What is Love? Understanding what is physically happening when we feel love.

Love is the most sung about emotion, it is the theme of our childhood movies, and our spiritual teachings. But what does it really mean to love? To love well? To find true love?

Love is something many of us spend time searching for, questing over, and trying to find. What is it?

Photo Credit: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash 

What is love?

Love is often associated with terms like commitment, intimacy, attachment, passion, and jealousy, grief, heart-broken. 

Love is a feeling, it is a construct we use to identify somatic sensations we have and label as emotions. It is the word we use to describe what we like, want, appreciate. It is a word we use to differentiate where we will put our attention. We know love when we feel it and pine for it when we can’t find it. Most people describe love as a feeling of warmth, openness, and a sense of connection. Here’s what is physically happening when we feel love. 

The physicality of love.

The body communicates with many chemicals. Oxytocin is the “love” hormone. This chemical is responsible for our bonding. It is important when we give birth as it bonds us to the new baby. It is important and part of why we see such connection at rallies, group events, working toward a common passion, and helps our bodies regulate a variety of other hormones and processes to keep our physical system healthy and happy. 

The chemistry changes of vasopressin are also important in the love cocktail. Vasopressin is connected to our sense of protection and protecting those we love. It helps us get through and manage stressful events, and together these experiences help us bond with other mammals. 

We often symbolize love with images of our heart. From a basic anatomy, the heart, our symbol of love, is a unique organ. It is the only place we find cardiac muscle. This muscle contains its own electrical signal and communicates in its own system. The muscle sends electrical signals to its parts to beat and remain in rhythm. 

The heart is like our battery in our car. It keeps us going and sparks other systems. The heart is critical to our survival. It connects to every other part of our body through its role as the pump of our circulatory system and assisting our lymph system to rid our body of toxins. As the blood comes in and out of the heart it nourishes every other organ. It bathes our whole body in chemicals needed to facilitate a cascade of physical changes throughout our day. Carter and Porges (2013) state, “the protective effects of positive sociality seem to rely on the same cocktail of hormones that carry a biological message of ‘love’ throughout the body”, (pg 16), which the heart is responsible for trucking. Oxytocin plays a role in development of our fetal heart and protects our heart by converting stem cells into caridomyocytes (Carter & Porges, 2013). 

Take Care of your Heart with this wearable. It not only tracks your heart rate, but also your heart rate variability. Learn more about HRV.

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Love = Bonding, stress, and aggression.

Emotions are felt on the somatic level (physical sensations) and are also complex physiological reactions with motor responses. In our brains love helps facilitate goal directed behavioral activities that help us connect to another person. This ensures survival of the species. Feeling love helps us cognitively too. Bianchi-Demicheli, Grafton, and Ortigue (2006) found that being in love led to faster response times on a lexicon experiment when the participants were “primed” with an associated message about the person they were in love with. 

Carter and Porges (2013) state “The same molecules that allow us to give and receive love, also link our need for others with health and wellbeing” through the benefits that oxytocin has on our physical systems and due to its role in bonding us to others. When we have more social support we are more resilient in the face of stressors and our oxytocin – vasopressin experiences are supportive to our wellbeing. This could be due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties oxytocin has. 

However when you have too much vasopressin without balancing oxytocin we have more aggressive behaviors. Infants with increased chronic exposure to vasopressin may over-react or be more defensive throughout their lives. Increased exposure may come from highly stressed or traumatized parents (Carter & Porges, 2013). 

Due to vasopressin’s link with androgen hormones (testosterone) males appear to be more sensitive to the effects of vasopressin. Following stressful experiences male prairie voles quickly form bonds with females, but females showed preference for other females following a stressful exercise (Carter, 1998). It appears males and females experience love and bonding differently due to differing pathways and experiences of these endogenous chemicals. 

Stressful experiences help us bond to others. This could be why we experience a sense of community following difficult events like storms, tests, rallies, assaults, and training exercises even when tragedy has occurred. 

Why love is helpful to your physical system and fear is not.

Love is Addicting. 

Love is so “addicting” is due to the way catecholamines reinforce our repeated behaviors. Catecholamines are chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. They are well known as the reward and pleasure neurotransmitters. These are the ones we are after when we use stimulants like cocaine. 

