In my book Mind Over Medicine, I described the physiology of self-healing, how the body is geniusly equipped with natural self-healing mechanisms that get flipped on or off, depending on the state of the nervous system.
When the nervous system is in the “fight-or-flight” sympathetic mode, which Walter Cannon at Harvard coined the “stress response,” the body’s self-healing mechanisms are flipped off. The body is not concerned about preventing infection, avoiding heart disease or fighting cancer if it thinks you’re about to get eaten by a tiger!
But when the body is in what Herbert Benson at Harvard called the “relaxation response,” and the parasympathetic nervous system takes the lead, the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms are activated, and the body knows how to heal itself, as demonstrated so powerfully by the research on the placebo effect.
What this boils down to is a crucial public health message:
If you want to optimize your health, extend your life expectancy, and feel as vital as possible, you need to help your nervous system live in a state of peace.
Inner peace is not something we talk about much in modern culture. Material possessions. Beauty. Success. Fame. Sex. Romance. Status. Education. Ambition. Excitement. Adventure. Fun. Getting what you want. Avoiding what you don’t want.
Just listen to the lyrics of pop music. These are the things we often value. But peace? You don’t hear people rapping or twerking at the VMAs about inner peace too often. Yet peace is what the body, mind, and spirit craves more than any of those other things we tend to seek out.
How can we help ourselves experience more peace? Here are a few scientifically proven tips for dropping the nervous system into a state of self-healing peace.
Just three quiet, contemplative, silence-inducing, body-inhabiting breaths can flip the nervous system from stress response to relaxation response. And if you can manage 20 minutes of daily meditation, you’ll not only improve your physical and mental health, you’ll launch yourself onto a spiritual path that will reward you with countless spiritual and emotional benefits.
2. Be in nature.
Nature doesn’t resist life. It isn’t striving to be anything. A flower isn’t trying to be beautiful. It just is. A redwood doesn’t seek out stature. It just owns its greatness. The circle of life is full of loss and uncertainty, and nature isn’t resisting loss or seeking only comfort. Being in nature reminds us to accept what is and to revel in the peace nature helps us drop into.
3. Play with animals.
Pets have been scientifically proven to quickly flip the nervous system into relaxation response. The unconditional love of a dog or cat can fill us with oxytocin and endorphins and activate the body’s natural self-healing mechanisms while filling our hearts and spirits with nurturing peace.
4. Let yourself create.
Making art, playing music, singing, dancing, or even setting an artful dinner table can drop the nervous system into peace and heal not only the body, but the soul.
5. Surround yourself with stillness-inducing people.
Who are the people that cultivate the stillness in you? Think about it for a minute. Some of the people you love may be great fun, yet they leave you feeling excited or manic even, rather than peaceful. Consider the people who calm your nervous system and prioritize spending time with them.
6. Engage in ritual.
The healers of indigenous cultures have long known the value of ritual. When you set the intention to cultivate peace, especially when you use music, prayer, sacred objects, incense, a gathering of souls in intentional community, or other ceremonial tools, you flip the nervous system into a peaceful state of relaxation response and cultivate self-healing.
7. Create a peace playlist.
Music can calm the nervous system quickly, activating the body’s self-healing mechanisms and creating a state of healing resonance within the body. What kind of music soothes you? What makes you feel connected to your essence of inner peace? Treat yourself to your Peace Playlist anytime you need to shift your nervous system into relaxation response.
8. Enjoy the big “O!”
Orgasm, whether you experience it with someone else or by yourself, can be a quick and fun peace-inducing relaxation response activator.
9. Tap into the Divine.
When you allow yourself to connect to the Divine, you heal the rift of disconnection and isolation that can trigger stress responses. Doing so can drop you into a state of peace so profound and loving that your nervous system can’t help quieting, centering, grounding, and illuminating the radiant essence that is YOU at your core.