Endorphins are the hormones of pleasure, which elevate your mood, enhance physical health and help to lower stress. When you exercise or experience something nice, 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 because of endorphins. But you don’t have to run a marathon, have sex or alcohol to get your endorphins going, because your body will react in a very similar way to a strong visualization as it will to reality. Let’s imagine – for the sake of argument – that lying in a warm bath eating chocolate truffles feels really nice to you. That actual experience will feel amazing and lead to the release of endorphins, but so will vividly imagining the experience. Visualization strategies are well established in sports science, where they are used to enhance performance. You can use visualization to stimulate the flow of endorphins at will.
Professor Karl Schmidt, a Consultant Psychiatrist, says that the Endorphin Effect “is so self-empowering that … it should be a core strategy in any addiction treatment unit” (Schmidt, 2010). The Endorphin Effect works well with other approaches. I’ve been using Focusing and NLP methods to improve the Endorphin Effect for a while and I’m now exploring how it may be connected 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 inhale deeply. Sense your stomach rise gently as you breath in and fall back as you breath out. Feel 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 happy! It's vital that the feelings that come are completely positive; if there's any sense of loss or regret there, pick 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 maybe? 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 perhaps start to get a warm feeling now, perhaps in your heart, stomach or head. Concentrate 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.