I’ve recently facilitated a series of workshops on mindfulness and spirituality at a drug and alcohol rehab clinic. The most popular workshop by far was the one where I taught people how to use William Bloom’s Endorphin Effect.
Endorphins, which are the hormones of pleasure, improve your mood, promote physical health and help to reduce stress. When you exercise or experience something pleasurable, endorphins are released. Endorphins are the body’s natural opiates – our ‘endogenous morphine’. The runners high, the bliss of sex and the pleasure of drinking alcohol are all due to endorphins. But you don’t have to run a marathon, have sex or booze to get your endorphins flowing, because your body will react in a very similar way to a powerful visualization as it will to reality. Let’s suppose – for the sake of argument – that lying in a warm bath eating chocolate truffles feels really good to you. That actual experience will feel great and result in the production of endorphins, but so will vividly imagining the experience. Visualization techniques are well established in sports science, where they are used to improve performance. You can use visualization to stimulate the flow of endorphins at will. No wonder that workshop was popular!
I usually teach the Endorphin Effect as a stress management tool, but there are many more applications. Professor Karl Schmidt, a Consultant Psychiatrist, believes that the Endorphin Effect “is so self-empowering that … it should be an essential strategy in any addiction treatment unit” (Schmidt, 2010). The Endorphin Effect works well with other approaches. I’ve been using Focusing and NLP strategies to enhance the Endorphin Effect for a while and I’m now exploring how it might be tied in with more traditional meditations like Metta Bhavana (‘loving kindness’); another synergy between modern science and ancient practice. The last word should go to Candace Pert, who pioneered the research into endorphins: “You’re a very active participant in how good you feel, it’s a scientific fact. Our physiology is perfectly designed for bliss and this perfection is dynamic, so taking responsibility for your own health is important”.
The 5-minute Experiment
Sit comfortably: Straight back, shoulders relaxed. Give your shoulders a shake. Loosen your neck. Feel you feet rest gently on the ground. Rest your hands on your legs. Relax. Slowly take a deep breath. Feel your stomach rise gently as you breath in and fall back as you breath out. Sense your feet on the ground and your body in your chair. Now take a moment to think of something or someone you love. This can be a person, an animal, a place or an activity - anything or anyone that makes you smile! It's important that the feelings that come are entirely postive; if there's any sense of loss or regret there, choose again. Take a moment to really get a sense of this person, animal, place or activity. If it helps, close your eyes for a few breaths. Try to get a sense of that place, person or whatever. What do you see in your mind's eye? Can you hear any sounds that are related? A voice perhaps? Or does the place or creature have a distinctive sound? Or a taste or smell? Perhaps it's something with a special texture or some other physical sensation. Bring all those sensory aspects to mind. Try to make it feel real in your imagination and in your body. You'll probably begin to get a warm feeling now, maybe in your heart, stomach or head. Focus on that feeling and slowly take a deep breath, allowing the feeling to spread as the air fills your lungs. Relax and enjoy the moment… How do you feel? Right now are you grounded, peaceful and connected? Or up-tight, edgy, irritable? We often assume that how we feel is down to external events, many of them beyond our control. But your state of mind is rooted in your body and the endorphin effect can help you stay grounded and calm even under stress.