Stress is an inescapable part of life.
We’ve all experienced stress, but in 2020 our collective and individual stress has reached unprecedented levels that are having far-reaching negative impacts on us, those we love and our communities.
You know the harmful effects of unresolved stress as it well publicized in the mainstream stress story-This story basically details how unresolved stress leads to anxiety, depression, fatigue, hopelessness, substance abuse, and even suicide, and is a primary cause of the most deadly and debilitating diseases of our time including heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, chronic digestive issues and immune suppression.
You know and maybe you’ve experienced that unresolved stress even when it doesn’t lead to the conditions above, saps our vital energy, dysregulates our hormones, takes away our enjoyment of life, and decreases our ability to show up in this life in the way that we want.
But what if the story of stress being told in the mainstream and alternative health worlds was wrong. What if the perspective that we’ve taken as truth and the approaches to dealing with it that are derived from that incomplete narrative, are half the problem?
And a big what if- what if you had a more complete and truthful story, that includes ancient perspectives integrated into cutting edge concepts that not only serve to free you from stress but even more importantly give you the ability to embrace challenge, choose how you want to respond, and work with it to heal, grow and evolve?
This story, our story told here, starts by putting the spotlight and proving the falsity of the failed medical model of stress that keeps us as disempowered victims. And it ends with a perspective and skills to choose our response to challenge which gives us back the futures that we want. Along the way, we’ll get a brief jaunt through evolutionary biology, a smidge of physiology, a focus briefly on transformative healing herbs, a dive into self-awareness and comes sprinkled with a few Aha moments, and ends, in the aforementioned evolved state.
Here are the highlights:
• The Mainstream Medical Narrative Of Stress is Part of the Problem
• Nature Doesn’t Make Mistakes-Stress is Natural
• Stress and Challenge Have and Will Always Exist
• Our Physiology is Brilliantly Prepared for Stress and Rest
• Challenge Leads to Growth, and Rest Leads to Integration of that Growth
• An Excess, or Deficiency of Challenge or Growth Leads to Imbalance and Suffering
• Self-Awareness Leads to Insight Which Allows Us to Choose Challenge or Rest
• Ancient Healers Used Healing Herbs and Lifestyle to Support These Choices
• You Have Control
Every organism that has ever existed has experienced relatively constant, though intermittent, stress throughout its life.
We humans got here 300,000 or so years living and thriving in an incredibly stressfu
From weather extremes, to food shortages, to needs to follow animal migration patterns over long distances, to building dwellings from raw materials to dealing with conflict with other humans, we grew in response to challenge.
And during our evolution, our brilliant bodies and minds developed a beautiful harmony of physiology, including a highly sensitive neuro-endocrine system to deal with every challenge that we encountered.
But then, about 60 years ago, as natural medicine started to take a back seat, fostered by an intense propaganda and suppression movement from for profit chemical-based medicine, we’ve been told to see stress as a problem.
At this time, a false concept began growing in popularity which maintained that our amazing bodies and minds are inherently flawed, broken, diseased, and are genes are defective so modern medicine’s approaches with drugs and surgery are the only ways that we avoid illness. While there is a role for modern medicine, you’ll agree that this notion that we’re flawed and need to be fixed by harsh interventions is so inherently counter-intuitive that it is a wonder that it ever took hold in the public consciousness.
The false story of us having flawed systems, that can only be saved my toxic chemicals and invasive surgeries is in dire need of retelling. It engenders a disempowered victim mindset that has taken hold nationwide except in a few conscious circles and people like you.
What’s your perspective on this? Do you think that our biology evolved and thrived for hundreds of thousands of years and then all of a sudden crapped out on us in few generations? Yeah, us neither.
Nature, Stress and Ancient Wisdom
The ancients knew the whole story of challenge, stress, rest and evolution that we’re discussing here. They had perspectives that were holistically informed so that their remedies and approaches were based on consciously choosing how to respond to challenge, rather than always avoiding it or being victims to it.
In a physiologic nutshell, that closely aligns with the ancient Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, we have one energy reserve that can be directed in two specific ways. It can be directed towards rebuilding/repairing, and/or it can be directed towards moving and expanding.
At rest, our vital energy is directed towards rebuilding-We take in nourishment, we repair tissue, detoxify, and integrate new ideas into knowledge. This is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system, which includes the vagus nerve that is getting a lot press right now. It is erroneously referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system, but this doesn’t encapsulate what is actually happening. During rest, when we don’t have a challenge to respond to, we take that moment to clean house, rebuild tissue, detoxify, bring in more nutrients and consolidate ideas.
