Esther is one of my inspiring yoga students! She sends me many interesting and heartfelt emails, one of which is this article that she has generously agreed to let me post here. I love these easy ways to bring ‘Calm and Collect’ into my day! I think you’ll enjoy this too:
One of the most exciting discoveries of modern neurobiology has been the role of oxytocinâ€”the hormone released through warmth, touch, and movementâ€”in generating feelings of deep connection and well-being. Oxytocin is the brainâ€™s naturally occurring neurotransmitter of â€ścalm and connect.â€ť Oxytocin is what spurs us to â€śtend and befriendâ€ť rather than fight, flee, or freeze when weâ€™re stressed. Oxytocin acts as a rapid down-regulator of our bodyâ€™s stress response; it is the brainâ€™s direct and immediate antidote to the stress hormone cortisol and it is the neurochemical foundation of trust and connection.
The fastest way to release oxytocin and come into a state of calm, connection, trust, and belonging is through warm, safe touch. Any warm, loving touchâ€”hugs, snuggles, holding hands, partner dancing, cuddles with a pet, massage, or bodyworkâ€”can trigger the release of oxytocin and bring the body back into a state of calm and peacefulness. Even our own touch, as a reminder of the touch of others, can have this result.
Researchers have demonstrated that a single exposure to oxytocin can create a lifelong change in the brain. The exercises below offer ways to use touch to intentionally activate the release of this neurochemical balm and bring our nervous system back into equilibrium, back into our range of resilience.
â€śOxytocin has a short half-life in the brainâ€”itâ€™s gone in just a matter of minutes,â€ť writes Daniel Goleman in Social Intelligence. â€śBut every hug, friendly touch, and affectionate moment may prime this neurochemical balm a bit.â€ť
One fun way to stimulateÂ oxytocin release is a gentle, two-minute head rub. You can massage your own head, of course, and you can easily practice this exercise with a partner, a family member, a friend. Use your fingers to gently massage the scalp, forehead, nose, jaws, and ears. The touch, warmth, and movement release the oxytocin in your brain, lowering your blood pressure and calming racing thoughts. These brief moments of safe and loving touch give you a few momentsâ€™ respite from stress and pressure, priming you to cope more resiliently with the next wave of stressful feelings that come along.
The vagus nerve, loaded with oxytocin receptors, lives in the brain stem. You can locate that region by placing your fingers at the back of your skull, where the top of your neck nestles into the skull. A gentle massage to that part of the neck (you can easily do this yourself) can be a potent signal for the release of oxytocin, increasing feelings of goodness and well-being throughout the day.
Stan Tatkin at UCLA has found that when people feel safe with one another, a 20-second, full-body hug is enough to release oxytocin in both men and women.Twenty seconds is about the time it takes to take three long, deep breaths, easy for you and your â€śhug-eeâ€ť to time on your own. Try changing head positions with each breath.
Most of us donâ€™t feel comfortable with a full-body hug with anyone except a partner, immediate family, or closest friends. We do the A-frame hug of arms around the shoulders at best. The closeness of a full-body hug maximizes the effectiveness, so exchange a full-body hug with somebody youâ€™re comfortable with as often as you can. Identify people or pets in your life that you would feel comfortable asking for a hug.
A warm hug may not be a new practice for you, but sometimes we forget to remember the power of a hug to soothe our jangled nerves. Remember, the brain learns new patterns when we practice â€śsmall bits and often.â€ť Repeat, repeat, repeat your hugs, with as many different people and pets as you feel comfortable with, as many times a day as you remember to.
Neural cells (brain cells) are also part of the structure of your heart. Warm, safe touch activates those neurons; your brain then activates messages of comfort and calm that are sent throughout the body.
Reference: Linda Graham, MFT
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