One of my favorite radio programs and podcasts is the non-denominational, non-doctrinaire Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. Krista interviews deep thinkers with important ideas about the essential human experiences of awe, eternity, and community. Every show leads me to reflect deeply and, very often, to live a happier, more involved life. I consider it one of the most nurturing practices of my continual development as an executive coach.
A recent guest was Esther Sternberg, Ph.D., an expert on immunology and stress. She relates the remarkable history of stress’s role in health and healing. It seems that every culture has always known that emotional and physical stressors contribute to physical illness and that relaxation, rest, time spent with loved ones, gentle exercise, and meditation accelerate healing. The western world “forgot” this in the mid-1800’s as the germ theory of disease, knowledge of physical anatomy, and modern materialist science made remarkable progress in understanding and curing illness. We began to regard all illness as having tangible, physical causes that could be observed directly or with the help of simple instruments like stethoscopes, thermometers, and scalpels. The less tangible emotional and spiritual components of well being were pushed out of medicine.
Only in the past fifteen years or so have advances in the study of hormones and brain imaging brought the effects of stress back into the realm of “scientific” medicine. Dr. Sternberg’s 1996 article in Scientific American was crucial to this shift. Doctors can no longer ignore the crucial importance and awesome power of love, touch, social interactions, conscious breathing, or meditation.
Now, neither can you.
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