The Gift of Dysphoria

Uncategorized Jan 30, 2020

One of the most ironic and fascinating aspects of Yoga, is not so much just the physical and chemical benefits that are derived from its techniques, but the psychological character that is necessary to even be able to apply them. There is a reason that the undertaking of this practice has always been regarded as a discipline. The life that the Yoga Dharma can seem to paint a picture of, is one in which many of the comforts that we have been endeared to, are positioned to be criticized, and even removed from our daily menu. This has its reasons, since the fundamental orientation that people have in life, is to survive by getting an education or acquiring a skill that will help them make the money necessary to do so. This is often times such a long ,and depending on the type of skill\education, arduous process, that it consumes the majority of our attentional bandwidth.

The gravity of this undertaking of health and well-being doesnt surface on our horizon, beyond the formal & perfunctory introduction we have in our science & biology class in grade school. The amount of sheer energy spent on delivering groceries to our refrigerator and clothing on our backs, can leave very little room for the pursuit of knowledge about the mechanisms of our body and mind. Coupled with the absence of this subject from the curriculum of most educational systems, the relevance of this material is sadly gone unnoticed.

It may remain unnoticed for virtually a lifetime, unless a legitimate health crisis appears. The ones who are fortunate enough to discover the landscape of taking responsibility for their health, are almost immediately confronted with the vivid contrast between the goal and the path. As information about the exact protocols of improving and maintaining a state of health comes to light, it simultaneously reveals the current habits and behaviors that must be given up. The comforts and habits that everyone has insinuated into their daily routines, are rarely in congruence with what is physically or psychologically optimal.

From the food that we eat, to the tech devices that we have become so entrenched within, the quality of “convenience” has taken the place of more healthy habits. Even though fast food and endless forms of digital entertainment are convenient, no one would argue that they're but a pitiful substitute for whole foods and good literature.

The fact that these have been habituated implies, as is the case with any habit. that changing it will, de facto, be more of a burden than not doing anything about it at all. In the case of improving one's musculoskeletal health, the demand on physical exertion and strain is inescapable. If someone has been habituated to a sedentary physical life, the reorientation toward establishing a physically active routine is not only difficult because of the reality of its physical demands, but also in having to learn and refine a whole new way of inhabiting the body. This discomfort and dysphoria can be so intense, that it can be the only noticeable attribute of this new way of living.

This can and does impede the motivation necessary in adopting these new habits, that are so physically and emotionally labor intensive. This is a central reason why the techniques of Yoga don't lend themselves to the anticipated excitement that comes so naturally when we look forward to our favorite hobby. It is important to draw a distinction between what we may do for fun & leisure, and what is necessary to uphold the healthy function of our own embodiment. The same way that we may relate to brushing our teeth, going to the dentist, showing up to our job, or any of the other countless requirements that are part & parcel of staying alive as a biopsychosocial creature, we have to come to terms with the fact that not everything in our lives can be expected to be comfortable or pleasant. But before this begins to sound like a dreary proposition of all work and no play, there is quite a thick silver linning that may provide the reader with just the right amount of incentive to remain steadfast on the proverbial straight and narrow. 


Most people have heard of the molecules responsible for the feelings of pleasure and euphoria, called endorphins. These are usually brought up in the context of the response our body has to exercise, but their effects are one of the main backbones of the reward circuits connected to food, sex, and social cohesion. This isn’t just some extraneous euphoria that an individual wouldn’t miss if they never had it. This euphoria is fundamental to the reward circuits that drive behavior and learning.One important molecule that promotes the sensitivity to these rewarding feelings of euphoria, is called dynorphin. Dynorphin is a type of endogenous opioid that has been shown to release during times of unease and dysphoria, and the mediation of body temperature in response to heat. The classical dysphoric states that have been shown to incite the release of dynorphins are those that raise body temperature such as, exercise and sauna use, but have also been linked to the response to capsaicin, the “hot” element of hot peppers. Dr. Rhonda Patrick of @foundmyfitness, has been one of the loudest researchers and advocates of the benefits of heat shock therapy, and bringing the discussion about the mechanisms of endorphins, to the public sphere. What has been shown with the simultaneous discovery of dynorphins, is their effect on the increase of specific neurotransmitter receptors called mu-opioid receptors. It is the mu-opioid receptors that the “feel good” endorphins bind to, and which are multiplied in response to the presence of dynorphins. When these receptor’s quantities increase, our sensitivity to the important effects of endorphins does as well. This means that it takes a less severe release of endorphins to provide the same euphoric effect. What all of this technical jargon about neurochemicals should offer to people, is evidence about the way that our subjective states of comfort and discomfort are dependent upon one another. It is the times of sweaty and demanding discomfort that everyone experiences in Yoga or exercise, that makes us more chemically sensitive to comfort and ease.

This is yet another instance when both, our own intuitions, as well as the precepts of the original doctrines, are corroborated by the technological advances in science. Most of us can remember fairly easily that some of the most delicious meals we’ve enjoyed have taken place in the appeasement of strong hunger, best tasting water made its appearance in the quenching of extreme thirst, and ending a long day of productivity seems to offer the most satisfying rest. It is the existence of these opposites that actually illustrates their inseparability. This is the case for anything in our experience. Hot would be meaningless without the existence of cold, right would be in the same predicament without the concept of a left, and anything that is identifiable by the human mind. One of the most notable aphorisms that captures the methodological thrust of Yoga, as an instrument of health and wellness: 

     “Vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam”

Which roughly translates to, a cure for any malady or obstacle is found in the counter-measure to the forces that brought it to be. Many other traditions extol the dichotomy found in every corner of the experiential Universe, as the renown Yin-Yang symbol of Taoism. The apparent likeness between this prescription and the Hippocratic stance of “opposites cure opposites”, is too obvious to overlook just on the basis of the fact that it’s an Eastern perspective. 

This is the kind of good news that can help individuals muster up the patience that is necessary when taking care of their own structure. The arduous drudgery of these practices is actually comparatively small and fleeting with respect to the vivid and satisfying reverberation of health that comes soon after and lasts much longer. This information can really be the thing that rectifies the destructive and unhealthy course that we often don’t even know we may be on. Hardship is just a fact of life, and it is built into our very own flesh. The hardship we evade in the regular maintenance of our own biology, will, and does, visit us later in life in the sadly familiar outfit of heart disease, arthritis, cognitive failure, etc… Taking the steering wheel of our life into our hands has its own challenges, but it is not nearly as challenging as keeping our hands off of it. If you dont hold the steering wheel of your car, you may continue down the road for sometime, and not crash, but is the labor saving tactic of not steering, worth the eventual outcome?

 

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