Flower Essences and Stress Profiling

Flower Essences and Stress Profiling:
A Matter Of Head and Heart


Main Research Page

(C) Jeffrey R. Cram, Ph.D. (1949-2005)

The psychophysiological procedure utilized to study the emotional reactivity of the body is called stress profiling. Looking for correlates to emotions extends throughout the history of psychophysiology (Lacey & Lacey, 1958; Lader & Mathews, 1968 ; Malmo & Shagass, 1949), with the hope that we would be able to objectively determine the individual's emotional state without having to rely upon self report. And as investigations moved into applied clinical research, the questions were directed more at can we identify those individuals who are at risk for a particular disorder. For excellent reviews on these topics, see Haynes (1980) and Schwartz (1987). In this article, I will briefly review and explore some of the traditional conceptualizations for stress profiling, while introducing and demonstrating a unique perspective which reaches back to ancient Vedic writings.

On a purely mind-body level, a key attribute of muscles is that of emotional display. In addition we can conceptualize emotions as muscle activation patterns which lie at the foundation of intentional movement (e-motion). When the muscle activation associated with emotions occurs, more energy is sent out into the neuromuscular system, taking up the "slack" in the system and increasing the tonic or resting level. This emotional bracing (Jacobson, 1932; Whatmore, 1974) or increased tonus also effects the quality of movement. Professional athletes certainly know how emotional arousal can "unintentionally" alter their levels of exertion and change the timing associated with coordinated movement.

In addition, it is not uncommon for patients to react to stressful events in a "stereotypic" fashion. Individual Response Stereotypy (Engel, 1960) is the tendency for an individual to respond to a variety of stressors with a similar physiologic response. This tendency was first noted in the early 60's, where some individuals were observed to always respond to a stressful event by, say, speeding up their heart rate or by tensing their shoulder muscles. Within the neuromuscular system, emotional arousal and associated stereotypy have been studied for the facial muscles (Ekman & Frissen, 1972), the postural muscles (Goldstien, 1972) and the muscle spindle (McNutty, et al, 1974).

So, where do we search for these stereotypic patterns? We can look for signs of autonomic arousal through recordings from hand temperature and electrodermal activity (EDA). Recordings from the wide frontalis placement is very popular since is provides an excellent barometer of the negative emotional displays found on the upper face. Or a simple visual observations of depressed patients usually indicates stooped shoulders and fallen chest, while the anxious patient may have their shoulders markedly elevated as if to protect their neck. Whatmore (Whatmore & Ellis, 1959; Whatmore and Kohli, 1962) has validated these phenomena using sEMG recordings. Reactivity in the trunk muscles may show a high level of specificity. Cram (1997) has presented a case example of sEMG recordings from the right and left trapezius muscle groups using the cervical trapezius placement on a patient who had injured their right upper quarter during a fall down some stairs resulting in headache and right upper quarter pain. For this patient, it was only the right cervical trapezius lead which responded to the stressor, followed by a very poor recovery pattern (return to baseline). The uninjured left aspect show only a small, insignificant response. Flor et al (Flor, et al, 1985) have also demonstrated the specific effects of emotions on the muscles of the low back. In their study of the right and left aspect of the erector spinae muscles were studied in a group of low back patients, a group of general pain patients (i.e., pain other than low back) and a group of healthy controls. Each group was presented with various types of stressors. The findings of their study clearly demonstrated that only the low back pain patients experienced an emotional response (activation pattern), primarily in the left erector spinae muscle set and only during stressors relevant to the patient's condition.

Thus, the literature on stress profiling demonstrates that predictable patterns of reactivity may be seen at traditional sites for emotional display, sites of injury or sites of reported of pain. While these perspectives have provided us with a wealth of information, they are limited by their pure psychophysiologic basis.

Stress Profiling, Flower Essences
and A Matter Of Heart

In a recent study on stress profiling, I was asked to investigate whether or not a Flower Essence could attenuate the stress response. The particular essence which was to be studied, The Five Flower Formula (Flower Essence Services) was first developed by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930's and later refined by Julian and Martine Barnard for the treatment of physical trauma, emergencies and crisis situations. According to a long history of anecdotal case reports on its effectiveness, it seemed a likely candidate to influence the stress response system in some way. Yet no studies on the mechanisms of action of the flower essence had been performed to date.

