The Wave Nature of Being:
Ultradian Rhythms and Mind-Body Communication

Ernest L. Rossi and Brian M. Lippincott

This chapter builds a bridge between biology and psychosocial processes via ultradian time, rhythm and information transduction. It begins by exploring the highly speculative conjecture that ultradian rhythms in the 20 to 120 minute range on the cellular-genetic level are reflected in similar periodicities on the neuroendocrinal and behavioral levels. These ultradian rhythms are viewed as coordinators of information transduction between the expression of genes and environmental signals such as temperature, food and psychosocial variables in the general process of adaptive homeostasis. Failures in this process of adaptive homeostasis are reflected in what is commonly called "stress" and "psychosomatic problems." An extensive matching of the clinical-experimental data of chronobiology and psychology suggests that what the biologist calls the "entrainment of ultradian and circadian rhythms by psychosocial stimuli" is the psychobiological basis of what psychotherapists call "hypnotic suggestion to facilitate mind-body healing." Research paradigms and mathematical models now needed to explore this ultradian interface between biology and psychosocial processes are outlined.

A major ideal of science is to integrate apparently different phenomena into a general theory of nature. The more widely divergent the phenomena that we can bring together in a meaningful way, the greater the beauty, scope and potential utility of the theory. We admire the simple elegance whereby Newton's theory of gravitation proposed a grand unification of celestial mechanics -the orbits of the sun, moon and planets - with the humble fall of an apocryphal apple here on earth.

Newton's accomplishment was made possible by 1) centuries of careful observation of planetary motion and 2) the creation of a new mathematics, The Calculus, that related time to changes in position and motion. The introduction of time as an independent variable could be regarded as a profound turning point in the creation of the scientific world view. Introducing time led to an understanding of "rates of change" so that predictions could be made accurately and easily. The experimental confirmation of such predictions led, in turn, to the scientific method of verifying theory.

Are we in a similar place today in our study of ultradian rhythms made possible by 1) more than two centuries of observations since the astronomer de Mairan verified experimentally that living plants had their own endogenous rhythms and 2) the current creation of a new mathematics, Chaos Theory, that seems capable of relating time to the deterministic yet bewilderingly complex rhythms we find characteristic of life at all levels from the molecular-genetic to the brain-mind? This chapter may be regarded as a prolegomenon to a highly speculative theory that proposes a fundamentally new integration of biology and psychology via time, rhythm and the flow of information. We will begin with an overview of the nature-nature controversy from this perspective and then summarize recent research that leads to an ultradian theory of adaptive homeostasis, stress and healing in psychosomatic medicine.


The question of what determines human behavior in health and illness has been conceptualized as the so-called "Nature versus Nature Controversy:" Is the source of a behavior to be found in endogenous, built-in genetic factors or is it better understood as an adaptive process to outer environmental circumstances? In the field of chronobiology this question takes a more precise form: Is the vast range of ultradian, circadian and seasonal rhythms that all of life is heir to primarily an expression of endogenous or environmental signals? More than two centuries ago when the astronomer de Mairan first established the endogenous source of circadian rhythms in plants for chronobiology, a similar development was taking place in the field of psychology. Mesmerism, the theory that the source of human behavior, health and illness was to be found in the influence of magnetic forces emanating from the heavenly bodies, was being transformed into the field of hypnosis, depth psychology and psychosomatic medicine where it was recognized that the sources of health, stress and psychopathology could be traced to more potent, proximal, psychosocial sources acting within the person.

In this primitive, polarized form the nature-nurture controversy misses what is most exciting at the leading edge of research today: it is the interaction between nature and nurture at the molecular-genetic level that is most informative in the emerging fields of psychobiology. In particular, it is our currently evolving knowledge of the molecular pathways of information transduction between environmental signals and the expression of certain constitutive ("housekeeping") genes that is throwing a new light on the dynamics of biology and behavior at all levels.

This chapter surveys a wide variety of clinical and experimental observations that lead to an integrative view of communication and information transduction as the basic common denominator of biology and psychology. In particular we will focus on how ultradian rhythms may be explored as the parameters of information transduction in the cybernetic process of adaptive homeostasis. Adaptive homeostasis may be defined as the communication process whereby the genetic informational matrix of life, as expressed in endogenous epigenetic oscillations at the molecular-genetic level, are entrained and adaptively integrated with environmental signals. The signals from the environment include the availability of water and nutrients, temperature, light, toxins, physical stress, performance demands and that general class of behavioral stimuli generally called "psychosocial variables."


An evolutionary view of the cybernetic loop of information transduction between the epigenetic level and environmental signals may be surveyed by tracing three interacting levels of adaptive homeostasis in health and illness.

1. The Cellular-Genetic Level: The epigenetic cycle is hypothesized as the source of life rhythms - the basic biological clock (Lloyd and Edwards, 1984; Lloyd, this volume). In more technical terms it is the "thermodynamic rate limiting factor;" the time required for genes to express themselves in the basic processes of cell metabolism, division, growth and repair (Lloyd & Edwards, 1987; Todorov, 1990).

Procaryoats, the simplest and oldest forms of unicellular life that have no nucleus, require 20 minutes for cell division and complete self-replication (Alberts et al., 1989). The M phase of cell division in the more highly evolved eucaryoats that make up all complex organisms where chromosomal reproduction takes place in mitosis, however, usually requires one 90-120 minute ultradian period even though it may take many hours, days or longer for the entire cell to replicate itself. A 20 minute building up period of mediating factors (eg. maturation promoting factor and H1 kinase) is required to trigger the 90-120 minute process of genetic replication in the complete 24 hour circadian cell cycle in eucaryoats (Murray,, Solomon, & Kirschner, 1989; Murray and Kirschner, 1989, 1991).

This emerging data on the molecular-genetic level suggests the conjecture that there has been an evolution from 20 minute to 90-120 minute ultradian rhythms to 24 hour circadian rhythms of cell cycle activity, replication and entrainment by environmental signals (Edwards, 1988; Klevecz & Braly, 1987; Rosbash & Hall, 1989). It may be hypothesized that the original 20 minute rhythm is most reflective of the basic rate limiting factors on the thermodynamic-molecular level in procaryoats while the 90-120 minute ultradian, circadian and seasonal rhythms reflect progressively more inclusive cybrenetic processes of information transduction between genetic and environmental signals in eucaryoats. This leads to the following interpretation of how ultradian and circadian rhythms at the molecular-genetic level may be reflected at the progressively more evolved brain-body (neuroendocrinal axis) and mind-brain levels (sensations, memory, learning etc.) in adaptive homeostasis.

2. The Brain-Body Level: All the major systems of mind-body communication such as the CNS, autonomic, endocrine and immune systems have evolved ultradian and circadian rhythms that apparently integrate the molecular-epigenetic cycles within cells with the organisms external and internal environments for "adaptive homeostasis" (Rossi, 1986a; Rossi and Cheek, 1988). These include:

- The pontine reticular activating system of the CNS that is associated with the 90-120 minute ultradian rhythm of dreaming. The neurophysiologist, Jouvet (1962, 1973) believed that the function of dreams was to exercise genetic patterns of behavior associated with adaptation, emotion and cognition in humans as well as animals. It is noteworthy in our context that the periods of rapid eye movement sleep (REM state) that are associated with dreaming range from 15 to 40 minutes with an average of 20-30 minutes. Kleitman (1978) cites evidence that these alternating phases of sleep and dreaming correspond to his 90-120 minute Basic Rest Activity Cycle (BRAC) in the daytime that are of essence for genetically based processes of adaptive homeostasis such as food intake and sexuality.

- The neuroendocrine system is now well recognized as having prominent ultradian and circadian components related to a variety of psychobiological behaviors associated with mental and physical activity, nutrition, metabolism and reproduction. There are experimentally verifiable 20 minute couplings between peaks of associated hormones that are released in approximately 90-120 minute ultradian rhythms: luteinizing hormone peaks lead prolactin and testosterone peaks by 10 to 20 minutes (Veldhuis et al., 1987; Veldhuis and Johnson, 1988; Veldhuis, this volume); Glucose leads insulin by 15 to 20 minutes (van Cauter et al., 1989); cortisol leads B-endorphin by 20-30 minutes (Iranmanesh et al., 1989). These associations that extend from the molecular-genetic generation of these hormones at the cellular level to their expression at the neuroendocrinal level and their interaction with the mind-brain processes of memory, learning and behavior described below can hardly be accidental. They must play a significant role in the cybrenetic process of information transduction between gene and adaptive behavior in health and illness. They are the most vivid illustration of the conjecture of an evolutionary relationship between the 20 minute, 90-120 minute and 24 hour rhythms of adaptive homeostasis at all levels.

3. The Mind-Brain Level: Ultradian relationships whereby short term memory is converted to long term memory over a 90 minute cycle, with a 20 minute latency period capable of aborting the process have been found in organisms ranging from the marine mollusk Aplysia to humans (Kandel & Schwartz, 1985). The molecular pathways between environmental stimuli and the genetic-cellular basis of virtually all classes of memory and learning associated with the mind-brain processes of psychotherapy have been discussed by Kandel. He carefully differentiates between changes in genetic structure and the regulation of gene expression by environmental factors as follows (Kandel, 1989, p 122-3).

The genetic data on schizophrenia and on depression indicate that these diseases involve alteration in the structure of genes. By contrast, the data now emerging on learning suggest that neurotic illnesses acquired by learning, which can often respond to psychotherapy, might involve alterations in the regulation of gene expression. In this context, it is important to realize, as I have emphasized earlier, that genes have two regions: a regulatory region and a coding region. The regulatory region usually lies upstream of the coding region and consists of two types of DNA elements. One type of DNA element is called the promoter. This is the site where the enzyme RNA polymerase binds before it reads and transcribes the gene into messenger RNA. The second type of DNA region is called the enhancer region. It recognizes protein signals that determine in which cells, and when, the coding region will be transcribed by the polymerase. Whether the RNA polymerase binds and transcribes the gene and how often it does so in any given period of time is determined by a small number of proteins, transcriptional regulators, that bind to different segments of the upstream enhancer region. Development, hormones, stress, and learning are all factors that can alter the binding of the transcriptional regulator proteins to the regulatory regions of genes. I suggest that at least certain neurotic illnesses (or components of them) represent a reversible defect in gene regulation, which is produced by learning and which may be due to altered binding of specific proteins to certain upstream regions that control the expression of certain genes.

According to this view, schizophrenia and depression would be due primarily to heritable genetic changes in neuronal and synaptic function in a population carrying one or more mutations. By contrast, neurotic illnesses might represent alterations in neuronal and synaptic function produced by environmentally induced modulation of gene expression. Insofar as psychotherapy works and produces long-term learned changes in behavior, it may do so by producing alterations in gene expression. Needless to say, psychotic illness, although primarily caused by inherited alterations in gene structure, may also involve a secondary disturbance in environmentally acquired gene expression. [Ital ours]

Clinical-experimental data that is consistent with the Kandel's view has been cited by the author who has hypothesized that chronic disruptions of ultradian rhythms of activity and rest may lead to the breakdown of adaptive homeostasis between environmental stimuli, the neuroendocrine axis and the epigenetic level that are manifest as stress and psychosomatic illness (Rossi, 1982, 1986a & b.; Rossi & Cheek 1988). It has been hypothesized that many forms of psychological and holistic healing utilizing hypnosis, the relaxation response, psychotherapy and meditation can facilitate stress reduction and healing right down to the molecular-genetic level by simply providing a therapeutic context for rest and recovery that can optimize ultradian rhythms (Rossi, 1991a & b).

One of the most intriguing areas of recent research exploring the ultradian interface between the mind-brain level, stress, psychosomatics and personality is the so-called nasal rhythm.

The German rhinologist, Kayser (1895) is credited with recognizing and measuring the widely varying ultradian shifts in "nasal dominance" in humans whereby the left and right chambers of the nose alternate in their size and shape to change the degree of air flow through each every few hours. Table one outlines some of the major studies in a century of research in this still highly controversial area. The most significant of these studies for understanding mind-body communication are those of Debra Werntz (1981) who reported a contralateral relationship between cerebral hemispheric activity (EEG) and the ultradian rhythm of the nasal cycle. They found that relatively greater integrated EEG values in the right hemisphere are positively correlated with a predominant airflow in the left nostril and visa versa.

Table 1  A century of research on the duration of the nasal cycle.

In a wide ranging series of studies Werntz et al (1982a & b) found that subjects could voluntary shift their nasal dominance by forced uni-nostril breathing through the closed nostril. Further, this shift in nasal dominance was associated with an accompanying shift in cerebral dominance to the contralateral hemisphere and autonomic nervous system balance throughout the body (Klein et al. 1986). The ultradian nasal cycle is not only a marker for cerebral hemispheric activity, but it also could be used to voluntarily change the loci of activity in the highest centers of the brain and autonomic system that are involved in cybrenetic loops of communication with most organ systems, tissues and cells of the body. Some of these investigators hypothesize that this nasal-brain-mind link may be the essential path by which the ancient practice of breath regulation in yoga led to the the voluntary control of many autonomic nervous system functions for which the Eastern adeps are noted (Brown, 1991; Rossi, 1991b).

These relationships inspired a recent Ph.D dissertation by Darlene Osowiec (1991) who assessed hypothesized associations between the nasal ultradian rhythm, anxiety, symptoms of stress and the personality process of self-actualization. She found that: "(1) there is a significant positive correlation between self-actualizing individuals having low trait anxiety and stress related symptoms and a regular nasal cycle... and (2) non-self-actualizing individuals with high levels of trait anxiety and stress-related symptoms exhibit significantly greater irregularity in the nasal cycle..." These results are reminiscent of the ancient texts that emphasize that an irregular nasal cycle, particularly one in which the person remains dominant in one nostril or the other for an excessively long period of time are associated with illness and mental disorder (Rama, Ballentine and Ajaya, 1976)

Osowiec's findings with the ultradian nasal rhythm are similar to the types of associations that are found between stress, symptoms, personality and responsiveness to therapeutic hypnosis. Since hypnosis, like chronobiology, was a historically significant turning point in the study of these cybrenetic pathways of mind-body communication and healing, it will be used here as a paradigm of how psychology and biology may find a common denominator in ultradian time, rhythm and information transduction (Rapp, 1987).

Matching Chronobiological Rhythms and Hypnotic Phenomena

It now appears that most of the known psychological and physiological processes that manifest a natural variability during ultradian and circadian rhythms are also modifiable by hypnosis. A matching of the psychobiological processes that vary during ultradian rhythms with so-called "hypnotic phenomena" is outlined in table two. Table two like table one is not complete in any sense; it is only an introduction to the wide range of research topics that chronobiology and hypnosis share in common. As can be seen, most of the psychobiological processes that manifest a natural variability during ultradian rhythms are modifiable by hypnosis. This matching provides an empirical data base for a more comprehensive assessment of the hypothesis that what has been traditionally called "clinical hypnosis" or "therapeutic suggestion" may be, in essence, the accessing and utilization of the natural variability of ultradian and circadian processes that respond to psychosocial cues. Within this framework, the classical phenomena of hypnosis may be conceptualized as extreme manifestations and/or perseverations of time-dependent psychobiological processes that are responsive to psychosocial cues. Because the literature in hypnosis and psychobiological rhythms has developed independently until now, a certain amount of translation will be necessary to understand the proposed matching in table two.

Even though the history of hypnosis indicates that many of the major phenomena of hypnosis originally were discovered as curious manifestations of normal and abnormal states (Ellenberger, 1970; Tinterow, 1970), the salient characteristic that made them particularly interesting from a social/psychological point of view was that they were "suggestible." The first row in table two proposes that what is called "suggestible" in hypnosis is called psychosocially "entrainable" in the literature of chronobiology. A major theoretical and methodological common denominator between the ultradian literature on the entrainability of psychobiological processes and the hypnosis literature on the suggestibility of hypnotic phenomena is to determine the degree to which they are a function of endogenous (organismic) and exogenous (environmental or social) influences. A "two-factor hypothesis," for example, is used by Brown (1982) to account for the interaction between endogenous organismic states and external illumination on a variety of ultradian and circadian processes. Likewise, the literature of hypnosis abounds with "two-factor theories" to account for the interactions between hypnotizability as an innate, organismic trait versus its suggestibility and responsiveness to psychosocial cues (Fromm & Shor, 1972; Erickson and Rossi, 1981; Sheehan & Perry, 1976). Table two cites only a few of the major approaches to studying the interactions between organismic and psychosocial variables in the ultradian literature and their corresponding variables in the hypnotic literature.

TABLE TWO:  A Matching of Ultradian Processes with Classical Phenomena of therapeutic Hypnosis.

The proposed matching of table two outline how many varieties of sensation, perception, memory, cognition, motor, and affective behavior modifiable by hypnosis exhibit natural ultradian variations. A basic hypothesis for integrating chronobiology with psychology is that these natural ultradian variations of cognition, mood and behavior are the "basic stuff" of hypnotic performance (Balthazard & Woody, 1985) and the art of therapeutic suggestion in general. The responsivity of many autonomic, endocrine and immune system parameters to ultradian variation and hypnotic suggestion reinforces the view that they share a common denominator. This hypothesis is supported further by the voluminous literature on stress, psychosomatics, accidents and social issues outlined in table two that the ultradian and hypnotherapeutic literature have pursued independently of one another until this time.