As a result of experiencing a pleasurable experience we feel the joy of dopamine. We like it, we want more of whatever it was that gave us that feeling. In substance abuse we often look to dopamine as a reason for someone’s struggle letting go of the drug. 

Catecholamines link our experiences with our desire. Dopamine plays a role in the release of oxytocin and plays a role in pair bonding (Carter, 1998). Think about how much you like sex. This is the dopamine-oxytocin cocktail at work. Orgasm dumps a slew of the “feel good” endogenous chemicals into our system all at the same time. We relax, feel content, experience joy, and feel connected to the person we are laying beside. We may tag this experience as love or just good feelings based on who is next to us. But we go back and do it again and again and again. 

Why We Like to Be Around Others When Feeling Love

Love like any other emotion love is a chemical, electrical, and vibrational shift in our physical body. Love comes with an openness to experiences that “lifts our moods”. It makes us see things more clearly, colors become more vibrant, and we find the sparkle in each experience. This is in part due to the endogenous opiates and dopamine we experience along side oxytocin and vasopressin responses when experiencing a sense of connectedness.

We are vibrational beings. As atoms communicate they shift vibrational states to match other atoms in their vicinity. This is why we can “feel” an energy in different environments. Our bodies register the vibrational quality and signal our brain to label it. When our brains “see” it we label the emotion based on our past experiences. We have cells called mirror neurons that register what others in our environment are doing. They “mirror” what is being expressed in our brains. When our mirror neurons fire we can understand what others are experiencing. We are not always right in our assessment, but we often have an accurate sense when we are paying close attention. We share in that experience with them through mirror neurons and limbic resonance in our brains and it feels good to “know” another.

When we experience love alongside others we have a sense of “being in a bubble” with that person or feeling “like no one else was in the room with us”. These experiences speak to the physical changes happening in our bodies and being matched by another. As noted above, this “matching” is important to our sense of wellbeing, stress management, and overall health. 

Together love shifts our physical structure and changes the way our body communicates with others in our environment. When we are steeped in love and joy others know and we lift them up by sharing these energies. Our bodies are made to communicate beyond our physical systems.

Our nervous systems and mirror neurons communicate our internal state to other mammals. When we are feeling more content, open, and expansive others benefit from our emotional experiences. It is why we like to be in contact with other people who are experiencing positive emotional states too. It is why we like to gather with those who have a common goal and share our values around cultivating happiness and love. 

When we connect with others experiencing these similar emotions we synergistically raise the experience for us all. We are greater than the sum of our two parts by sharing our love. 

Here a few ways we can cultivate and share our sense of love in the world. 

1) In Eastern traditions we look at chakras and the heart line. The heart chakra connects us to humanity. When we feel connected to others we often feel a warmth in our heart space. Try “breathing through your heart”. In this practice breathe in and out with the visual of that air moving through the heart center bathing you and the world in a sense of peace, connectedness, and goodwill. 

2) We talk about “broken hearts” and my “heart hurts” as we explain our struggles with connection. The heart line is a nerve running on the inside of the arm. By applying pressure to this line it helps our nervous system calm, which allows us to feel more safe with others and in the world. 

We can activate this nerve by reaching out to other people – hugs, holding hands, physical touch – can all help us feel more connected. You can also karate chop one hand in the palm of the other to quickly calm yourself. By stimulating this nerve you are slowing the heart rate, which in turn will slow your breath rate. Together they will shift you from a sympathetic stress state to parasympathetic rest state. 

3) Work on truly connecting with others. When you are out use eye contact to convey loving kindness to those you meet along your path. On the street, in stores, with family, friends, and co-workers share a smile that goes all the way to your eyes. Let others see the joy you posses and benefit from your expansiveness by sharing eye contact and a smile. These two gestures help release dopamine and oxytocin in both you and the person you are smiling at. Plus you’ll usually get a smile back and that means you’ll get another dump of dopamine and oxytocin. See above for the addictive effects of love and why this might feel so good. 