When a new challenge arises, our brilliant neuroendocrine systems reduce the amount of energy directed towards rebuilding and healing and direct it to facilitating external activity, growth and expansion. This is called the sympathetic nervous system response, and includes changes in the muscles, heart, lungs, immune system with hormones and neurotransmitters that you’ve heard of including adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol. This is erroneously referred to as the fight or flight, but again, this term is misleadingly inadequate to describe what this system does. This system, that is better referred to as the energize, move, learn and evolve system, is how we adapt and evolve throughout life.
Each of these systems interact in a constant dynamic expansion and consolidation, learning and growing in every organism akin to the Taoist wisdom of Yin, and Yang, Structure and Energy.
And like the Taoist’s knew, when in balance these two halves of our energy allocation, we thrive by growing, learning and evolving, and by nourishing, healing and consolidating the new perspectives.
We evolved not in spite of stress, but because of it.
Consider for a moment, the last big breakthrough or period of growth that you had. Was it when you weren’t challenged, or was it during a time of relative rest?
Challenge is what leads us to grow and evolve. Rest is the time where we integrate that growth and settle into our new evolved place.
So, unsurprisingly you don’t have failed biology and our stress response is not to blame for what happens when we have excessive unresolved stress symptoms. Its there for a reason, but due to our lack of understanding of how we can work with it, due in large part to our perspectives that are shaped by the medical model, we blame our bodies for what is, ultimately an evolutionary necessity.
How do we use this new understanding practically?
It all starts with perspective
Healing, that shift from less vital and vibrant, to more vibrant, vital and whole, almost always starts with a change of thinking, and an expansion of our perspective.
When we consider that the actual problem with stress, is not stress itself, but rather the narrative and the entire disabling worldview that pathologizes it, then we can decide, in an empowered, self-directed way how we want to be in the moment and over
the course of our lives.
If we’re able to, as the ancients did, see challenge as a needed stimulus to growth and evolution, and rest as a time of integration and healing. we can begin to make choices about which we need most in the moment.
Then, by understanding where our energy is being directed, and where we want it to be directed, we can make choices to control this to align with our goals.
It begins with perspective.
Then, from that perspective, the next step is identifying where we want to be, and then, choosing behaviors and ancient and modern remedies that support us to be in alignment with that goal.
Know Thyself as the second step in transmuting challenge into growth
Our attentions are constantly drawn outward in our world of hyper-distraction. The average person spends very few moments quietly, being introspective.
But as the oracle told Neo in the Matrix, Know Thyself, Temet Nosce, which is originally attributed the Oracle of Delphi, a semi-mythical place in Greece, where it is inscribed as the first maxim, or principle for living well.
There are many ways to develop an awareness of how our brilliant neuro-endocrine systems are functioning and its simpler than most people think. As part of our mind-body curriculum in our Herbalist Certificate program we go into depth, but this blog, due to limitations of space, if you choose to spend a quiet moment observing your energy and mind, this can go a long way to helping you truly understand your responses to stress, challenge and rest.
When we want to change something, grow and evolve, we can encourage that part of our nervous systems that facilitates the required physiology. If for example, we have a long work week ahead, and we know that we can’t avoid it, we can choose the right remedies from our list of adaptogens to support our bodies as they spend a lot of time in the energize and move half of our yin/yang systems.
And we simultaneously, can decide that since that half of our nervous systems compromise our heal and nourish half, we can ensure that we spend a little extra effort supporting our digestion and sleep.
Or, if we look ahead to the week and we see that even despite all the issues going on in the world, we aren’t choosing to act on them, we will focus more on directing our energy to healing and rebuilding by choosing remedies that support calm, peace, nourishment and alter our lifestyle to match with more meditative activities.
Our minds, and our spirits, like our muscles grow and expand in response to challenge. Integration, and healing only happens in times of rest: And you can choose either
To know that each side of our Yin/Yang balance is under our control is a pretty big leap for most people who have never heard this before.
And taking steps to recognize this, and then learn the skills is not simply embracing the perspective. It takes effort, practice, and development of techniques and can be benefited by learning some herbalism, as herbs have been used successfully for this for thousands of year.