This ultradian hypothesis of therapeutic suggestion is entirely consistent with a generation of research in experimental hypnosis that firmly established that, contrary to popular belief, there is no transcendence of normal abilities in hypnosis (Wagstaff, 1986). What seems to be an extension of the normal parameters of a wide range of mind-body performance skills via hypnosis is actually the optimization of the individual's natural range of abilities. These researchers openly acknowledge, however, that they have no adequate theory of the source and parameters of hypnotic performance. A prominent researcher, for example, has recently summarized the current situation as follows: "As [hypnotic] susceptibility is normally assessed, a high scorer is one who produces the behavior, the reason for its production remains unknown...the claim was frequently made that cognitive processes are involved in the production of 'hypnotic' effects. However, the exact nature of these processes generally remained obscure." (Naish, 1986, p165-166). The ultradian theory of hypnotic suggestion proposed here is the first that provides a comprehensive view that can account for all the known historical, biological, psychological and sociological facts about the source and parameters of hypnotic behavior (Rossi, 1986a & b, 1988; Rossi and Cheek, 1988). Moreover, as will be seen in the following sections, the ultradian theory of hypnotic suggestion has generated and is in the process of verifying an entirely new set of predications that could not have been made within the world view of traditional hypnosis and psychobiology.

Winfree (1980, 1987) has succinctly defined some of the important concepts that are central to further research in this proposed integration of ultradian psychobiology with the mind-body healing arts as follows (Winfree, 1980, p. 1):

In living systems, as in much of mankind's energy-handling machinery, rhythmic return through a cycle of change is an ubiquitous principle of organization. . .The word phase is used. . .to signify position on a circle, on a cycle of states. Phase provides us with a banner around which to rally a welter of diverse rhythmic (temporal) or periodic (spatial) patterns that lie close at hand all around us in the natural world. I will draw your attention in particular to "phase singularities": peculiar states or places where phase is ambiguous but plays some kind of a seminal, organizing role. For example in a chemical solution a phase singularity may become the source of waves that organize reactions in space and time. [Italics added]

Winfree (1980, 1987) discusses phase singularities that characterize a wide variety of ultradian rhythms ranging from the purely biological (e.g., photosynthesis, cell division) to the behavioral (e.g., activity rhythms, sleep-wake cycles) and the phenomenological (e.g., the experiences of color and jet lag). He has not discussed hypnosis, but one would be hard pressed to find a more apt description of hypnosis than "peculiar states or places where [behavior] is ambiguous but [suggestion] plays some kind of a seminal, organizing role." In its most general form, the ultradian hypothesis would predict that all the hypnotic phenomena listed in table two would be most readily evoked during the "phase singularity" portion of those psychobiological processes that are proposed here as the "basic stuff" of each hypnotic phenomenon. Let us now examine a series of recent studies that explore the ultradian psychobiological parameters of what we shall call "naturalistic hypnosis," " the common everyday trance" or the "ultradian healing response."


1. Ultradian Rhythms of Hypnotic Susceptibility

The first independent experimental assessment of the ultradian theory of hypnotic suggestion was carried out by Aldrich and Bernstein (1987) found that "time of day" was a statistically significant factor in hypnotic susceptibility. They reported a bimodal distribution of scores on The Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility (HGSHS) in college students with a sharp major peak at 12 noon and a secondary, broader plateau around 5 to 6 pm. The limitations of this study were that the subjects were tested in groups at hourly intervals during regular daytime class periods. The authors acknowledge that this group testing may have cancelled out the more individual 90-120 minute ultradian rhythms in hypnotic susceptibility hypothesized by Rossi, and they recommended that further assessment be made with individuals rather than groups.

The author therefore designed a pilot study whereby individual subjects could keep diaries that might identify periodicity in their daily patterns of self-hypnosis and ultradian rest (Rossi, 1990a). A Hypnosis Diary Group were individuals who had expressed an interest in learning self-hypnosis and were led through at least one classical hypnotic induction involving eye fixation, imagery and relaxation to facilitate "mind-body healing." They were then encouraged to keep a "Self-Hypnosis Diary" for two weeks in which they daily recorded three items: (1) The time of day when they did self-hypnosis, (2) How much time they remained in self-hypnosis and (3) anything about their healing experience of self-hypnosis that they found interesting.

The Ultradian Diary Group consisted of people who attended one of the author's lectures on "The Ultradian Healing Response" (Rossi and Cheek, 1988) as an approach to optimizing mind-body healing. To facilitate this new approach to mind-body healing they were to record the same items as the self-hypnosis group. Both groups were given the same purposely vague and non-directive instruction about when and how often they should do their "inner healing work" and diary recording.

Figure one presents an overview of the data for the total group of 16 subjects used in this pilot study. The jagged line with dark filled circles represents the original data of 292 diary reports by the total group. The symmetrical curve of hollow circles is the results of the analysis on the original data with the computer technique of Multiple Complex Demodulation (MCD) carried out by Helen Sing of the Behavioral Biology Department of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. This symmetrical curve represents a very prominent circadian rhythm with a peak between noon and 1 pm in the "number of incidents" of self-hypnosis and the ultradian healing response in the total group . This result is consistent with Aldrich and Berstein's finding of a peak in hypnotic susceptibility at noon but the secondary plateau they reported around 5 and 6 pm is only marginally evident by inspection of the jagged original data. The contrast between the smoothed computer generated circadian curve and the jagged original data which is more suggestive of an ultradian periodicity (with peaks at 9 a.m., noon, and perhaps at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.) provides some empirical support for the view that the circadian cycle is a composite of many ultradian rhythms (Edmunds, 1988; Lloyd & Edwards, 1987).

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Fig. 1: An overview of the circadian rhythm in the "ultradian healing response" and "self-hypnosis" in 292 dairy recordings of 16 subjects over a one week period (from Rossi, 1990).