You can also manipulate these structures through quick breathing and physical exercises that help you connect more to yourself and to others. Here are 3 ways to take care of your heart using exercise and breath:

  1. Fast Cardio Blast
  2. A Look at Heart Disease
  3. Good Cardio Exercise

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References: 

Bianchi-Demicheli, F., Grafton, S. T., & Ortigue S. (2006). The power of love on the human brain. Social Neuroscience, 1(2), 90-103. DOI:10.1080/17470910600976547   

Carter, C. S., & Porges, S. W. (2013). The biochemistry of love: An oxytocin hypotheses. European Molecular Biology Organization Reports, 14(1). 12-16. DOI:10.1080/17470910600976547  

Carter, C. S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23(8), 779-818. 

Total Body Blast

Get your sweat on with this explosive power based workout.

To plan your workouts think about doing something focused 3-6 times a week and taking 1-3 days of what’s called active rest (clean house, walk the golf course, go for a hike, take the dog for a long walk, do squats throughout the day – link it to every time you go to the bathroom for example.

This movement is important for recovery and allows your body to do something active for fun, wellness, blood flow to the sore spots from your focused workout, etc. This keeps the body oriented toward energy flow and movement.

Making sure to get a weekend workout in is a great way to make sure your active rest days are not consecutive. Consecutive days off can make it harder to return to your focused workouts on Monday.

Workout Basics and Warm Up

Make sure to warm up. Spend 5-10minutes doing easy movement, stretching, and allow the muscles you are going to work to “wake up”. Work to include all the big joints and major muscle groups. It’s a great time to get your music right, your shoes tightened or loosened, or make sure you hair is out of your way. By fixing these things now, you are more likely to stay focused on the work portion.

When you complete the round, give yourself a pat on the back, a fist pump, something that celebrates your accomplishment. This is a big deal for helping habits stick, and helps you be realistic about all the hard work you are doing.

If you are unclear about a movement, look it up (Check out my YouTube Tutorials Here). There are lots of resources online that allow you to make sure you have good form. Always work up to adding weight or making a movement less stable. Good form comes first.

The Workout

Do each set 3 times through with a 1 minute break after each set. Do each exercise in each set for 1 minute, no breaks in between. Set your workout space up so you can easily move quickly through each exercise in the set. On your break shift space/equipment and grab a quick drink of water.

  • Squat with diagonal arm lift
  • Elbows thrusts up diagonally and thrust sharply to the back body with core rotation
  • Super slow squats with toe lifts at the bottom and onto toes at the top. Arms reach to floor at the bottom and lift up over head at the top.
  • Mountain climbers
  • 180s – squat jumps while rotating in air 180 degrees before landing
  • Lateral “walking” pushups
  • 4 – square jumps – jump forward and back into 4 quadrants of a square
  • Bear crawl forward and back
  • Single leg lunge on the right side with kick through back to front
  • Frog jumps
  • Single leg lunge on the left side with kick through back to front
  • Table top plank lift with side plank rotation alternate sides

Finish Strong

YOU DID IT!! Now that you have finished the “work” portion, it is time for flexibility training. Spend some time stretching all the muscles you worked – in this workout, it’s full body so give all your major muscles a good stretch. Then grab a good post workout snack. Together these get your muscles ready for tomorrow’s movement and make sure you are ready to meet your goals.

Words of Caution …

Please make sure to follow your body. Do not push through pain. Discomfort/Challenge are different than pain. We want to challenge ourselves we do not want to hurt ourselves. Find the level that is right for you and move at that level. Make sure to choose weight and stances that support your body style – if you have to use the wall to do your push ups do that, if you need a chair or a bench use those. Make sure you are doing what you need to do for your body type and current personal level of fitness.

As always have fun living in your body today!

Facing Fear With Movement

So, I’ve been listening to uninhibited women leadership online conference with Ashley Burnett this week and the topic today was about fear. I found it interesting to discuss fear and struggle to know what I am truly afraid of. I spend a lot of time working with people who are afraid, I talk about it most days for multiple hours per day, and here I am not sure how to label my own. As I thought about it, I came up with a movement flow to help you get to the essence of your fear … in case you are like me and find it’s a bit of an enigma for you, slippery, and hard to fully see. You know it’s there, but you just can’t make it out clearly.

