Today I would like to talk about how we are killing ourselves as a species through stress, and why meditation and mindful living is the solution.
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Our 2 modes of Living: Red & Green
We have basic modes of being that determine whether we are in a state of relaxation, or a state of stress- as a culture we are developing a wild imbalance between the two. Meditation can help restore this balance.
Our two primary modes of being are called the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems. The SNS is also known as the “Rest & recover mode”, or the Green mode. The PNS is called “Fight or Flight” or the Red mode.
We are either dominantly in Red or Green.
Learning about our bodies natural way of dealing with stress can empower us to change the way we live.
We can learn to be aware of when stress is an appropriate response, and when it is an over-blown and inappropriate response. We can even change the structure of our brains, so that we become more sophisticated in the way we deal with stress.
The Red mode is our basic survival tool. If we see a tiger the Red mode would kick in to provide the energy and focus for us to fight or flee.
If we are attacked, the Red mode is activated and a cascade of neurological and physical changes occur.
In our minds, our thinking becomes narrow and fear based. We become hyper- aroused & hyper-vigilant.
We become defensive, reactive and judgmental. We cannot access creative solutions or analyse the situation clearly.
In this red mist of fear and self-preservation, we either fight or we run away.
Stress in our modern world
In our modern world, we don’t often run away from sabre tooth tigers or face death on the daily, but the stress response remains the same to any perceived threat to safety and security.
Our stresses are mostly caused by our way of viewing our life, not by actual external threats.
The neighbouring tribe may be your ex-mother- in-law or boss.
Where our ancestors might have encountered a stressful situation once or twice a week, we are faced with stressful situations daily in our jobs, in our relationships, in commuting to work each day.
Reading the newspaper or watching the news can invoke the stress response. Eating spicy foods can cause stress. Watching certain movies and tv shows can trigger our red mode.
Thinking about emotional wounds, wallowing in self-doubt or living in a way that is not authentic or aligned to values can evoke stress.
In our society, the stress response has become an addiction and way of life.
Stimulus, control, struggle, busy-ness, drama is actually indulged rather than avoided, to the extent that for some stress becomes a source of energy, motivation and identity.
On top of all of this, we have the real stresses of life, sickness, injury, death and disaster. It all adds up. We are in a constant state of Red mode activation: we become over-stressed.
But stress is not the problem: Stress is normal and its useful. It helps us grow. It is a reliable indication from our nervous systems that we need to change something.
Living in Stress is the problem
What is a healthy response designed for survival is being abused.
Once the danger has passed, or we have taken appropriate action, we are supposed to switch it off and restore balance.
When we stay in the stress response, out of habit or lack of awareness we get sick and unhappy. We suffer.
The result of chronic stress is chronically high levels of cortisol. While a temporary spike in cortisol can sharpen our mental focus, a continually elevated cortisol condition will lead to poor mental abilities, decreased memory and a depressed immune system.
Living in the stress mode is like being in a state of emergency at all times. It is terrible for us.
The Green mode: Resting and recovering
As humans, our natural instinctive needs are protection and growth. The stress response is designed to protect us. The relaxation response, THE GREEN MODE, helps us grow and recover.
Our health depends on us being able to use the stress response when needed and turn it off when not.
In the Green mode we put down defenses, slow down and open up. We heal ourselves. We experience enthusiasm, vitality. We experience FLOW.
We digest experience with open awareness and presence. We learn our lessons and grow.
We access our memory put in place strategies for the future. We interact with people with more empathy and connection.
In our bodies, the changes are just as profound. Muscular tension decreases,
serotonin and melatonin are released, increasing our sense of well-being and our instinctive NATURAL rhythm is restored.
Our heart rate goes down; blood pressure goes down, our breathing becomes deeper, our immune system goes back on. Tissue, cell repair and self- healing is restored, as is digestion.
When we regularly access this mode, we get amazing physical and mental benefits.
So what does all this have to do with Meditation?
Meditation, STILLNESS, NATURE and the practice of awareness is HOW we can restore balance to our system.
Think about how natural this feels. When we see a child freaking out we feel called to tell him or her to sit quietly to calm down. When we are feeling overwhelmed with choices and decisions, we take ourselves for a walk. When we are overworked, we take a day off.
THIS IS SO INNATE AND INSTINCTIVE. Since the beginning of humanity, we have had this inner knowing that being silent and still restores us to our wholeness.
But until very recently, little was provable by science about how a few hours of quiet reflection each week could lead to such an intriguing range of mental and physical effects.
Now, brain imaging techniques are revealing that meditation can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.
MRI scans show that after eight-weeks of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.
As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.
The “functional connectivity”, they way these areas of the brain interact, changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
The scale of these changes correlate with the number of hours of meditation practice a person has done.
In other words, we can change our brain so that we respond more thoughtfully to stimulus and threats. We deal with life’s twists and turns with more grace and balance and become more emotionally intelligent beings.
I invite you equip yourself with this knowledge so you can launch yourself deeper into your practice.
You are consciously evolving yourself.
You are literally re-wiring your brain.
You are become less sensitive to stressors.
You are literally growing new gray matter through meditation.
This is not metaphorical or fluffy new age wishful thinking. This is hard scientific fact.
Through meditation you will live a more sustainable, balanced and peaceful life. Through meditation you learn to rest and recover.
Through meditation, you become a higher functioning human, capable of so much. Meditation changes lives for the better!
Please share this with anyone who you care about 🙂