Learning to dance with bears

By Martha O’Regan

If a great big bear were to walk up right now, without thought, your body would exhibit a survival response as adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, blood pressure increases, digestion and metabolism decrease and other well-orchestrated reactions occur so you can bolt. Once safe, you are then designed to respond with a “Whew, did you see that?” and your body moves into a rest and digest state where your blood pressure comes back to normal, digestion and metabolism resume, and your muscles soften as you release a heavy sigh of relief. However, as so often happens, another bear shows up.

Obviously, we don’t have real bears walking into our homes or offices, but we do have other “bears” in our lives. They can be boss bears, family bears, nutrition bears, economy bears, media bears — anything that puts our body into a survival response of fear, anger, worry, guilt or upset.

Our brain records each bear based on our perception rather than circumstance, sending the appropriate response of either survival or repair into the body. If we perceive a situation or bear as bad, or something to fear or worry about, the brain registers it as a threat to its survival and we immediately go into “fight or flight.” If we perceive that same situation with gratitude or as a learning experience, the brain doesn’t feel the need to defend itself and can maintain its normal course of rest and repair.

In our perfect design, our body is pre-programmed to run like a well-oiled machine moving between fight or flight and rest and digest throughout each day based on present moment needs. Yet, throughout life, before we learned to manage the bears — also called stress — we unknowingly created interferences in that programming, causing our body to get stuck responding to stored memory bears, creating a fight or flight response 24/7/365, with little to no time in rest and digest mode. Muscles can get “stuck” in a tightened state causing symptoms such as back or shoulder pain, headaches, TMJ syndrome or in its extreme state, fibromyalgia. For others, blood pressure is stuck in an increased state, getting labeled as high blood pressure. Digestion can get stuck in a decreased state resulting in reflux, slow metabolism, weight issues, etc. Then there is adrenal fatigue which is the result of the adrenals getting “stuck” secreting adrenaline 24/7 from such emotions as chronic fear, worry, or anger creating exhaustion too severe to ever dream of running from a real bear.

The simplest tool for re-setting the nervous system is to breathe. I can hear it now, “If I didn’t breath, I’d be dead. Duh!” True, but I’m talking about consciously breathing, deep into the belly, allowing all the lobes of the lungs to truly expand, then consciously using the diaphragm to exhale all the air out and repeat.  Watch any baby breathing — their little bellies expand and contract without any effort because it is how we are designed.  Somewhere along the line, when we start fighting bears, we begin taking short little breaths or in extreme cases, holding the breath. Over time, this creates a pattern of fight or flight that feels normal as we move through life tense and gasping for air, until one day we find ourselves exhausted or in a full blown anxiety attack and have to go back to learning how to breathe.

So, whenever you catch yourself holding your breath or breathing shallow, take a few moments to breathe deeply into the belly (permission to be chubby) then exhale with a nice heavy sigh.  Conscious use of the breath can also help to break up those old stuck patterns that may be contributing to pain and fatigue.  If nothing else, your cells will appreciate the oxygen. Note that when you begin breathing deeply, you may find yourself yawning more — this is your body seeking more of that yummy oxygen.

Bears will continue to come and go, so you may as well learn to breathe and dance with them rather than fight or run from them! Live Well … Have Fun!

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