Many are afraid of living the life they could, afraid of giving up a label like being depressed, anxious, female, male, successful, a failure – you name it people are often afraid to give up an identity, even if it’s one they don’t like. That identity has protected you in groups, helped you define who you are and who you are not, and maybe guided your path for a long time. Well, what if you could step off that path and become something else. Something more in line with who you want to be today. Would you do it? Would you be able to let go? Dive into the practices that can help you become your highest self, your personal best dream – would you do them?

climbing the stairs

It’s often difficult to really know what you are afraid to give up. The bottom line is who would you be if you weren’t afraid. This question offers you the glimpse into what you might be afraid of. Here is an exercise set to help you cut through the mental chatter and just focus on what’s holding you back. Movement always helps me see more clearly and decrease the mental chatter that clouds me.

Step One:

Complete an easy warm up or use this set in the middle of your regular workout.

Step Two:

Get a Tabata Timer – this is very helpful and there are a number of free apps that will help you do this (and other interval workouts). If you don’t want to get one a simple kitchen timer can work, your watch, or phone. You need to do 20sec exercise intervals with 10sec rest intervals – 8x.

Step Three:

Start by picking your mantra. This could be a question – what am I afraid of? What’s holding me back? etc. or a statement – Fear. Let Go. – you get the picture. Find a phrase that works for you and visualize it – maybe it’s a picture, maybe a set of words, etc. You want to truly feel it deep within you.

Step Four:

Begin a jumping squat tabata. With the help of your timer, you begin your jumping squat set for 20 sec, rest 10sec, 8x. Total of 4min. Tabata’s are hard, just know that. If you have to take a break, try to keep the movement going, even if you take out the jump or begin to alternate legs, etc. You want to be completing the full movement at the end of the set.

As you complete the tabata focus on your mantra or visualization. See what arises. There is nothing to do, nothing to fix. We just want to see what remains when it gets really hard to focus. Often this is the essence of the thing we can let go of, we fear, we want to transform. Sometimes we even transform it in the tabata. I’ve seen clients start with “I am not good enough” to yelling “I’m fuckin’ rocking it” with conviction by the end of just one 4 minute round.

Step Five:

Repeat Steps 3 & 4, this time with the thing you want to gain or embrace in your life. Again, take a few moments to breathe, see your goal clearly in your head, and find the right set of word(s) to represent what it is you really want.

Then begin another tabata – any exercise will work.

I often like to superset pushups, lunges, low rows, squats, high rows, jumping lunges/split lunge, plank hold. This order will get you a full body workout in about 40 min with 2-3 min in between each tabata for meditative work and visualization preparation. Finish with whatever core/abdominal work you are focusing on and a full body stretch. If you complete all the steps you’ll have an hour worth of movement with a meditation and self-growth focus. It’s not an easy workout, but one that will help you distill your thoughts into what you want next, see where you want to go, and help you feel confident enough in your own abilities to actually complete and live the practices you’ll need to reach your goals.

Have fun finding your FEAR!

 

*Please remember that exercise is physical and in the event you have a medical condition or other reason to be concerned about completing hard/intense exercise or movement that you check with your doctor.

 

Getting over the Plateau

How’s everyone doing on your goals? Hopefully, you are still progressing. Sometimes (approx 6wks) things get a little boring and may feel a bit stagnant. If you’re in that camp it may be time to change it up. You can do this in a variety of ways. What we want is to become inefficient again. Our bodies are smart and adapt to overload (i.e. exercise) fairly quick. So challenge yourself to do something different this week. Here’s a list of ideas to challenge you.

You can …

1)      Increase your intensity – make the movements bigger, faster, stronger by adding power (speed and strength together).

2)      Decrease your intensity – you might need a recovery week. To do this spend the majority of your workouts in the bottom range of your THRZ – don’t do this if you have been working at the lower intensity thus far – see #1 instead.

3)      Add new movement patterns – try a more complicated step or trail. You can also begin to add in more arm movements – this keeps your body more confused, not to mention your brain, and you’ll work harder because you have to think more. You can also re-arrange the way you do your movements so the muscles have to recruit in a different order.

4)      Add intervals or tabbata to your workout – intervals are something like 30sec on, 45 sec recovery (you can play with the times). The “on” set is all out. Tabata is 8 rounds of 20sec on 10 sec off (total of 4mins). Both are very effective at increasing metabolic rate and training the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Tabata a bit more so – if you try them both you’ll see why.

