How’s Your Milieu Intérieur?

In the mid 1800s, French physiologist Claude Bernard first described our body’s ability to regulate itself. He was one of the first to apply scientific method in medicine and his writings about “milieu intérieur,” later translated to homeostasis, was to bring him international notice.

Claude Bernard

Homeostasis simply means that our bodies know how to take care of themselves. They have control mechanisms built in to regulate our heart rate, metabolism, blood pressure, blood sugar, breathing rates, oxygen levels, etc.

When we perceive physical danger, our blood pressure, heart rate and other bodily processes ramp up to fight or run away. We recognize the danger and our bodies respond with temporary extra energy to combat whatever is necessary. Our bodies cannot handle this extra energy and alertness for long—but long enough to outrun a falling tree or to defend ourselves in a fight. Then our bodies regulate these functions back to their sustainable levels.

Injury and disease can cause this regulation to break down or malfunction, but this is not the primary reason for health problems in this area.

It’s our thinking.

Our thoughts of danger, even though purely psychological, create bodily responses. When we become fearful of a situation at work, our bodies think we’re outrunning that falling tree. When we have a disagreement with our neighbor, our bodies are preparing for that physical fight.

Many of us have mental stress associated with work, relationships, children, poverty or legal entanglements that are ongoing. Our bodies are continually on alert for the impending fight.

And we suffer for it. A WebMD article states that “75%-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.”

What can we do about this? Ultimately, we must calm down. The good news is that a healthy spiritual practice has a calming effect. Meditation, prayer, visioning, and contemplation have all been shown to be beneficial. These good effects are cumulative. Regular meditators can handle stressful situations more easily and calmly. Research shows that meditation and contemplation change our brain chemistry so that when we experience scary or upsetting sensations we can more easily look at them calmly and rationally.

A daily spiritual practice, including mediation, can protect you from some of our most troublesome diseases and prolong your life. It can allow you to make better decisions in times of trouble. It can even help you to more rationally approach some of life’s most difficult times.

Oh, yes—and then there’s that “connection to God thing.” That’s quite nice, too.

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