It’s well known that our bodies have a response that we switch on when danger is present – it’s called the fight or flight response. For those who don’t know what this is – when we’re faced with immediate danger (say a lion jumping out in front of us while on a walk) our body switches on in an unprecedented way. It prepares to either stay and fight or to get out of there as quickly as possible.
What happens when this response activates? Our bodies fire up turning on a turbo charge of energy. Hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, our heart rate and blood pressure go up, the blood vessels to our muscles open to get extra fuel, sugars and fats pump in to the blood stream and we start to sweat to keep ourselves cool during exertion.
Our bodies also pump out inflammatory chemicals to active our immune cells, our senses start to sharpen, and we begin mobilising for tissue repair, all while the attention centre in our brain is lighting up like a Christmas tree. The experience is a major physiological, neurological, immunological and metabolic change.
This reaction was designed to help us survive in a present, seriously dangerous moment when we need all our senses to be set to go. In other words, it’s there to save our life.
Yet the problem is today, with all the pressures and stresses that we encounter or put on ourselves – whether they be family, relationship, work or health driven – we are activating this response at a much higher rate than what it was designed for. This puts us in a perpetual state of arousal, placing our bodies under unnecessary stress which we’re failing to turn off. Many argue that it’s this constant activation that is making us sick.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Interestingly, once scientists discovered the above, they also started looking into an opposite response. Surely there must be one? The yin to the yang of stress?
There is, and it’s known as the relaxation response.
In an experiment on a series of people who meditate, it was found that there were dramatic physiologic changes in those who work on actively quietening their mind.
The essence of these changes included a decrease in beta waves, decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate and a decreased rate of breathing. As a result of meditation, it’s said we can increase our focus, creativity, compassion, memory and reduce anxieties, stress and often illness.
What’s the key learning? Regardless of how you look after your body and how physically healthy you are, your mind must also be in balance to be well.
It’s a funny thing to consider, but once you do, it can radically change your life.
I recently watched a movie that was the inspiration for this piece. The film covered that the main features of evoking the relaxation response are repetition and the disregard of excess thoughts when they come into your mind. These two incredibly important actions enable you to break the cycle of everyday thinking, thus lowering your fight or flight response in everyday situations.
How do you do it?
Meditation, yoga, and prayer are three actions that will see you pay increased attention to what is going on inside your mind. These actions allow you to notice things that weren’t there before and to turn off parts of the brain that are otherwise always busy. Once you put these practices into action, you realise that you have within in yourself the capacity to relax yourself.
It’s a hugely liberating discovery!
A healthy mind is not about changing your life, its about changing your relationship to your life. If you’re battling any issue (and lets me honest, we all are!) I encourage you to give quieting of the mind a go.
We all need to remember that just as there are things that are stressful, there are things that we can do to evoke the relaxation response and thus improve our wellbeing.
I’m not saying to give up on surgeries or western medicine (should they be necessary), but I do encourage you to try quietening of the mind to aid your journey. The same goes for whatever other personal hurdles you’re currently trying to overcome, you never know what type of wonders you’ll uncover when you just stop and relax.
For more information on this topic, I suggest you watch the incredibly empowering movie ‘The Connection’ by Shannon Harvey. This movie was a key source of information and inspiration for the above post.