By TRAVIS WADE
Description of Stress
Stress can be described using a scenario where say you are walking from your igloo and you see a giant polar bear growling at you. Your heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, blood vessels expand, muscles are being fed energy from fuels that are being made from stored fats, your respiratory drive goes up, you sweat to keep cool because you’re about to exert yourself, your blood thickens to clot faster than normal, you produce inflammatory chemicals to activate your immune cells to start mobilizing for tissue repair, your attention centre in your brain lights up; it’s a massive change in your system. It’s all designed to deal with a clearly perceived environmental threat. Have you seen the Leonardo Dicaprio movie “The Revenant”? This type of thing happens!
99% of the polar bears you are running from (or fighting), are in your head. When you do this chronically it causes what is known as “allostatic load”; the physiological wear and tear on the body. It’s like driving your car like Jeff Gordon (in this classic prank), all the time. Your tires will wear out fast and it’s the same with your body.
Evoking the Relaxation Response
Scientists tested people meditating and found they had a decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate, decreased breathing, and slower brain waves. These meditators had a reaction completely opposite to the stress response.
The 2 basic factors of evoking a relaxation response are repetition, and the disregard of other thoughts when they come to mind. Those 2 break the train of everyday thinking. It’s usually your everyday thinking that’s stressful. There’s no real polar bear; it’s all your other fears.
Every culture in history has used these 2 basic steps in some way. Some people will claim their method or type of meditation is better, but that is subjective. All methods or types of meditation evoke a relaxation response from your body. There are many ways to evoke stress, and many ways to accomplish the 2 basic principles of meditation.
Experts practise meditation with people to teach them how to evoke the relaxation response. They get people to concentrate on just one thing and become inwardly aware and focussed on the present moment. I personally concentrate on my breathing and then try to concentrate on relaxing the spot between my eyes which some meditators call the third eye. I try to get the relaxation to move through the body.
With MRI, scientists are now understanding the biology behind all this. If you watch a person meditate; it doesn’t look like they are doing much, but there’s a lot going on in their brain. You can see how meditation changes the structure of the brain. The amygdala part of the brain gets turned down. The amygdala is responsible for the fight or flight response.
In a study, scientists stressed mice out for 10 days and after 10 days they took the stress away. They found there was no change in the size of the amygdala 2 weeks later and the anxiety was still high. This is the opposite of what scientists are seeing with people that meditate. These people haven’t changed their life in any way other than they added meditation but their amygdala has gotten smaller.
An example of the positive effects of meditation was found in treating psoriasis. The treatment for psoriasis is ultraviolet light treatment and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at MBSR mindful space reduction clinic, did a study where he had half of the people just using the ultraviolet light and the other half did the UV light treatment and meditation. The results were, the meditators skin cleared at 4x the rate the non-meditators.
Yoga is a great form of meditation with movement. A lot of the brain gets turned off in yoga and the focus is within as opposed to running with headphones or playing an instrument where the focus is more external.
It’s important to know that we all have an ability to activate a response that’s the opposite of the stress response. It doesn’t mean you give up conventional medicine, it just means we need to give meditation the same level of respect as conventional medicine. It is scientifically proven to be effective.
Other Ways Our Feelings and Subsequent Reactions Affect Us
Research has shown that feelings evoke a reaction in the body. You become flushed, your heart races, you get butterflies in your stomach; these are a result of chemicals being released when your brain is in a certain emotional state. It has been proven that happy people live about 10 years longer than unhappy people. If you’re optimistic you have half the chance of getting heart disease than if you’re pessimistic.
In a study done in the 50’s with 2000 men that worked at an electric company, the percentage of men that were depressed were twice as likely to die from cancer 20 years later. You might think that happier people make healthier life choices, but this research allowed for smoking habits, alcohol intake, weight and cholesterol, age, job status, and family history of cancer were factored into the results. Thousands of studies have been done like this in peer reviewed academic journals.
Another example of the effects of stress is in fertility clinics. Infertility itself increases stress and depression. By reducing stress and depression with meditation and proper social support, professionals increased fertility rates by double. When a woman feels stressed, she takes care of her home and family and lets go of her friends which is the thing she needs the most when she’s stressed. A crisis shared is half the burden and that’s why social support is so important.
The Town of Roseto Example
In the early 60’s the town of Roseto was… unusual. No one in this town died of a heart attack under 55. The death rate for men over 65 was half the national average. Scientists checked to see if this was due to their diet, location, family history, or exercise habits. Nothing was different from the rest of America. The town was made up of Italian immigrants that worked in factories and smoked cigars, and ate rich Italian food.
It was normal to find 3 generations in the same house. 80% of the men were members of at least one community group. They had a sense of community and avoided loneliness in the community.
By 1971, 3 generation homes didn’t exist any more, there were expensive cars and swimming pools, and the first person under the age of 55 died of a heart attack. By the 1980’s the rate of heart attack was the same as the rest of the country.
The most commonly prescribed drug is anti-depressants. It’s easy to make fun of these ideas but we are touchy feely creatures. Many people are getting turned away in doctors’ offices that can be cured with this idea. Many people look to the medical industry for help and they are looking in the wrong place. They need to look within.
The Placebo Effect
The placebo effect isn’t just the placebo effect. It’s a very effective treatment that get’s 30% to 50% better results. It’s having the belief that you will get better. Every EMS person has experienced this effect on scene. As soon as EMS arrives, the patient will immediately feel better.
Scientists are researching how the placebo effect affects a person. They are noticing how it affects the part of the brain responsible for mood, sleep, and pain perception. They have noticed in Parkinson’s disease how it will increase dopamine; the chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. I personally believe it’s simply having someone around that cares at a very vulnerable time that makes people feel better.
People with IBS got better even when they knew the pills given to them were fake. You can’t draw a line and say on this side is the mind healing effects and on this side is the conventional healing effects. Inasmuch, the placebo effect is the effect we are going for.
Meditation and Proper Social Support Changes Your DNA
In a study, over 500 genes were changed in a matter of just 3 months. They were successful in turning on the genes that prevent disease. Genes can be switched on and switched off. Being exposed to external forces can turn the genes one way or the other.
Researchers found that meditation can flick the switch on genes that affect disease. It’s more profound than just that, because the first time you evoke the relaxation response these genomic changes occur, but the more times you do it, the more response you get. You get response in just minutes. You can get a benefit if you do it once a week but you get so much more if you do it daily.
Researchers found that the life of your DNA changes with the amount of stress you are exposed to. High stress women live 10 years less than low stress women. What they look at is the telomeres on your DNA strands. They find that as you get older the telomeres get shorter and this is linked with disease as well.
Researchers have found that this is reversible. The treatment was love and intimacy, meditation, and proper diet and exercise. It’s the only intervention found that will make your telomeres longer. This is a good type of genetic engineering.
Plan to Achieve Your Fitness Goals
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Increase your energy, looks, and physical capabilities to improve your confidence, which spills over into every aspect of your life. Become an overachiever by doing what overachievers do. Become someone you envy and live a happier, more positive lifestyle.
A Health and Fitness Plan!
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