While the author hypothesized there would be a 90-120 BRAC rhythm in the data, figures 2a and 2b illustrate a 180 minute component isolated by the MCD analysis that was a more prominent ultradian rhythm both groups. While the small number of observations of this pilot study do not permit us to make any statement about the significance of the differences between the two groups in the shape of the curves, it is evident that there are ultradian rhythms in the proclivities of these subjects to do "inner healing" whether it is identified as "self-hypnosis" or an "ultradian healing response."

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Fig. 2a: The predominant 180 minute rhythm of the self-hypnosis diary group (from Rossi, 1990).

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Fig. 2b: The predominant 180 rhythm of the ultradian healing response diary group (from Rossi, 1990).

Another observation of significance in figures 2a & b is that both groups of subject tended to remain in inner work for about 15 or 20 minutes just as ultradian theory predicted. Further, when the self descriptions of their inner experiences written in their diaries were examined, it was found that while there were wide variations in what each individual reported, attenuated forms of all the classical hypnotic phenomena were described to some degree or other in the total group even though the therapist did not suggest them directly. While these observations are still qualitative, they are consistent with the basic hypothesis that the classical forms of hypnotic experience are all expressions of natural ultradian variations of a variety of the psychobiological processes of adaptive homeostasis.

2. Ultradian Rhythms of Self-Hypnosis and Healing

The striking confirmations of the predictions of the ultradian theory of hypnotic suggestion in the pilot study reported above led to another experimental design with two independent replications. The author developed a variety of "naturalistic," permissive and non-directive approaches to therapeutic hypnosis where individuals were encouraged to remain in a "naturalistic hypnosis" for as long as they wished with the following words: "You will remain in hypnosis as long as necessary to resolve the issue you have been dealing with in as satisfactory a manner as is possible at this time. Your unconscious (or 'inner mind') will then allow you to awaken entirely on your own feeling refreshed and alert."

No further cues or statements were made while the patient remained in this self-guided state of naturalistic hypnosis. After they indicated they had spontaneously awakened by opening their eyes, talking and moving normally the therapist non-directively encouraged them to report something about their trance experience with questions such as: "What was that experience like? What did you actually experience? Can you tell me more about it?" As a check on the reliability of the amount of time spent on this "natural therapeutic trance" the entire procedure was repeated with each person usually within a week or two.

The results of this experiment supported the prediction of ultradian theory: patients remain in a naturalistic therapeutic hypnosis for about twenty minutes. This naturalistic trance time was reliable in the sense that the correlation of 0.49 between time spent in the first and second trance was significant at the .02 level (df=28). The large standard deviations and wide range of naturalistic trance times (between 2 and 67 minutes), however, does not recommend it as a useful predictor in practical therapeutic work.

This wide variability is highly characteristic of many ultradian behaviors because they are highly sensitive and adaptive to changing environmental circumstances. Kleitman (1970) and Wever (1989), have emphasized that most ultradian-circadian behaviors are easily modifiable by psychosocial stimuli. It is precisely this sensitivity and responsiveness to psychosocial stimuli that supports the view that hypnotic suggestion (certainly a class of psychosocial stimuli) may achieve its mind-body effects by entraining or synchronizing the naturally wide variability of ultradian behavior in the process of adaptive homeostasis.

As was found in the previous study, when the subjects were later queried about their experience they all volunteered at least one description implying that they experienced a hypnotic phenomena even though none were directly suggested. When a subject remarked, for example, "A lot was going on during the trance but now I don't remember any of it," it implies that hypnotic amnesia was experienced. When a subject commented, "I felt I was outside my body," it implies that a hypnotic dissociation took place. When a subject recalled, "At one point I felt I was a baby screaming," it was taken to imply that at least a partial hypnotic age regression was experienced even though it was not in any way suggested by the experimenter. This aspect of the study was limited to the qualitative level because we have no standardized scales for quantifying such spontaneous hypnotic phenomena (See Rossi, 1986d, for an unstandardized scale).

3. Replications and the 20 Minute Ultradian Trance Curve

Carol Sommer (1990) and Brian Lippincott (1990) each reported independent replications of the above study with (1) minor modifications of procedure, (2) subjects assessed in different age ranges and parts of the country and (3) scales for measuring hypnotic susceptibility. They both found essentially similar results: Sommer reported the mean naturalistic trance time for her 32 subjects to be 18.02 minutes (standard deviation, 9.62) when she controlled for a variety of variables such as sex (half her subjects were male and half were female) and amount of previous trance experience. Lippincott reported a mean naturalistic trance time of 18.55 minutes (standard deviation, 14.11). Sommer and Lippincott each carefully documented that while there were the typically wide variations in the nature of what each subject reported about the subjective aspects of their naturalistic trance experience, within their total groups virtually all the classical phenomena of hypnosis were experienced by implication as described above even though they were not directly suggested.

In another study Lippincott (1990) tested a unique hypothesis derived from ultradian theory: If the 20 minute naturalistic trance is, in fact, an important psychobiological period ("marker") for some endogenous psychobiological rhythm, one would expect that after subjects have experienced it, they would no longer have a need to remain in a second naturalistic trance for another 20 minutes within the same 90-120 BRAC ultradian period. This leads to the prediction that subjects (N=30) will remain in a permissive naturalistic trance for much shorter periods if they are asked to experience a second, third and fourth trance in rapid succession immediately after they have awakened from their first 20 minute naturalistic trance. This prediction was well supported by the results illustrated in the "Successive Trances in 90 Minutes" of figures 3a and 3b where the first trance had a mean length of 18.55 minutes while the second, third and fourth experienced in rapid succession were 4.03, 1.96 and 0.98 minutes respectively.

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Fig. 3a: The lengths of successive naturalistic trances in a single 90 minute ultradian period (Median values from Lippincott, 1990).

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Fig. 3b: The lengths of successive naturalistic trances within a single 90 minute period illustrating the 95 % confidence interval and outliners (from Lippincott, 1990).

