I felt a more scientific post wanting to be birthed this week, so thought I would talk about one of my passions – the biochemistry of bonding and love. My background is biological science, particularly cellular biochemistry, genetics and nutrition. Although I do not practice this professionally nowadays, it has given me a good basis on which to pin other more soul-led concepts.
I am fascinated by what happens on a cellular level when we expand our awareness and open our hearts to more love and trust. Equally, I am keen to understand what happens biochemically when a person is traumatised, emotionally overwhelmed and generally living a life based on fear. How can we consciously work with biochemistry to encourage a state of feeling safe and connected? Can we bridge the gap between rational science and spiritual growth to best support a person’s evolution and healing?
One of my first “aha” moments for linking biochemistry to soul work was Bruce Lipton’s book – The Biology of Belief. Bruce is an American cell biologist who has devoted much of his career to studying the effects of our beliefs on DNA and gene expression. This sphere of biology is part of a larger body of research called epigenetics. Basically, what external factors, other than our DNA are responsible for influencing genes being switched on or off? This can include environmental factors such as pollution, nutritional intake, exercise and stress stimuli, but also our ideas and beliefs about life and ourselves. This is HUGE! Bruce and others have demonstrated that what you think can alter your body on a cellular level. You are not at the mercy of your inherited DNA, you are able to change which genes are expressed by your cells and therefore alter your biochemistry with your mind. This would explain the anomaly that has bothered scientists and doctors for many years – the Placebo Effect. If someone believes they are being given something to help them heal…then they, in a large number of cases, will heal. It is not the substance that matters so much, but a shift in their belief system which switches genes on and off to enable healing. You can extrapolate this to not just physical illness, but also dis-ease of the psyche and emotional trauma. The key is figuring out which set of beliefs are holding that person in a state of imbalance, and changing those beliefs to more life enhancing ones.Beliefs which encourage an inner state of self-care, love and connection to others and our own inner landscape. Maybe we can consciously alter our biochemistry to one of love-based neuropeptides such as oxytocin, rather than fear-based cortisol production?
Empowered with this information, I have been on a 7 year journey to uncover which of my personal beliefs are holding me back from expressing my fullest potential. Over the years I have played with several “belief modifying” techniques, some more useful than others. Mantras, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), meditation, plant medicines, dream-work and Sacred Fool work (making a tit of yourself to confuse the ego into new thinking!) Some loosened beliefs more than others, plant medicine and EFT where particularly transformative for me. The amazing thing about beliefs is that they are simply a series of stories we tell ourselves, they do not have any real substance and therefore can be changed quite easily. They challenge comes from how attached we are to those stories, If our fragile egos need to believe something about ourselves or the world in order to feel “safe” or “right” then letting that belief go can be tricky. This is why techniques that bypass the ego are very handy! You can chant a positive mantra about being lovable in the mirror for many months, but if the ego has a personal investment in you staying unlovable (perhaps because love is associated with betrayal or trauma) then the belief will remain fixed. What can help is chatting to the wounded sides of ego, such as the lost child and the armored soldiers which try to keep us safe and find out why they are holding a certain belief. This is a psycho-therapeutic approach, but sometimes those pesky beliefs lie so deep they cannot be accessed by talking. Sometimes you need to “cheat the system” and use biochemistry to get things moving.
This is where knowing a bit about the biochemistry of love can help. Oxytoxcin is a wonderful hormone and neuropeptide which is made in the hypothalamus of the brain and released by the posterior pituitary. It has an influence on many metabolic pathways and neurological responses, both in the brain and body, which I won’t go into depth about here. (Further information sources listed below) What is known is that oxytocin lowers blood pressure, cortisol and overall stress levels in the body and promotes a sense of calm, connection, trust and love. It is affectionately called “The Cuddle Hormone”. We get surges of oxytocin when we feel bonded to another person, whether that is a parent and child, lovers or friendship in general. It is released by pleasurable touch, hugging, massage, sex and a feeling of trust and safety with another. Of course if touch or connection is a fearful place for someone then oxytocin will not be released and over time the cell receptors for this peptide decrease. So not feeling safe with other humans means you stop receiving that feel-good signalling from the nervous system and the impulse to seek out these experiences diminishes. Studies have indicated that our ability to make and utilise oxytocin on a cellular level is largely determined by our first bonding relationship…usually with our mother. If this wasn’t a great experience, as with postnatal depression, stress, emotional problems etc., then oxytocin production and receptor sites on cells are lower than normal. The baseline for this cuddle chemical is low and therefore the calming effect of our nervous system fails to properly develop. In the absence of proper oxytocin release the nervous system is primed to experience the world as dangerous and unwelcoming. The sense of trust and love in others, and ourselves is lacking and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline dominate our behaviour into fight or flight response.
So how can we use this knowledge to shift beliefs and alter our interaction to others into one of love and trust? Yes, you can buy oxytocin online, but I would personally not recommend this approach. What we want to do is encourage our innate oxytocin production through seeking out experiences that make us feel all warm and fuzzy!
For me, this began with “cat therapy”. I noticed when I was petting a cat on my lap and especially when it was purring, I felt completely blissed out! Warm waves of happiness and peace radiated through my body and I couldn’t get enough of my cat cuddles. I started consciously using cat therapy (which may be an actual thing, I just stumbled on it) to increase my oxytocin responses. This had a huge affect on my nervous system, within a few months I felt generally calmer and also more open to human interactions. Once those cuddle receptors got firing again I naturally started seeking out more bonding experiences and felt a lot more nourished from them. I think the key is to find what makes you personally feel blissful, as cats may freak you out! Cats were my “oxytocin reboot” but another person’s may be hamsters, nature or dancing with others.
Love chemicals enhanced, I began to feel a greater sense of connection to everything. The plant work I’d been doing felt deeper and more fulfilling. I wanted to hug people more and felt more caring towards myself and others. I realised this was my natural state of being. I started to believe I was lovable and connected and any conflicting beliefs started to wither away.
If the Soul is longing to connect us back to Source, to unlimited love, then I feel a good place to start is with our biochemistry…find what brings you bliss and follow it home.
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Here are some reference materials if you are interested to know more about oxytocin:
The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing by