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Your body's built-in Gentleness Instinct

Part 1: What is it and how to awaken it

Did you know that your body has a built-in Gentleness instinct? Let us recap what most of us have learned in our health science classes:

Our Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. There are two main branches of this nervous system, which are:

1) The fight/flight/freeze response

The fight/flight response first described by Dr Walter B. Cannon in 1915. He was an American physiologist, professor and chairman of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School. The freeze response was later added by Dr David H. Barlow in his book “Anxiety and its disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic” that was first published in 2001. He is an American psychologist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Psychiatry at Boston University.

This activation/deactivation of the fight/flight/freeze response is fairly straightforward during our caveman times when we are trying to hunt for food, or to escape being eaten by wild animals / being killed by natural disasters. We activate these responses whenever we feel unsafe with any of the above threats, and after the threat is gone, we simply deactivate the fight/flight/freeze response and go back to our usual calmer caveman activities such as socializing, eating and sleeping. Activating the flight/flight/freeze response helps ensure our survival till the threat is gone.

However, as society gets increasingly industrialized, we find ourselves getting chronically stressed by longer-term fears (such as fear of unemployment, health crises, relationship troubles, political unrest) that can last for years. It then becomes necessary for us to find out more about this other nervous system response that we used to return automatically to feel safe and calm again. How can we intentionally activate this other response?

2) The relaxation response

The relaxation response is our parasympathetic system, it is the other response that we go back to when we no longer feel threatened and unsafe.

This response was discovered and described in the book “The Relaxation Response”, published in 1975 by Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard Physician with Miriam Z. Klipper. The inspiration to write this book was from Dr Benson’s research on this group of Transcendental Meditation (TM) students who visited the Harvard Medical School in 1968 and asked to be studied, as they felt that adopting the practice of TM could help to reduce blood pressure. The book also includes
a simplified secular 9-step technique modified from TM, which is designed to help elicit the relaxation response.

The Importance of eliciting The Relaxation Response

Being able to intentionally elicit the Relaxation Response is vitally important as a self-care practice to help address or even prevent stress-related health issues in our modern society. According to the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) in Massachusetts Hospital founded by Dr Herbert Benson, roughly 60% to 90% of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress. This concept of intentionally eliciting The Relaxation Response is such a significant health discovery that the book continued to be a best-seller and even had an updated edition published in 2009, 34 years after its first publication!

Why am I renaming the Relaxation Response as our Gentleness Instinct?

Even with this groundbreaking discovery made by a highly-esteemed Harvard Physician who risked his career to share his findings in an easily-understandable format to the global public way back in 1975, people are still preoccupied with being chronically busy and stressed out. Relaxation now comes in the form of yoga and meditation classes that you do once a day or once a week, depending on your work schedule. Most of us are still feeling stressed for most part of the day, and then spending an hour or even just fifteen minutes to devote to a relaxation practice.

A healthy body should be in a calm and relaxed state most of the time, not for just fifteen minutes a day.

We should be studying, doing our work and/or taking care of our children in a calm and relaxed state most of the time.

Because of how the term “relaxation” seems to be misinterpreted and repackaged to refer to relaxing activities and holiday trips, I choose to rename this as our body’s in-built Gentleness Instinct instead.

To me, just thinking of the word “Gentleness” helps me to soften my default armor.

The word “Gentleness” helps give me permission to feel my physical sensations and feelings that I have in the Here and Now.

It is easier for me, especially as a naturally sensitive person, to embody Gentleness as my default state of being.

Knowing that I have an in-built Gentleness Instinct helps give me permission to face my everyday life with more gentleness instead of trying to hustle and bulldoze my way through life.

Would you like to try this out?

Reacquainting yourself with your Gentleness Instinct

Here is a simple two-step technique to activate your body’s Gentleness Instinct:
Step 1) set the intention to allow your instinct to be gentle on yourself.
Step 2) feel how you feel in your body after you have done Step 1.

Does that feel simple and straightforward for you?

Were you able to feel calmer and more relaxed?

I would love to find out what your experience was! Do share in the comments below :)