A Merry Heart
Western countries believe that heart disease and heart attacks can be cured by diet and regular exercise. It helps, no doubt, but the Chinese hold that the best medicine for cardiovascular health is a merry heart. (Very similar to the inner peace of the 250 year old man.)
A merry, or a stressed heart, are both products of the Autonomic Nervous System.
The Autonomic Nervous System
To some extent our nervous system is idiot proof. We can control only a fraction of our vital functions with the conscious mind. For example, if we try to hold our breath, we can only go so far. Even if we managed to find a way to stop breathing, we would simply lose consciousness, faint to the ground, and start breathing again. Nature knows that survival can’t be delegated to the conscious mind. If it were we’d die within minutes. The most vital internal processes, such as the minute glandular balance, and countless physiological processeses are controlled unconsciously via the Autonomic Nervous System. Thus the name: “autonomic”.There are two branches that make up the ANS: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic branch of the Autonomic nervous system mobilizes energy for action. You must have heard of the fight or flight mechanism? In true fight or flight, there’s frank danger. (or the perception of danger) If you’re walking down a trail and you come face to face with a mountain lion, the sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to pour out adrenaline. The heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict, blood pressure is raised. Digestion, on the other hand, diminishes. Blood is shunted away from the superficial to the deeper vessels, also to survive violent attack. Breath may become shallow and constricted. The eyes narrow to protect, and the pupils dilate to better see danger. Enormous amounts of energy are mobilized from all available sources. With the huge adrenaline dump from sympathetic stimulation, you are tense and ready to stand and fight or flee as fast as you can.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The para-sympathetic branch facilitates relaxation. When it’s dominant, the heart beats more slowly, the blood vessels relax, thereby dropping blood pressure, and the flow of the blood branches out to the most superficial capillaries. Digestive juices flow, and the guts become active with food digestion and assimilation. Breathing relaxes and comes from deeper in the belly. The eyes and jaw relax. In short we rebuild, and store energy. There’s an over all feeling of relaxation and well being. Biofeedback tries to get you to understand the difference between sympathetic and parasympathetic stimulation by using a thermometer to gage your skin temperature. If the hands and feet get warmer, one is in a parasympathetic state.
A Perfect Balance
The two branches of the nervous system aren’t black and white; it’s not that one turns completely off when the other is on. If you walk across the room and bend down to pick up a pencil, the sympathetic and parasympathetic are both operating in various degrees. The two systems are a perfect yin/ yang, operating in mutual interdependence. The Sympathetic branch corresponds to the yang or active state, while the parasympathetic to the yin or receptive.
Ideally, whatsoever happens in life, the nervous system adjusts perfectly. When there’s a need for a large output of energy such as stress or danger, energy is marshaled. When the crisis is over, it will swing to the other side of the pendulum, where energy is conserved. This is seen with animals in the wild. During life and death struggles, there’s intense outputs of energy, and when it’s over they’ll clear the sympathetic discharge and return to a resting state. With humans clearing our stress and returning to a relaxed state isn’t quite so simple.
The Modern Disease: Sympathetic Dominance
In modern life there’s rarely a Cobra about to strike, but we may have constant low-level threats, such as a high pressure schedule, a bad relationship, a job we dislike, or worry over paying the bills. Our drive to succeed, or even to survive can be stressful. As said: Our way of living creates a busy mind. The mind whips the nervous system and the balance of the ANS is tipped to a yang, hyperactive state. Sympathetic dominance becomes chronic. Stress related diseases such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, constipation, stomach problems, and high blood pressure are caused by the over stimulation of sympathetic nerves.
Why We Get A Particular Disease
View a chart of the Autonomic nervous system. Intricate vessels enervate each organ, but each person’s nervous system reacts differently to stress. Have you ever heard people speak of their stress areas, places in their body where they hold tension? Some get a stiff neck or back, but it goes deeper into the organs and glands. Fear and stress effect the heart, stomach, lungs, liver, thyroid, kidneys, pancreas, or some combination of them. Most people have a weak link, an organ, gland, or system weaker than the other organs. Although the rest of the body tries to bail out the weak organ, it eventually fails. It’s much like a boat with a gaping hole. Energy leaks from the overall system.
Health problems develop due to the combination of genetic weakness and crimped circulation of vital energy. (Toxins are also stored in the weakest tissues and organs) The best chance of avoiding the expression of one’s genetic weakness is to decrease toxins, and perhaps mostly… develop inner stillness.