Since the dawn of the twenty-first century, many scientists have come to a surprising conclusion: Eastern medical practices offer the same, if not more benefits, as western medications. Meditation, a well-known but relatively little understood Eastern practice, has become popular because of its tested ability to increase happiness, reduce blood pressure and reduce stress. Scientists have now begin to explore meditation's effects on the hormone oxytocin – the "love hormone."
Oxytocin In Brief:
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter in the brain, secreted from the walnut-sized pituitary gland that is the heart of the body's endocrine system. For many years, doctors have known of oxytocin's role in mammalian gestational and birthing periods. The hormone is known to be secreted during childbirth to help expand the cervix and to produce milk for breastfeeding. In recent years, studies have shed more light on a lesser-known effect of the chemical: its affect on human relationships.
How It's Produced:
Scientists have long known oxytocin is secreted from the pituitary gland during the times of childbirth or breastfeeding. However, tests have shown the chemical is also produced during affectionate or intimate contact between people. Although the exact mechanism for the chemical's production is still clouded, it is clear that when two attracted people touch, hug, or kiss, oxytocin is produced. The result is an enhanced desire to be held or be close to another.
What Depletes Oxytocin:
Oxytocin at its core lasts for only a fleeting period of time: around five to ten minutes at the maximum. This is because, like many endorphin-based hormones, oxytocin is produced to offer a small period of happiness or pleasure. Our bodies are built to self-regulate so that we do not acclimate to the endorphin rush. Thus, it works when it's needed, but only when it's needed. Unfortunately, if a person suffers from severe stress or anxiety, the body also produces chemicals – such as cortisol – which effectively block oxytocin's effects. Where oxytocin produces positive feelings, the negative feelings generated from cortisol and similar hormones simply outweigh the oxytocin.
Oxytocin's Effect on Relationships:
With new studies claiming oxytocin is an important hormone in human bonding, scientists have begun to evaluate its real effect on males and females in relationships. It appears that touching and gazing are the most basic acts that can produce oxytocin. While the trigger is not fully understood yet, the sensations produced by these actions cause the brain to begin producing oxytocin, which manifests as significant or extreme longing in men, and a feeling of security and safety in women. Ultimately, as two individuals become more intimate, kissing and hugging, their brains produce more oxytocin. In turn, this causes them to crave greater physical contact. The hormone is an essential and valuable part of any emotional / physical relationship between human beings.
Meditation's Role in Oxytocin Production:
Meditation can increase oxytocin's effect on the body and greatly enhance the chemical's beneficial effects. The mechanism for this is well-understood: meditation reduces catalysts that produce cortisol, the "stresser" hormone. Meditation reduces anxiety, fear, stress, shyness and other negative emotions associated with cortisol production. In a double benefit, meditation reduces the causes of cortisol while increasing the frequency of oxytocin. Without cortisol, oxytocin is free to provide its maximum benefit to the body. It will not only have a much more potent effect but also a more frequent appearance. In women, meditation greatly enhances the production of ocytocin. In men, meditation increases testosterone production as well, creating an optimal balance that results in a companion who is both sensitive and manly, a trait women love.
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