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Established in 1998

What are Biorhythms?

Biorythms - Some History

Newcomers to biorhythm theory are often disturbed by its apparent implications. The notion of biological clocks seems to contradict our ideas about "free will" and suggests that more aspects of our behavior are determined the we are comfortable with. I think of biorhythms as a kind of "internal baseline" telling me about me energy levels for the three cycles: Physical, Emotional, & Intellectual. Since behavior is only partially determined by internal factors biorhythms do not account for all of the variance. I also find it interesting to consider that from the point of view of the number of days lived, we each go through the same sequence of biorhythm cycles. Humans are more alike then we like to admit. Our similarities are related to our biological roots and therefore to our biological (bio) rhythms. Our differences are more a function of the cultural overlay that we assimilate from our various environments, physical & social. (ERM) The following excepts are from the book "Is This Your Day" (copyright 1973 George S. Thommen) Since there is a lack of background information about Biorhythms on our Web, it seemed appropriate to provide some context. The sections that follow detail the research of some late 19th and early 20th Century researchers which form the cornerstones of modern Biorhythm Theory.

Dr. Hermann Swoboda, Psychologist

...Everyone experiences days when everything he does seems to be right and, on the other hand, days when nothing he does seems to make any sense. This state of affairs is not new; man has long puzzled over the range of his own actions and feelings. Even Hippocrates, the traditional physician's physician, advised his students and associates some 2,400 years ago to observe the "good" and "bad" days among the healthy and the ill, and to take these fluctuations into consideration in the treatment of patients.

 Although man understood that he acted, felt, and thought differently at different times, for centuries a fundamental question went unanswered, even unasked. At the end of the nineteenth century, Dr. Hermann Swoboda, professor of psychology at the University of Vienna, was prompted by his research findings to wonder whether there might not be some regularity or rhythm to these fundamental changes in man's disposition. Swoboda apparently was impressed by John S. Beard's report of 1897 on the span of gestation and the cycle of birth, and by the publication of a scientific paper on bisexuality in man by Wilhelm Fliess... ...Swoboda, in his first report, presented at the University ] of Vienna at the turn of the century, noted:

One does not need to have lived a long span of life before one comes to realize that life is subject to Consistent Changes. This realization is not a reflection on the changes in our fate or the changes which take place during various stages of life. Even if someone could live a life completely devoid of outside influences, a life during which Nothing whatever disturbs the mental or physical aspect, life would nevertheless not be the same day after day. The best of health does not prevent man from feeling unwell at times, or less cheerful than he is normally.

During his initial research between 1897 and 1902, Swoboda recorded the recurrence of pain and the swelling of tissues such as is experienced in insect bites. He discovered a periodicity in fevers, in the outbreak of an illness, and in heart attacks, a phenomenon Fliess had reported in a medical review, which led to the discovery of certain basic rhythms in man one a 23-day cycle and the other a 28-day cycle.

 However, Swoboda, as a psychologist, was mainly interested in finding out whether man's feelings and actions were influenced by rhythmical fluctuations and whether these rhythms Could be precalculated. The results of his persistent research Can be summed up in his own words:

We will no longer ask why man acts one way or another, because we have learned to recognize that his action is influenced by periodic changes and that man's reaction to an impression can be foreseen, or predicted, to use a stronger term. Such a psychoanalysis could be called bionomy because, as in chemistry where the researcher Can anticipate the outcome of a formula, through bionomy the psychologist can anticipate, or predict, so to speak, the periodic changes in man.

Swoboda was an analytical thinker and a systematic recorder. His painstaking research in psychology and periodicity produced convincing evidence of rhythms in life. He showed a deep interest in the study of dreams and their origin, and noted that melodies and ideas would often repeat in one's mind after periodic intervals, generally based on a 23-day or a 28-day rhythm. In searching for the origin of these rhythms, Swoboda carefully noted the birth of infants among his patients and found that young mothers would often have anxious hours about the health of their babies during periodic days after birth. He reasoned that this phenomenon, which was often accompanied by the infant's refusal to take nourishment, was a sign of rhythmical development; on these days the tempo of digestion and absorption was apparently slower. He advised the mothers not to worry, since these periodic crises could be considered part of natural development and growth. Similar rhythmical turning points were reported in asthma attacks.

 Swoboda's first book was Die Perioden des Menschlichen Lebens (The Periodicity in Man's Life). This book was followed by his Studien zur Grundlegung der Psychologie (Studies of the Basis of Psychology). In order to facilitate his research and also to encourage other scientists and medical doctors in the recording of the mathematical rhythms, Swoboda designed a slide rule with which it was fairly simple to find the "critical" days in the life of any person whose birth date was known. The instruction booklet was entitled Die Kritischen Tage des Menschen (The Critical Days of Man).

