Author: Dr. Ayşegül Çoruhlu / Source: Oksiyen E-News (in Turkish)
Translation: Nalan Özkan Lecerf
When you read about meditation, there will be those who say, ’It’s not for me’. I am also one of them. But knowing what it changes at the cellular level and learning what the state of meditation can bring to you can change your perspective on it.
Joining international ‘longevity’ congresses I see that the ‘healing effect of meditation‘ is becoming as important as the effect of sports on health. So, let’s see what’s going on in our body when we meditate.
We should start with the two basic functioning systems of the body: the sympathetic and parasympathetic system. These are two separate buttons of our nervous system.
Pressing the sympathetic system button puts the body into a ‘fight or flight’ mode at the cellular level. It is an emergency mode in which all survival processes are activated to the maximum. Under normal circumstances this system should be on a short-term circuit when there is a ‘real’ problem that needs to be dealt with. This is how the body’s mind reacts on ‘daily life’.
The parasympathetic system is the opposite. If there is no problem, the repair-recovery system comes into play. It is the body’s deep mind that is asleep at night.
Describing the sympathetic system, I called it the emergency mode. We get into this state when there is stress, such as psychological or illness stress.
What happens in the brain and our cells when the sympathetic system is active?
When we are in the sympathetic mode the neural electrical messages in the brain are ‘scattered’. Having too many thoughts, doing a lot of work at the same time, feeling a lot of opposite emotions simultaneously dissipates the flow of electricity in the brain. Let’s look at this with a metaphor: Let the electric currents inside our brain be our hair. Let’s imagine that our hair is in a tangle that has never been combed and therefore gone in separate directions. This is the flow of electricity in the sympathetic system of the brain.
Depending on the amount of stress caused by the way of us perceiving the external stimuli, that hair becomes even more tangled. The more stress the more entanglement of the hair. The flow of electricity is unfocused and scattered. Chemicals such as cortisol, glutamate, which have a stimulating effect on the brain, are activated. Simply all the brain and cells are in a kind of ‘on’ mode. But cells do not like to be constantly stimulated. They must be ‘off’ again for the ‘internal balance’ that we call homeostasis. This is not possible if we are in a sympathetic mode.
The parasympathetic system is the combed state of this tangled hair. The directions of electrical messages in the brain should be ‘in the same direction’. We call it ‘being in coherence’. The brain which is in a state of coherence uses much less energy. It tends to complete recovery, detox and begins to scan the entire body like a detector.
Unless the tangle is detangled, communication between the brain and other organs, cells of the body is low. However, the brain must be able to reach them in order to detect sick cells in the body. This can not happen when you are in a sympathetic state. Because in this ’fight or flight’ mode the brain’s job is to deal with the heart, muscles, arms, legs and lungs. These are the organs that we need most in an emergency. But, for example, the digestive system has no urgency for the brain when it is in the fight–and-flight mode. Especially if you have organs with cells that need to be repaired, such as joint inflammation or eczema on the skin, it delays them thoroughly.
But our so-called ‘modern life’ creates for us a constant war-and-flight situation. To be more accurate, it creates our choices, our way of life, our reactions to events and most importantly, our thoughts.
How do we comb our entangled hair?
Our brains can’t distinguish if what we are thinking is real or an imagination. Our superior brain, a quantum computer being a masterpiece, has such a pathetic vice. It perceives all that you think as your reality. So for the brain, there is no difference between seeing an apple and just thinking about it. This weakness is both, our problem and our entry point for a solution.
We have thousands of thoughts during the day. 90 percent of them are similar to the thoughts from the previous day. After continuing like this for many years, these thoughts turn into beliefs. Many of these thoughts are also contradictive to each other. We want to sleep soundly, but we still have an excuse to go to bed late every night. We want to eat healthy, but we have a thousand reasons to postpone it. It is these ‘opposite’ thoughts that create the complexity of this tangle. The electrical flow of the brain is going in various directions. There is no coherence, no harmony. And that means being under chronic stress. We are always ‘on’, in a sympathetic mode.
