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Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.

Sponsor: Institute of Spinal Cord Injury, Iceland




Hratch Ogaliís Mind-Instructor Clinic (London, England) treats a variety of neurological disorders including SCI. Although Ogali stresses rigorous strengthening exercises like other rehabilitation programs that are emerging for SCI, the programís foundation is based on a shift in patient consciousness. He catalyzes and reinforces this change, from the defeating ďyou will never walk againĒ and other negative, recovery-inhibiting attitudes that are deeply imprinted in consciousness after injury to a positive ďYeah, I will do it.Ē When this new attitude is embedded with conviction in our consciousness - the captain of our ship - the physical body starts to follow.

Ogaliís role is catalytic; he is not the healer but metaphorically the force that opens the prison door allowing the patient to step through if so desired. Patients heal themselves, starting from the deepest soul level.

Then, demonstrating the neuronal adaptability (i.e., plasticity) scientists now believe is inherent in all, Ogali speculates that nascent neuronal growth commences, dormant neurons turn on, and new neuronal connections are created. Regardless of the specific intervening physiological mechanisms, Ogali believes that physical healing stems from the healing in consciousness, which is then reinforced through aggressive physical rehabilitation. According to Ogali, most patients who have persevered with his demanding program have accrued additional function, sometimes subtle but life-enhancing and sometimes dramatic.

Recently, Ogaliís program has received extensive UK press attention and also was the focus of a recent Discovery Health Channel documentary Miracle Steps featuring Christopher Reeve. Much of this media attention has revolved around Gemma, a 19-year old woman who sustained a complete cervical C2-3 injury when she was seven in an auto accident. After treatment by Ogali, Gemma can now initiate movement with effort in much of her body below the injury site for the first time since injury, including standing and taking up to 20 steps.

The role of consciousness or mind in healing has always been troublesome for scientists. The 17th century French philosopher Renť Descartes framed the contemporary debate on the subject by stating that everything under the sun consists of either res cognitas (i.e., consciousness, mind) or res extensa (i.e., physical matter). Unlike neuroscientists who tend to equate consciousness with brain chemistry and biology, many alternative healing traditions view the brain more from Descartesí perspective; specifically, the brain is merely the bodyís physical processor for consciousness. Under this view, although possessing a good processor affects your overt intelligence, and although outward expression of consciousness may be a function of processorís neuronal synaptic connections, etc., it is not the site of your consciousness anymore than your big toe. 

With such beliefs, even if the brain is damaged from severe head injury, stroke, ALS, MS, or Alzheimerís disease, the consciousness is always whole and complete, and, relevant to Ogaliís work, possesses the blueprint memories of our able-bodied selves that can be accessed for healing.

However, all the disability-related negative attitudes and emotions that may have been picked up interfere with accessing these healing blueprints. Patients are told that they will never walk again and any thoughts otherwise will just prevent them from getting on with their lives. That is a tough, deeply imprinted sentence that must be surmounted to have significant physical healing. It is like trying to push a car in one direction (i.e., healing the physical body) when the steering wheel (i.e., your consciousness) is cranked in another direction. Any healing modality will work better when the steering wheel is turned in the right direction Ė basically, Ogaliís goal. 

A key program element is periodic guided meditation sessions designed to bust apart limiting belief patterns. These mind instructions, however, are of relatively limited value unless the patient carries out extensive daily, reinforcing breathing, meditative, and mental-concentration exercises, which are individually tailored to help replace the old thinking with the new healing paradigm in the patientís consciousness.

In addition, although Ogaliís mind instruction is carried out on an ongoing basis, much of his program involves intense physical exercise and conditioning. Furthermore, Ogali believes that SCI-associated spasms should not be suppressed but exploited to stimulate functional recovery. With this belief, patients are encouraged to gradually wean themselves from spasticity-controlling medications, which Ogali views as reducing the bodyís sensitivity to the mindís healing instructions.

Although difficult to explain from a conventional biomedical context, this Mind-Instructor program reflects healing wisdom embraced by mankind through most of history until modern medicineís emergence. Furthermore, most of us intuitively understand that our consciousness, will, or mental and emotional attitudes affect the outcome of whatever we strive for, ranging from athletic performance to rehabilitation. Given such understanding, little of Ogali's mind-influencing, soul-motivating, function-restoring program is truly radical.