Healing through words . . .
with Kimberly Burnham
Kimberly Burnham, PhD,
The Nerve Whisperer
In addition to writing poetry, Kimberly Burnham, PhD, known as "The Nerve Whisperer" is passionate about changing the face of brain health worldwide. Through her poetry, writing, and clinical practice she shares a message of hope, practical solutions, and self-care exercises for conditions from sleep disturbances, chronic pain, migraines, and memory loss to traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and more.
Her message is supported by a PhD in Integrative Medicine (2006) with the dissertation topic, The Effect of Integrative Manual Therapy on Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. Kimberly shares her own story of recovery from migraines and vision issues as well as the powerful examples of improved quality of life in the thousands of clients she has worked with over the past 20 years.
A skilled storyteller and social impact authority, Kimberly specializes in changing the healing story and finding physical solutions for people with a diagnosis of macular degeneration, diabetes, Huntington's ataxia, Lyme's disease, and more.
Learn how Kimberly can help you heal at . . .
Kimberly writes for
Inner Child Press Magazine (Contributing Editor)
Ekphrastic Poetry of
Mind, Body and Spirit
by Kimberly Burnham
Words that follow
into a world of color
designed to excite
Words that describe
the feeling of art
the way one color is plastered gently
on top of another
brush strokes bringing life
the poet an artist
laying down one words next to another
abstract until arranged
Order and beauty coming out
of the chaos
finding the energy lines
at the heart of the matter
Nicky Beer’s The Diminishing House won the 2011 Colorado Book Award in Poetry with poems entitled, “Floating Rib,” “Lobe of the Auricle,” and “Variations on the Philtrum.”
What words arise or poems form when you see, really see a loved one: the density of their physical body, the fire of emotions, the strength and vulnerability of the spirit? What words does this work of art, sometimes a 104 years in the making, sometimes only a few minutes say to you? What words, thoughts, and emotions does it draw forth.
The sacrum, a triangular bone
three ways to view
a shape of perspective in the low back
fused vertebrae solid between
the two hipbones of the pelvis.
From the Latin os sacrum
Greek hieron osteon
a ‘sacred bone’
believed to be home
to the soul
Yes she said
looking right into the windows
to my soul
Don't blink I thought
she sees me
through the windows
to her soul
Red Eight, Green Crash: Synesthesia and Poetry
by Kimberly Burnham
Close your eyes and for a moment imagine the number eight. What color is it? Listen for the hum of a computer fan or refrigerator or a car passing by. What color is the sound? How does the word poetry taste? Is it brittle and sweet like a sugary candy or earthy like a beet or something else entirely? People for whom this is an easy exercise are accessing different senses at the same time. This is known as cross-modal processing.
It is common in people with synaesthesia, an inherited condition in which sensory or cognitive stimuli (e.g., sounds, words) cause additional, unusual cross-modal percepts (e.g., sounds trigger colors, words trigger tastes). Sometimes poets can also access words that create vivid images and touch several senses with the same word. Think of the word, aquamarine. It is a color but does it evoke an image of something beyond the color? If you hear the word, West, does it only evoke a direction or do you see a weather vane with a W or conjure up a map of the Western part of the country or does it evoke a scene from a Western movie?
How many senses are activated when you read a poem, book, or essay?
Talking about a connection between certain words, sound symbolism, and our senses, researchers recently noted, "Sound symbolism is a property of certain words which have a direct link between their phonological form [sound] and their semantic meaning. In certain instances, sound symbolism can allow non-native speakers to understand the meanings of etymologically unfamiliar foreign words, although the mechanisms driving this are not well understood. We examined whether sound symbolism might be mediated by the same types of cross-modal processes that typify synaesthetic experiences." (Bankieris, K. and J. Simner (2015). "What is the link between synaesthesia and sound symbolism?" Cognition 136: 186-195.)
Another study found, "colored-hearing synesthetes [people with synesthesia] experience colors when hearing tones or spoken utterances. The auditory-evoked potentials to words and letters were different between synesthetes and controls." (Beeli, G., M. Esslen, et al. (2008). "Time course of neural activity correlated with colored-hearing synesthesia." Cereb Cortex 18(2): 379-385.). In other words, when some people hear words it activates the visual sense of colors as well as the auditory sense of hearing.
