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THE HEALING POWER OF THAT WHICH IS FREE!

by timetospa April 11, 2013
THE HEALING POWER OF THAT WHICH IS FREE!

Akin with our theme of self-knowledge, the healing power of that which is free is like a magic potion made of those warm and fuzzy things in life that are available to us all - love, laughter, creativity and tuning into nature. So what is it about all four of these activities that is so healing? Simply this: to experience love, laughter, creativity and the profundity of the natural world, you must be present, right here, right now. Next time you feel great love, or you laugh so hard your belly hurts or you suddenly have an idea and a deep desire to express it in some way, note how there is no stress, regret or fear involved and note how content you are. This is because you are in the moment, living intuitively and letting life flow through you instead trying (in vain) to direct it. In the ‘moment,’ neither past nor future can reside, so love, laughter and creativity put you in touch with your most spontaneous and most powerful self. If there are three activities that can help us on our quest of self knowledge, it must be these free things. Knowing what you love, knowing what makes you laugh and knowing and understanding how creativity moves through you. Who knew your quest for self knowledge was going to be such fun?

 

THE HEALING POWER OF LOVE

In the arena of emotions, love is the undefeated heavyweight champion. Who knew a simple four letter word would be the world’s centerpiece and the most profound human emotion. The impact of love is immeasurable and it has left a significant imprint on humankind throughout the ages, be it through artwork, famous writings, or simply every day life. Amid the dynamic nature of human beings, love is the constant, enduring emotion that is sacredly preserved in our core. From the moment we are born, bonds are established with our caretakers and the need for belonging and companionship continues to grow and blossom throughout our lives. You might recall Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs. Whether human needs unfold in a hierarchal order is still in question, however, it is quite logical to understand why Maslow identified the human need for a sense of belonging and acceptance as being essential for development. He believed that humans require intimacy and they need to love and be loved, sexually and non-sexually, and that a lack of these connections could lead to loneliness and depression, which in turn can lead to physical illness.

Yet not all love is created equally. Elaine Hatfield, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii, who has studied love since the 1960s, identified two types of love: compassionate and passionate. Compassionate love is defined by mutual respect, attachment, affection and trust, developing from feelings of mutual understanding and shared respect for one another. Compassionate love is the more enduring type of intimacy that offers long-term physical and emotional rewards.

The more thrilling type of love, known as passionate love, is typically defined by intense emotions, sexual attraction and infatuation. Passionate love involves consuming emotions where one might experience euphoria, elation and sometimes even anxiety because the feelings can be so overwhelming. The intensity of the passion is usually short-lived, typically lasting between six months and 30 months. However, passionate love can evolve into a compassionate relationship, which is the ideal scenario for most people. Our popular culture suggests that we must have both passionate and compassionate love always and forever in order to be fulfilled, a concept that often results in disappointment when reality doesn’t always match the ideal. Having both types of love in perpetuity is definitely the preferred option; however, Hatfield believes this is rare due to the short life span of passionate love in the majority of relationships.

In terms of how both types of love affect physical and mental health, the experience of a close, loving, tender relationship, along with intimacy and sexual satisfaction, has several therapeutic benefits. Physiologically, our bodies respond to love and affection by oxytocin, known as the “love” hormone. Most of our oxytocin is made in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus. Oxytocin makes us feel good when family and loved ones are around, acting through what scientists call the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a crucial part in how we perceive pleasure and is responsible for producing the brain’s feel-good state following certain stimulants, like eating chocolate, for example. In addition to the feel-good factor, oxytocin is also said to lower stress hormone levels in the body, which can help reduce blood pressure, enhance our mood, and even increase tolerance for pain. A recent study conducted by Stanford University suggests that intense, passionate feelings of love can dramatically reduce pain, similar to the effect of painkillers. The study consisted of 15 students who were in the early stages of their relationships, i.e., the passionate love stage. The subjects underwent tests which consisted of looking at pictures of their partner or an attractive acquaintance, along with distracting tasks like word-associations. Whilst looking at the pictures of their beloved, scientists administered moderate doses of pain and scanned the subjects’ brains to measure their responses to pain. Results showed that love and distraction both reduced pain, but through different pathways. The distraction aspect used cognitive pathways, whilst the romance or picture viewing triggered a surge in the reward pathway, working similarly to that of an analgesic.

