What makes us ‘hit’ the floor each morning and reach out from sleep to awareness, emptiness to existence and dream to reality? It is energy — of our mind and body. The equation is remarkably specific. We need body energy to move in the physical sense and mind energy to prompt. This is because every cell of the hundred thousand billion cells in our body is expending energy — tons of it, to be precise. While a quarter of it is being used to process bits of information, even as another portion is being used to refill ‘not-working’ fragments of your body, much of the ‘rest’ is dispersed as heat to keep us warm.
In addition to all this, our brain is consuming energy at ten times the rate of the rest of the body. Most importantly, it is also choosy about what type of energy it will utilise. Hence, you ought to be discreet. You better give it what it wants — because, the brain, if deprived of energy, for more than ten minutes, will irreversibly be ‘shop-worn.’ But, don’t you worry. Because, the whole outline is natural — as natural as nature wanted it to be. So, just breathe in some fresh air, or have a bite of something you fancy eating.
Energy, according to Guy Brown, a biologist, is the basic constituent of the universe. It is, he says, even more fundamental than matter. It is the fountain-head of all metamorphosis. Every single event in the universe, for example, uses energy. The human body too requires enormous amounts of it — even in ‘dreamless’ sleep. To be alive, therefore, is actually a continuous transformation of energy. Energy is the nuclear expression of our lives. Lack of energy is the most common symptom of depression, illness and exhaustion.
It goes without saying that our bodies and minds are powered by electricity. How such an electrical constituent worked was itself a mystery for ages. Not anymore. Thanks to modern technology, we are now able to image and visualise changes in energy within our brains — from moment to moment. As we think and feel, right now, we are beginning to understand how our mind and body communicate with each other in health and illness.
While it is true that contemporary concepts of mind and body energy are fragmented, we now know how indispensable energy is to our lives. Because, everything we do uses energy? Yes. This is also precisely the reason why the ‘stock’ basis of energy has been extended to many different capacities and fields. From physical, mental and emotional energy to psychic and creative action, besides the rapidly-expanding area of bioenergetics — the story of living energy — or, the new understanding of the energy of life.
In simple terms, bioenergetics is a luminous overview of how energy courses through us at both the micro-level of our cells and the macro-plane of our behaviour. Of what may be described as the energy dynamics of our athletic limits and our excited minds. In other words, the strength of mitochondria-rich ‘brown’ muscles and the high-speed power of our ‘white’ muscles, including the science of what makes our minds and bodies tick with computerised precision. The bottom line, of course, is, energy is the understanding of the life and death of our molecules, cells and bodies. It is, therefore, crucial we extended more attention to it — because, it is the architect and atomiser of all things, big and small.
Let’s now look at sleep — the position from which we embarked upon this piece. Sleep is a state of physical and mental rest. During sleep a person becomes relatively passive and unconscious of the environment. One may, therefore, call sleep a form of aloofness with the world too. Sleep is more important than diet and exercise. It has been experimentally proven that a good night’s slumber is the single-most important predictor of longevity too.
Sleep is characterised by a general drop in body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and most other bodily functions. However this may be, our brain is never at ‘rest’ during sleep. Research has shown that the brain is actively ‘energetic’ during sleep just as much as when one is awake.
Sleep is composed of two distinct states — non-REM [non-rapid eye movement] sleep and REM [rapid eye movement] sleep. The two alternate in 90-110-minute cycles. A normal sleep pattern of eight hours, for instance, has 4-5 cycles. By way of graphics, cycles of sleep are often compared to a staircase — especially, a stairway’s up-and-down pattern. Nearly 75 per cent of our sleep cycle is spent in non-REM sleep. When a person is woken up during any stage of non-REM sleep, they often report simple thought processes. They may not be able to recall any specific dream though.
During REM sleep, our breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and low. Our eyes wobble quickly just as well. Our limbs also become temporarily ‘paralysed.’ In addition, our heart rate and blood pressure levels go up. Yet, it is during REM sleep that we are able to remember or recall dreams — from the most trivial to the most dramatic.
Over fifty years ago, sleep was thought of to be a passive, inactive part of our daily lives. Today, research has shown that it is not so. New studies have demonstrated that lack of sleep affects our daily functioning; it is also the precursor of systemic diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. In other words, it disturbs our physical, emotional and psychological health, in more ways than one could ever imagine.
Let’s now explore yet another pattern of mind-body energy — the emergence of a new understanding of an old construct, a classy synthesis on the potential of our brains to grow. Not long ago, researchers in London, UK, who compared brain scans from sixteen male cab drivers, with fifty from the general population, validated the idea. They reported that an area of the brain, called the posterior hippocampus, was incredibly and notably ‘greater’ in cab drivers. This brings us to yet another significant pointer — the ‘said aspect’ of the hippocampus is one of the cardinal brain areas responsible for navigation, learning and special memory.
You’d, perforce, infer that English cabbies essentially have larger ‘memory’ areas, along with distinct on-the-job exposure. This, however, wasn’t the case. Researchers found the largest memory areas in drivers with long-term acquaintance and experience. The more experienced the cab driver, the better was his working capacity and memory. Guess what could be the ‘score’ with good local cabbies in India, by way of comparison? Well, we all ought to know the answer — without research.
The outcome of the UK study, in question, anyway was remarkable for one primal reason, viz., our evolving understanding of aging and the brain. For long, it was widely accepted that loss of brain cells characterised normal aging activity. It was also originally construed that connections in the brain were established in the developmental phases of childhood and it was much later that some sort of a brain cell dropout followed. New studies show that there’s a tangible likelihood and justification for continually expanding our memory banks in terms of on-going brain development, or evolution.
There may be another possibility construct too — the determination of the extent to which mental exercises can energise, invert, or compensate the negative effects of stress on memory. Researchers have proposed that repeated stress can lead to the body’s inability to turn off its major biological stress pathways. This is a factor that can directly lead to significant memory loss. Studies also evidence that substances, like glucocorticoids, which act as the body’s natural steroids and excitatory amino acids — neurotransmitters, or chemical substances, that enable nerve transmission in key areas — directly result in the diminution of nerve fibres, or dendrites, in the hippocampus.
Now, the big question. Can mental exercise preserve, energise, or build our memory capacity even in the presence of significant stressors? The answer is yes. This is one reason why researchers recommend a healthy ‘mental-workout’ each day along with exercise, proper diet and stress reduction. But, the onus is on us. We have to look at several potential approaches to reduce stress and improve our brain inclinations, including our intelligence, emotional and spiritual energy and also quotient.
For the roadmap, one would, of course, do well to take-off with the following templates — practice meditation, read books, newspapers and listen to music, or educational, inspirational, and spiritual tapes/CDs; write or memorise poems or songs; maintain a diary, or learn a new language; research a new hobby; not use the calculator to check the grocer’s bill; plan a mental vacation to a place we’d love to visit; solve Sudoku or crossword puzzles; play Scrabble with kids; and, develop our own sense of humour by memorising old or new jokes. They all count.
The inference is obvious. Quality time spent in a challenging mental exercise every day would help maintain what we cannot yield to relinquish. The reason is simple. It is also profound. Our mind is too precious to waste.
It is never too late to nurture one of our most precious gifts — mind and body energy.