A surprising aspect of this study was the inverse relationship found between hypnotic susceptibility as measured by the Hypnotic Induction Profile (Spiegel and Spiegel, 1978) and naturalistic trance time. Figure four illustrates this inverse relationship as the distribution of hypnotic induction scores versus Log(e) of naturalistic trance length with a Pearson product moment correlation coefficient of r = -0.602 (p< 0.001) and a coefficient of determination (R^2) of 0.362. One way of interpreting these results is to say that whatever the psychobiological basis of the ultradian-naturalistic trance time relationship may be, the more highly susceptible hypnotic subjects apparently are better at it since they require less time to do it. Replication and verification of these findings with a broader range of subjects, circumstances and measures of hypnotic suggestibility are required before we can accept their implications for an ultradian theory of mind-body communication and healing.

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Fig. 4: The distribution of hypnotic induction score versus Log(e) of trance length (from Lippincott, 1990).

A recent review of the literature of experimental hypnosis prompted by these findings turned up a number of earlier studies that could be interpreted as providing further support for a naturalistic 20 minute trance time. In an early methodological study Dorcus, Brintnall and Case (1941) compared the amount of time a group of 20 deeply hypnotizable subjects remained in trance after the hypnotist left the room with a control group who were told to simply lay down and relax. In both groups the majority of the subjects got up and left the room within 20 minutes. In two studies using control groups subjects simulating hypnosis it was found that highly hypnotizable subjects remained in trance when they believed they were left unobserved for 10.7 and 16.5 minutes (Orne and Evans, 1966; Evans and Orne, 1971) while the simulating low hypnotizable subjects acted as if they were in trance for 25.2 minutes. In a more clinically oriented recent survey Sanders (1991) mailed a self-hypnosis questionnaire to 1000 members of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. In the 233 responses she received it was found that a 15-20 minute period was most typical in the use of self-hypnosis. It is interesting that while none of these researchers set out to test the ultradian prediction that there is a naturalistic 20 minute trance time, all their data supports it.

4. Ultradian Owls, Larks and Hypnotic Susceptibility

The peak in hypnotic susceptibility found in the morning (noon) and evening by Aldrich and Bernstein (1987) led Rossi to hypothesize that it could be a reflection of the differential performance of a mixed population of larks (people who claim to be more alert in the morning) and owls (people who claim to be more alert in the evening). Lippincott (1991) then designed an experiment to test the hypothesis that (1) larks would have higher hypnotic susceptibility in the late afternoon (4 p.m. to 6 p.m.), (2) owls would have a higher susceptibility in the morning (8 a.m. to 10 a.m).and (3) there would be no difference in hypnotizability between midnight and 2 am when both groups would normally be asleep.

Colman's "Owl and Lark Questionnaire" was used to select 42 subjects that could be identified as owls (N=21) and larks (N=21) using a median split within a larger group of college students who had taken the Harvard Group Scale of Hypnotic Susceptibility, Form A (HGSHS:A). Figure 5 illustrates a confirmation of all three hypotheses with a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) using the Wilk's Criterion, a one-way univariate analysis of variance and Tukey's Honestly Significant Difference as a post hoc analysis. As can be seen in figure 5 owls have significantly higher scores the morning (mean=6, SD=2.22) than larks (mean=2.76, SD=2.20; p<0.0001). Larks, on the other hand, have significantly higher scores in the late afternoon (mean= 5.52, SD=2.68) than owls (mean=3.52, SD=2.11; p<0.01). There was no significant difference between owls (mean= 4, SD=1.17) and larks (mean=4.71, SD=2.49; p< 1.19) between midnight and two in the morning.

OwlsLark.gif (4828 bytes)

Fig. 5: The distribution of hypnotic susceptibility scores in owls and larks throughout the day (from Lippincott, 1991).

What is most significant about figure 5 is that if the owls and larks had not been separated there apparently would have be no significant differences in hypnotic susceptibility over time because the inverse periodic patterns of owls and larks would have canceled each other out. If future studies confirm such ultradian and circadian performance shifts in owls and larks it will require a profound reevaluation of many previous studies on psychobiological variables in general as well as hypnosis in particular. These results challenge previous conceptions of hypnotic susceptibility as a relatively fixed, unvarying trait of the individual (Hilgard, 1982) and suggest new studies to assess the hypothesis that ultradian rhythms are a significant aspect of the mind-bodies processes of adaptive homeostasis that are accessed and utilized by hypnotherapeutic suggestion and perhaps holistic medicine in general.


The speculative nature of the hypotheses proposed in this chapter for a new integration of biology and psychology via ultradian time, rhythm and adaptive homeostasis at all levels from mind to gene can be justified only if they lead to further research generating novels facts for resolving old dilemmas. The sampling of studies proposed here are a supplement to the "Sixty-four Research Projects in Search of a Graduate Student" published earlier (Rossi, 1986; Rossi and Cheek, 1988b).

1. Non-Linear Models in Ultradian Psychobiology

A difficulty with many of the studies cited in table two is that their data are often statistically marginal and not easy to reproduce; conclusions drawn from them are consequently controversial. A portion of this problem may be accounted for by the currently evolving view that two distinct signaling systems are involved in mind-body communication: (1) the neural/synaptic basis of the central and autonomic nervous systems, and (2) the ligand-cell receptor system of molecular communication that characterizes the endocrine, immune, and neuropeptide systems. It is now believed that molecular informational substances (including hormones, growth factors, neuropeptides, neuromodulators, cytokines etc. (Schmitt, 1984, 1986) are the older, original communication system that evolved in single-cell life forms while the neural/synaptic system evolved later to facilitate communication in multicellular organisms (Roth et al, 1985). It has been proposed that it is the complex and mutually modulating homeostatic interaction of the neural/synaptic and the molecular informational cell-receptor systems are responsible for the state-dependent features of physiology (Lydic, 1987) as well as memory, learning, and behavior associated with hypnosis (Rossi, 1986c; Rossi & Cheek, 1988) that give rise to the ever-changing rhythms of psychobiological variables.