If one is to study the effects of a subtle energy such as a flower essence, it might be necessary to embrace traditional recording sites, yet broaden the conceptual framework of stress profiling to include the possible metaphysical influences of flower essences. Thus, rather than routinely sticking to sEMG recording sites of the frontal, neck, shoulder or forearm, it was decided to study the biological energy at multiple sites along the human spine. These sites reflected the location of the chakras, while simultaneously recording from some of the more traditional sEMG placement sites. Two previous studies have demonstrated the sensitivity of sEMG recordings at these chakra sites while studying the subtle influences of procedures such as Therapeutic Touch (Wirth and Cram, 1994) and Distant Prayer (Wirth and Cram, 1993). The chakras sites have specific locations in the human body, and are where the flow of pranic energy is purported to be the greatest. In addition, each of the chakras has its own psychophysical and metaphysical attributes. The sites which were studied may be described below in both traditional and metaphysical ways:

Site Location

Psychophysiological Meaning

Metaphysical (chakra) meaning

Wide Frontal Seat Of Negative Emotions.  3rd Eye: Divine Joy. Also Seat Of Knowledge / Enlightenment.
Mastoid to Mastoid Process

Muscle Tension Of Axis.

Postural: Head Position. 

Medulla Oblongata: The Ego. Also The Entry Point of Prana Which Regulates Breath.
Bilateral C4 Paraspinals

Muscle Tension Of Neck.

Postural: Anti-Gravity Muscles

Throat Chakra: Center of Will. Also Associated With Calmness.
Bilateral T6 Paraspinals

Intrascapular Muscle Tension

Postural: Anti-Gravity Muscles

Heart Chakra: Divine Love.

Also Desires and Attachments.

Bilateral T12 Paraspinals

Muscle Tension at the Thoracic Lumbar Junction.

Postural: Anti-Gravity Muscles

Lumbar Chakra: Firely Self Control, Self Image.
Bilateral L4 Paraspinals

Muscle Tension of the Lumbar Sacral Area.

Postural: Anti-Gravity Muscles

Sacral Chakra: Creativity, Power, Sexuality. 

The procedure of the study followed the "standard of care" for stress profiling. Electrodes were connected to the above sites, along with hand temperature probe and EDA recording electrodes. A five minute baseline was recorded, followed by a pre-recorded three minute serial arithmetic task (Hartje's Flow Chart), followed by a five minute recovery period. The only nuance for the study was the administration of either a placebo or the five flower essence approximately five minutes prior to the initiation of the first baseline period.

The analysis of the data was conducted using a standard analysis of variance with repeated measures. Two post hoc analyses were conducted for each site. The first looked at the interaction of period (Baseline - Stress - Recovery) with Time (3 minutes of each period) to determine whether or not there had been a psychophysiological response.

Click here for data charts

The response patterns and their significance is presented for Figures 1 - 8. As can be seen, a significant response pattern is noted for all sites with the exception of the T6 / Heart and L4 paraspinal / Sacral site. The lack of responsivity for the T6 / Heart chakra site may be attributed to the effects of the flower essence (see below). Figure 9 shows the magnitude of the sEMG response from baseline to the stress period. As can be seen, the mastoid to mastoid / Medulla recording site shows the largest response pattern, nearly three times greater than any other site. Lastly, the influence of the Five Flower Formula Essence is shown for each site in Figures 10 -17. As can be seen, significant effects were noted only for the T6 / Heart and C4 / Throat chakra sites.

So, what can we learn from the observations of this study? First of all, it appears that the stress response occurs all along the spine, not only at our favorite electrode placement sites, such as the wide frontal placement all together. In fact, had we stuck to the traditional sites, we would have missed the clinical effects of the flower essence. I was very surprised and impressed by the magnitude of the stress response at the mastoid to mastoid / Medulla chakra site. This site has been pretty well ignored in the stress profiling literature, and currently is not commonly used in clinical practice. The only other notation for recordings from this site are found in the work by Mark Schwartz at the Mayo Clinic (Schwartz, 1985). He has utilized this site to study headaches for years, and a study by Hudzynski and Lawrence (1988) has validated its clinical utility for assessment purposes. One could interpret the increased of sEMG activity at this site to represent a locking of the head to the spine at a time of threat so as to minimize damage to this important junction if a struggle were to pursue. From a metaphysical point of view, it might suggest that the Ego was engaged or disengaged as the case might be. Or from a mechanical point of view, Body Work professionals have known about the importance of the axis / atlas relationships for years. Chiropractors and physical therapists frequently manipulate this site to alleviate headaches, the Alexander Technique has based the foundation of its work at this site and John Upledger uses it as the basis of cranial sacral therapy. Perhaps, we in the biofeedback arena should more completely explore the potential of this site for assessment and treatment purposes. Are we missing the possible etiology of headaches because we monitor only from frontalis and trapezius?

