We are familiar with the fight or flight reaction (which also includes freeze.) In this well-studied instinctive response, mammals get ready to deal with danger or stress by striking out, running away or becoming very still to avoid provocation. Blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, digestive system shuts down, liver releases glucose to muscles, pupils widen. We react very quickly and become momentarily less sensitive to pain. All the body’s energy is mobilized to defend against the threat (real or imagined). Our bodies become more powerful than normal (like Popeye) due to this power drink of hormones and neurotransmitters.
A physiological pattern at other end of the spectrum that has been neglected by scientists is the system for calming and connecting. This state of being is associated with trust and curiosity. The heart and circulation system slow down, and digestion gets back to work. The calm and connection response is just as important for human (mammal) survival. When we feel peace, we let our defenses down and feel more sensitive, open and interested in others around us. In this state we rest, re-charge, heal, grow and store energy for later use. We have greater creativity and problem solving abilities.
For most of us, challenging circumstances outweigh comforting circumstances. The fast pace of daily life, pressure to achieve, flood of information, competition, as well as an unending barrage of sights, smells and especially sounds is constant. Nonstop demands create nearly-constant stress. The fight or flight reaction is activated so continuously, it becomes our norm and we often adapt by not even noticing how stressed we are.
Less commonly do we experience quiet rest, companionship, tenderness and pleasure.
However, we can consciously choose to initiate our calm and connection systems.
Some things that will encourage calm and connection:
A warm bath, lying in the sun, meditation, listening to beautiful music, eating a delicious meal slowly, being in nature, a leisurely walk, visiting with friends.
If you are an Alexander student, Constructive Rest. Taking a moment to think and feel spacious, particularly in your head/neck balance. Taking a moment to extend your exhales, and notice torso space and mobility.
Bring awareness to your whole being and invite softness, even in activity. Invite curiosity. Allow your self to just be.
Touch is one of the strongest sources of input to the calm and connection response. Hug your friends. Cuddle with someone. Have a massage, or come to an Alexander lesson.
Bringing out feelings of contentment in yourself is as important to well being as getting things done!