The understanding of the effects of diet and lifestyle on our health and well-being has come a long way. People are very aware of the food they put in to their bodies and are concerned about radiation, pollution and climate change. Consciousness of the fabrics we wear, cosmetics applied to our skin and even the materials we build our homes with is on the rise.
We are actually affected by everything around us, what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Sitting down to dinner in front of the news, even if it is a delicious meal of organic produce, will weaken the digestive process. Absorbing a smattering of violence and negativity along with our meal creates a level of stress which compromises the immune system.
In Ayurveda, Rasayana is a term for a substance which strengthens immunity and includes many types of food and herbal preparations. Ayurveda also recognises the value of behavioural rasayanas; actions that nourish the mind and body and support the immune system.
Behavioural Rasayanas include love, compassion, uplifting speech, moderation and simplicity. Anger, violence, hurtful speech and dishonesty are understood to create damage in the mind and body.
While Modern medicine may not prescribe behavioural Rasayanas, there is the understanding that emotions can influence our health. The limbic system is our emotional centre and through the hypothalamus, regulates temperature, hunger, thirst, growth, sleep and emotional states.
Impacted on by stimuli from the senses, the immune system, cognitive information and our emotions, the limbic region of the brain causes the hypothalamus to release a wide variety of neuropeptides.
Neuropeptides create an effect on the whole body. Emotions such as anger and hate release a surge of neurochemicals that can cause stress and damage while positive emotions such as love and appreciation release health promoting chemicals.
If the awareness is dominated by sensory overload, the capacity of the mind is limited to the surface value. Recent studies show that there is less activation in children’s frontal brain regions, relating to cognitive function and emotional control, following a week of playing violent computer games.
In comparison, when the awareness spends time at deeper levels of the mind, experienced during transcending, hidden brain reserves are accessed and we are able to utilise more of our brain potential. It is like expanding out storage capacity so we don’t feel overwhelmed by the day to day busyness and challenges of life.
Spending time in nature also nourishes the mind and body and “forest bathing” a term coined in Japan in the 1980s has become an activity promoted by health professionals and backed up by scientific studies. Research shows spending time in nature has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce levels of cortisol.
Cultivating awareness of what we do and understanding the effects of experiences on ourselves helps us to make more life supporting choices. If we are exposed to violence and aggression, whether it is in a film, a game or in real life, the experience will have to be processed by the limbic system in much the same way as junk food or alcohol is metabolised, ultimately putting a strain on the physiology.
We need to both be conscious of what we put in as well as giving ourselves some quiet time to process the ever increasing overload of information.