Although Hratch stresses rigorous strengthening
exercises like other rehabilitation programs that are emerging for SCI,
the program’s foundation is based on a shift in patient consciousness. He
catalyzes and reinforces this change, from the defeating “you will never
walk again” and other negative, recovery-inhibiting attitudes that are
deeply imprinted in consciousness after injury to a positive “Yeah, I
will do it.” When this new attitude is embedded with conviction
in our consciousness - the captain of our ship - the physical body starts
Hratch’s 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, Hratch speculates
that nascent neuronal growth commences, dormant neurons turn on, and new
neuronal connections are created. Regardless of the specific intervening
physiological mechanisms, Hratch believes that physical healing stems from
the healing in consciousness, which is then reinforced through aggressive
physical rehabilitation. According to Hratch, most patients who have
persevered with his demanding program have accrued additional function,
sometimes subtle but life-enhancing and sometimes dramatic.
Over the past year, Hratch’s program has received
extensive press attention in the United Kingdom 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 Hratch, 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
As expected for such an unconventional,
consciousness-directed program, the British SCI biomedical establishment
has been skeptical and dismissed Gemma’s progress as a development that
may have occurred anyway. In Miracles Steps, Gemma succinctly
responds: “Medicine didn’t make me take a step; this guy did.”
Given my PVA-supported role to explore therapies that
expand the SCI-healing spectrum, Hratch invited me to visit his clinic and
observe first hand his approach. Over four days, I watched him treat
people with SCI and a diversity of other neurological disorders, including
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease), traumatic
brain injury (TBI), and rare developmental disorders in children, such as
a myelin disorder featured in the movie Lorenzo’s Oil.
Hratch has treated over 50 individuals with SCI, as well as many with
multiple sclerosis (MS).
A Different Perspective
Age 55, Hratch is of Armenian descent who grew up in
the Middle East before immigrating to England as a young man. As a severe
dyslexic, he finds in-depth reading challenging. Demonstrating once again
that many disabilities are the source of strengths, Hratch’s perceptions
on disability come from a different view of the universe than
conventionally trained doctors and scientists, who acquire much of their
knowledge through reading texts and journals.
Denied traditional sources of knowledge, Hratch’s
intuitive insights that evolved into his program came from 14 years of
extensive contemplative meditation. Although Western science eschews such
a process for acquiring knowledge, ancient-based cultures embrace it as
the only effective way for obtaining higher-level insight (e.g.,
Native-American vision quests, Indian yogic experiences, early Christian
Perhaps reflecting the inner peace that accrues from
such cumulative meditation, Hratch has a gentle, almost sage-like attitude
when interacting with his patients. He treats them with love and develops
a seemingly soul intimacy that creates the connection needed to generate
healing in consciousness.
Hratch’s Clinic is located in the heart of London,
several blocks from Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street and a mile from
Buckingham Palace. In a setting conducive for fostering spirit-driven
healing, the clinic is housed in a former presbytery for the attached St.
As a biochemist who was for many years a senior
National Institutes of Health (NIH) official, I once embraced, like most
of my colleagues, a mechanistic model of healing that essentially viewed
the body as a summation of parts - whether they are molecules, cells, or
organs. Under such a model, consciousness has no role.
Although the scientific community traditionally
disdains mind-body-spirit healing, in a-rose-by-any-other-name fashion,
has grudgingly acknowledged a more scientific-sounding discipline called
psychoneuroimmunology, which, to some degree, conceptually represents the
same thing: i.e., how attributes of consciousness (such as emotions,
attitudes, etc.) affect health.
Although I have often de-emphasized esoteric healing
concepts of consciousness in this series, Hratch’s program is so anchored
in them that discussion can’t be avoided. Hratch himself states that it is
difficult to describe what he does: “there is no description that you can
give to what takes place; it will always seem mystical and mysterious. Yet
to me, it is a simple calculation of the mind and the brain working under
instruction to create change.”
The Role of Consciousness
The role of consciousness or mind in healing has
always been troublesome for scientists. The famous 17th century
French philosopher René 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) (see November 5, 2004 Science magazine for discussion).
Unlike neuroscientists who tend to equate
consciousness with brain chemistry and biology, many alternative healing
traditions view the brain more from Descartes’ perspective; specifically,
the brain is merely the body’s 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 processor’s 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 Alzheimer’s disease, the
consciousness is always whole and complete, and, relevant to Hratch’s
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. Like burrs sticking to Velcro, these
beliefs are difficult to eliminate and, unfortunately, often are imposed
by our medical professionals. Sometimes, it is called “hanging crepe,” as
in a funeral. For example, when learning that they have only six months to
live, cancer patients often die after that time period because an
authority figure has imprinted that expectation in their consciousness.
For SCI, the imprint is even deeper because it is
based on medicine’s cumulative historical experience for the disorder and
not the ever-growing possibilities of the future. 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 – basically, Hratch’s goal.
