“Just as a person with a severe hemispheric imbalance can be badly disconnected from emotions such as empathy, and thus sanction or even encourage actions such as mass murder that is war, so too can an entire society. In the opinion of some researchers, societies that are hemispherically unbalanced are more likely to be patriarchal, hierarchal, and violent, whereas societies that are hemispherically balanced are more likely to be egalitarian and democratic, and employ violence only in self-defense.” – From the book
Remember the caricatures of stage hypnotists brandishing a swinging pocket watch while intoning “Look into my eyes…” ? Well, according to author Thom Hartmann, this type of hypnosis was actually a bona fide psychiatric therapy in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. In fact, Franz Anton Mesmer (“mesmerize”) was the first person to develop a system of bilateral cross-hemispheric stimulation by waving his fingers side to side while a patient followed with their eyes. Mesmer discovered that his system was quite effective in resolving non-organic physical and psychological problems. That is, psychosomatic conditions or issues rooted in emotional trauma.
In the late 1800’s, Sigmund Freud—a protégé of Josef Breuer—discovered the power of bilateral therapy in the form of alternatively stroking both sides of the body, a technique that Mesmer first developed. In fact, in the 1880’s and early 1890’s, Freud’s preferred method of treatment wasn’t talk therapy (which is what he became famous for) but a bilateral technique known as hypnosis.
In Walking Your Blues Away, author Thom Hartmann traces Freud’s sudden discontinuance of hypnosis to the popularity of the book Trilby, authored by George Du Maurier in 1894. Playing on the new wave of anti-Semitism that swept Europe at the end of the 19th century, Du Maurier’s novel Tribly chronicled the seductive story of Svengali a “sinister, Jewish” hypnotist who exploited susceptible women both sexually and financially.
Hartmann suggests that the public reaction to Jewish physicians employing hypnosis was so intense, that Freud had no choice but to abandon this successful form of therapy.
Walking Your Blues Away offers theories as to why bilateral therapies such as hypnosis, side-to-side stimulation, NLP, EFT, etc. are so successful at reframing emotional trauma—and the author applies this mode of therapy to walking.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain that functions as a “dumping ground” of memories, so to speak. Whatever we go through or experience in a day is processed by the hippocampus while sleeping (REM being another form of bilateral stimulation). However, some emotional trauma—such as what is experienced with PTSD—is so severe that the hippocampus can’t process it all. This trauma then becomes “stuck” in the brain, unable to be processed as a mere memory. These frozen experiences can debilitate and depress unless they become resolved.
Interestingly, talk therapy can often cause a “re-wounding”, asserts Hartmann, which actually makes matters worse. Drawing on his experience with NLP, he realized that emotionally charged memories are “seen” front and center of a person—in full color—while non-traumatic memories are “seen” far away, off to the side, “flat”, or in black and white.
Combining the most natural form of bilateral therapy extant—walking—with NLP, Hartmann realized that holding a painful memory in central awareness while walking can resolve a traumatic issue in less than 30 minutes.
Yet, according to Walk Your Blues Away, Hartmann’s technique has proven successful for alleviating both short term and long-term symptoms in people—ranging from angry domestic disputes to war trauma. This is because walking uses both hemispheres of the brain, and “holding” the traumatic issue in one’s mind while walking can literally vaporize disturbing events. In addition to providing compelling evidence in the form of case studies, he also shares fascinating cultural and historical anecdotes as to why “brain balance” can heal. For example, Hartmann refers to the legacy of left-brain dominance caused by literacy as put forth in the book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain, as well as Darwin and the “noble savage” and how “walking” tribes were much less violent than “civilized” horse-riding people. Most of us realize the many benefits of walking, but Walking Your Blues Away describes a deceptively simple process to resolving stuck emotions and symptoms stemming from traumatic experiences. At only 102-pages, this is a short book, but the case histories and theories Hartmann presents is compelling—and his methodology is so easy that even a child could use it.
In fact, walking as bilateral therapy can also be used to generate creativity, solve problems, and create motivational states.
My one criticism of this book is that the author doesn’t mention if this type of therapy can be used with treadmills. I happen to live in a region that experiences some cold winters and while I’ll go to the park as long as I can stand it, it’s difficult to do so when the wind chill sinks to 0 degrees!
Bilateral therapy through walking is a fascinating, sensible idea—so if this form of healing sounds appealing to you, it’s an easy way to (hopefully) treat chronic emotional distress or resolve “stuck” emotions.
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