When you write an essay or a poem or a letter to a friend do you use metaphors that include several senses? In an article entitled, "bright sneezes and dark coughs, loud sunlight and soft moonlight," researchers noted, "synesthetic metaphors (such as "the dawn comes up like thunder") are expressions in which words or phrases describing experiences proper to one sense modality transfer their meanings to another modality. In a series of four experiments, subjects used scales of loudness, pitch, and brightness to evaluate the meanings of a variety of synesthetic (auditory-visual) metaphors. Loudness and pitch expressed themselves metaphorically as greater brightness; in turn, brightness expressed itself as greater loudness and as higher pitch. Although loudness thus shared with brightness a metaphorical connection, pitch and brightness showed a connection that was closer and that applied more generally to different kinds of visual brightness. The ways that people evaluate synesthetic metaphors emulate the characteristics of synesthetic perception, thereby suggesting that synesthesia in perception and synesthesia in language both may emenate from the same source-from a phenomenological similarity in the makeup of sensory experiences of different modalities." (Marks, L. E. (1982). "Bright sneezes and dark coughs, loud sunlight and soft moonlight." J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 8(2): 177-193.)
Is there any value in consciously focusing on words that activate more than one sense? Is poetry that uses metaphors like loud sunlight or associates the color blue with the number six "better" than poetry that is focused within one sensation or lacks a sensory quality? What do you feel?
Poetry, Communication, and Strokes
by Kimberly Burnham
Poetry reading and writing can help people recover some or all of their ability to communicate after a stroke. Although his poems were brief, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer overcame great communication barriers. "In 1990, the widely acclaimed Transtromer lost his speech and the ability to use his right hand as a result of a stroke. As if anticipating his own fate, in 1974, he referred in his longest poem, Baltics, the story of the Russian composer Vissarion Shebalin who suffered the same symptoms as Transtromer following a brain bleed: "Then, cerebral hemorrhage: paralysis on the right side with aphasia." An amateur pianist himself, Transtromer carried on playing left-handed piano pieces after the stroke. In spite of a severe nonfluent dysphasia with dysgraphia, Transtromer kept producing a poetic language of the highest caliber in accordance with his 1979 no less prophetic verse "language but no words." And through music and poetry, overcame the great communication barriers imposed by a large dominant hemispheric stroke," according to I. Iniesta (2013). "Tomas Transtromer's stroke of genius: language but no words." Prog Brain Res 206: 157-167.
Researchers added, "A nonprolific writer before the stroke, after it Transtromer became disproportionately brief compared to his prestroke production, confining most of his poetry to the agrammatical and telegraphic haiku style."
Stroke is one of the leading causes of morbidity and long-term disability worldwide, and post-stroke depression is a common and serious psychiatric complication of stroke. "Post-stroke depression makes patients have more severe deficits in activities of daily living, a worse functional outcome, more severe cognitive deficits and increased mortality as compared to stroke patients without depression," according to Y. Eum and J. Yim (2015). "Literature and art therapy in post-stroke psychological disorders." Tohoku J Exp Med 235(1): 17-23.
Eum and Yim noted, Literature, music, and art therapy are highly effective psychological treatment for stroke patients.
"Poetry can add impression to the lethargic life of a patient with post-stroke depression, thereby acting as a natural treatment."
"Story therapy can change the gloomy psychological state of patients into a bright and healthy story, and therefore can help stroke patients to overcome their emotional disabilities."
"Art therapy is one form of psychological therapy that can treat depression and anxiety in stroke patients. Stroke patients can express their internal conflicts, emotions, and psychological status through art works or processes and it would be a healing process of mental problems."
"Music therapy can relieve the suppressed emotions of patients and add vitality to the body, while giving them the energy to share their feelings with others."
Writing poetry can also change your perception of yourself, your environment and the people around you making you more aware and connected to your surroundings. An article by L. Pinhasi-Vittorio (2008). "Poetry and prose in the self-perception of one man who lives with brain injury and aphasia." Top Stroke Rehabil 15(3): 288-294, describes the case of a man who has expressive and receptive aphasia as a result of brain injury (stroke). "As the 2 year study progressed, the participant discovered his ability to write poetry as a way of expression. In writing and reading his poems, his perception of himself changed over time; he felt empowered by his ability. This study suggests that the usage of expressive writing, namely prose and poetry, can have a positive impact on self-perception and ultimately can enhance the rehabilitation process."
