A teacher responded to my recent Schlagbyte (Change and Live, 5/9/05) in which I described patients with heart disease who had bypass or angioplasty surgery. After surgery these patients were told that if they didn’t change their lifestyles they would probably die from their heart disease. The surgery was good for maybe seven years, before they would re-clog. Still, knowing those lethal facts, 9 out of 10 of those patients did not start eating right and exercising more, and drinking, smoking and stressing less.

Simply knowing the facts doesn’t change people’s behaviors. The facts only remind people of the reality of their vulnerability. To change people’s behaviors, you have to inspire a belief that it’s possible to live a better reality. My respondent wanted to know how to do that.

How do I inspire people to see possibilities, rather than hopelessness? I develop a relationship with my patients — spend time together and share a piece of our souls. I have them imagine moving from where they are, to where they’d like to be. I encourage them to take a single step that moves them beyond their current limitations, and let them know I’ll walk with them on this healing journey.

Modern brain research corroborates the idea that if you can imagine moving beyond your limitations, you increase the likelihood of it happening. Using sophisticated brain imaging techniques, researchers examined the impact of “virtual reality” games on stroke victims. The May issue of the prestigious journal, Stroke, included this study. Ten volunteers, all relatively young stroke victims (average age 57), were randomly divided into two groups. Half the patients were trained for an hour a day, every day, to play virtual reality games. In each one, the patient’s body was superimposed into the videogame. In one game patients climbed up and down stairs; in another the patient went deep-sea diving with sharks, and in the last, the patients were snowboarding down a slope, jumping and avoiding obstacles. All of the videogames were designed to incorporate images that required range of motion, strength, and mobility.

Researchers found those patients who played the virtual reality games actually improved their ability to walk. Using brain imaging before and after the experiment, they also discovered a reorganization of brain function after the virtual reality therapy. The brain centers responsible for movement, actually expanded! The brain can be programmed to achieve imagined possibilities.

Healers, priests and shaman have always known that if you can imagine it, you can become it. Imagination can create a new reality — one that inspires us to move beyond the reality of our limitations, and moves us through the transformative struggle called life.