 His most profound work was a 576-page volume entitled Das Siebenjahr (The Year of Seven), which contains the 23-day and 28-day mathematical analysis of the rhythmical repetition of births through generations. With documentation covering hundreds of family trees, he endeavored to verify that most major events in life, such as birth, the onset of an illness, heart attacks, and death, fall on periodic days and involve family relationships.

Wilhelm Fliess, M.D.

The amazing fact is that while Swoboda was concentrating his studies of the rhythms in life and in man on observations in the field of psychology, some three hundred miles away in Berlin a practicing physician, Wilhelm Fliess, was accumulating a vast amount of research material in order to confirm 23-day and 28-day rhythms he had observed while diagnosing many of his patients. Fliess was a nose and throat specialist, but the breadth of his medical and biological interest was far-reaching. He showed great knowledge in many fields of Science, and records indicate that he was elected president of the Germanie Academy of Sciences in 1910.

 Fliess enjoyed a large and prosperous practice in Berlin and lectured extensively. His research led him to reason that a periodic process must affect both man and woman and that these rhythms could be traced throughout life. Believing that each individual inherits both male and female sexual characteristics, he concluded that everyone has elements of bisexuality in his makeup. He also concluded that there was a connection between the rhythms he had observed and evolution, the creation of organisms, and life itself.

 anxious to find out why some children, exposed to a contagious disease, would remain immune for days, only to succumb on a periodic day. By tracing illnesses, the outbreak of fevers, and deaths back to birth. Fliess became convinced that a 23-day and a 28-day rhythm was fundamental to life. Fliess recorded his discoveries of 23-day and 28-day rhythms in his book Der Ablauf Des Lebens (The Course of Life),e a 564-page volume with which he expected of arouse the interest of the medical profession, He was disappointed. Reviewers reported that although the work contained a vast amount of mathematical research and statistics, it only confused the reader. A critic conceded: "Fliess shows an astoundingly varied knowledge of medicine, mathematics, genealogy, botany, zoology, astrology, and psychology." Three additional books, containing further documentation and reprints of the lectures Fliess had presented at numerous medical and scientific meetings, were published between l909 and 1925 under the titles Mom Leben und Mom Tod (Of Life andDeath), DasJahrim Lebendigen (The Year in the Living), Zur Periodenlehre (The Theory of Periodicity), a collection of lectures. Fliess was assisted in his research by a mathematician, and subsequently by Hans Schlieper, another medical doctor who produced his own works on the subject of rhythms in life under the titles Der Rhythmus im Leberedigen (Periodicity of Life), and Das Jahr im Raum (The Year in Space).

 In his research into rhythmical repetition in life, Fliess also studied inherited characteristics, especially left-handedness which he ascribed to a greater influence of the sensitivity (feminine) rhythm reflecting a higher degree of creative feelings such as is often observed in artists, composers, and writers. He recorded births and deaths in connection with family tree studies and established a mathematical connection in blood re- lationship going back over many generations. Sensing that nature seemed to have given a "clock" to many of her children, Fliess continued exploring the regular patterns affecting all phases of life. He Concluded that the 23-day (masculine) rhythm affected the physical condition of man.


The Second Life Rhythm

The second long-term rhythm, this one of 98-day duration, was ascribed by Fliess to the rhythmical changes of the feminine inheritance. Originating in the nervous system or fibers, it influences the emotions and one's degree of sensitivity. Fliess, a thorough researcher, explained his theories with firm conviction and documented them with an impressive collection of statistical data, tracing the origin of the rhythms back to birth. His revelations, to say the least, caused a good deal of Controversy among his colleagues. They accepted the fact that man's physical makeup and his emotions are continually changing; but it was, understandably, difficult for them to take the next step and agree that these changes were influenced not only by what man experienced in his everyday living, but quite fundamentally by his very biological constitution. To Fliess, it seemed as if nature had given man a master clock in addition to the more obvious rhythms that pulse throughout the animal and plant kingdom. There are, of course, innumerable examples of precise rhythms in all forms of life, from the simplest virus to the most complicated creatures.

 In a book published in 1942, George Riebold, a gynecologist, reviewed the fundamental ideas developed by Fliess between 1908 and 1928. Riebold said that "some truth lurks in the idea that life follows a periodic rhythm . . . and that the periods of 23 days and 28 days which Fliess discovered are of frequent occurrence." Some of the discoveries, he reported, had been adopted into modern concepts of gynecology and otolaryngology.