Maybe you haven't had a stroke but what if reading and writing poetry could improve your ability to think more clearly and communicate more effectively with the people around you?
Accessing the Subconscious Through Poetry
by Kimberly Burnham
Our subconscious mind is recognized as a center of creativity, intuition, and inspiration. Dreams, symbols, and archetypes are the language with which we can communicate with our subconscious and those messages of creativity, intuition and inspiration can float up to the surface. A friend once said, "If you want to know what your subconscious is thinking look at your life. Poetry can give a heightened sense of life. In order to write a poem about life, a particular experience, or a moment in time, one must really look at life. As the words roll around in the mind and on the tongue, creativity percolates.
Sometimes an insight or an inspired thought pops up when I start to write a poem about a particular experience. I see the past experience in a new way as I turn it over trying to find just the right word to capture the feeling or ambience of the moment. I am using symbols tiny black smudges on the paper to capture, hold, and share a particularly poignant feeling or perhaps a terror I once felt so strongly.
One exercise to facilitate communication with the subconscious is the creation of a sigil. This exercise was first described to me by Richard Bartlett, developer of Matrix Energetics. A sigil is a symbol and can represent many different things like a family crest or magic rune. One way to create your very own sigil is to write a phrase like, "I want to be creative." Take your sentence and cross out any letter that appears more than once. In this case it would look like, "WNOBCRV." You then draw, rather than write these letters on a sheet of paper, preferably in color with crayons or colored pencils. The letters can be different sizes and upside down or sideways. They can be connected or surround each other. Once you have all the letters on the paper be creative in your coloring. Create a beautiful design or image out of the letters. Once you are done fold the paper and tear it up. This sigil's job is done. The ideas, request, or desire is already floating in the subconscious mind getting ready to pop into reality in the most subtle or spectacular ways. Notice what changes in your life.
Visual poetry is another way to communicate with the subconscious. One way to create a visual poem is to take a page from a book, magazine or brochure and circle words that jump out at you. Color around those words, which form the poem to create a beautiful image that may or may not have anything to do with the words but are a reflection of your creative mind coming to the surface.
Acrostic poems are another type of symbolic poem where the first letter or each line forms a vertical word. One famous one is:
Here is another one:
Lusciousness streaming from the sky
Go to sleep in darkness
Hearing the day breaking
Tinkering with life begins a new each morning
As Avia Venefica says, "Life is symbolic. Start interpreting."
Motor Imagery For Poets
Motor Imagery For Poets
by Kimberly Burnham
Poets use words to create images that generate a sense of color, movement, emotions, and life. Motor imagery is the use of words to describe and create a sense of movement. Motor refers to the use of muscles—the nerve that serve the muscles that cause us to smile, run, wave, or hug. We use muscles when we walk, eat, jump, knit, and more. Sports poetry is often full of motor imagery.
The player leaps
a jump shot
Swishing the basketball
pounding through the hoop
Dribbles down the court
out running his opponent
She fakes to the left
drives powerfully right
Poetry in motion
the player at the center
a kind of motor imagery
Motor imagery can also sometimes be pair with emotions—the movements we make when we feel or experience the joys and challenges of life.
His shoulders slump
She claps her hands
He ducks under an umbrella
afraid to be seen
She pounds her fist
in rage and frustration
Those same words that create an image and feeling of movement can also help with brain healing. One study on the effects of motor imagery on people after a stroke noted, "Action observation (AO) has the potential to improve motor imagery (MI) practice in stroke patients. Compared with motor imagery guided by asynchronous action observation [the words describe a different action than the one being viewed], motor imagery guided by synchronous action [same action] observation can enhance the excitation of sensorimotor cortex more effectively and lead to a more rapid neurorehabilitation of stroke patients." Sun, Y., W. Wei, et al. (2016). "Improving motor imagery practice with synchronous action observation in stroke patients." Top Stroke Rehabil: 1-9.
