What is it about a fire in the fireplace that immediately elicits feelings of comfort and ease? Is it the warmth, the sound of gentle crackle and pop, the rhythmic pattern of undulating flames…?
Perhaps all three; along with the added benefit that a fire invites us to slow down, sit down, and enjoy it.
Our modern lifestyle can keep us in a constant state of high alert status, or the “fight, freeze or flight response.” (FFF) This is a normal, healthy response to stimulus or threat that has kept us humans on the planet for millennia. A tiny, 2-part gland called the Amygdala that rests in the center of our brains is programed to keep us safe by remembering a threat and triggering a response to it. IE: Stimulus = Saber-toothed Tiger, Response = Fight, Freeze or Flight.
However, that ancient protective response can be triggered by not-so-life-threatening stimulus in our world today. In its effort to make sense of the stimuli that it is constantly bombarded with, the Amygdala can generalize and lump vaguely similar threats together. Think about your most recent trip on a highway. Did someone cut you off?, not let you in traffic?, run a stop sign? (and you had your kids in the car- whew!) Your Amygdala reads those stimuli in exactly the same way it has been programmed to read “Saber-toothed tiger” – Yikes! In addition, the sub-conscious does not know the difference between “real” and “virtual,” so even violent or disconcerting images on TV and through other media can prompt the FFF response.
That protective response floods the body with adrenaline, increases heart rate, slows digestion, tenses muscles and pumps blood to the extremities for fight or flight, leaving the brain sorely lacking in the nourishment it needs for optimal function and us feeling like we just ran a marathon. No wonder we are tired after a long day!
A surprisingly simple, comforting and elegant way to de-stress and sooth the FFF response is to enjoy the benefits a fire in the hearth.
Raising body temperature just a few degrees allows more efficient circulation; relaxing the muscles and bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body; creating a feeling of safety, security and ease.
The sound of the gentle sizzle and crackle of the burning wood serve as pleasant “white noise” which gives the brain just enough to occupy it, allowing other over-stimulated parts (ie: the Amygdala) to relax and rejuvenate
The almost hypnotic visual pattern created by dancing flames also provide as a pleasant pre-occupation for an over-stimulated brain and may even induce an Alpha brainwave response similar to that experienced in meditation or hypnosis.
Maybe our ancestors were on to something. After a hard day in Saber-tooth-ville- Fire Good Medicine.
Alice Brink is a Self-Empowerment Coach, Trainer and Mind/Body Healthcare Practitioner and may be reached at www.alicebrink.com