Because we live in a world that is so physically oriented, most of us, believe if we take care of our bodies with a good diet, exercise and sleep, we will be healthy. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
I know this personally-as for a long time, I believed the above was the formula to good health. I did all of the right things as noted above, and was in and out of the hospital with two serious conditions when I realized I had to do something different.
Journey of Emotional Discovery
I set myself on the journey of paying attention to my emotions, which ultimately led me to the most important discovery of my personal and professional life. I knew this to be true, but there is a vast difference between knowing, and living a truth.
Authentically loving yourself, which is not hard, is the foundation of superhealing. Focusing on loving you requires giving yourself attention, acceptance, and appreciation. How do you currently treat yourself? Do you have an inner voice that is very critical and judgmental? Most of us do, and that’s okay. But a key ingredient to loving yourself is shifting your attention to silencing that voice and replacing negative thoughts with kinder, more loving ones.
We know that love is the foundation of a positive self-image, which literally alters our entire physiology.
In fact I have come to see it as the supernutrient that it really is. Nothing can ever replace it’s tremendous power to nourish our cells and allow them to function optimally.
How does Love Contribute to Health?
One of my favorite researchers is Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. She is a psychology professor at University of North Carolina and has conducted ground breaking research in the field of positive psychology.
She has conducted several studies exploring the relationship between positivity resonance and vagal tone, the quality of the connection between brain and heart. With high vagal tone, a very subtle variability in heart rate occurs. The heart slows down when breathing in and speeds up when breathing out. The higher the vagal tone, the greater the heart rate variability. Her studies found that people with higher vagal tone tend to have
- Better attention and emotion regulation
- Better social skills
- Better heart regulation
- Better immune function
- More micromoments of positivity resonance (PR)
Positivity Resonance: Shared Joy
Dr. Fredrickson has used loving kindness meditation (LKM) as a means to enhance the experience of positivity resonance and has evaluated its relationship to vagal tone. The vagus nerve is very important, in terms of maintaining the body’s balance, through interrupting the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the stress response. The interrelationship is complicated. First, the higher the vagal tone to begin with, the more people appear to get out of a daily practice of LKM. But LKM can lead to more social connectedness and more shared positive emotion, which appear to increase vagal tone.
Thus the conceptual model is circular. Positive emotion leads to more perceived social connections which then leads to higher vagal tone. Higher vagal tone means you can extract more from the LKM intervention. Higher vagal tone also predicts the positive emotion yield of LKM. People who practiced LKM had more social connections and increases in vagal tone. Further studies are exploring the level and direction of causality.
So it appears that love creates health, and health creates love.
Superhealing Chapter 9
For more on Barbara Fredrickson’s work, visit the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEPLab) or the site for her new book, Love 2.0.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Your phone vs your heart. New York Times Sunday Review.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Hudson Street Press.