Many love studies focus on married couples, like the 2007 Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report that found that married people are generally happier, live longer, drink less and even have fewer doctor’s appointments than unmarried people. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, who has been publishing several studies on social relationships and their influence on health and disease, finds that loving spouses tend to encourage preventive care, reinforce healthful behaviors such as exercise and flossing, and dissuade unhealthful ones, such as heavy drinking, according to many studies. Romantic relationships also can provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life that can translate to better self-care and less risk taking, Holt-Lunstad says.

Do not fret if you are not in love and instead have found fulfillment in your current pursuits and marital status. Whilst connections with others are important, it’s also quite meaningful, necessary and healthy to form a good relationship with yourself.

THE HEALING POWER OF LAUGHTER

Few things can lift the spirit like a gut-busting belly laugh! The easiest and most convenient way to feel uplifted whilst reducing stress is through the indisputable power of laughter. Even in times of utter despair, no matter what challenges life doles out, we will always muster a good laugh again eventually. Laughter is a universal manifestation of feeling happy or amused, and it is also a way to bond, as the act of laughing is often shared with others. It helps us connect with one another and releases all sorts of feel-good therapy to keep us balanced and bring the level of intensity down a notch, which is always a welcome reprieve.

The benefits of humor are no laughing matter either. In fact, there is actually a treatment called humor therapy (laugh therapy) which uses laughter for the relief of physical or emotional pain and stress. Hospitals utilize humor therapy by enlisting volunteers to visit patients for the purpose of making them laugh, and some cancer treatment centers offer humor therapy in addition to standard treatments, according to the American Cancer Society.

One of the most notable beneficiaries of humor therapy was Norman Cousins, an American editor and author. Cousins claimed that laughter helped him defeat a life-threatening collagen illness, for which doctors gave him a slim chance of survival in the 1960’s. Upon researching his illness, Cousins devised his own recovery plan which included laughter, love, hope, and vitamin C, which he found was beneficial for his condition. He chronicled his recovery in his best-selling book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration. In his book, Cousins wrote, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” Several years after defeating his collagen illness, Cousins survived a heart attack and wrote another book about his recovery and experience. After years of conquering illnesses and defeating the odds, Cousins died in 1990 at the age of 75 of cardiac arrest, having lived years longer than doctors had predicted. Cousins’ story, albeit fascinating and inspiring, is not devoid of criticism, nor is it a recommended course of treatment. However, the possibility of the healing benefits of laughter shouldn’t be underestimated.

There is a growing number of studies that suggest laughter is packed with therapeutic potential. Researchers at the University of Oxford conducted a study where the pain thresholds of participants were tested to see how laughter affects resistance to pain. The volunteers were divided into two groups where one group was shown comedy videos whilst the other was shown programs that would provoke a more neutral, feel-good emotional response. The study showed that volunteers who watched the funny videos and experienced belly laughs were able to withstand up to 10% more pain than they could before watching the videos. The other group, however, was less capable of withstanding pain after watching the more neutral, feel-good programming. This finding suggests that it is the endorphine-activating effects of laughter itself that is important, not just the feel-good factor. Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University led the research and believes that uncontrollable laughter releases endorphins which generates mild euphoria and decreases pain.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine conducted a similar study to measure the effect of emotions on cardiovascular health. Results showed that laughter can cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to expand in order to increase blood flow. For those who watched stressful movie clips, the blood flow was reduced. Since the endothelium is the first line in the development of hardening of the arteries, the study results suggest that laughing can help maintain a healthy endothelium, and in turn reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, the researchers witnessed a change in the endothelium that is similar to that of aerobic activity. The American Cancer Society also cites the physical effects of laughter on the body to include increased breathing, increased oxygen use, short-term changes in hormones and certain neurotransmitters, and increased heart rate. So go ahead and LOLLOLLOL! It will brighten your day and maybe even make your cardiovascular health smile.

