Updated: Jan 21
And Other Stories of Ways We Have Not Evolved and WHY We NEED to Know About It!
I feel sorry for the Appendix, a physiological vestige that has no purpose anymore except to cause problems for some, actually quite a few. To have an "itis" of any kind named after you is unpleasant at best and probably embarrassing. For parents, when kids get an intractable "belly ache" the thoughts of possible appendix issues can cause great concern. The appendix cannot win. No purpose anymore and not even a benign connotation. Misery does love company, however, and the appendix is not alone. The tailbone, wisdom teeth, male nipples (yep), palmar grasp reflex, body hair, and the vomeronasal organ, along with a few others, are likely now obsolete. (If curious, look them up - pretty interesting stuff).
On the other side of the spectrum are quite a few instincts and physiological structures (many/most) that we have not evolved out of - or have evolved with us for a specific purpose. Much to our delight here at breatheIN2IT, two of our main pillars of well-being have some fascinating science behind them (we love the science), are ancient in origin, and yet can be used MUCH TO OUR ADVANTGE.
Most importantly, like the appendix, we are not using these ancient physiological balancers of which I will speak. Very much unlike the appendix, choosing to call in these two unevolved physiological possibilities has now been shown to have TREMENDOUS well-being benefit.
Once used, now abused, but don't be confused, there is something powerful you can choose
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School was the first to coin the term "Relaxation Response," or RR, which is the physiological opposite of the stress response. My blog three days ago talked in depth about how we are now abusing and overusing the stress response that was designed for survival, for serious physiological uplift when needed (like waking up) BUT not for when we have day to day occurrences of overwhelm and anxiety. Overused and abused, the stress response can damage our systems, wear them out, quite literally burn them out. Nervous system burnout. The relaxation response is also ancient. Picture the antelope in the field that has just been chased but evaded the tiger. Does the antelope remain in the life preserving, cortisol ridden state? Nooooo - the antelope goes back to a normal baseline state so as to preserve functioning. Scientists don't know why we are able to elicit the relaxation response (RR) that our PART Program is based on. But thank the stars we have the ability! Dr. Benson says that the future will belong to those who can control the now aberrant and continual stress response with relaxation response techniques. In essence, we were built with the ability to rise to the survival challenge, but we were not meant to stay there consistently. Our environment and culture evolved but our stress response did not. Now, caught with undesired amounts of anxiety and body wear and tear as a result, the RR is there to save the day.
Truly though, this all makes sense. The body and nature have amazing balance, miraculous balance. If we have the ability to release cortisol and fight the tiger, it aligns that we also have the ability to call in the opposite and reset, recover, mitigate, prevent and clean up after.
Our nature is to be with nature
Having now mentioned balance in nature, let's move on to the 2nd way in which we have a response that has not evolved even though our environment has. E.O. Wilson coined the term "biophilia." Biophilia is our innate need for contact and relationship with other living creatures (plants included) and the natural world. This need has not evolved, as with the stress response, but our modern environment and culture have. Bear with me as I illustrate with a quick story or two:
Story time with breatheIN2IT:
Once upon a time, five minutes ago, there was a family. It was winter, during the time of COVID, the parents were working from home and the kids were schooling from home. It was a Wednesday and Mom realized that her two kids had not actually breathed fresh air for 3 days. Quite frequently, everyone was on computers for at least 8 hours a day. At night, video games reigned supreme. Luckily there were a couple big windows in the house that looked out on some trees.
Once upon a time five minutes ago a single mom had a job at a local hospital. Her older daughter who lived with her worked as a manager at the grocery store. They went from bed to work to home every day. At night, they watched Netflix. Luckily, the mom and daughter had two cats.
Once upon a time five minutes ago, an older retired couple in an urban apartment stayed in their home all day and night. They watched news during the day. Luckily, they had some house plants.
Science time with breatheiN2IT
99.9% of our evolutionary time was spent in the natural world.
On average, and this has increased with COVID, we spend 90% of our time indoors.
A study showed that inmates in England spent more time outside than teenagers.
It is estimated that over 60% of doctors’ visits are a result of stress related complaints.
Studies show that natural scenes can accelerate healing and reduce stress.
Studies show that living near trees can elongate life.
Studies show that just looking at a tree can have immediate health benefits.
Studies show that natural scenes can help recover from a scary movie or event.
Studies show that nature improves cognitive functioning, creativity and problem solving.
And on, and on , and on…
The big question then: WHAT HAPPENS TO A SPECIES THAT IS REMOVED FROM ITS ENVIRONMENT? Well, stress and anxiety can happen, with all the resulting sequelae. We are experiencing a disconnect that must be bridged and can be.
Technology, culture, inventions and conveniences have moved us inside to a degree never before experienced. We have stress epidemic in the world that is perhaps unmatched, even before COVID. Vast amounts of scientific research is now revealing that nature connection, or “Vitamin N” as termed by Richard Louv, has the ability to improve memory, creativity, lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, increase happiness, increase creativity, boost immunity and heal our “Nature Deficit Disorder.” As we discuss in our Nature Connection Course, there are a myriad of ways to gain the benefits and reconnect, bridge the gap again and align our biophilic need with what nature has to offer. Many organizations are working on ways to encourage getting out into nature, bringing nature inside, and enabling those in inner cities to have access to the benefits also.
In summary, we have two physiological responses, the stress response and biophilia, that have not evolved and yet our environment has. But wonderfully, awesomely, beautifully, we have scientists, educators, wellness and medical practitioners who are gleaning from each other and working to alert the masses that we can learn and wield the tools to regain relaxation, ease and peace, even within our busy, isolated, stressor laden, technological environment.
First, we need to be aware (see last Sunday's blog) and build intention. Next, we learn and practice. The RR and re-connecting with the natural world can change the tenor of a life. To return to our opening analogy, the parallel would be if it was discovered that the appendix could, in fact, cure us of a modern ill when turned slightly to the left. Hmmm…unlikely.
The RR and Nature Connection both turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, aka “rest and digest,” “stay and play.” They can bring peace, calm, restoration, perspective. They both have ancient origins yet incredibly current need.
Appendix thy name is dust, sadly.
RR and Nature Connection thy name is hope, gladly.
Stay tuned for our next Blog: "Wonderful Ways to Weather Winter with Ease"
Our next "Amazing Benefits of Nature Connection" course starts in February. Registration is open.
Our core course, PART (Positivity, Resilience and Relaxation Training) Spring Cohorts start in mid-March. Registration open.
Habituating the RR can be achieved through our 28 day, 30 minute a day Movement and Meditation Challenge. 7-7:30AM every day in February. Registration open.
**I blog not as a guru of ANY KIND but as a student of many practices. My "guruship" with natural world connection is a work in progress that I passionately study daily. I love to tell stories that describe or symbolize some aspect of the joyful, invaluable, challenging work of making the practices of mindfulness, meditation, yoga, gratitude, positivity and heart-mind coherence an integral part of life. I hope you find value also. Aimee, my business partner, is, in my estimation, a guru of much, although she would also say she is merely a teacher/student on the forever journey.