Ever felt under the weather and managed to force yourself out of bed anyway to face the day? Maybe you've started taking an antibiotic and immediately felt better, even though the medication actually takes several hours to kick in? The mind-body connection is a powerful thing: as new documentary "Heal" shows, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions have the power to heal the body in more ways than you could imagine.
The 105-minute documentary is the work of Kelly Noonan Gores, who set out to interview experts ranging from a Reiki practitioner to an organic chemist to a holistic biologist in order to paint a picture of alternative medicine that feels deeper and more concrete than ever before: Deepak Chopra, Bruce Lipton, Marianne Williamson, Michael Beckwith, Gregg Braden, Anita Moorjani and other leading scientists, teachers and experts intervene to explain the ways that the mind-body connection can be an essential tool for healing.
The film delves into the theory that most chronic illnesses – from heartburn to multiple sclerosis to cancer – stem from general inflammation due to stress. In our anxiety-ridden modern lives, the experts explain, our body’s fight or flight mode is constantly switched on; as a result, our bodies never have the time to heal themselves, contributing to chronic issues, the symptoms of which Western medication seeks to ease without ever looking at the source.
The film’s strength is in welcoming such illustrious experts to explain this in terms that skeptics of alternative medicine or the mind-body connection can understand and accept.
“Belief itself shifts biology,” says organic chemist David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., offering a testimony of the placebo effect and the overwhelming power of the mind over the body.
The scientists build a bridge between spirituality and science, even connecting the dots between metaphysical beings and quantum physics.
“A long, long time ago, the word spirit was invisible moving forces that influence the physical realm,” explains stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. “Quantum physics is taking us back to a time that said the invisible forces we have been discounting in medicine turn out to be the primary forces that control everything.”
To ground these ideas, the film follows the healing journeys of two individuals. One, Elizabeth, has always believed in the power of alternative medicine and is now facing a terminal stage four cancer diagnosis; the other, Eva, has painful sores on her skin and is ready to turn to alternative therapies for the first time in hopes of finding answers that no Western doctor has been able to give her.
“I wanted to actually follow people on their journey,” explains Gores of this choice. “Which is a risk, because I didn’t know how long it was going to take, and also if they were going to heal.”
The results are mixed: Elizabeth manages to make a full recovery a year before her doctors ever expected she would see results, while Eva manages to get to the root of her relationship with her estranged mother but ultimately needs to turn to steroids and antibiotics to get her skin condition under control.
According to Gores, Eva hasn’t completely given up hope on alternative treatments.
“Some people are ready, and they can do it in an instant and spontaneously heal,” she explains. “For other people, it's a process, or it's a really deep-seated trauma that they need time to work through, so they've got to heal in layers. I think she's finally now ready to start peeling back the layers.”
One major contributing factor to not only Eva’s reticence in seeking out these treatments but also that of others – including, undoubtedly, some members of the film's audience – is the cost of some of these integrative therapies, most of which are not covered by Western insurance policies. Normalizing these therapies is part of Gores’ mission with the film.
“I personally am hoping to wake people up on an individual level so that they start to look deeper into holistic approaches,” she says. “As the demand shifts, then healthcare will shift. Ultimately I believe that health insurance companies will realize that it's actually cheaper for them to have these things covered, but it's a big behemoth of an industry, so it's going to take a little while to change.”
Of course, cost isn't the only thing that will turn some viewers off. The Los Angeles Times notes that “skeptics may tire from all the eye-rolling,” and indeed, viewers may be wary of some of the claims in the film: Medical medium Anthony William brushes off the critics as he tells the story of diagnosing his grandmother with cancer as a child; Bruce Lipton explains how he was able to overcome a spinal injury through the power of positive thinking, a story that could have worrisome side effects if a viewer decides to attempt the same thing.
The film attempts to temper these potential problems by attributing credit to Western medicine in cases of trauma, and Gores notes that pushing too far in the other direction is dangerous as well.
“Iatrogenic illness is the number three cause of death in the U.S.,” she says, citing misdiagnosis, overprescription, and infection as just some of the many ways in which medicine can actually be harmful rather than helpful. “You're almost more at risk going to a hospital than you are walking in the south side of Chicago.”
In reality, the film offers the perfect answer (though it doesn’t linger on it far long enough): Elizabeth, a proponent of meditation and juice fasting, is told by her doctors that she needs chemotherapy and radiation if she hopes to overcome her cancer. She is able, through the power of positive thinking, to come to terms with this and to welcome the Western treatments as part of her healing, in tandem with meditation and psychotherapy.
“It doesn’t mean you don’t go to a doctor,” says Michael Bernard Beckwith, Founder of Agape International Spirit Center. “It doesn’t mean you don’t follow good medical advice. But if you just give yourself over to an external authority figure, you basically become a victim twice: a victim to the condition and the diagnosis, and now you’ve become a victim to an authority figure telling you about what’s going to happen in your life."
The crux of the film's message is this: the mind-body connection is all about using the mind as a tool, especially in approaching a diagnosis; it is only once these two realms of health – separated artificially by society – are united, that true healing can begin.