
Santa Fe and every time I go there, all of my symptoms
completely go away. So she was brave enough to
actually leave her husband, sell her business, move to Santa
Fe, put her mom in a nursing home near her because
her mom had been living with her and was triggering stress
responses all the time. She had always wanted to go to
art school, so she signed up for art school. She had this whole new community
of artist friends. She started dating
this new guy. And she calls me three
months later. All her symptoms were gone. So step five is about writing
the prescription for yourself and then finding the courage to
actually take action and to put into play what your
intuition knows about what your body needs in order to
be optimal, in order to be completely vital, in order to be
exploding with life force. So step six is one of the
hardest steps, and it’s the most spiritual. Step six is surrender. So it’s essentially, there are
people out there that have done all of this. They have so much positive
belief that they’re going to get better. They have the best healers. They are listening to their
intuition and doing everything they can to diagnose the root
cause of what’s triggering stress responses in
their bodies. They’re writing the prescription
for themselves. They’re being brave. They’re doing it all. And they’re still sick. One of these is my good friend,
Kris Carr, who I asked to write the forward to this
book because she’s the best example I know of somebody
who is a model patient. Kris was in her early ’30s when
she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, a type
of cancer for which there is no treatment. So basically, her doctor said,
well, do what you can to take care of your immune system,
and hopefully you’ll get another 10 years. But they didn’t think she’d
live beyond that. So Kris changed her diet. She started following
this, she calls it her crazy sexy diet. She’s “The New York Times”
best-selling author of “Crazy Sexy Diet” and “Crazy Sexy
Kitchen,” as well as two other books. And she made a documentary
called “Crazy Sexy Cancer” that was about her
healing journey. And Kris has done all of this. She has the most balanced
whole health cairn of anybody I’ve met. I just had Kris come to film a
DVD with me and we did an hour long interview. It’s going to be part of the
pledge special for the public television special
that I’m doing. There’s going to be a whole
package of stuff that’s part of the public television
special. She’s really amazing. And yet she still has
stage IV cancer. So whenever we talk about these
sorts of things, it’s easy for people to kind of make
the leap to, well, I’ve done everything right. I’m still sick. I must be doing something
wrong. Or I must have caused my
illness in some way. And I’m in no way suggesting
that anybody who is sick has brought this upon themselves. I’m in no way blaming or shaming
or trying to guilt somebody about an illness. It’s not about that. All that does is trigger
more stress responses. So step six is really important
because we have to, at some point, accept that
maybe we’re battling an illness because it’s
our wake up call. Maybe the illness is something
our souls chose to experience in this life so that we can
learn what we’re here on this Earth to learn. Or maybe it’s just bad luck. But there’s a difference between
thinking that you’re a helpless victim of an illness
and recognizing that your body is your business. So it’s a fine line. I was talking to one of my
mentors, Dr. Christiane Northrup, about this, and I
said, how do I explain this to people without it sounding like
I’m blaming people for their illness? She said, Lissa, we are
responsible to our illness, not for our illness. Kris Carr says she participates
with her illness. In other words, your body
is your business. And you have at least some power
over whether or not your body is going to be optimally
vital based on being the gatekeeper of your own mind. So figuring these things out
changed how I think about the whole establishment
of medicine. And I’m on this mission now
to heal health care. To put the care back
in health care. And I realized that one of the
biggest reasons that our health care system is broken
is because we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten about
the body’s innate ability to heal itself. And we’ve gotten so invested
in technology that we’ve actually lost touch with one
of the most healing things that the body knows how to do. And I firmly believe that if
every empowered patient and every conscious health care
provider started adopting this way of thinking about health,
what I call whole health, that it would change our
entire system. So I’ve been going around the
country on this book tour speaking to groups of patients
and health care providers and really trying to make a shift
in this way of how we think about these things. Because it all starts
