Our need to stimulate the brain stem by pushing through difficulties or challenging our senses

…Here’s the crucial part: This expectation is likely to extend the effects of stress-induced pain relief beyond immediate cold exposure. If such an expectation – “I confronted the cold and feel invigorated” – is fulfilled, it will lead to the release of additional opioids or cannabinoids from the periaqueductal gray. This release can affect the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, further enhancing a feeling of overall well-being. This positive feedback loop is implicated in the well-known “placebo effect.”

More generally, techniques such as those Hof uses appear to exert positive effects on the body’s innate immune response as well. We expect them to also have positive effects on mood and anxiety because of the release of opioids and cannabinoids. Though these effects have not yet been well studied, by evoking a stress-induced analgesia reaction, we think that practitioners may assert “control” over key components of brain systems related to mood and anxiety.

At present, millions of people use drugs to help with feelings of depression and anxiety. Many of these drugs carry unwelcome side effects. Behavioral modification techniques that train users in ways to influence their brain’s homeostatic system could someday provide some patients with drug-free alternatives. Efforts to understand links between the brain’s physiology and its psychology may indeed hold the promise for a happier life. (Cold comfort: exposure to chilly temperatures may help fight anxiety)

This article describes a very interesting finding that seems to explain why some people like intense sports such as rock climbing, motorcycling, free diving, skiing, and so on.

It also seems to explain why toughing it out is often the best medicine for what ails us or the best method for moving forward with our lives.

Intense religious practices, chanting, long meditations, silence retreats also seem to be drawing on stimulating the periaqueductal gray area of the brain stem.

To some extent, FIML practice does something like this by stopping conditioned and instinctual responses as soon after they have arisen as possible. Doing this requires a mental toughness and perceptual acuity that frequently carries over to other activities.

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