In the book, he outlines four critical stages of the relaxation response:
- First, you must undergo hard mental or physical struggle. A trail run would be a perfect example of such a physical challenge. A period of mental focus, like knitting or a crossword, is an example of a mental challenge.
- Second, during the period of stress, you pull out the "breakout trigger" that eases the mind away from the day-to-day stresses. Hanson's research shows this is more than just your mind drifting away - it is a biochemical reaction that pumps nitric oxide through the body. Nitric oxide counters the negative effects of the stress hormone (norepinephrine) that comes with step 1, thereby reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and in general lowering the metabolism. Nitric oxide is also associated with increased levels of endorphins and dopamine.
- Third, your mind makes a clean break (referred to as a "breakout proper") and in that moment, you have a peak experience. What is the peak experience? In general, it's a positive connection of some sort, such as a new way of looking at a problem, a new idea, or perhaps a personal best athletic performance.
- Lastly, your mind acheives a "new normal state" of mind and body, with improved performance and new brain patterns. I think this is the hour of creative bliss that I feel after my long runs.
My Breakout Lesson
I had a life-changing breakout moment on one of my long runs a few years back, and I continue to reference it regularly to keep my life in balance. It happened around mile 9 (where it almost always happens) on a Thursday morning run in Huddart Park, when this thought entered my head:
"There is no such thing as work/life balance. There is only life balance."
It was a simple thought, but profound. At this time in my life, all of my fun actitivites were largely to balance out the stress of my job. I needed to to run to stay fit for long days at work...I had to take vacations because I was of the verge of exhaustion...I had to interact with my family to tether me back to reality after talking about the future high tech all day. It hadn't occured to me think of work as a cohesive part of my life - it was always at odds with everything. Is there a job out there that doesn't create unneeded stress, has respect for my personal life, and embraces who I am? Is it possible to get peace of mind FROM work? Absolutely. I resigned from my job soon afterwards.
I still think about "life balance" regularly, especially in this time of the season when my running is purely for fun and not for an upcoming event. Everything contributes to balance, and probably nothing more than finding an easy way to reach your creative peak regularly.
How about you guys? Any breakout thoughts or experiences that have helped you? Feel free to leave comments if you would like. I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season.