Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Body's Own Feel-Good Drugs

Do you want to feel better? Then exercise, eat chocolate (or chile peppers) and meditate. Medical studies have shown that these three activities can trigger the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that reduce pain, stress and can create a feeling of euphoria.

There are at least 20 types of endorphins in the body and they act on brain receptors in a similar way as do opiates. Hence, their pain-reducing effect. But the good news is that endorphins don't lead to addiction or dependence like opiates can.

While we usually view meditation as the most spiritual of the three activities mentioned above, I believe that exercise and eating can be spiritual practices.

Exercise can not only strengthen the body and mind, it can feed the soul. Spiritual practices like yoga, tai chi chung and meditative walking are forms of exercise. And, the added benefit to these practices is that you feel better after doing them.

I also believe that there is a spiritual dimension to eating. Yes, we can see food as fuel and wolf down a meal. But we can also eat slowly and gratefully, transforming a bodily necessity into a spiritual practice. Another dimension of eating is the social interaction in a meal shared with others. There is something deeply spiritual about a meal shared with good friends.

I don't believe it's an accident that those activities that are soul-nourishing help release endorphins, thus making us feel better. That's how we were created.

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