Restoring Relaxation to the Body
Have you ever put in a hard workout or done something strenuous, only to feel an old familiar twinge? It might be an old football or skiing injury. Maybe you twisted an ankle or knee jumping off a high wall in your immortal youth. As we get a little older, we come to a profound insight. Our minds may have long forgotten our youthful follies, but, like leafing through old photos, the body takes these moments of weakness to fondly remind us of our past, with perfect clarity and recall.
I often describe the body as an "Etch-a-Sketch," one of those toys from ages ago that you could draw all sorts of designs and shapes on, seemingly like magic. The body is very similar. It records – in our muscles, bones and cells – all of our past experiences, both physical and emotional. Biologically, It is essential for survival to have a "memory" of dangers and hazards.
Further, to ensure optimal chances for survival, the body has evolved the "fight or flight" mechanism to react to these threats. Before modern civilization, if a lion were to come into the village, it was imperative to react instantaneously! The body goes into overdrive: run, climb, hide, grab a weapon. All other functions such as thinking, digesting or healing become extremely secondary to stress-fed survival mode. This is the work of the sympathetic nervous system. Following an event, when the lion is gone or dead, there is a release of this stress-induced adrenalin rush. The brain now tells the body, "It is okay. It is safe now. Relax." This is the parasympathetic nervous system.
This is an elegant and dynamic feedback loop. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we no longer live with those sorts of imminent dangers. However, we still have a biological function that is capable of carrying and holding inordinate amounts of stress. Stress that stores, builds up, stress that stays in the body. Further, the brain makes no distinction between physical stress and mental-emotional stress. A hard day at the office creates the same stress as the lion in the village.
The magnetic fields around the Earth beat at a frequency of 7.4 cps (cycles per second), which is in the exact middle of the brain's "relaxation range." Coincidence? Prior to modern culture, there were two basic sources of electromagnetic influence, or stressors, on the human brain. The first was the Van Allen belts (radiation belts that surround the Earth consisting of high-energy particles held captive by the magnetic influence of the Earth), which create that 7.4 frequency field; the second was lightning.
Currently, there are over 200,000 competing frequencies with which our bodies are bombarded daily. Trying to hone in on that single beacon that informs the body into relaxation is somewhat like trying to hear someone whisper to you…whilst standing in front of a speaker at a rock concert. That one most important message of peace and well being cannot compete. It is drowned out by all the surrounding input. As a result of our modern culture and our loss of contact with the natural environment, our bodies are inundated by colossal stress signals with no counter-intelligence message of peace and relaxation.
The responsibility then comes back to us to remedy that as best we can. Relocating to remote mountain locations in India or Peru is probably not feasible for the majority of people. However, there are several things that can be done to minimize stress, from major life changes to smaller practices that can be incorporated into daily life.
Minimize Electromagnetic Stressors. Minimizing exposure to stressors is a good place to start. Spend less time at the computer, and turn it OFF not sleep mode – when not in use. Even if you are not right at the computer, it is still putting out electromagnetic signals.
Additionally, turn off the television (especially if you are not watching it!). It is another huge source of stressors, both from the physical stressors it creates for the brain, and from its content. Compared to television of 30-50 years ago, when a movie camera lingered on a scene for an average of 30 seconds, today's camera shot is an average of 3 seconds! Test it yourself. Count the seconds in scenes, how quickly the camera shots bounce back and forth. This is very hard on the brain. Studies have linked cartoons with too many frames per second with over stimulation of the brain, sending normal healthy children into seizures.
Above and beyond the physics of television, the content of modern television is loaded with fear-based programming. This is its hook keeping a viewer in stress mode, perpetually waiting for the "emergency over" message that never comes. Since the television also sends the brain into a deep, relaxed, gamma mode, the mind is receptive to the input, and is hooked on negative content.
Interior Redesign. Remove as many stressors from sleeping areas as possible. Add plants to your house. Set up a water fountain for background noise that is soothing. Acclimate to the quietude of stillness. Rearrange furniture. Ask yourself: "Is this room creating peace and relaxation? Do I feel drawn to settle down and read a book here, or sit in the window and enjoy the sun for a moment?
Pay Attention to Your Diet. Diet can play a huge factor in increasing stress. Ingredients such as caffeine, sugar and artificial sweeteners are very hard on the body since they jolt it into readiness for elevated levels of activity. They are the quick fixes our bodies crave as the cheap substitute for good, whole-food nutrition. The body will crave and seek out sugar as a substitute when it is in need of protein. Unfortunately the 'wisdom' of the television encourages us to go against the wisdom of our senses by advertising for fast food, convenience and sugar, so this is another reason for shutting off the TV. Exercise. Exercise is vital for allowing the body to reduce and release stress. Ideally, engage in activities with the intention of having fun. Playing a sport aggressively, with the intention of obliterating your opponent, might not be an optimal strategy for defusing stress…especially if you don't win. Many other physical activities are grounded in the concept of stress reduction such as martial arts, tai chi, meditation, drumming, dance, yoga, all of which can be as easy or challenging as your preference desires.
Healing and Relaxation. Magnetic therapies are designed to help bring the body back into alignment. Massage therapy or acupuncture are excellent ways to help the body heal and relax. Take a walk outside without the Ipod. Get close to the Earth; it can recalibrate the body's relaxation rhythm. Even if it is not every day, perhaps only weekly, or sporadically, treat yourself to some form of relaxation. Incorporate it into daily life.
Personal Altar. Setting up a simple private altar somewhere in your home with sacred objects that are meaningful to you, creates a place where you can go to deepen relaxation and receive guidance about things that are troubling you. This is also a profound form healing and stress relief in one's life. Many indigenous and shamanic traditions include the use of a "mesa" a portable altar, which is also considered a healer's tool kit in their ceremonies and daily life. The more you use your mesa, or go to your altar, the stronger the connection grows between you and its wisdom and healing benefits.
More than anything else, coming into balance to reduce stress in your life entails a perceptual shift. An awareness. An awakening. At first, this shift may be troubling because change is disruptive, familiarity is easy. Old patterns are usually deeply embedded, well worn, broken in, comfortable. But the body knows what well-being looks and feels like homeostasis. It is a biological imperative, right down to the cellular level. And the body deeply wants to return to that garden.
Teri J. Dluznieski, M.Ed, incorporates herbs, Bowen bodywork and Peruvian shamanic energy into her practice and workshops in Poultney, Vermont. She can be reached at (802) 287-2312 email@example.com.