THE HEALING POWER OF NATURE

According to his memoir,* one of Carl Gustav Jung’s (1875 –1961) earliest and most interesting relationships was with a large stone. The boy that would become the founder of analytical psychology would sit on this stone whenever he was alone and play an imaginary game. “I am sitting on this stone and it is underneath me.” He wondered if the rock was thinking “I am lying here on this slope and he is sitting on top of me”. Then the most poignant question of all: “Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?” While most shrug off young Jung’s question as the typical psychotic imaginings of a nine year old, he was questioning the assumptions of our metaphysical reality. Where does reality lie? Does everything become the subject in its own world? Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire had a similar conundrum while walking in his garden. As he was looking at the various fruits and thinking about the act of pollination, his mind pondered how the bee and the flowering plants have co-evolved together - the plant making itself more attractive to the bee, and the bee reciprocating, totally mesmerized and drawn to the sweet nectar. After a long line of reasoning he ended up with a question: “Did I choose to plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it?” For Pollan, the answer is probably yes to both. He goes on: “I can remember the exact moment that spud seduced me, showing off its knobby charms in the pages of a seed catalog.”

These two human/natural world relationships show us that there can be profound connectedness with the world around us, whether that takes the form of a stone, vegetation or moving things, like insects, animals and humans. But one thing is quite certain: the more connected we feel to others, whatever their form, the happier, more alive and safer we feel. The questions posed by these two nature lovers gives rise to all sorts of other questions about age old assumptions that emphasize humanity’s masterful place in the universe. Could we actually be the servants of nature, performing tasks of pollination and selection, thinking we are in control when in fact we are being called to perform our duty by the sensuous nature of the cabbage, carrot or ear of corn? Oh my.

Regardless of whether you agree with Jung and Pollan’s anthropomorphic tendencies or not, each of us have experienced the beauty of the natural world at some point or another. It is the quiet; the tranquillity; the bold colors. It is the sensuous feeling of the wind in your hair; the grass beneath your feet; the sun on your skin. It is the subtle singing of the mourning dove; waves splashing on the shore. And it is the quieting down of your ego, so that you are more aware of the subtle sensuous healing powers nature offers all, without prejudice. It is only when we are quiet that awareness of how deeply interconnected we are becomes apparent. Often this is just through a feeling of great contentment and other times through insightful concepts; like how every single one of us all share the same breath (at some point) and that sometimes we are, to this day, breathing in the carbon of dinosaurs that still persist in the atmosphere even millions of years after their extinction.

According to Jung the healing power of nature is found in the fact that it speaks to us on our most primordial and instinctual levels. And the more time we spend in nature, the more we may share in an ancient unlearned knowledge and encourage our own unlearned, intuitive, most fundamental voice to emerge. In this way, nature heals – because through it we become more in touch with our own nature, more content and more authentic.

And let’s face it, as modern life becomes more mechanical and orderly, our own creative juices can become suppressed. The result of this is a life that has the motions of living, without experiencing the joy of it. Joie de vivre (joy of life) is the result of allowing life to move through you, to let it flow like a river effortlessly from one circumstance to another. It is the ultimate nowness, even amid the human fixation with the past and the future.

THE HEALING POWER OF NATURE

According to his memoir,* one of Carl Gustav Jung’s (1875 –1961) earliest and most interesting relationships was with a large stone. The boy that would become the founder of analytical psychology would sit on this stone whenever he was alone and play an imaginary game. “I am sitting on this stone and it is underneath me.” He wondered if the rock was thinking “I am lying here on this slope and he is sitting on top of me”. Then the most poignant question of all: “Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?” While most shrug off young Jung’s question as the typical psychotic imaginings of a nine year old, he was questioning the assumptions of our metaphysical reality. Where does reality lie? Does everything become the subject in its own world? Michael Pollan, author of Botany of Desire had a similar conundrum while walking in his garden. As he was looking at the various fruits and thinking about the act of pollination, his mind pondered how the bee and the flowering plants have co-evolved together - the plant making itself more attractive to the bee, and the bee reciprocating, totally mesmerized and drawn to the sweet nectar. After a long line of reasoning he ended up with a question: “Did I choose to plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it?” For Pollan, the answer is probably yes to both. He goes on: “I can remember the exact moment that spud seduced me, showing off its knobby charms in the pages of a seed catalog.”

These two human/natural world relationships show us that there can be profound connectedness with the world around us, whether that takes the form of a stone, vegetation or moving things, like insects, animals and humans. But one thing is quite certain: the more connected we feel to others, whatever their form, the happier, more alive and safer we feel. The questions posed by these two nature lovers gives rise to all sorts of other questions about age old assumptions that emphasize humanity’s masterful place in the universe. Could we actually be the servants of nature, performing tasks of pollination and selection, thinking we are in control when in fact we are being called to perform our duty by the sensuous nature of the cabbage, carrot or ear of corn? Oh my.