with you. It all starts with one empowered
patient, one conscious health care provider,
trying to heal the rift that has come up. I hear so many stories
of that rift. There are so many doctors and
patients that have the sort of experience my mother just had
with her doctor, when in fact, as healers, it’s our job
to be the calming influence on the amygdala. To remember the healing
power of love. To show up in support,
nurturing, caring. Somehow, I mean, it used to be
that’s pretty much all we had as doctors, right? We didn’t have the technology
that we have now. We didn’t have penicillin and
vaccines and all these amazing pieces of technology that
I’m not in any way suggesting that we ditch. In fact, I mean, my husband cut
two fingers off his left hand a while back with a table
saw, and thank god for Dr. Jonathan Jones, who
painstakingly spent eight hours in surgery with a
microscope, reattaching every artery, nerve, and bone in my
husband’s fingers so that he has 10 fingers today. I’m sorry, no amount of
mind-body medicine would have done that. So I’m not in any way suggesting
we shouldn’t optimize what Western medicine
has to offer. I’m just saying it’s
not enough. We need to not stop there. It’s not enough just to take the
medicine or even to eat a pristine diet and exercise
regularly and take your vitamins. That we have to take the next
step to figure out how to reduce our stress responses and
increase our relaxation responses so that the
body can do what it does best, heal itself. So I want to leave
you with a quote. This is from Dr. Albert
Schweitzer. and he says, the doctor– he said– hang on, I’ve
got to get this right. I’m bad at quotes. He says, I want to tell
you a little secret. We doctors, we do nothing. We only help and empower
the doctor within. So I encourage you to
be that doctor. Everyone of you has the power
to be the doctor within. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: I have a question. The cortisol that happens
when you’re in stress. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Yes. AUDIENCE: I’ve heard this a
lot, that whether it’s the tiger or a deadline, your body
experiences it the same way. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Right. AUDIENCE: And I’ve also heard
that it takes a long time for that cortisol to get back
to a healthy state. That it takes a second to spike,
but it can take 10 hours, 12 hours, a
day to come down. But I am not a doctor. I don’t– is this– can you speak more to it? DR. LISSA RANKIN: Yeah. AUDIENCE: How do we know it’s
the same, whether it’s minor or a car crash, that our body’s interpreting it the same way? DR. LISSA RANKIN: Right. Well, cortisol is an interesting
beast because it fluctuates. It’s supposed to fluctuate
throughout the day. And so cortisol, when we’re
actively in stress response, the cortisol levels are
going to go up. But over time, if we’re
chronically, repetitively in stress response, the adrenal
glands can get depleted. And so our cortisol levels
can actually be low. So if you test in the moment,
cortisol levels, for example, might be high in the middle
of a stress response. But then if you’re checking
baseline cortisol levels in the morning on a regular day,
those cortisol levels might be low because you’ve essentially
depleted your adrenal glands. So it can be very hard to tell
with something like a lab test how stressed the body is with
regard to cortisol. But what happens is that those
stress responses kick off, like you said. The cortisol levels can go up. But then, over time as we’re
getting these, like I was talking about when my car went
on the side of the road, we get these stress responses
that kind of go one after the other. So like I said, it’s supposed
to only take 90 seconds. So it’s possible for those
cortisol levels to go right back down. But for most of us, we have the
ongoing monkey mind mental dialogue that follows a
stressful event that leads us to continue that process. So it very much depends
on that. But animals, for example. They’re much more
pure about this. The stress happens. They get themselves to safety. And then their cortisol levels
go right back down. So it’s possible. We can do that. So what I wound up doing, for
example, when I was on the side of the road, I was feeling
like, oh my goodness, here’s my body in
stress response. Right? I was watching it
like a movie. It was very surreal, because
here I am on the road on a book tour, talking about
this whole process. And now I’m living it twice. This thing had just happened
with my mom, and I was noticing the stress response
that was coming up of my mom potentially having metastatic
cancer. My dad died of metastatic cancer
seven years ago, so for both of us that was like a huge
trauma, kind of reopening that old wound. And the way in which my mind was
working around that, like we don’t have a diagnosis,
right? There’s no need to actually
be scared yet. And yet I was terrified about
my mom’s MRI because literally, I had talked to the
doctor and I said, is there anything it could be other
than metastatic cancer? And he said no. And so I was terrified. And the same thing when I was
on the side of road, right? I’m noticing this tendency that
we have to make up all these stories about things. So I sat there, and what I did
when my car, when I pulled my car off to the side of the
road, and I realized, OK, I’m safe now. I no longer need to be
in stress response. I don’t need to protect
myself. Thank you, amygdala, well done. Good job. So I literally sat
down and I did– there’s an exercise in the book
based on Herbert Benson, this Harvard doctor, has done
a lot of research on the relaxation response. He wrote a wonderful book
in the ’70s called “The Relaxation Response.” So I
practiced his technique, which is based on a type of
transcendental meditation. And it basically is this
technique where– we can do it right now. I’ll give you the quick
and dirty 30 second relaxation response. If you close your eyes for just
a minute and just focus on your breath. And I want you to pick
a one word mantra. Something that resonates with
you, like “one” or “peace” or “love.” I chose the word “safe”
when I was on the side of the road. And as you breathe, I want you
to just repeat that one word mantra on the exhale. Now, you may notice
other thoughts coming into your mind. And that’s all right. Just passively disregard the
other thoughts as they come into your mind. Just notice it. Hello, remembering. Or hello, planning. And just keep coming back
to your breath, to that one word mantra. All right, go ahead and
open your eyes again. So if you were in one of Herbert
Benson’s many, many, many research studies, he would
have had you do that process for 10 to 20 minutes
once or twice per day. It’s been proven to aid
in almost every single illness out there. He’s got the data. It’s clear. It’s that simple. So I sat there on the side of
the road, and before I called my husband to find out what my
AAA number was, and before I called AAA, and before I called
my best friend to tell her I’d just blown out two of
her tires, I did a little 10 minute relaxation response. Because I knew, even though it
was going to take 10 minutes away from me getting to my
event, that the only way I was going to show up really
in service at that event is if I was calm. So putting ourselves into the
relaxation response can be that simple. And any type of meditation
works, but it’s not even that. And Herbert Benson found you
don’t even need to close your eyes and be seated in
order to do this. You can repeat this one word
mantra on the exhale while focusing on your breath and
passively disregarding other thoughts that come
into your mind. You can do it while
you’re shopping. You can do it while
you’re driving. You can do it while you’re
making dinner. And it’s been scientifically
proven. He puts everybody– monitors them, monitors
their blood levels. Scientifically proven to put you
into relaxation response every time if you can quiet the
mind and you can calm the amygdala in that way. But there are some really easy,
fun ways to put yourself into relaxation response. Laughter is a great one. Norman Cousins wrote the
“Anatomy of an Illness” all about how he healed his
ankylosing spondylitis by watching Marx Brothers movies. Sex. Another fun one. So playing with animals. The healing act of generosity,
that’s one a lot of people don’t think about. I just saw a great news
article about this guy Andy Mackie. He’s 71 years old. He’s had nine heart surgeries. And he was taking 15 medications
for his heart that were giving him all kinds of
terrible side effects. So he finally went to his
doctors and he said, I’ve got to get off these drugs. It’s making me miserable. And they said, well, if you stop
your medications, you’ll die within a year. So he said, well, if I’m going
to die within a year, I might as well die going out and doing
something I’ve always wanted to do. So he took the money that he
was spending on those 15 medications and he bought 300
harmonicas and gave them away to kids in public schools,
complete with harmonica lessons from himself. So a month later, he
was still alive. So he took the same money and he
bought 300 more harmonicas. And it’s now been 11 years and
16,000 harmonicas later, and Andy Mackie is still alive,
giving out harmonicas to kids. So we can calm our amygdalas
in a whole variety of ways, and that’s part of what you’re
going to want to write in the prescription for yourself. How can I add more relaxation
responses to my life? FEMALE SPEAKER: Thanks. Thanks a lot for coming. DR. LISSA RANKIN:
Thank you all. FEMALE SPEAKER: We’re
out of time. DR. LISSA RANKIN: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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