Imagine a poet as the sportscaster of a game—football, baseball, swimming—using vivid action words to describe the scene being viewed by the person with a stroke. This could speed up recovery. It could be an interesting job for a poet—tasked with watching a sports event on video, writing poetry to describe the actions, and then pair their poems with the video action for people with strokes.
People with multiple sclerosis can also benefit from motor imagery. This practice consists of visualizing yourself and other people moving in a particular way, (ie) walking in a balanced way up a steep flight of stairs or running across the finish line of a marathon full of energy and joy. In Multiple Sclerosis, a peer-reviewed international journal, researchers investigating the effects of motor imagery combined with rhythmic cueing [sound] on walking, fatigue and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis. The article said, "Motor imagery and rhythmic auditory stimulation [music or poetry] are physiotherapy strategies for walking rehabilitation. Compared to controls, both interventions [motor imagery and music] significantly improved walking speed, distance and perception. Significant improvements in cognitive but not psychosocial fatigue were seen in the intervention groups, and physical fatigue improved only in the music-based group. Both interventions improved quality of life; however, music-cued motor imagery was superior at improving health-related quality of life." Seebacher, B., R. Kuisma, et al. (2016). "The effect of rhythmic-cued motor imagery on walking, fatigue and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis: A randomized controlled trial." Mult Scler.
There are many similarities in how the brain is affected by music and poetry, especial rhyming poetry and poetry with a strong sense of rhythm and cadence.
Poets, do you know someone who could benefit from hearing your poetry? Or perhaps you should write a new piece for someone that incorporates movements that are engaging for them or movements they can't currently do but would like to. Guide the imagery to create the healing reality.
Surrounding Yourself With Poetry as Parkinson's Therapy
by Kimberly Burnham
A journey through poetry can include rhyming words that tickle our sense of pattern, capture the colors of a rich and vibrant field full of wild flower, the smells and tastes of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with those people we love the most, or an Ekphrastic poem written while looking at a particular picture and capturing in words the emotions and sensations of the view. The Roman poet, Horace said, "A picture is a poem without words." We could also say, a poem creates an image with words, perhaps even more beautifully because with our minds we create the image as we hear or read the words.
What are you surrounding yourself with as every cell in your body listens? Words, language, and poetry matter. What we experience through our ears and other senses matters. Each vibration changes us making us better, healthier, happier human beings or not.
There is Japanese saying, "There are many ways to get to the top of Mount Fuji."
Many practitioners, caregivers, and people with a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease or other conditions have a common goal: Find a way to heal, eliminate, and recover from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. There are many ways to the "top" of this goal, including poetry. A journey through poetry can be to experience a guided imagery meditation created by the poet and can evoke a unique experience for each reader in their mind, body, and spirit.
Researchers explained a case study describing the "psychotherapy of an older woman who presented with anxiety and depression decades after a heartbreaking loss in childhood. Maggie's story recalls a lifetime of longing and searching for her father, whose death was denied by those closest to her. Religious proscriptions contravened the nine-year-old's accepting the reality of his death and understanding her own intense feelings. Masked, unresolved, complicated grieving punctuated her life. Maggie entered therapy as an adult confounded by death. "Creative integrationism" therapy included traditional grief work, guided imagery, journal writing, and poetry. As Maggie began to confront the deaths of loved ones, she explored the meaning of life and became more fully engaged in living." Edmands, M. S. and D. Marcellino-Boisvert (2002). "Reflections on a rose: a story of loss and longing." Issues Ment Health Nurs 23(2): 107-119.
Poetry can be part of a healing journey of the mind and spirit resulting in each of us "becoming more fully engaged in living" no matter how long we have been hurting..
In a later study researchers looked at increased levels of creativity in people with Parkinson's when they take dopamine related medications. Dopamine is that neurochemical that helps us feel the rewards of life as well as controls the smooth movements of muscles and animates our faces. There are psychological benefits of balanced dopamine as well as muscular or physical benefits of an appropriate amount of dopamine coursing through our brain.
