Out running the Viking. Resiliency through history
Out running the Viking; Mid-Evil times, Comparison and Resiliency action.
This last week I had a great opportunity to travel abroad to Ireland. It was an important trip for many reasons. My husband and I were traveling alone for more than a weekend, without out our 2 and half year-old daughter for the first time since she was born, (thank you grandma!). It was also my first transatlantic flight in almost 4 years and I was looking forward to the discovery of a new adventure. As a parent to a toddler travel is different now so having the ability to sleep in, set our own schedule and just mill about was precious. There are so many things I love about Europe. The people, the history, the food and the culture.
Everything is just so damn old. It really makes America seem like an infant child. As a tourist in a new city, I try to balance the museum visiting and history study with plenty of stops at local pubs and whiskey bars. Dublin is great for just that and so is the restaurant and music scene. It is one of the fastest growing economy’s in the world and the city is full of young professionals from all over the world. 50% of Dubliners are under the age of 25 and 40% are not from Ireland. Despite the recent growth, Ireland is an old country with a fascinating medieval past. I can’t help but reflect upon the security, abundance and just plain wealth the 21st century has bestowed.
Now I am keenly aware that the 21st century is not without its problems but when I think of myself being born in the 11-12th century Dublin, life would have been incredibly rough and dangerous. In those days I would be surviving past the age 30 was a milestone. If I had children many would not survive infancy and my risk of dying during childbirth was about 20%. If I didn’t die from that then some sort of disease, pestilence or violent crime trauma would probably kill me. And we can’t forget the pain, Prior to the invention of anesthesia and penicillin I would have most likely suffered from horrible tooth decay or other internal ailment and if surgery was needed it was usually completed by the skillful hand of a butcher or a barber without the knowledge of aseptic technique because it was not invented yet.
OK you may be asking yourself what the heck does mid-evil pain and death have to do with resilience and yoga?!? I am getting there I promise.
Yes, we don’t live with many of the issues that plagued humans in the middle ages but for some reason the modern human continues to suffer despite technological advances and contemporary comforts. We are now living longer than ever but mental health disability continues to rise, especially in the US and my question is why?. A large part has to do with genetics, socialization, economic disparities ect. but our brains and the way we wired as a species for survival also contributes. The brain is trained to recognize and stay away from danger, often creating what is known in psychology as a negativity bias. The problem is the brain isn’t always able to differentiate between an actual threat for example a mid-evil Viking attacking you and the stress that can occur in daily modern life like traffic, homework, finances, email ect. These modern-day stress situations can initiate a flight or fight reflex, gearing the body for action prepping it to run like hell from the killer Viking. Side note; Viking culture was very important to the contribution of the Irish historically and I am not disparager them it’s just a good image for the talk.
These flight or flight hormones flood the body, blood and brain allowing the heart rate and blood pressure to increase, the lungs to expand fully for more oxygen delivery and vessels to squeeze shunting blood to vital organs to give you that boost you need to get away. At the same time the Amygdala and the Hippocampus, the areas of the brain responsible for memory, start creating synapses to imprint the danger image in your limbic brain to ensure you don’t forget what that danger was to keep you safe and alive. The problem is this hard-wiring can get mixed up creating a negative thinking pattern that can be incredibly maladaptive for current life. Out running the Viking response can get triggered in everyday life situations. Once this negative soundtrack loop gets turned on it can be incredibly difficult to turn off. Unless you harness that wonderful part of our cognitive brain known as the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that lights up like the fourth of July during yoga and meditation. I like to think of the prefrontal cortex as the “Jewel of the Nile” when it comes to our ability for re-wiring negative thoughts and creating resilience.
Resilience or post-traumatic growth is the ability to experience hardship, danger, pain, or emotional suffering and uses it as a positive growth experience. This resilience factor utilizes the brains ability through neuroplasticity to reshape our thoughts through awareness. Just like the limbic brain wires neurons together to keep you safe from harm, the cortex of the upper brain wires together to keep you resilient. Mindfulness and the art of non-attachment is a key component in developing a resiliency practice. It is a sort of “thought training” to becoming aware of your feelings and emotions to serve you in a constructive way.
A very simple example of this is the emotional effect of comparison. I’m a Mom and sometimes I can get down on myself for not always doing what other Moms are doing, constantly comparing myself. This can put me in a very negative space, where I am judging myself which leads to a confidence low, spinning in the negativity bias. But when I approach my thoughts in a more loving/kind way for example “I can’t be perfect, I must embrace failure to help Dylan know that I am human” I am literally re-writing the story of my limbic brain, helping to boost my frontal cortex. I can also share with Dylan that I too have fears as a Mom while encouraging her to share her fears with me. She is still learning language, so the conversations aren’t deep at this point, but hey it’s a start. The more I can normalize the fear of failure and my own mess ups as her Mom the more I can show Dylan this is ok, helping to build her confidence too. Recognizing the negative self-talk is the first step in rewiring our brains for a healthy and resilient mind.
To find more about our resiliency through mindfulness trainings please visit M3bmethod.com or Spira Power Yoga