There is a powerful integration and feedback loop between mind and body that is being understood more and more. Understanding this not only helps you to take charge of your mind and body wellness, it also opens up new possibilities in personal life experience and abilities.
In the last blog, I shared key points and ways to access optimum states of consciousness for wellbeing and peak performance and how they relate to specific brain wave patterns. There is a reciprocal relationship between states of consciousness indicated by brain wave patterns with specific bio-chemical production and pathways in the body that directly affect our moods, immunity and endocrine (hormonal and neurochemical) systems. All cells in the body participate in what is being understood as a feedback loop where consciousness impacts many aspects of bio-chemical processes which in turn impact our consciousness. Thus we can get into loops of body and mind reinforcing psycho-emotional and biochemical wellbeing or else reinforcing dis-ease, both of which impact our perceptions and spiritual receptivity.
All brain wave patterns reflect important and functional mental states – there are no good or bad frequencies. Issues arise when there is an imbalance and certain brainwave patterns predominate chronically rather than our minds being able to move through the full range of frequencies at the right time for the relevant tasks and perceptions. For example, low levels of focus and attention or high levels of depression can be associated with slow or minimal beta patterns. Short intense periods of beta during high focus problem solving and tasks are good while in the higher frequencies (23Hz-40Hz) are the zones of stress and anxiety. However, the modern problem is over-active high frequency beta activity (characterised by constant mental chatter) displacing the alpha range where creativity, innovation and wellbeing is promoted.
As we looked at in the last blog, alpha wave patterns reinforced through practices like meditation help balance an overactive mind, promoting creativity, the sense of connection and well-being. Neuro-chemicals (bio-chemicals produced by brain neurons located in the brain, heart and gut) are associated with happiness and mood elevation, increased immunity to disease and improving a range of mental and physical conditions. These neurochemicals are also promoted generally by predominant alpha states and some other states as described below.
Among hundreds of neuro-chemicals that provide physicality to our sense of bliss, pleasure and wellbeing, only a portion have been studied. Of those, Christopher Bergland in his Psychology Today blog explains seven well studied ‘neurochemicals of happiness’. These chemicals produced in our body are promoted or inhibited according to mental states and certain activities, so that we can impact our body chemistry through our consciousness and lifestyle. Also note that genrally, natural production is inhibited by drugs and alcohol as well as lack of physical activity or exercise.
- Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule” Our body has its own cannabinoid system, producing endocannabinoids that work via CB-1 and CB-2 receptors. “Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.” It is likely that we self-produce just as many variations of endocannabinoids as the 85 cannabinoids isolated from the Cannabis plant but it will take neuroscientists decades to isolate them.
A University of Arizona study, published in April 2012, shows that humans and dogs have significantly higher endocannabinoid readings following sustained running. Because “other research focused on the blood–brain barrier (BBB), has shown that endorphin molecules are too large to pass freely across the BBB”, suggests these naturally produced cannabinoids are likely responsible for the blissful state of runner’s ‘high’.
- Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule” “Every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. If you want to get a hit of dopamine, set a goal and achieve it.”
Many addictive drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and addictive behaviours like computer games, act directly on the dopamine system. There is also evidence that extroverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than introverted personality types. Bergland advises: “To feel more extroverted and uninhibited try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them”.
- Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule” Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding, increasing trust and loyalty, some studies suggesting correlation with romantic attachment. Some studies show that “lack of physical contact reduces oxytocin and drives the feeling of longing to bond with that person again.” There is debate that ivasopressin (a close cousin to oxytocin) may actually be the “bonding molecule” , especially in men. Either way, skin-to-skin contact, affection, love making and intimacy and these bonding hormones are associated with the physicality of the ‘warm fuzzies’ we feel from companionship.
In these times of digital devices and isolated lifestyles reducing physical interaction, “it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and ‘tribal’ connections within your community.” Quality family and friend time, team and contact sports, group or buddy activities are all important human bonds and release oxytocin. “If you don’t have another human being to offer you affection and increase oxytocin your favourite pet can also do the trick”.
- Endorphin: “The Pain-Killing Molecule” The name Endorphin translates into ‘self-produced morphine’. “Endorphins resemble opiates in their chemical structure and have analgesic properties. Endorphins are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse and orgasm. Make these pursuits a part of your regular life to keep the endorphins pumping.”
“In 1999, clinical researchers reported that inserting acupuncture needles into specific body points triggers the production of endorphins. In another study, higher levels of endorphins were found in cerebrospinal fluid after patients underwent acupuncture. Acupuncture is a terrific way to stimulate the release of endorphins.”