Researchers noted, "A 55-year-old male with idiopathic [unknown cause] Parkinson's disease developed three behavioral changes under combination therapy with selegiline, cabergoline and levodopa [dopamine related medications]. Co-existent behaviors included severe pathological gambling, punding and novel skills in writing poetry (published poetry books). The case, supported by the results of the survey, adds to the cumulative evidence of the association between dopaminergic medication and enhanced creativity, and suggests a possible linkage between increased artistic creativity and impulsive-compulsive behaviors in Parkinson's disease." Joutsa, J., K. Martikainen, et al. (2012). "Parallel appearance of compulsive behaviors and artistic creativity in Parkinson's disease." Case Rep Neurol 4(1): 77-83.
This research establishes a link between rising levels of dopamine in people whose brains do not produce enough dopamine. What if enhancing creativity could raise dopamine levels? What if engaging in writing poetry could increase one's poetry writing skill and overall creativity as well as modulate dopamine and brain chemistry? The research suggests that if you have Parkinson's disease you could benefit from joining a poetry group.
Further research links imagery or the ability to visualize a fictional scene or an experience from the past, with the mirror neuron system saying, "An important human capacity is the ability to imagine performing an action, and its consequences, without actually executing it. The present results are the first demonstration of action-specific representations that are similar irrespective of whether actions are actively performed or covertly imagined. Further, they demonstrate concretely how the apparent cross-modal visuo-motor coding of actions identified in studies of a human "mirror neuron system" could, at least partially, reflect imagery." Oosterhof, N. N., S. P. Tipper, et al. (2012). "Visuo-motor imagery of specific manual actions: a multi-variate pattern analysis fMRI study." Neuroimage 63(1): 262-271.
"Irrespective of whether actions are actively performed or covertly imagined," this phrase is the most interesting because it is saying that what happens in our brains and bodies is very similar whether we move our bodies to do an action or just imagine doing the action. The mirror neuron system in our brains helps us imaging what another person is feeling, thinking or doing when we see or read about their actions.
Poetry can create powerful images of abstract feelings like love and joy but also concrete actions like running, moving, hugging friends and family as well as engaging with the world around us. Reading poetry and stories can help us imagine being able to do things or experience things that maybe right now, due to health, finances, or other considerations we can't experience with our bodies directly. The impact of these images stimulates blood flow, connects the brain and the muscles, and activates the salivary glands.
Visualize for a moment
picking a fresh yellow lemon
feel the warmth of the sun
as you reach into the lemon tree
to pick the most beautiful one
Slice it open
squeeze the fresh tangy juice
into your mouth
feel the moisture strike your taste buds
imagine sucking on the lemon
just a little
And tell me you don't believe
the salivary glands
have not been activated
just from reading these words
mine are pumping just
from writing the words
As the writer of juicy sour tastes
I had to imagine the action
before I could write about it
my whole body joined my mind
creating a "real" experience
Reading poetry enables the reader to experience for a few moments what is inside of another's mind and how they look at life and the experiences they have. Writing your own poetry enables you to relive both mentally and physical, suggests the research. That reliving can be a happy experience or a cathartic one. It gives you the opportunity to feel what you would have done differently given another opportunity. It enables you to learn the lessons that perhaps were just out of grasp in the moment of the experience or too painful to learn at the time.
Physically injured basketball players who visualize themselves shooting a basketball and seeing the ball slip through the hoop, and hearing the swish of a perfectly completed shot for the duration of their recovery time lose less skill than a similarly injured player who does not visualize the actions needed to be a great basketball player. What if someone with Parkinson's disease could maintain function or even improve their function through imagining themselves walking quickly and smoothly with long strides as they move across a park to meet a loved one.
Our brains activate our bodies. Poetry can activate our minds, spirits, and bodies.
What are you reading these days?
Q & A With Kimberly Burnham
Life spirals. As a 28-year-old photographer, Kimberly Burnham appreciated beauty. Then an ophthalmologist diagnosed her with a genetic eye condition saying, "Consider what your life will be like if you become blind." Devastating words trickling down into her soul, she discovered a healing path with insight, magnificence, and vision. Today, a poet and neurosciences expert with a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly's life mission is to change the face of global brain health. Using health coaching, poetry, Reiki, Matrix Energetics, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, and energy medicine, she supports people in their healing from brain, nervous system, chronic pain, and eyesight issues. Details about her latest project @ http://NerveWhisperer.Solutions
Inner Child Magazine: You have been published in over 30 poetry books, what are you working on now?