An illuminating illustration of the difficulty in planning and interpreting these psychobiological studies is provided by the ultradian/circadian and hypnotic research literature on endorphins. The most simplistic approach has sought a direct correlation between one or more informational substances, psychological and behavioral states (Bergland, 1985). Although not stated explicitly, this is the model that has guided most researchers within the past decade who have tried to determine whether endorphins were involved in hypnotic analgesia.

Many of these early studies used naloxone as an antagonist of the endogenous endorphins; the oversimplified view was that if hypnotic analgesia was blocked by naloxone, then some involvement of endorphins would be implied. Naloxone can have paradoxical effects, however. In low doses it can relieve pain while in high doses it can make pain worse (Grevert & Goldstein, 1985). Placebo effects, emotional stress, and circadian rhythms are only a few of the factors that complicate the picture in ways that are not easily controllable. The initial studies by Barber and Mayer (1977) and Goldstein and Hilgard (1975) reported that naloxone did not effect hypnotic analgesia, while Stephenson (1978) reported that hypnotic analgesia was reversed by naloxone with one subject in very deep somnambulistic trance. Frid and Singer (1979) then reported that hypnotic analgesia is partially reversed by naloxone when stress is introduced before pain. More recent work by Kaji et al (1981) and Domangue, Margolis, Lieberman, and Kaji (1985) has directly measured increases in B-endorphin-like immunoreactive molecules following hypnotherapy. Domangue et al (1985) reported "there were clinically and statistically significant decreases in pain, anxiety and depression and increases in B-endorphin-like immunoreactive material."

An intriguing but typical feature of these seemingly quixotic findings is that conflicting results are often reported when psychological variables such as stress, pain, anxiety, and depression are taken into account in evaluating somatic/molecular variables. Very slight changes in the initial conditions of either the psychological or somatic/molecular variables in such studies frequently give rise to dramatically different experimental outcomes. While this has been a little understood and deeply disturbing feature of the psychobiological studies in the ultradian/circadian as well as the hypnotic literature, it is exactly what one would expect from the mathematical models of non-linear dynamics and chaos theory where it is now well known that slight differences in the initial conditions of any self-referential (i.e., homeostatic, cybernetic) system gives rise to deterministic but, practically speaking, non-predictable outcomes (Ford, 1986, 1988). These non-linear dynamics are currently being used to create mathematical models of the typical features of self-reproducing systems in genetics, the immune system, autocatalytic proteins, and neural networks (Campbell, 1987). It is being proposed here that these same non-linear mathematical models are now required for uniting the previously unrelated fields of psychobiological rhythms, hypnosis, and psychosomatic medicine.

A crucial link for studies in mind-body communication is to relate phenomenological variables (memory, learning, emotions, imagery, hypnosis, psychotherapy, meditation, the ultradian healing response etc.) to the molecular messengers of the neuroendocrinal axis and the epigenetic level (Pert, Ruff, Weber, & Herkenham, 1985; Pert, Ruff, Spencer, & Rossi, 1989). An emerging methodology utilizing non-invasive tests for molecular messengers in saliva during stress, agression, depression, post-partum blues and a variety of other psychobiological states may be a generally useful approach. Relationships between salivary cortisol, cortisone, estriol, progesterone, testosterone (Kirschbaum & Hellhammer, 1989) and a variety of immunological parameters (Olness, & Conroy, 1985; Olness, Culbert, & Uden, 1989; Olness, Wain, & Ng, 1980) may be the wave of the future for the assessment of the molecular messengers between psychosocial variables and cellular-genetic processes of information trasduction in adaptive homeostasis.

2. Ultradians as Basic Parameters of Therapeutic Hypnosis

The natural ultradian parameters of psychobiological processes are entrainable by psychosocial cues are hypothesized as defining the range of performance and experience that can be modulated and optomized by hypnotic suggestion. This leads to the testable hypothesis that the ultradian processes of table two that are most entrainable to external cues (variously named "entraining agent," "synchronizer," or "Zeitgeber") will be the most modifiable by hypnosis. Further, the parameters of ultradian and circadian rhythms entrainable by psychosocial cues set the limits of hypnotic suggestibility. This leads to the testable hypothesis that hypnotic suggestion will not be able to modify any of the sensory/perceptual and behavioral processes listed in the left-hand column of table two beyond the range of their typical ultradian parameters.

-Table two suggests many other direct and indirect tests of the ultradian theory of therapeutic hypnosis. Since the hypnotic phenomena of age regression and analgesia/anesthesia have not been reported as associated with the ultradian rhythms in any of the literature cited in table two, a direct way of assessing the ultradian hypothesis of hypnosis would be to test the prediction that age regression and analgesia would be most readily evoked during a specific phase of the basic rest-activity cycle (BRAC) first described by Kleitman (1963, 1969). Three studies have already reported qualitative observations that support this hypothesis (Lippincott, 1990; Rossi, 1990a; Sommer, 1990); we now need well controlled quantitative studies.

-Intuitively, one would predict that age regression and analgesia would be most evident during the rest phase of BRAC when the subject is approaching some of the critical parameters of sleep. This may not be the case with the other hypnotic phenomena. For example, the experimental (Blum, 1972; Evans, 1972) and clinical literature (Erickson & Rossi, 1979, 1981; Erickson, Rossi, & Rossi, 1976) concur in finding that various states of activation are required for the optimal experience of many hypnotic phenomena. A conceptually sophisticated approach to this issue may be provided by the recent applications of geometrical dynamics and chaos theory to the analysis of periodic behavior (Abraham & Shaw, 1983a, b, & c; Glass & Mackey, 1988).

