Wired for Stress Programmed for

In 1990 the medical establishment dedicated the entire decade to the study of the human brain. With the use of MRI technology and other high-tech methods, long-hidden secrets of brain physiology were brought to light, including what happens during the stress response. In his book The End of Stress As We Know It, the researcher Bruce McEwen highlights some of these new insights, such as the fact that a preponderance of stress hormones is believed to inhibit new brain cell growth. Moreover, we now know the exact regions of the brain that are responsible for emotional thought processing, the specific effect of stress hormones, and the intricate relationship between the brain and the endocrine system. Perhaps it's no surprise to learn that we are indeed hardwired for stress.

Referring to the stress response as "allostasis," McEwen says, "The physiological systems that support allostasis follow a basic pattern that's been used quite successfully, for about 400 million years. Surely, these provisions did not evolve for the purpose of causing illness." McEwen admits that for stress, as we know it, to end, there has to be a change in consciousness, or what he calls "positive health." Positive health begins with a conscious response to stress and manifests as many healthful behaviors, such as engaging in cardiovascular exercise, eating a healthful diet, and getting adequate sleep; in essence, living a balanced life.

We may be wired for stress, but, according to Andrew Newberg, M.D., we are also wired for spirituality. In his book Why God Won't Go Away, Newberg describes information from brain-imaging data collected from both Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns, practicing meditation and contemplative prayer, respectively. A SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) machine shows the way that blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which correlates with neuronal activity, indicates how people register a transcendent or mystical experience. Newberg found that when the brain is denied typical sensory information, the censor of conscious thought is unplugged, and thus space and time are perceived differently. Meditators often describe this enhanced conscious state as having touched infinity or "being one with everything." The clinical search for the cerebral "G" spot in the brain has led to a new discipline called "neuro-theology," the study of the neurobiology of spirituality. Meditation of any type that promotes the relaxation response seems to enhance these euphoric experiences. Emerging leaders in this field of research have reached a consensus that everyone has the brain circuitry to elicit a mystical experience. Once again, the balance of yin and yang can be achieved through simple brain chemistry.

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