Most of us have learned how to make the body conform to the needs of the mind. Our entire educational system is set up this way. In our school days, we taught ourselves to sit still in our chairs, use the bathroom only during designated breaks and devote all of our attention to the teacher.
Discipline — or training ourselves through practice to develop a particular habit — keeps us focused on doing what we think we're supposed to do. However, we're simply not designed to think about and take actions that truly support our everyday survival.
Nor are we designed to sit still in chairs for hours, staring at screens. Our brains are wired to allow us to connect with the life force or Pranayama (aka Chi or Qi), and experience rejuvenating pleasure for ourselves. We have forgotten the importance of pleasure and we need to remember how to experience it regularly — as a daily part of life.
Not long ago, the renowned neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD, gave a TED Talk that went viral, and then wrote a book in which she talked about the disorienting but delightful experience of having a "stroke of insight." The stroke she experienced shut down her rational, thinking brain and allowed her to feel the wonder, mystery and euphoria of an activated right hemisphere.
Over time, humans have learned to quiet the activity on the right side of our brains. This has reduced our ability to relax into the pleasure and sheer joy of being alive, or to participate in the ongoing creation of beauty that is our true nature.
In her book Dying to Be Me, the author Anita Moorjani explains that after her near-death experience — in which she literally was pronounced dead of terminal cancer — her insight was that we are here to enjoy life.
Asceticism, frugality, self-denial and ignoring the desires of the body should not be our goals. Siddhartha, a wealthy prince who famously became the Buddha, discovered this as well, after trying asceticism and living on as little as a grain of rice a day. Renouncing his riches didn't lead to enlightenment — sitting on the earth under a tree did. Think of that as a metaphor for getting back in touch with Mother Earth and her nourishing energy.
As long as we're living beings on this planet, we should relish the simple pleasures of feeling present in our bodies and connected to each other and the earth. Our bodies are designed to thrive and repair themselves through the earthy pleasure of being in a body.
Cells in our brain, blood vessels and lungs produce a signaling molecule, or gas, called nitric oxide — aka NO — but not to be confused with the nitrous oxide used in dentistry, which is better known as laughing gas. The production of nitric oxide is triggered by laughter, orgasm and other experiences of pleasure, as well as by eating fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, meditating and exercising (nitric oxide is at work in the sensation of "runner's high").
Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessel walls, which allows the vessels to widen and encourages more blood to flow through them. In fact, Viagra works by using this natural process in the body, triggering the release of nitric oxide and extra blood flow to the penis, resulting in an erection. Similarly, nitroglycerin can stop a heart attack because it too, releases nitric oxide which widens blood vessels and eases constrictions.
The sensation of nitric oxide being released lasts only a few seconds, but what a marvelous few seconds this is! It sets off a chain reaction of other feel-good chemicals in the body. You feel a shift in your energy and an exquisite sense of relaxation. After it's been released into the system, nitric oxide works with anticoagulants to prevent strokes, signaling white blood cells to fight infections and destroy tumors, balance levels of neurotransmitters and reduce cellular inflammation.
The more often your body creates and releases nitric oxide, the softer, more flexible and wider your blood vessels become because you've trained them to relax. Your circulation improves. Saying yes to NO, actually helps your body to function better and avoid serious illness and disease.
I find it helpful to think of nitric oxide as the physical manifestation of that vital life force that animates our bodies. Stanford University research on sea urchins show that nitric oxide is released when the egg and sperm meet in a peak moment of creativity.
On the other end of the life spectrum, it may be that the brilliant white light that people who have had near-death experiences report seeing upon the moment of death, is the result of a burst of nitric oxide. And nitric oxide is given to premature babies to get their lungs working, since lung tissue is erectile in nature. Nitric oxide is like the very breath of life. It's even what lights up a firefly.
Chronic anger, fear and grief deplete nitric oxide. If the endothelial lining of your blood vessels has been damaged by free radical molecules created by stress and physical toxins — your body can't release enough of the nitric oxide that would actually reduce free radical activity and tissue damage.
The nitric oxide mechanism is a positive feedback loop: Create more and you make it easier for your body to create more. Pleasure leads to more pleasure. Life renews itself, while chronic anger, fear and grief suck the life out of us.
To be an ageless, healthy goddess, you must learn to cultivate your ability to experience emotions such as joy and compassion, release grief and resentment regularly, and allow yourself to feel righteous anger when appropriate. The worst thing you can do for yourself is hold onto destructive emotions.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.