Today we have a spirited interview with Doctor Gabrielle Duebendorfer a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Sandpoint Idaho. Gabrielle talks in depth about the Scientific benefits of bringing joy in your life. She also points out that living a balanced life includes allowing in the less than pleasurable aspects such as loneliness, grief, pain etc.
If you are an interested in learning more contact her at: (208) 265-2213
Aspen Wellspring is located in Sandpoint Idaho: https://plus.google.com/102825384518650072426/about?gl=us&hl=en
The Article below was written by Gabrielle and is the inspiration for our talk today.
The Health Benefits of Joy and Loneliness 12.8.13
As I was cross country skiing just behind our house in the woods I delighted in the smooth downhill glide, with my skis cutting through the soft powdery snow like butter. I love this sensual feeling and the exhilaration that comes with moving my body in the cold, crisp air and feasting my eyes on all the greens, blues, browns and white sparkles and treasuring the touch of brisk air on my skin.
We constantly look for joyful activities or objects or people for that matter who would bring us joy – with good reason it turns out. Research (1) shows that frequent laughter and experience of joy has great health benefits. Not only does laughter lower blood pressure and pain; improves relaxation, cardiac and respiratory function; strengthens the immune system, but it also causes direct brain changes. The amygdala and the hippocampus, both structures in the old, primitive brain, deal with emotions and literally shrink with chronic depression, pain and repeated or severe trauma. As actions cannot be put into their context and negative consequences cannot be anticipated, unpredictable aggression and antisocial behavior increases. Frequent laughter and experience of joy physically changes both structures back to normal size resulting in improved mood and health. Norman Cousins became well known for having been able to get off sleeping and pain medications with a regime of reading humorous stories and watching funny movies (2).
How much of your time do you spend in activities or situations that truly give you joy? Actually you don’t even need a reason to laugh or an activity to experience joy and all its benefits, you can just start laughing! There are even laughter clubs all over the world (3). All you need to do is perhaps start with sounding “ha, ha, ha….”, “hi, hi, hi,…..”, “ho, ho, ho…..” etc and then let the laughter take care of itself – it’s contagious especially when you are doing it with other people. I was listening to a laughter recording in dense traffic once and people’s odd looks made me laugh even more. 20 minutes of laughter a day will give your immune system and your whole health a huge boost.
It’s just too bad that all good experiences stop at some point. Coming back to my skiing experience I was reflecting how easyly this delightful experience can turn into a nightmare, with the temperature rising and mountains of snow building up underneath my skis so that the ski turns into a downhill “block” walk. I used to think I could train my dogs not to use my track and spent many a ski yelling at them to get out – not much joy during those ventures.
If we constantly look for joyful or good experiences we also tend to push away the painful, difficult, disquieting ones, in fact digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole of always wanting more of one thing and refusing another. Take the potential joy of being together with loved ones over the holidays and the depression that comes with loneliness if that is not possible out of whatever reason or with difficult relationships during this time. So how could loneliness possibly have any health benefits?
Well, there is evidence (4) that inoculating ourselves with frequent, mild to moderate negative experiences, i.e., fully letting ourselves feel them, actually increases our ability to deal with stronger ones and be open to experiencing joy. Paul Graves recently wrote in an article in the Daily Bee that we can’t do much about loneliness but we don’t have to be alone. Yes, we can reach out to others in our loneliness, but we can also take the time and turn towards it, invite it in for tea and conversation, and fully receive and integrate it.
I just recently worked with a patient who came in with complaints of indigestion and who had lost her husband not too long ago. Besides addressing physical causes, we spent time meeting the seemingly all-pervasive sadness. Who wants to intentionally turn towards the tremendous sadness of grieving the loss of a loved one – especially around Christmas time? The fact is though that the harder we try to push them away the more they will surface with increased intensity or in form of symptoms. Dr. Gabor Maté in his book “When the Body Says No” mentions that numerous studies have shown that lonely people are at greatest risk for disease (5). I am suggesting that this is probably the case only if we keep suppressing the resulting sadness rather than giving a chance to integrate.
We used the digestive symptoms as signals that it’s time to invite sadness in for tea. The patient was genuinely surprised at how quickly it actually moved through her body, like a wave, once full attention was turned towards it without any story attached to it. In fact she did not drown in tears or crumble under the pain as she had expected. Eventually, awareness of deeper underlying anxiety relating back to childhood experiences surfaced. Allowing these time to integrate in a felt way as well she opened up to a surprising level of Well-Being. Her body now is no longer needing to send so many signals via digestive cramps and diarrhea any more, her anxiety levels have been reduced and she can experience periods of joy.
Really, by turning our attention to both joy and sadness, we can open to an even deeper joy and peace that is not dependent on external circumstances. It is a joy of being willing and able to meet everything that arises which results in a growing sense of confidence that everything is just a pointer back to this underlying sense of ease. So when I go skiing now, it doesn’t really matter what the weather or my track is like. I can always delve directly into the experience, even if it’s pain or sadness, and find my way back to being in the moment, opening up to grace and guidance to appropriate action – like taking off the skisJ
However, this should not keep you from seeking activities that genuinely give you joy — like skiing in buttery soft snow. Please do reach out to friends and family during the holidays and when you are alone, put on a comedy or just start laughing after a good cryJ And a nice warm cup of tea with lemon balm and valerian might just calm the nerves and lift your spirits.
Dr. Gabrielle Duebendorfer has practiced as a licensed naturopathic physician in Sandpoint for 18 years. She strongly believes in teaching people how to heal themselves while supporting the body in the process. Besides naturopathic consults she offers bi-yearly cleansing classes as well as on-ongoing iRest (Integrative Restoration –www.irest.org) classes and individual iRest dyads teaching tools to rise above stress, anxiety, pain, and disease The next One Week New Year’s Cleanse will take place the second week in January and the next iRest classes will start January 20th. Please call 265-2213 for more information.
1) Richard Miller, Level I iRest Training Manual, p136.
2) Effect of Laugher on Immune system, Drs Lee Berk and Stanley Tan, Loma Linda University, CA, hhtp://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f01/web2/chew,html-1
3) Homepage of the Laughter Club International: www.worldlaughertour.com
4) Richard Miller, Level I iRest Training Manual, p138
5) Dr. Gabor Maté, “When the Body Says No”, 2003, p.277