Secondly, I was duly impressed by the psychophysiological effects of the flower essence studied. The flower essence therapy administered just prior to the stress profiling procedure significantly reduced the level of reactivity at the C4 / Throat and T6 / Heart chakras sites. Why did it effect these two sites and not the frontal site or other sites? From a strictly emotional model, the reduction in cervical sEMG might have been predicted, but certainly not the T6 paraspinals. Next, it doesn't make sense to place the effects of a flower essence into a strict mechanical model. That is unless we begin to think of gravity as the basis of the unified field theory. Perhaps the clinical effects came about because of the homeopathic similarities between the attributes of flower essences and those of the chakras. According to Kaminski (1995), the five flower essence was specifically designed to "bring about stabilization and calmness (Rock Rose), to "draw one back into present time" (Clematis), to "balance and soothe away impulsiveness and irritability" (Impatiens), to "bring about inner peace and stillness which allows us to ease the contraction felt in the body" (Cherry Plum), and to "help us regain our composure" and "for learning and mastery of our lives" (Star of Bethlehem). The empirical data clearly suggests that the flower essence works primarily on the centers for calmness (C4/Throat) and love (T6/Heart). It appears to assist us in letting go of our attachments and desires, while promoting a sense of calmness. Biofeedback practitioners may want to learn more about how to use these adjunctive tools may assist their patients in mastering the stress in their lives.

To conclude, psychophysiology provides a viable tool by which to investigate subtle energies, especially when guided by the metaphysical wisdom of the ages. This represents a blending of the old and new, East and West. For what is the basis of science but to describe what is all ready known with the latest tools of our culture.

For Dr. Cram's report of a study on environmental sensitivity
click here.
Data charts 
Research Page  FES Home Page


Cram JR, Kasman G and Holtz J. Introduction to Surface Electromyography. Aspen Press, Gaithersberg, MD. 1997

Ekman P and Friesen WV. Unmasking The Human Face. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1972.

Engel BT. Stimulus response and individual-response stereotypy. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2, 305-313, 1960.

Flor H, Turk D, Birbaumer N. Assessment of stress-related psychophysiological reactions in chronic back pain patients. J Consult Clinic Psychol, 1985.

Goldstein B. Electromyography: A measure of skeletal muscle response. In Greenfield and Sternbach (Eds). Handbook of Psychophysiology. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

Haynes S. Muscle-Contraction headache: Psycho-physiological perspective in etiology and treatment. In Haynes S and Gannorn W (Eds). Psychosomatic Disorders: A psychophysiological Approach to Etiology and Treatment. Gardner Press, 1980.

Hudzynski L and Lawrence G. Significance of EMG surface electrode placement models and headache findings. Headache, 28:30-35, 1988.

Jacobson E. Electrophysiology of mental activities. American Journal of Psychology, 44,:77-694, 1932.

Kaminski P. The Five-Flower Formula. Flower Essence Services, Nevada City, CA. 1995.

Lacey J and Lacey B. Verification and extension of the principle of autonomic response-sterotype. Amer Jour Psych, 71:50-73, 1958.

Lader MH and Mathews AM. A physiological model of phobic anxiety and desensitization. Behavior Research and Therapy, 6:411-421, 1968.

Malmo RB and Shagass C. Physiologic studies of reaction to stress in anxiety and early schizophrenia. Psychosomatic Med, 11:9-24, 1949.

McNutty W, Gevertz R, Berkoff G, Hubbard D. Needle electromyographic evaluation of a trigger point response to a psychological stressor, Psychophysiology, 31, 313-316, 1994.

Schwartz M (Ed). Biofeedback: A Practitioners Guide. New York, Guilford, 1987.

Whatmore G and Ellis R. Some Neurophysiologic Aspects of Depressed States. Arch. Gen Psychia. , 1:70, 1959.

Whatmore G and Ellis R. Further Neurophysiologic Aspects of Depressed States. Arch Gen Psychia., 6:243-254, 1962.

Whatmore G and Kohli D. The Physiopathology and Treatment of Functional Disorders. Grune and Stratton, New York, 1974.

Wirth D and Cram J. The psychophysiology of non-traditional prayer. International Journal Psychosomatics, (1-4):68-75, 1994.

Wirth D and Cram J. Multi-site EMG Analysis of Non-Contact Therapeutic Touch. International Journal Psychosomatics, (1-4):47-55, 1993.

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