Homeostasis: from Deane Juhan’s Job’s Body
The human autonomic system may be influenced by a wide variety of factors that are within our conscious control. One of the main goals of the ancient arts of meditation, massage and yoga has been the achievement of control over the healthy functioning of internal organs and glands by means of cultivating certain states of mind and physical postures. Again, these disciplines do not have to do with the analysis of particular synaptic connections, or with the conscious dictating of specific commands to specific muscle cells, but with the evocation of particular feeling states which in turn produce verifiable effects upon the visceral muscles, and even upon the blood chemistry. If the physiological processes of a person in deep meditation are carefully monitored, we may observe distinct and consistent shifts in many internal activities. The heart rate slows, as does the respiratory rate, with the direct result that the body’s use of oxygen and production of carbon dioxide drops, indicating an overall reduction in the rate of metabolism. And these changes occur to a markedly greater degree during meditation and deep relaxation than during normal rest or even sleep.
At the same time, an increase in blood flow to the muscles can be observed, stepping up their oxygenation even though the breath and the heartbeat have slowed down; this has the effect of reducing the level of lactate in the blood, because it lessens the degree of anaerobic glycolysis taking place in the muscle tissues, a chemical process which produces a toxic waste product-lactate; injections of lactate into a normal individual typically causes local pain and acute mental anxiety. There is also a measurable increase in the electrical resistance of the skin, an index used in the lie-detector test to indicate a low-anxiety state.
We do not require personal knowledge of the mechanisms involved; they require only the adoption of a mental attitude, a feeling state.
These changes in the body during relaxation have rather obvious implications for our mental and physical health. Referred to as a “wakeful, hypo-metabolic state,” researchers have observed it producing a range of symptoms which are complementary opposites of the body’s responses to pain or stress, lowering its metabolic activity and its muscle tone (and hence its expenditure of energy) while thought processes remain at a conscious and alert level. These are certainly among the necessary conditions for vital and relaxed health.
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