Power of Mind

“Have you heard about this bracelet that I’m seeing lots of my friends wear? They say it improves your balance” said my mother, whose age cohort knows a thing or two about the potential risk of a fall.

And so the Power Balance Bracelet, as I learn this thing is called, is all the rage among the elderly, and also some athletes, given endorsements by big-named sports figures who will do anything for a bit more power or balance to keep their multi-million-dollar contracts. Endorsing pet rocks and burger griddles also improves the bottom line.

At first I was skeptical. I couldn’t image what could be in a small bracelet that would have an impact on something as complicated as balance–something I’ve dealt with often as a physical therapist addressing the problem in both injured athletes and stroke patients. Then I learned that the bracelet contains a hologram that “realigns the frequencies of the body to bring the cells into register with their most efficient oscillations.” I saw the light: nothing to see here.

This miracle cure falls into the same arena as magic potions, lucky charms and snake oil.

And yet, for some who wear it, the cheaply-made plastic wristband may actually make them feel stronger and more powerful in the same way a doctor’s recommended pain pill makes a suffering patient less uncomfortable, even though the pill is made of corn starch alone. This is the often-maligned placebo effect–quite often referred to as “just” the placebo effect. It’s all in the mind they say, but then, so is pain, confidence, fear, and pleasure. Placebo exerts a very real affect on our perceptions, and can be validated objectively in double-blind studies. What we believe changes what we experience.

So here I am a few days before a medical encounter. Anything could happen. But I think that, because I’m not a stranger to injury and recovery, I understand the language of medicine, have confidence in my doctor, have adequate support at home afterwards, have confidence in my body’s (and mind’s) ability to rebound from insult, and don’t have a morbid fear of the worst (all of these as perceptions which are in fact in my head) my outcome is likely to be better than for someone who lacks one or more of these “positive mental notions.”

But maybe if I carry a rabbit’s foot on a chain this week, things will go better. Nah. I think I’ll just wear my lucky socks on Friday.

And by the way, you can read about the Power Balance Bracelet and spend your money as you will. If it helps you, it was worth it, I suppose. Just don’t do anything that will get you on the six o’clock news with your new superhuman powers. Evidencesoup. Ratbags.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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