- The suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus is empirically well established as the circadian pacemaker entraining the neuroendocrinal system to the daily light-dark cycle in a manner intimately associated with a wide range of biological rhythms associated with optimum performance, health and illness (Klevecz & Braly, 1987; Kupfer, Monk & Barchas, 1988). Does naturalistic hypnotic suggestion and the ultradian healing response modulate these circadian rhythms to the same degree as light (Jewett, Kronauer and Czeisler, 1991)? This may be a useful way of determining the degree to which hypnosis can modulate circadian rhythms versus the ultradian rhythms that have been emphasized in this chapter.

-The immune system appears to have a wide range of ultradian and circadian rhythms that are integrated with similar rhythms at all mind-body levels. Many of the ultradian relationships within the immune system (such as the commitment to T lymphocyte activation wherein 2 hours are sufficient for DNA synthesis and morphological changes, Crabtree, 1989) are also related to the more global mind-body processes of cancer and psychoneuroimmunology (Kiecolt-Glaser & Glaser, 1986). Does naturalistic hypnotherapy modulate precisely those ultradian parameters of the immune system that respond to other types of psychosocial stimuli such as stress? Can such relationships account for the recent literature that finds a relationship between amelioration of cancer and psychosocial variables such a group psychotherapy (Spiegel et al., 1989) and hypnosis (Hall, 1982-83)? What, precisely, is the psycho-neuro-endocranial-epigenetic pathway of information transduction between stress, naturalistic trance, the ultradian healing response and the 80 oncogenes that are involved in cancer?

3. Ultradian Rhythms, Stress and Healing

It has been proposed that chronic stress engendered by individuals who override and disrupt their own ultradian rhythms (by ignoring their natural periodic needs for rest in any extended performance situation, for example) are thereby setting in motion a basic psychosocial process of psychosomatic illness. The stress related mind-body problems are viewed as an expression of distorted loops of cybrenetic information transduction ranging between the epigenetic and mind-brain level. Further, a naturalistically oriented therapeutic hypnosis that utilizes the 20 minute ultradian rest period provides a comfortable, "healing state" during which disrupted ultradian parameters can normalize (reset or synchronize) themselves and thus undercut the process of psychosomatic illness at their psychobiological source. This permissive receptivity to our natural need for rest and recovery is called the "Ultradian Healing Response" (Rossi, 1982, 1986a & b, 1991b; Rossi and Cheek, 1988). It now appears that most holistic methods of mind-body therapy (psychotherapy, shamanism, biofeedback, the relaxation response, progressive relaxation, autogenic training, imagery, etc.) may utilize the natural 20 minute ultradian healing response as an unrecognized, general factor facilitating healing. This also may be the unrecognized psychobiological basis of the "therapeutic benefits" experienced in many meditation methods (Zen, Transcendental, Yoga etc.) that traditionally enjoin beginners to practice for 20 minutes. Advanced mediators typically practice for a full 90-120 minute ultradian cycle to utilize the entire range of their psychobiological potentials for personal/spiritual development.

Most research studies in these areas of holistic healing cite the use a 20 minute period for therapeutic healing (Fehr et al., 1989; Green & Green, 1987). None of these papers ever cite any rational for using this twenty minute period, however. Survey a representative sample of such studies to determine the degree to which their results are consistent with the ultradian theory of naturalistic healing.

- Design controlled experimental studies to further assess the hypothesis that during the natural 20 minute ultradian rest-restoration period of the Basic Rest Activity Cycle (BRAC, Kleitman, 1963, 1969, 1970, 1982) consciousness is in a mildly dissociated state (mildly independent of control by outer world stimuli). How would you test the hypothesis that this mildly dissociated (hypnoid) state apparently permits internal information transduction to proceed optimally with relatively less interference from competing outer world stimuli? Most generally, how would you assess the theory that the active phase of the BRAC enhances sensory-perceptual functioning for interacting optimally with the outside world while, by contrast, the rest phase of the BRAC shifts this focus to the inner world to optimi the processing of internal data and all the attendant systems of information transduction between the epigenetic source (genetic transcription, translation and processing of proteins), the neuroendocrinal axis and the mind-brain processing of state-dependent memory, learning and behavior in adaptive homeostasis (Rossi, 1987, 1990e)?

-The grand unification of the many diverse forms of holistic healing across cultures and historical time periods via their common denominator in ultradian psychobiology may be a useful approach to resolving subtle aspects of the mind-body problem and the nature-nature controversy. The nasal-brain link that has been proposed as the mechanism or pathway of information transduction whereby many workers in the healing arts achieve their effects is one of the most intriguing research avenues for exploring novel psychobiological parameters. A century of studies on the ultradian nasal cycle rhythm outlined in table one suggests that the verification and further exploration of the ultradian breath-brain-personality relationships pioneered by Werntz (1981; Werntz, Bickford, Bloom, & Shanahoff-Khalsa, 1982a, b), Klein (Klein & Armitage, 1979; Klein et al, 1986), and Osowiec (1991) will be a major highway of future research on mind-body communication and the wave nature of being.

4. Information Transduction Between Gene and Environment

- The hypothesized ultradian relationships between the cellular-genetic, brain-body and mind-brain levels proposed in this paper appear to be consistent with Dawkins's (1989) selfish gene concept. Dawkins's view would emphasize that the epigenetic, neuroendocrinal and psychosocial levels of mind and behavior all serve the gene's evolutionary survival process. One could speculate further that the selfish gene utilizes the neuroendocrinal and behavioral levels to modulate the ecology of the outer environment as proposed by the Gaia hypothesis (Mann, 1991). Formulate a theoretical-experimental program that could assess mechanisms and parameters of the ultradian-circadian processes of information transduction between gene, body, brain, behavior and the surrounding environment.


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Volume III: Hypnotic Investigation of Psychodynamic Processes

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Originally published as:

Rossi, E. & Lippincott, B.  (1992).  The Wave Nature of Being:
Ultradian Rhythms and Mind-Body Communication.  In Lloyd, D. & Rossi, E. (Eds.)  Ultradian Rhythms in Life Processes: An Inquiry into Fundamental Principles of Chronobiology and Psychobiology. New York: Springer-Verlag. 371-402.