Regardless of whether you agree with Jung and Pollan’s anthropomorphic tendencies or not, each of us have experienced the beauty of the natural world at some point or another. It is the quiet; the tranquillity; the bold colors. It is the sensuous feeling of the wind in your hair; the grass beneath your feet; the sun on your skin. It is the subtle singing of the mourning dove; waves splashing on the shore. And it is the quieting down of your ego, so that you are more aware of the subtle sensuous healing powers nature offers all, without prejudice. It is only when we are quiet that awareness of how deeply interconnected we are becomes apparent. Often this is just through a feeling of great contentment and other times through insightful concepts; like how every single one of us all share the same breath (at some point) and that sometimes we are, to this day, breathing in the carbon of dinosaurs that still persist in the atmosphere even millions of years after their extinction.

According to Jung the healing power of nature is found in the fact that it speaks to us on our most primordial and instinctual levels. And the more time we spend in nature, the more we may share in an ancient unlearned knowledge and encourage our own unlearned, intuitive, most fundamental voice to emerge. In this way, nature heals – because through it we become more in touch with our own nature, more content and more authentic.

And let’s face it, as modern life becomes more mechanical and orderly, our own creative juices can become suppressed. The result of this is a life that has the motions of living, without experiencing the joy of it. Joie de vivre (joy of life) is the result of allowing life to move through you, to let it flow like a river effortlessly from one circumstance to another. It is the ultimate nowness, even amid the human fixation with the past and the future.

THE HEALING POWER OF CREATIVITY

Have you ever watched a group of kids play? You see a playground, but they see a castle, a ship, or a forest filled with unicorns and monsters. You see a slide; they see a transporter into outer space. Kids can harness their creativity in less time than it takes for a cab to honk its horn after a light turns green in New York City.

As we get older, we’re told that rational thinking must prevail, so creativity is halted in its footprints and we trudge forward, rational minds in a rational society. Except the world isn’t really rational. It’s creative, with rationalism tossed on top of it like bacon bits on a spinach salad. Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

The “gift” of intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without the use of reason. The word comes from the Latin word intueru, translated as to “look inside” or to “contemplate.” That’s what we do when we’re being creative, no matter what that form takes, from the skilled artist to the finger painting child. This “look inside” is part of the reason why creativity can be so healing.

“Creativity allows people to express emotions in a format that they can control,” said Rob Dobrenski, Ph.D., licensed Psychologist in New York City and the author of Crazy: Notes on and off the Couch. “Issues such as depression and anxiety benefit from being articulated, but not everyone thrives in a traditional ‘talk therapy’ environment. Alternative means, such as drawing, story-telling, painting and journaling, allow people to get not only a cathartic release of emotions, but also can give a sense of control and pride in the work itself.”

Luke Verhelst, an artist and art instructor from Sydney, NSW, Australia, said that even the act of being creative is healing. “You focus all your attention on a single task, your goal is clear and achievable, all extraneous thoughts are removed and only those directed towards your task remain,” said Verhelst. “Your brain focuses on productive alpha waves, your heart rate slows and breathing becomes more regular, blood pressure drops and your internals get the chance to balance your electrolytes, COCO2, sugar, and other levels. Both physically and mentally you are healing and repairing yourself.” So, being creative is healing, but what if you don’t consider yourself creative? The best advice: Try! You are more creative than you might think.

“Those who are less creative usually come from an environment where creativity was discouraged,” said Verhelst. “In order to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs. As Einstein pointed out, you don’t learn much from getting things right, but you learn a lot from making mistakes. People who are more creative are not more intellectual or cultural than others, but pay more attention and are able to see patterns. These patterns can be visual, as with fine art, or sound patterns, as in music, or numeric patterns, as in the sciences. Highly creative people like Einstein and Da Vinci are those who were rewarded for their creativity, not discouraged for making mistakes.”

Verhelst said that an easy way to start being creative is to keep a journal, either written or visual, so that your ideas don’t get away. Too much of a challenge? Then bake some bread.

“Touch is one of the strongest senses and links back to our very core thought processes,” said Verhelst. “Even the repetitive act of molding something, like bread dough, has a soothing effect with the alpha waves it induces. Shape and form also have primitive links and can express strong emotions.”

And after you’ve alpha waved all of that bread dough, make a nice big sandwich and appreciate your creation. Eating creatively is healing too – and don’t forget to share.

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