Herbalism, Challenge, and Ancient Wisdom
The herbs that the ancients discovered as powerful facilitators of evolution can support any part of this process. There are two main categories that are of particular interest:
a category of about 25 or so herbs assist the mind. Each acts differently than the others, so each shows up as the perfect remedy based on exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. This is the beauty of having nuanced herbalism. When you know that of the 400 or so herbs use in western herbalism, that there is a category of them, Nervines, that reduce our total to 25 or so, you’ve taken the first step in choosing which is most appropriate. The next consideration is from the 25 or so, which matches your needs is based on the subcategories or nervines-Do you want relaxation, sleep, uplifting, mentally centering, improved cognitive function etc. here is just a smidgen of what my favorite 5 do:
Skullcap-Tonic, Relaxant, antispasmodic, calming, painkilling and has a strengthening/normalizing effect on the overall mental emotional expression that we refer to as tonic.
Gotu Kola-Relaxant, calming, and most importantly wisdom-enhancing like no other herb used not just by modern students throughout India, as well as by ancient yogis in their pursuit of spiritual advancement.
Valerian-Sedative, relaxant-The best herb for sleep that we possess but it has the occasional effect of causing the opposite in ‘excess’ constitutions. Our mountain variety doesn’t have this opposite effect nearly as common as the one found in the herb trade.
Kava-Relaxant-The most anxiolytic, or antianxiety of the herbs here, a lot is known about varietals with specific effects. This herb is best chosen from very reputable sources to ensure the best effects
Blue Vervain-Tonic, this overwhelmingly bitter herb, calms circular thinking that is so often associated with stress.
assist the body’s utilization of our vital energy reserves in times of challenge. There are about 25 or so that we regularly talk about at Vital Ways Institute. These remedies are very different than one another, even more so than the nervines discussed above. To use them well, it’s important to get decent training with someone who knows their differences. They are absolutely not interchangeable nor are the ‘herbs for stress’, as I hope by now you know that there is no such single thing as stress, as its best understood as challenge. So, a much better interpretation of Adaptogens is that they are herbs to facilitate the distribution of our vital force in the way that we want.
Ginseng: Tonic, for deep restorative, nourishing and energizing effect. This is the most revered herb in all of China, for a reason.
Ashwagandha: The so called ‘Indian Ginseng’ is a calming/relaxant adaptogen with deep and comprehensive tonic effect, this herb facilitates movement towards the more nourishing side of our Yin/Yang energy distribution as it reduces the challenge response.
Rhodiola: This aromatic, tonic adaptogen supports our growth and evolution side of the Yin-Yang balance, and allows us to do the work necessary to make the changes that we want and not devitalize ourselves in the process.
Eleuthero: Formerly called Siberian Ginseng, this ginseng family plant has been supporting the neuro-endocrine needs of native people in Siberia for a long time. Siberia is a tremendously stressful place to live in nature, so can do wonders for us. It is mildly stimulating in excess but supportive to both sides of the Yin-Yang range when used in lower amounts.
Cordyceps: The caterpillar zombie mushroom that supports us to evolve, by assisting the organs that facilitate change, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain during the Yang periods.
This short introduction to herbs to facilitate a vital response to challenge, stress and growth, is expanded upon on in our public classes on the topic coming soon, and the deep dive happens in our Herbalist Certificate Program that you can find out more about here:
Summary and Key Points:
This blog post, which retells the story of healing in times of stress, offers a new perspective, validated by history, supported by science and modernized into our Vital Ways approach to challenge, rest, stress, and yin-yang balance, is a very truncated version of the whole story, but presents what I hope can offer you usable ideas, encouragement and a reminder that you are able to thrive not just despite challenge but because of it. And you’re not alone in this pursuit of embracing your empowered health self-direction, but are part of a conscious community of people who understand the healing power of nature, like those in the community of Vital Ways Institute.
- Stress is unavoidable
- The modern stress story pathologizes one of our most important physiological super powers and creates a victim mindset that is disempowering.
- All living things have a near constant need to adjust to challenges.
- We have two general evolutionarily derived ways that we allocate our vital energy: to grow and to heal that can also be seen as evolve and integrate
- Instead of seeing stress as a problem that we should avoid, we can see it for what it is, a necessary factor in growth that can harm us, if we ignore it.
- Changing perspective is a very common necessary first step in healing
- Understanding our bodies allocation of our vital energy in the moment, and deciding how we want it to be is the conscious way to work with nature’s wisdom.
- Herbalism can be combined with lifestyle choices to achieve our short term and longer term goals, and free us from a disempowering mindset, to one that is informed and aligned with what we value most.
- Healing is not an intervention, it’s a mindset, supported by lifestyle, nutrition and healing herbs.