Be a Cheerleader
When I ran in the London marathon two years ago the thing that most bowled me over was the immense generous energy and kindness of the crowds. These masses of marathon spectators handed out sweets and water and went hoarse with calling out names and motivational words. They poured out kindness and encouragement unconditionally to total strangers.
It moved me. It kept me going. It reminded me of the importance of being other people’s cheer leaders. Of the huge power of encouragement and positivity for others.
This energetic current of encouragement and connection stuck with me.
People asked me why I looked so strangely invigorated when I finished the 26.2 mile slog (I’m not super fit!), my explanation: I was awash with Oxytocin. I ran the whole 26.2 miles grinning from ear to ear, in awe of the loving energy and human connection I was immersed in.
Compassion and Kindness can change the world. Compassion and Kindness can also change us.
One act of kindness can create a ripple effect, like dropping a pebble in a pond, the ripple spreads out to everyone and everything around you.
When we display kindness or compassion towards someone, we feel happy because the act of human connection produces the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is well known for its role in connection: childbirth, breastfeeding and the early stages of intimate and loving relationships. That’s why these types of relationships create monogamy or bonding. It is oxytocin that produces elevated emotions that cause your heart to swell with love and joy
When oxytocin levels are elevated above normal, most people experience intense feelings of love, forgiveness, compassion, joy, wholeness, and empathy.
At a community level and a cellular level, supporting others, connecting with each other and encouraging each other unconditionally can help us to experience immense joy and satisfaction.
Hard to put a price on this powerful inner state.
In his book The Relaxation Response, Dr. Benson explains that regular practice of the Relaxation Response is a clinically proven treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders, as it counteracts the physiological effects of stress and the fight or flight response.
Dr. Herbert Benson- professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute defined the ‘Relaxation Respsonse’ as your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain.
The fight or flight stress response occurs naturally when we think that we are under excessive pressure, and it is designed to protect us from bodily harm. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes immediately engaged in creating a number of physiological changes, including increased metabolism, blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, dilation of pupils, constriction of our blood vessels, all that work to enable us to fight or flee from a stressful or dangerous situation.
It is common for individuals experiencing the fight or flight response to describe uncomfortable physiological changes like muscle tension, headache, upset stomach, racing heartbeat, and shallow breathing. The fight or flight response can become harmful when elicited frequently. When high levels of stress hormones are secreted often, they can contribute to a number of stress-related medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, GI diseases, adrenal fatigue, and more.
The Relaxation Response is a helpful way to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels.
Dr. Benson describes the Relaxation Response as a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the other part of our nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that regular use of the Relaxation Response can help any health problem that is caused or exacerbated by chronic stress such as fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ailments, insomnia, hypertension, anxiety disorders, and others.
There are many methods to elicit the Relaxation Response including visualisation, hypnotic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing techniques, prayer, meditation and mindfulness. True relaxation can also be achieved by removing yourself from everyday thought and by choosing a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or by focusing on your breathing.
One of the most valuable things we can do in life is to learn deep relaxation- making an effort to spend some time every day quieting our minds in order to create inner peace and better health.
The best time to practice the Relaxation Response is first thing in the morning for ten to twenty minutes. Practicing just once or twice daily can be enough to counteract the stress response and bring about deep relaxation and inner peace.
Following is the Relaxation Response technique taken directly from Dr. Herbert Benson’s book The Relaxation Response.
Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed. [Relax your tongue—and thoughts will cease.]
- Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word “one”* silently to yourself. For example, breathe in, and then out, and say “one”*, in and out, and repeat “one.”* Breathe easily and naturally.
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
- Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace.
When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “one.”*
- With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.
*Choose any soothing, mellifluous sounding word, preferably with no meaning or association, in order to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts.