Overwhelmingly, a factor known to create illness and unwellness is stress. As a process of learned associations is developed from infancy we develop habits of knowing, feeling, thinking and responding and this is now known to impact very deeply even effecting our DNA.
Elizabeth Blackburn, who I must add at this point is an Australian Nobel Prize Winner and a female scientist – conducted research into telomeres (essentially the caps on the end of our DNA that keeps it together) and also discovered a very important enzyme telomerase that has an impact on genetic integrity. Very long (and complicated) story short, she found that every time our cells divide and get copied it breaks down our telomeres and they shorten, which means our cells breakdown, and this is how we age. This process however, is accelerated by stress and the domino effect of making us more vulnerable to illness. This news in and of itself raised my pulse rate but … what we also know and is more and more scientifically evidenced, is stress can be reduced with practices that essentially create an opportunity for the Mind/Body/Brain to effect a relaxation response – to be calm, quiet, still and mindful.
Trauma and Stress
Of course, research into these more subjective components of wellness remain limited. Pharmacological industries that provide much of the funding in health prefer studies that will support the use of drugs for obvious reasons. Neuroscience however is beginning to bridge the gap, expending enormous energy into the – can I call it – MBB phenomena. The treatment of trauma is an area that is providing a wealth of evidenced based research that clearly demonstrates how accessing the autonomic nervous system and purposefully engaging the para-sympathetic system reduces stress and allows more opportunity to slow down the automatic-ness of procedural learning.
This is an area for further discussion but the work of Bessell Van der Kolk, demonstrates that the key to understanding trauma is the connection between the brain and the body. Trauma cannot be “talked” out of the body. According to Van der Kolk what is of great importance is rebuilding a relationship with the body. Again practices that create calm, a sense of safety and pay close attention to physiological responses in the body, such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness, are highly effective as they make the MBB feel calm and integrated. In this state, people can then access parts of more executive functioning in the brain that were hi-jacked by the trauma.
For me these findings and emergence into dominant scientific narrative, are very exciting and provide hope for many people we work with and for ourselves. Happy to discuss further. I’m off to lengthen my telomeres. Take care.