I would like to conclude this brief explanation of links that draw together the friendly, rather domestic, bliss of the relaxation response with the world of the near supernatural or religious ecstasy by remembering a friendly enough little character called Emile Coue. Coue was an impoverished apothecary from Troyes in France who found fame and fortune in the early days of this century by the realization of the powers of what came to be called auto-suggestion. For auto-suggestion we may substitute such words as faith, autogenics or even relaxation response.
Although today it would be hard to find many people with even the remotest idea of who Emile Coue was, in the 1920s his followers were thought to number millions. When he died in 1926 the event was of such international importance that it would now merit an instant radio and television newsflash. Coue was a considerable cult figure, and for those who used Coueism it was an aid to living of considerable substance. His message has been recalled and revamped today largely by the German neurologist J.
H. Schultz, and seems similar to what has become called autogenics. (An autogenics component is present in many of the techniques outlined in the 10-day plan.)
Coue’s beliefs were simple and his message was plain. He maintained that ‘the unconscious self is the grand dictator of all our functions’ and that self-distrust plays a large part in the genesis of all our ills. He believed that auto-suggestion was capable of curing the majority of the problems which our flesh is heir to. His system happily was as simple as his credo. Every morning on waking and every night before sleeping it was necessary to shut the eyes and repeat 20 times (while moving the lips and mechanically counting 20 knots on a string or tape between the fingers) the words: ‘Every day in every respect I am getting better and better. The important thing was the degree of concentration and the confidence and faith with which this mantra was repeated. Enthusiasts claimed that only three per cent of participants in Coueism failed to respond – some quickly, some less so.
Coue believed his system worked by ‘annihilating’ the conscious mind, while the subconscious mind stayed awake, receptive, and could be spoken to. Although his method does not apply any breathing, stroking or touching techniques, it demonstrates that the relaxation response (which was surely the therapeutic factor in this rather strange little treatment) can clearly be stimulated in a wide variety of ways, some of which doubtless we are unaware of still. That it is possible to think one’s way into a satisfactory relaxation response has been amply demonstrated with reference to biofeedback, which I shall discuss in the next chapter.