Home' Nova National : NOVA NATIONAL FEBRUARY 2012 Contents Holistic health care practitioners
and their modalities are
amazingly diverse. What they
have in common is a shared
motivation to heal others. From nurses
to homoeopaths, yoga therapists to Reiki
masters, reflexologists to pranic healers,
caring for the welfare of other people is
a giving vocation. Regardless of whether
monetary exchanges occur, the underly-
ing impetus to train in and practise as
any kind of therapist is altruistic. Of
course, other motivations may crop up
and cynical onlookers may accuse healers
© NOVA FEBRUARY 2012
The Circle of
of being self serving. The curious truth is
that it actually doesn't matter. Research
is emerging that supports the feeling
many people have experienced -- that
giving benefits the giver and the receiver.
Healers are, in fact, healing themselves as
they help others and the circle expands
the more people are involved in the
intentional giving of care.
One model to explain how helpers
benefit from giving originated in the late
1970s and was coined by psychologists
"helpers' high". Findings from early
studies showed that charity volunteers
felt happier than non-volunteers. As the
fields of neuroscience and psychology
expanded, it was found that even very
simple expressions of kindness increase
dopamine and other endorphins. What's
so wonderful about dopamine is that
when the brain is flooded with it, we
immediately associate the behaviour
that brought on the chemical cascade
with positive feelings and will seek the
same experience again. Kindness begets
kindness, in ourselves as much as in others.
Doing good deeds can even become
Along with experiencing greater levels
of happiness and altered brain chemistry,
there are other physical benefits to
altruism. Feeling compassion towards
another being increases the activity of the
vagus nerve, a major nerve which controls
inflammation in the body. Stimulation
of the vagus nerve creates the relaxation
response, which affects numerous systems
in the body including the nervous system
and the cardiovascular system. Relaxation
has a favourable impact on blood vessel
dilation, normalising blood pressure.
Considering the damaging impact of stress
hormones on the body, compassion is a
very potent therapy indeed.
The 'bonding hormone' oxytocin is
also released in response to human
kindness. Best known for uniting parents
and babies in an altruistic relationship,
oxytocin also has physiological benefits.
Along with creating an emotional bond,
this hormone causes blood vessels to
dilate and is considered cardio-protective.
Hence when we care about others we
really do feel good in our hearts.
More recent work on mirror neurons
explains how when we connect with
someone else, we influence their brain
function and emotional experience.
Mirror neurons are the physiological
explanation for empathy -- our ability to
feel what another feels. With the feeling
of connection it is natural to wish the
best for the other and this is a common
practice in Buddhist and yogic med-
itations -- to wish for the happiness of
In a therapeutic setting, the practitioner
is effectively sampling the client's state of
mind and, using whatever tools of their
trade apply, guiding the person seeking
healing to a preferred state of being. At
the same time, the practitioner cannot
help but be moved by this interaction.
When the other becomes happier, so
does the self. When self and other connect,
there is no experience of separation. As
a part of the universe healing another part
of the universe, both are elevated through
their connection. An ideal therapist will
have practised repeatedly the art of
positive and expansive thinking and
feeling so that the neural interaction flows
In a 2009 TEDTalk, author Robert
Wright shares his insight into how
compassion has evolved. From a biological
perspective there is survival benefit
in 'kin selection'. Just like the mother
who has bonded with her infant will act
altruistically to protect her child, animals
also feel compassion for close relatives
and will help them. Biologists believe this
is evolutionarily effective for the protection
Holistic healers are
the luckiest of people,
Gibson, because in
giving they receive so
much in return.
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