 The word rhythm is also used in reference to the menstrual cycle in woman, for which a 28-day periodicity is the apparent average. Two questions were foremost in the mind of the original researchers: First, why does this supposedly regular menstrual rhythm vary in length in different women (and even in the same woman) from about 26 to 35 days? Secondly, why should woman alone be subject to rhythmical development? Is not man also, the researchers reasoned, the combination and offspring of both male and female cell development? After Fliess had reported on bisexuality in man, he observed a 23-day rhythmical repetition in fevers and recurrent illness in some of his patients. This led him to believe that both a 23-day and 28-day rhythm affected the regularity of the menstrual rhythm and that all life is influenced by these two long-term rhythms. ...There is a lesson to be learned from the lifetime efforts of the pioneers in biorhythm, Swoboda and Fliess. It is included in these pages because it is important to an understanding of the history of biorhythm, or, for that matter, of just about any new idea that stretches the imagination of man beyond his common experience. Fliess was primarily a researcher in the field of life rhythms. In their questioning however, both Swoboda and Fliess felt that the problem of rhythms in nature could best be solved by examining as many facets of her manifestations as possible. Independently, both studied family trees, hoping to find out why births often followed a rhythmic family pattern. Curiosity led them to attempt to establish a biological pattern between siblings, and between the child and his parents and grandparents....

 Their awe of nature led these pioneers to experiment with numbers as a tool in deciphering her wondrous accomplishments. The irony of their quest was that this very use of mathematics helped largely to defeat their attempts to gain wide acceptance for the very conclusions that mathematics helped them to reach. By applying numbers to the realm of man and medicine, Fliess had come up with concepts that were daring, original, and most important seemingly quite valid. Yet by burdening his published works with these encumbrances pages and pages of numerical tables, Charts, calculations, and proofs he frightened the medical profession as well as the public he sought to convince.

 His critics said his presentation was too complex. His readers were either unable or unwilling to wade through the multitude of statistics, and although no one could disprove his mathematical calculations, it might have appeared that they almost discouraged analysis.

The Rhythm of the Mind

What has made the study of biorhythm such a fascinating experience is the fact that pieces of supporting evidence were discovered by researchers who not only did not know each other but were not even aware of the work previously done in the science. Yet results have been remarkably Consistent and encouraging , and new directions and dimensions have continued to be added to the established principles. So, in a very real way, it was with biorhythm's third major precept: the cycle of the mind.

 During the 1920's Alfred Teltseher, a doctor of engineering and a teacher, reportedly Collected a large number of performance reports of high school and college students at Innsbruck. Himself a student of nature as well as of mathematics, Teltseher wondered why the intellectual Capability of students seemed to vary from time to time, and whether any exact pattern could be established. Unfortunately, my own search abroad brought to light no original documentation, scientific paper, or book of his, and so my knowledge of Teltscher's work is based on secondhand reports and on articles that discussed his findings.

 Apparently, even the comparatively limited basis of his statistical sampling disclosed that an exact pattern could be established. The paper Teltscher supposedly prepared concluded that the students' high and low peaks of performance fluctuated in a definite 33 day cycle. He stated, in effect, that there were periods during which a student could readily grasp and absorb new subjects, and, on the other hand, there were comparable periods during which the capacity to think quickly and clearly was diminished. His associates and medical contemporaries ascribed this rhythm to periodic secretions of glands affecting the brain cells, possibly of the thyroid gland.

 On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, meanwhile, Dr. Rexford Hersey at the University of Pennsylvania, assisted by Dr. Michael John Bennett, conducted a similar research between 1928 and 1932. Hersey reported the accidental discovery of a 33-day to 35 day rhythm, revealed by checking the emotions of workers in railroad shops over periods of many months. His findings were published in his book Workers' Emotions in Shop and Home. Donald A. Laird, director of the psychological laboratory at Colgate University, reviewed Hersey's discovery in an article that appeared in Review of Reviews, April 1935, entitled "The Secrets of Our Ups and Downs," and was reprinted in Reader's digest, August, 1935. At the conclusion Laird declared:

To most people moods are an eternal puzzle, no one knows whence they come or where they go. Science has recently discovered moods are by no means matters of chance. They are not, as we have long supposed, simply reactions to the success or failure of our plans. On the Contrary, they grow within us as a direct result of the rise and fall of our emotional energy. It has been proved that our bodies and minds produce, store up and spend our emotional energy in regular cycles.

Laird's comments, although widely read, failed to capture the imagination of the public or the medical profession.

 A similar attempt was made a decade later by Myron Sterns, who, writing for Redbook in November, 1945, under the title "Do You Know Your Emotional Cycles?" tried to stir up some attention for the science. A month later, Reader's Digest picked up the Redbook article. Stearns quoted Hersey as having said: "Few people paid any attention to my book, except some far-sighted officials of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who supported my work from the beginning." Hersey was also quoted as remarking that "everybody knows we have ups and downs, but we don't know what causes them." *