My wish for you is a year of peace, health, love and fulfillment.
But a more important wish is that you believe that your year will bring you peace, health, love and fulfillment.
I just watched a movie called “Heal.” It brought to light the power of what we believe and how that can affect our health. I read a book recently called “You are the Placebo,” exploring how what you think, your expectations can affect mind and body. Actually, I study this phenomenon a lot which contributes to the crux of the lesson today. I am here to help you believe that what you tell yourself, what you tell your body will come to pass. Here’s part of the reason I say that.
Your body’s nervous system is set up in two parts. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system has almost the exact opposite effect, relaxing the body and slowing many high energy functions.
Sounds simple? It is sort of in a theoretical way. Imagine if you will, you’re a cave person out looking for something to eat. You’re walking along, minding your own business then you sense something behind you? A low growl tips you off and you take a quick glance at the saber tooth tiger approaching while you take off at full speed, running for your life. Your mind only has one goal… safety. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in to help achieve that goal as it reroutes most of the blood flow to the muscles. Adrenal glands are pumping out hormones to help activate other organs and to increase alertness. Heart rate is increased, liver releases glucose for energy. Bronchioles in the lungs are dilated to allow more air in. Pupils are dilated for best sight. Bladder and digestive system are put on hold as we have more important things to deal with than processing food or stopping for a pee. Your body is doing everything it can to survive. And that’s just what you need when being chased by a hungry tiger. But in our world today, hungry tigers aren’t so common. Instead, our sympathetic nervous system gets kicked into high gear by stress, tension, frustration, anger and worry. Our body is in survival mode way too often for way too long to the point where some of us actually get stuck there.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the opposite. Muscles relax, bronchioles and pupils constrict, pulse slows, blood pressure returns to normal. Digestive and excretory processes come back online and you are in chill-out mode. In cave dude days, it was realizing that the tiger had given up the chase that allowed the body to collapse into rest. But what in our life signals that “fight or flight” is over and it’s time to switch to calming mode? The easiest way to signal your body that it’s time to let go is deep breathing. A long deep breath or three signals your body that “we’re not in danger anymore” and it kicks systems back into low gear most of the time. Sometimes our systems have been in panic mode so long, it’s harder to get the body to hear the signals that danger is past. Sometimes we continue to breathe in a shallow rapid manner all day. Sometimes we allow something like feeling overworked or unappreciated to keep us in fight-or-flight mode for weeks. Your body cannot tell the difference between the real danger of the saber tooth attacker and the frustration you might feel over a deadline looming ahead, or worrying about a doctors visit coming up. It reacts the same way, as if your life is in danger at that moment.
Here, maybe I can prove that statement to you. Let’s take a walk in our imagination. We’re headed to the farmer’s market. It’s a gorgeous summer day- sunny, warm with a slight breeze. The market is filled with aromas and colors, people and music. As you walk along, you spot a gorgeous basket of fresh peaches for sale. You remember your grandmother telling you that a ripe peach will smell very peachy and delicious. You lean over and sniff those beauties and come away with sinuses filled with fresh peach aroma. You buy the peaches, take them home, wash them. Now you pick one up. The colors are lovely red and gold. The furry skin is soft. You take a long whiff of its peachy goodness. Then… a small bite. The powerful taste of peach explodes in your mouth. It is sweet and fresh- just perfect. You lean over the sink and take a big bite of peachy goodness. Such a big bite the the juice runs down your chin. You taste buds are doing a happy dance. The peach flavor, the juice the aroma meet all your expectations and you’re filled with delight.
Now… open your eyes. I have one question. Did you salivate?
Did the the imaginary peach cause your body to have a physical reaction?
Likely most of you will say yes.
Now this isn’t a deeply scientific experiment but if you want science, there has been research done for years on the body’s reaction to your expectations. Let’s just pursue this a bit further. The imaginary peach brought a physical reaction in your body. Do you think if you imagine something awful happening that your body might react in a negative way as you are spinning your awful “what if” scenario in your mind?
When you worry, you are imagining bad things. Sometimes I wonder if we remember that worry is just imagining the worst. I know people who feeling like worrying is their job, like they’re fending off some danger by replaying worst case scenarios in their mind. As you are imagining the worst, your body doesn’t know that your worry is not something that is actually happening at that moment. Do you realize that these negative thinking habits affect your body? They can keep your sympathetic nervous system on “red alert” 24/7 so you never really do relax?
When you breathe deeply and choose to imagine good things happening; health, healing, peace, love, your body gets the signal from you that everything is okay. If you’ve been on red alert too long, it can take awhile to bring the fight or flight response down but you can do it. Sometimes a bit at a time but with practice… your body will once again get used to following your suggestions and chill out.
Finding our calm again feels good, but remember, we are affecting body functions with our positive thinking. Pulse will slow. Blood pressure comes down. Muscles can relax. Digestive and excretory functions get “moving” again normally. Your body can kick back into restoration and healing mode. You may come to see that you don’t need that extra glass of wine to try to relax. You can do it with just some deep breathing and happy thinking.
Today’s lesson is how to chill out. In our practice, we’ll explore breathing practices. But I’ve babbled on way long enough at this point. I’ll explain some breathing techniques another time. For now, inhale deeply, pause, then exhale.
Inhale the happy, pause and exhale the worry.
Inhale the peace, pause, exhale anxiety.
Breath with your whole chest and belly expanding, but at your normal rate.
See how that makes you feel.