- GABA: “The Anti-Anxiety Molecule” “GABA is an inhibitory molecule that slows down the firing of neurons and creates a sense of calmness.” Not surprisingly, it can be increased by practicing yoga or meditation. Many sedatives and anti-anxiety medications work by increasing GABA. “A study from the ‘Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine‘ found a 27% increase in GABA levels among yoga practitioners after a 60-minute yoga session when compared against participants who read a book for 60 minutes. The study suggests yoga might increase GABA levels naturally.”
- Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule” Serotonin plays many different roles in our bodies. Many studies associate higher serotonin levels with self-esteem, increased feelings of worthiness and a sense of belonging. Bergland suggests “to increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Being able to say “I did it!” will produce a feedback loop that will reinforce behaviours that build self esteem and make you less insecure and create an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.”
Popular anti-depressants called Serotonin-Specific Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) — like Prozac, Zoloft, etc. are prescribed for clinical depression, anxiety, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, “how anti-depressants work in each person’s brain varies greatly and is not fully understood by scientists or researchers.”
- Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule” Adrenaline, or epinephrine, is central to the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. When released in your system, it is exhilarating, creating a surge in energy, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and increased blood flow to larger muscles. An ‘adrenaline rush’ comes with a limbic brain sense of fear or mortal danger. “It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous.” Short rapid breathing with muscle contraction can stimulate adrenaline in small healthy doses.
However, many people with chronic stress, anxiety or fear can have exhausted adrenals which can recover with prolonged relaxation away from environmental, situational or dietary stresses. Bergland warns ‘Adrenaline Junkies’ to try balancing “potentially harmful novelty-seeking by focusing on behaviours that will make you feel good by releasing other neurochemicals on this list.”
Bergland concludes that this list of 7 neurochemicals can be used as a “rudimentary checklist to take inventory of your daily habits and to keep your life balanced. By focusing on lifestyle choices that secrete each of these neurochemicals you will increase your odds of happiness across the board.”
Deepak Chopra M.D., in his blog “How Meditation Helps Your Immune System Do its Job”, discusses how since the ‘80s, we have begun to understand the intelligence of the immune system. “It became known as ‘a floating brain’ because of the ability of immune cells to participate in the chemical messages sent by the brain throughout the body. This means that your thoughts, moods, sensations, and expectations are transmitted to your immune cells.” Chopra also makes a point in his lectures that there are receptors for these chemical messengers in all the cells of the body, so that the whole body is in on the physical response and mirroring of your state of being.
Chopra in his article, draws attention to the studied and important changes that occur when you meditate:
- Your immune system responds to both negative and positive thoughts
- Meditation creates a positive mental environment for the immune system to flourish, this study showed a reduction of pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.
- A UCLA study shows that HIV positive patients who practice mindful meditation slow down the reduction of their CD-4 cell count. These are the immune cells that are associated with keeping the virus from propagating.
- Meditation boosts antibodies. A recent study confirmed that, after weekly meditation training for 8 weeks, 48 biotech workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the control group (coworkers who didn’t meditate) as well as higher levels than before the study.
- Meditation stimulates immune system brain-function regions. Mindfulness meditation has shown increases in electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus, all parts that control positive emotions, awareness, and anxiety. These brain regions act as command centres for your immune system. When stimulated, they make the immune system function more effectively.
Chopra concludes: “These findings bring into focus a clear message: Your response to potential illness, as managed by the immune system, improves with meditation. This is in keeping with another strong message. Being susceptible to chronic disorders like type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure, conditions that are not the result of invading microbes, is also reduced through meditation. The entire mind-body system is brought into a natural state of balance, the key to what I’ve called the higher health.”
The science of brain waves and body chemistry is revealing we are designed for happiness and wellbeing, and our chosen state of consciousness impacts this significantly. Our understanding is diminishing the boundary we once projected between mind and body. New models are suggesting brain and body are conduits for mind and consciousness. Such a view enables many meditators and other subjects studied to demonstrate high levels of mind and body control to reach optimal states to produce wellbeing and experiences of conscious awakening.
Conscious breathing, meditation and exercise done in quality inner body awareness all help to create balance and harmony as well as receptivity to new states of wellbeing for each of us personally. I hope some of the perspectives and suggestions above assist in your journey.
Additional recommended reading & reference: ECOC Institute name 141 Benefits of Meditation, each with some related studies https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/141-benefits-of–meditation/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_InK8P_J2AIV2wYqCh1QIwrHEAAYAiAAEgLuBPD_BwE