Several weeks ago, on Martha’s Vineyard, I attended a talk on Depressionm, Stress & Compassion Meditation given by Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, from Emory Univeristy’s Institute of Tibetan Studies. The gist of the talk: the pressures and habits of daily life all too often activate our flight and fight response. Compassion Meditation helps reduce modern stress.
One point made, which I would like to offer here, is chewing. Take time to chew your food. Macrobiotics recommend chewing food 50-100 times. Too, so do the stress & inflammation studies.
Eating fast—particularly eating protein (macros do not usually eat red meat) activates the fight and flight hormones, which ready the body for attack and action. Eating fast makes the body act as if it is under threat; soon to be attacked.
You can’t imagine why eating fast would signal an imminent attack? Here’s the picture: Human hunters who just killed a buffalo eat their catch quickly
while looking over their shoulders for possible attackers who want to take their meat & probably kill them, too. The men have to stuff in a lot of food fast and cut off pieces of the animal to run back to the cave for the women & kids. The fast eating activates Cortisol, the fight and flight hormone, which the hunters need to survive and to guarantee the survival of their tribe.
When we eat fast, it’s not a life-death situation. Most often its a habit. Nonetheless, our bodies produce the cortisol, which causes inflammation, which then signals our adrenals get ready to release adrenaline and signals our immune system to get going. The response to stress–in this case the stress that results from the nonexistent attack that requires fast gobbling and swallowing–requires a lot of energy: heart beat increases; blood moves faster to get the muscles ready for action; the immune system sends out soldiers to fight possible infections. Our bodies, revved up to go but go nowhere. We’re sitting at a table having dinner.
So if you are not already doing so, eat slowly.
As far as the compassion meditation: Compassionate meditation reconditions our thoughts about “danger.” We begin to create new pathways to allow our systems to reduce impressions of danger. The example given above–about the hunters and meat–show how our primitive brain continues to influence our modern life. as a result of how our brains, evolved we all have an “old” primitive, emotional brain and a “new” rational brain. Their are lots of pathways from the old to the new brain; it’s easy to get hijacked into losing the ability to reason. Things like stress, just happen. There are fewer pathways from the new to the old brain. So even though we do not face life and death threats , our old brain still kicks in when we do things like eat fast.
The basis of compassion meditation is creating loving relationships and developing social connectivity. By doing we will create pathways to the emotional brain.
The Emory Study has six steps, which I will mention here. If you want to learn more, please visit their site ( listed below)
- Develop Attention- learn the basics of mindful breathing so that you can begin to step out of your usual thought patterns.
- Develop Compassion for Oneself-become aware of how thoughts and actions contribute to feeling of happiness; destructive thoughts and feelings contribute to unhealthiness.
- Cultivate Equanimity–rather than put people in categories ( enemy, stranger, bad, good) we realize all want to be happy.
- Develop Affection and Empathy-see all others as your mother or as your child.
- Wishing and Aspirational Compassion for all Beings
- Active Compassion- ask yourself ‘how can I help others?”
Check out the The Emory-Tibet Partnership doing research on Stress, Depression & Compassion Meditation. Their researchers claim: Compassion meditation “is the world’s most radical training in re-envisioning one’s social surroundings as being supporting and caring rather than threatening and dangerous.”
EMORY UNIVERSITY COMPASSION RESEARCH :http://www.international.emory.edu/emory_online/feat_emwisoeos.html
DREPUNG LOSELING MONESTARY http://www.drepung.org/
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