That’s where meditation comes in. It makes you pull the plug, stop thinking.
People can be addicted to a lot of things like smoking, alcohol, drugs, sugar, etc. But our main common dependence is our thoughts. Everyone creates their own tangle. Thousand thoughts in the mind, all going into different directions. Meditation wants us to stop thinking. There can be no more difficult demand for those of us who are addicted to thinking. Most of us can’t drop it. But meditation wants to ‘reset external stimuli’ to make it easier. That is, being in a dark, quiet room, the eyes are closed. Why? Because when our eyes are open, we see everything that the light reflects. We hear voices. There’s a whole database out there. And the brain constantly perceives this data flow. Sitting in silence and darkness, at least, we limit the flow of unnecessary data coming from outside. So we’re just combing the tangle a little bit. The more we sit quietly, reducing our thoughts the more we comb the tangle without doing anything else. We are getting into coherence. Being in coherence, the parasympathetic system gets activated.
Being in the mode created by the parasympathetic system all cellular communication is at it’s maximum level. In this state, the brain can be aware of where and what is happening in your body, from head to toe. If necessary, it starts renewal and healing. In a state of meditation we can decrease our entangled and contradictive thoughts into a smaller number of focues thoughts that will work for us. From a medical point of view, being in parasympathetic activity is a kind of ‘reset’ button. It’s the reason we go to sleep at night. All cells reset at night. They should. But again, we do not allow this in modern life.
Now let’s figure out how to reset, how to stay in more parasympathetic activity. Let’s see what else besides sitting and waiting quietly we can do for the biochemistry to work:
• We need to start from sleep. A good night’s sleep is a real reset.
• It is necessary not to eat late at night. It’s easier to reset if we go to bed hungry.
• Not going to bed late is another necessity. Melatonin begins to climb at 9 p.m., so we should have gone to bed no later than 11 p.m. Melatonin is the hormone that shuts down the sympathetic system.
• Bright lights are an enemy of melatonin. Computer and mobile phone lights at night increase cortisol. Cortisol is the main enemy of the parasympathetic system. There is no reset when there is cortisol.
• Having the bedroom temperature on a lower level and sleeping in darkness is another point on the list.
• All processed food is the cause of cellular stress. It is garbage for cells. Garbage-fed cells (including the brain) cannot be reset. Sugar in particular disrupts the brain’s electricity. Unprocessed plant-based food, seeds, spices, fat regulate electricity. Increase your intake of those during the day, but stay in a state of fasting at night.
• Leafy green vegetables contain magnesium. Magnesium is the simplest and easiest reset. Taking magnesium before sleep puts us easier into the parasympathetic mode all night long. It is easier to comb the tangle.
• It is of utmost importance to have a good oxygen level. Sleep apnea, snoring, teeth grinding, breathing not through the nose, but through the mouth are the causes of lack of oxygen at the micro level. A brain which has little access to oxygen cannot reset. The emergency mode remains in a fight or flight state. Lack of oxygen increases this tangle, even if you try to have good thoughts.
• The endorphins created by our body and the pumping of circulating blood everywhere after exercising makes it easier to switch to the parasympathetic activity. But getting a massage is as much valid as doing exercise. Most of us do not have massage in our daily routine. But it’s just as important as exercise.
• Feeding pets, growing flowers, working in the garden helps the parasympathetic activity.
• Especially in nature, we can reset very quickly by grounding with bare feet, taking in light with the naked eye. You know that if you lie on the grass for 10 minutes or go to the sea and lie down on the sand, your thoughts will decrease. You relax and become ‘lazy’ to think.
I tried to explain meditation based on my own readings. The core is the transitions between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system. The more we are in the parasympathetic mode, the more positive-oriented thoughts we have. Positive-oriented thoughts create positive-oriented feelings. These feelings are gradually becoming your character. The more we comb our tangle, the better we become. Most of all, we provide better conditions for our cells. The healing on all levels begin.
I wish you’ll start combing your tangle as soon as possible.