Kimberly Burnham: Yes, most of those 30 books are published by Inner Child Press and I feel so lucky to be a part of the Inner Child Press Poetry Posse, which creates a book of poetry each month called, The Year of The Poet. My latest project is a book entitled, Touched by Parkinson's Disease, A Healing Journey Through Poetry. In the past few years, I have participated in three Inner Child Press books: Healing Through Words; World Healing World Peace 2014; and most recently World Healing World Peace 2016. These books in particular got me thinking about the effect of reading, writing, and engaging with poetry on our mental and physical health. I started to look at how poetry affects the brain. When I started the project earlier this year I was planning to ask people with Parkinson's disease or family members and friends of people with Parkinson's to contribute poetry to an anthology. As I read the entries and did more research the project morphed into something I think will be even more powerful. The book is becoming a fictional story about a man with Parkinson's disease who as he goes through life comes across, reads and experiences poetry everywhere.
ICM: Can you give an example?
KB: The chapters are short with a few paragraphs of the story and then two or three poems. In one chapter the fictional main character comes across a crowd of people near a sidewalk repair site. As he gets closer, he notices that workers are laying fresh cement but also embedding letters into the concrete. One of the spectators tells him that the words are a poem from the winner of the Sidewalk Poetry ontest. She explains that Sue McClelland won the contest with a poem about her feeling and life through Parkinson's. The last line is "I am a uterus / trying to give birth to the last child / who is me / before life stops it's cycling." Sue McClelland is a real person. She is one of the poets who submitted her poetry to the original Touched by Parkinson's project. The chapter ends with a question from one of the spectators at the sidewalk: What would you write if you knew your words were going to be literally carved in stone or concrete? The books asks the reader to imagine someone else writing poetry and then asks them to imagine what message, story, idea do they want to share with the word. There is a health benefit whether the person actually write a poem or not.
ICM: So there is both fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry and prose in the book.
KB: Yes I think of it as having many intersections where the reader can choose what they want to think about. Where there is a choice, there is a chance for change and healing. In nature, the creatures that can survive at the intersections are the strongest. For example fish that live in an estuary have to be able to thrive in salt water and in fresh water. Not everyone can do it in life but we can each imagine a better life for ourselves. This book has so many intersections where readers can imagine themselves from different perspectives and in different situations and being able to imagine may find themselves stronger with an expanded sense of their place in the world, healing, and creativity. As you mentioned the book has both fiction and non-fiction parts. It includes the stories and poems of real people who are credited for their contribution. Research is shared in both the poetry and the prose and covers both placebo controlled studies done in big hospitals and universities as well as empirical wisdom from healing experiences. The cast of characters includes medical doctors as well as acupuncturists and craniosacral therapists.
ICM: Can people still contribute to the book?
KB: The official deadline has past but I imagine a second edition will include more poems from people who read the book and want to contribute their experiences, so any time until the first edition is published which should be summer, 2016, people with Parkinson's as well as family members and friends can email me their poems at TouchedbyPoetry@gmail.com and if they are too late for the 2016 edition, I will hold their pieces for the next edition.
ICM: This book focuses on helping people with Parkinson's disease. Are you considering any other communities?
KB: Absolutely. There is interesting research on the healing benefits of sharing your story, listening to other people with a similar condition and reading the images a writer can create with poetry. Other topics being considered for future books in the Touched by Poetry series include: Multiple Sclerosis, Macular Degeneration, Down Syndrome, Huntington's Ataxia, Diabetes, Arthritis / Joint Pain, Osteoporosis, Autism, High Blood Pressure, Breast Cancer, PTSD, Addictions, Joint Pain, Strokes / Heart Attack, Aids / HIV, and ... YOU can suggest a future topic if you would like. Please send your poems, comments, and suggestions to TouchedbyPoetry@gmail.com.
ICM: Good luck with this project.
KB: Thank you so much. It is such a pleasure to be a part of the Inner Child Press community and the Poetry Posse. You have enriched my life so much.
12 Loving the Unknown.mp3