5)      Take a new class or learn a new exercise. You can check out strength training options at SuperiorWorkout.com on my video blog or YouTube. I go over a variety of options for major muscle groups. Or YouTube, ask a friend, look up Synergy Fitness, Inc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXD69lc1OTY (this is one YouTube Video) or Alien Training http://www.alientraining.com/  – I like this dude (I get no profit from my recommendation. He’s got good stuff). Go to http://tabatatraining.org/ Great workouts, free, and more explanation on the method.

Fitness on Your Vacation

How do you stay fit on vacation? Strict plans or throw it all out the window? Here’s ideas when far away or nearby spots are calling.

When most of us think of vacation we think about throwing routine out

the window. This is important work. We need to break from routine to begin the process of letting go and rejuvenating. It is also important to have some form of structure in out day, even if minimal. If you are reading this blog I assume you find physical activity to be important in your daily life, even if you don’t know how to make that a regular occurrence. So here’s a guideline to help find exercise balance on your vacation.

First, it’s important to consider your long term goals. Are you currently training to lose weight, gain muscle, compete in an event? If you are scaling back a regular workout using alternative options, such as a shorter run or different terrain may be all that’s needed. If your goals are more around lifestyle and health you may want to consider how sleep, food, and social activities will contribute to your health on vacation.
Second, do a little research. Does your location have a fitness center, classes, a pool, a safe place to run/walk in the area. Many hotels can provide you with a running/walking loop nearby, just ask. Then consider how the options available stack up to your goals. I’ve been in many a hotel fitness center that offered me two cardio options and a lot of cable channels. I have found that having a couple of good fitness apps helps. I like Nike Training Club for easy on the go workouts I don’t have to think about putting together and can use body weight and speed to complete. I also enjoy Nike’s running app to help me track distance, time, and intensity for those places that do not have a pre-outlined route for me to follow.
If you are heading somewhere outside or more primitive consider the lay of the land. Will you be able to paddle, swim, climb, run on sand, hike mountains, work harder just to live outside? These activities all count, however it may feel different to use daily activities as your workouts and you may need to do some pre-trip training to be ready for the physical challenges all day activities may require.
Third, decide on a plan AND it’s ok if you don’t follow it to a T. On a recent trip to the coast of Mexico I created this plan to balance out my all day reading in the sunshine and evenings lounging with friends and family:
Friday – day we left, ran before work since I knew I’d be in the car for a long time.
Sat – off, traveling and relaxing.
Sunday – Beach run – a great way to see the locale and get a feel for the place I was planning to spend most of my time. Ocean swimming and SUP time – leisurely. Building activities into your daily thought process, even if you don’t know when you are going to do them is a great way to stay active on vacation.
Monday – Strength training – in my condo. Using items like door-frames (pull ups/lat work) and a full gallon jug of water (approx 9lbs) I was able to mimic my regular strength set. Adding in balance (1 foot, Russian lunges, bear crawls, and super slow sets) allows for functional training that challenges the core and exhausts muscle without heavier weights/overload. Adding in plyometrics (speed) allows for explosive movement that will also exhausts a muscle under less overload, plus adds a cardio element if you are looking for a quicker way to your goal.
Tues – active rest day – day on the open water fishing excursion. Did some swimming and snorkeling. Not to mention the functional training of standing upright on a rocking boat.
Wed – Yoga – These sessions are gems. I love looking for and finding a local yoga class. It’s always fun to check out a new studio and hope I get enough of the language to figure out what poses come next. Whether I do or not, the end result is still bliss. Plus this balances out my sitting (aka as reading whole novels) and over use of movement patterns like paddling, climbing, hiking if those are a main part of my trip.
Thurs – Strength training – see above. Plus adding in the family activity of playing in the sand, paddling SUPs, and swimming in the surf.
Friday – Beach run – as the vacation comes to a close this allows me to say goodbye and observe from a new set of eyes, not beginner excited ones, but the ones who’ve been looking and are ready to see what’s below the surface. A great skill in life, too.
Sat – off / 1st travel day – if possible on the first leg of the trip, I may attempt to get a short run, yoga session, or paddle in depending on departure time. This allows balance to the sitting of a long drive.
Sun – active rest as I unpack all my memories and practical items like laundry followed by rest night and vacation integration.
Enjoy!