According to Gemma, in addition to busting apart the
pervasive you-will-never-walk-again attitude, Hratch made her “deal with a
lot of painful memories and remember how it was to move.” As Gemma watched
her siblings and friends move on with their lives, her resentment and
dislike of herself grew; she notes, however, Hratch “made me like myself
In Miracle Steps, Ogali summarized his
approach: “I basically teach natural wisdom - how the mind, body and
spirit work together; what kind of power we possess; what kind of
creativity we possess; how we can use that creativity to activate, bring
to life, to create something new. And when the mind becomes free, the mind
He adds, “The mind is all spirit. Spirit remembers
everything, including how it built the body; it knows.”
A key program element is a guided meditation session.
Because the session’s purpose is to establish a one-on-one communion of
consciousness between Hratch and patient, I did not observe them; however,
I had my own session.
Although I have meditated for years, I have rarely
gone into a deeper, trance-like state. It is in such a receptive state
that Hratch begins the process of breaking up the negative belief patterns
that inhibit physical healing. To help further germinate these nascent
seeds of consciousness, such sessions take place periodically.
Reinforcing these private sessions, Hratch continues
his mind instructions in the more routine physical-therapy sessions.
Gemma’s father Mike felt that such a bond had been created between his
daughter and Hratch that he felt like an intruder when present. I often
felt the same way in my observations.
Furthermore, Hratch’s soothing mind instructions
frequently spilled over into my consciousness. As he encouraged
patients to relax muscles, I was soon nodding off. This reaction became
ridiculous when I nearly dropped my coffee after Hratch gently instructed
Alan, a C2 injury, to relax his severely contracted left shoulder. I was
told that Hratch’s soporific influence on observers was common. Given such
a bystander effect, I suspect its effect on the patient -the target of the
instructions - is substantial.
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 patient’s consciousness. Although uniquely
developed by Hratch, meditative breathing exercises are, in fact, a key
component of many Eastern-healing practices, such as
qigong and scalp acupuncture.
In addition to his consciousness-influencing efforts,
Hratch views himself as a hands-on, energy worker, a concept discussed
periodically on this website. He believes that we are all fundamentally
electromagnetic beings who are a part of or connected to a greater
electromagnetic universe; this electromagnetic relationship can be used
Hratch claims to tap into our ubiquitous
electromagnetic universe and then “activates the brain …by penetrating the
magnetic energy of patients, who instantly feel some sort of sensations in
their legs and feet.” This gives Hratch a sense of the patient’s residual
function, which he then exploits and builds upon through further energy
and physical therapy. Hratch states: “If you have one-percent function,
you can have two percent” …and so on.
Although Hratch’s mind instruction is carried out on
an ongoing basis, much of his program involves intense physical exercise
and conditioning. At this point, his once empathetic persona turns into a
bust-your-behind, motivating coach. Although his clinic contains a variety
of standard strengthening and rehabilitation equipment, Hratch emphasizes
conditioning on a semirecumbent hand and leg cycle and the use of a
body-supporting hoist for walking efforts.
Hratch 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 Hratch views as reducing the
body’s sensitivity to the mind’s healing instructions.
Overall, this program requires a substantial effort
commitment. In addition to carrying out time-consuming,
discipline-requiring, mind-instructor exercises, the program requires
considerable physical work. Although Gemma’s functional recovery was
dramatic given her injuries, it required many months of dedicated, focused
work that pushed other activities to the background.
In spite of the program’s radical nature, scientific
findings are, to some degree, consistent with Hratch patients’ functional
recovery. First, neurophysiological assessments show that most
clinically-classified complete injuries have some intact, albeit perhaps
dormant, neurons running through the injury site. Second, studies indicate
that only a small percentage of working neurons are needed to have fairly
substantial function. Third, the spinal cord and interacting neuronal
networks are physiologically much more complex than originally thought,
suggesting the function-stimulating integration of different neuronal
systems above and below the injury site. Finally, a number of aggressive
rehabilitation programs have triggered some restored function in
individuals with chronic SCI, including the late Christopher Reeve. All
these findings suggest possibilities on how Hratch’s program, which taps
into the patient’s will at the deepest level, restores some function
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 medicine’s
emergence. Even if modern medicine acknowledges the role of consciousness
through disciplines such as psychoneuroimmunology, it is ill equipped to
assess its healing potential.
Specifically, medicine’s most powerful analytical
tool - the randomized double-blind, clinical trial - is worthless for
measuring the healing effects of consciousness. For example, what would be
a standardized dose of consciousness and what would be the placebo? Hence,
consciousness, perhaps the most powerful component in our healing
armamentarium, is off the radar screen when it comes to science’s
preferred way of looking at the world.
Most of us, however, 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 Hratch’s
mind-influencing, soul-motivating, function-restoring program is truly
Mind-Instructor Clinic: 11-12 Manchester Mews,
London W1U 2DX, Phone: 011 44 20 7486 0202,
Hratch Ogali's book
My Mind My Master,
which further explains his healing insights and approaches, can be also
obtained at this site.
To obtain the Discover Health Channel documentary
Miracle Steps, which focuses on this program, contact: Advance Medical
Productions, 307 W. Weaver St., Carrboro, NC 27510, Phone: 919-933-3553,