Week Seven: Endocrine System

By this point, you should be more tuned-in to the messages that your body is sending all the time. The endocrine system, also known as the hormone system, is a network of glands and hormones responsible for sending and modifying many of the important messages communicated between body systems and eventually brought to the attention of our conscious awareness.

Hormones, chemical messengers made by the nine glands of the endocrine system, are released into the bloodstream to communicate with the nervous system and coordinate an appropriate response to stimuli such as growth, reproduction, stress, or injury. Hormones also control many biological processes. For instance, the thyroid gland supports growth, development, and metabolism. Male and female hormones are critical for sexual health and often dictate emotions. Cortisol (“stress hormone”), released by the adrenal gland, communicates with the nervous system and brain to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, body energy levels, and the fight-or-flight response.

Imbalance in the endocrine system may lead to a range of health problems including anxiety, blood sugar imbalances, diabetes, weight gain, obesity, immune system suppression, heart and blood pressure imbalances, and more.

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Exercise 1H — Endocrine System

Action:

This week our mindfulness practice supports our endocrine system by reducing stress response from the inside out. Long ago, during a meditation retreat, I learned a very powerful practice from a Buddhist monk to help handle the results of stressful situations. I have successfully used this method for almost a decade with restorative and yin yoga practitioners to help them overcome their daily stress. The technique was called “RAIN.”

R - Recognition

At the end of each day, take a moment to recognize the events and circumstances where you found yourself stressed.

A - Allowance

Once you have listed your recognized stressors, allow yourself to observe your reactions toward those circumstances without further judgment.

I - Identification

After recognition and allowance, identify each stress factor and ask yourself: “Why did it make me feel that way?” “What can I do about it?” and “How could I react to this calmly?

N - Nonattachment

Now that you have recognized, allowed, and identified your stress factors for today, remind yourself that you are more than your mind and your emotions. You cannot afford to hold on to those feelings and neither can your endocrine system. There’s no need to risk your physical and mental health because of minor stressors.

Let it go, wash it away.

This week, you are invited to practice RAIN to meet and overcome daily stress and anxieties. Some of your stressors may seem insignificant; however, depending on the amount of attention and energy you dedicate to them, your endocrine system may respond to them in major ways. Let’s wash it all away with RAIN.

As an additional technique to support stress response and to help rejuvenate all systems of the body, consider spending this week getting more in touch with your breath. As you may have already discovered when working with the muscular system and nervous system, the focused breath can serve as a very valuable tool to either energize or relax any part of the body and mind. When you are taking full, steady inhales, you may feel a sense of physical strength and mental sharpness. Alternatively, by allowing yourself to exhale fully and by increasing the duration of exhalation, you can generate a sense of relaxation, relief, and calm.

Normally, the breath automatically reacts to signals from other systems of the body. With practice, simply tuning into your current breathing pattern, without manipulation, can provide an expanding wealth of information about your natural response to the current situation. This awareness can even bring physical systems closer to balance without any further effort. Once you become more familiar with the subtleties of your breath, you can even focus your attention on an uncomfortable physical or mental sensation then “breathe it out,” exhaling through your mouth, feeling relief as the sensation dissipates.
Work with your breath and the RAIN technique this week to learn how to manage your stress response from the inside out.

Duration and Frequency:

Practice RAIN daily at the end of the day for one to three weeks or until you feel you have a better understanding of the main stressors in your life. Mindful breathing and the RAIN technique can also be used any time that you feel the physical, mental, or emotional toll of a stressful situation.

This is the last exercise in the chapter. Now is a good time to take stock of any physical stress that has become apparent over the course of the chapter. If you desire to continue your physical development based on a set plan, your Development Log has space for you to create an Action Plan to carry with you as you move forward. Otherwise, continue working to raise awareness of your health and to maintain your physical form during daily activity. You will soon experience many of the positive changes that a healthier lifestyle can provide.

1H
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After practicing the exercises in the preceding chapter, you are now reminded of your complex physical body and its needs. At this point, you are a living example of how mindfully maintaining a healthier lifestyle supports your entire state of being. The next chapter focuses on a non-physical aspect of our existence. You are encouraged to continue your simple physical practices to improve your quality of your life, day by day.

Because you committed to your own physical health improvement, now you are responsibly conscious of your body from a higher perspective than before. Next, you will work to responsibly connect with your mental state.

Every belief system (spiritual, mechanical, philosophical, medical, etc.) introduces a psychological framework or paradigm to define, direct, and discipline human nature, the meaning of life, and life’s purpose. It is through that worldview that we, as human beings, create a coherent picture of reality for ourselves, our communities, and our society. Our living standards, intentions, choices, and actions create our reality frame for ourselves and others, whether we are fully conscious of it or not.

In the following chapter, you begin a mindful practice to improve your mental health and emotional stability. You’re not trying to create a paradigm shift nor manipulate your current belief system, but rather use simple techniques to improve your current experience. The simple practice of contemplation, analysis, and understanding of your daily mental activities is just as important, valuable, and effective as your physical health care. Through this mental observation, you can enhance your current state of awareness to greater heights of understanding and compassion.