Longevity Trainingby Gérard V. Sunnen, M.D.
© 2011 by Gérard V. Sunnen, M.D.
Living long is not necessarily living well, and longevity does not automatically translate into life quality. How satisfying is living a long time without living to the highest levels of our capacities?
Longevity is best lived in a context that includes the best features of health: energy, vitality, physical resilience and primal force. And beyond those health dimensions are others that illuminate well-being: positive moods, self-confidence, cognitive sharpness, creativity and self-actualization. Still beyond, are states of being that are called transcendent, belonging to the highest levels of self-expression. Transcendent states are gateways to higher order mental faculties.
All these dimensions of health are intertwined, interrelated and interactive. Improvement anywhere has a ripple effect everywhere. Often, improving just one facet of oneself has beneficial repercussions on all of self.
Longevity training seeks the most efficient pathways for expanding global wellness, opening up the boundaries of life span. Training focuses on the essential factors determining longevity, from improving the fundamental mechanics of the body, to recruiting the dynamic forces of the mind.
A key ingredient to longevity is energy. Energy fuels all organ systems including the heart and the brain. How is human energy produced and how can its output be maximized?
The primal source for all biochemical energy comes from nutrients. Nutrients in foods are broken down by metabolism from higher to lower energy levels. In the process, energy is accumulated for personal use. Without energy we could not make our bodies move, nor could we create thought.
What nutrients provide optimal energy generation? The science of longevity is interested in advanced nutrient selection. High energy metabolism, however, depends also on the logical utilization of the many co-factors relevant to metabolism dynamics: enzymes, minerals, vitamins and, when appropriate, nutrients derived from botanicals and new molecules discovered through novel research.
Energy production depends on the proper functioning of mitochondria, the sub-cellular organelles that specialize in extracting power from nutrients. Cell types differ in their mitochondria content. The heart, for example, needing ever-ongoing vigor, has cells that contain several thousand mitochondria each; skin cells, on the other hand, may do with just a few dozen. Brain cells are also energy intensive. Every organ has different types of mitochondrial populations, each with special requirements. Longevity training incorporates the new science of biological energy to the mission of expanding life's trajectory and quality.
The territory within
The experience of our interior landscape jumps more vividly into consciousness once the eyes are closed. The internal body territory is a tableau painted by the signals incoming into awareness from the totality of all the sense organs.
Internal awareness, offers not only a perception of incoming bodily signals but also a conduit for the mind to send healing signals to the body. This forms the basis for techniques of communication with internal organ systems. These techniques include self-guided relaxation, dynamic imagery, self-hypnosis, autogenic training, and meditation.
Nerve centers in the body and ancient emotional circuits in the brain can be said to have minds of their own. Indeed, they can react robotically to life events, often not only much to our displeasure, but also to our detriment. Cardiac reactivity, for example, describes a tendency to respond to life's events with increases in heart rate and blood pressure. The same can be said of intestinal, respiratory, muscular and skin over-activity.
Organ over-activity is not only unnecessary, it is harmful to the body, and if chronic, can produce anatomical lesions. Stress can translate into a spectrum of symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sleep disturbance, anxiety and depression. Stress decreases life span.
Longevity training seeks to transform stress reactions into positive physical and mental energies.
Longevity training is interested in the well-functioning of all organ systems so that each organ lives with vigor, and all organs live in harmony. Organ systems include: cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, skeleto-muscular, hematological, immune, endocrine, neurological, and the special sense organs. Health and harmony of organ systems are fundamental to longevity.
The body is most longevity-efficient if it is maintained within a certain weight range. The lungs do not like smoke, nor do arteries, and only a small part of the brain appreciates smoking. Longevity training seeks to shift habit patterns so they reduce, then eliminate harm.
The body responds to exercise. Exercise massages all internal organs. Glands are stimulated, bones are given signals to strengthen, the heart is trained to beat more solidly and accrue resilience. Aerobic exercise, while enhancing longevity, nevertheless has to be judiciously measured to one's capacities. Too little, and too excessive aerobic exercise, both work against longevity.
Several disciplines of non-aerobic exercise develop body-mind connections in their own right. They involve using guided meditative awareness to progressively flow into neuro-muscular networks. Longevity training makes prominent use of these types of meditation.
Sleep health is important to longevity. Balancing circadian rhythms, creating relaxation within dreams, and soliciting restorative sleep patterns all promote daytime well-being and optimal productivity.
Goals of Longevity Training
As the body strengthens, the mind, in parallel, is invited to master novel patterns of experiencing that conserve energies and activate health.
Through special techniques fitted individually, the mind is trained to bring about special states of consciousness that impart vitality to the body's networks.
What experiences are sought after in these special states of consciousness? Although every person is likely to report differently, often expressed are a comforting sense of tranquility, a calming experience of detachment, and a heightened perception of physical force and personal power. Reports often talk of a welcome experience of peacefully feeling centered and refreshingly at home within oneself. Words often fail to describe these special states adequately.
The Neural Basis for the Power of Mental Imagery
Imagery, as utilized in longevity training, involves the conscious creation of mental representations that may contain visual images such as dreamscapes, rhythmic pleasing sounds, words and phrases, and importantly, finer feelings and primal emotions.
Mental images derive from consciously activated brain areas. Neurons from different parts of the brain are recruited in imagery, each corresponding to extensive neuronal grids. The more varied the imagery, the greater are the areas of the brain brought into action, and the more effective the therapeutic impact as the waves of neuronal networks resonate into the far fringes of the nervous system.
The healing images in longevity training need to be individually tailored so as to respect the preferences of the conscious and subconscious minds. Each practice reinforces the healing images, expanding their systemic reach, working to permanently re-program the neural substrate of the mind.Meditation
Meditation embodies a set of techniques utilizing awareness as a vehicle to expand consciousness ever further into bodily territories, and ever further into consciousness itself. The mental states briefly described above are gateways to other states that are called transcendent. There is a great need for the scientific study of transcendent states because they represent the penultimate connectivity of body and mind.
There are many types of meditative techniques and it is important to select one that is adapted to one's preferences and talents. The chosen techniques should be enjoyable, thus the thought of practicing them and developing oneself will be associated with a sense of anticipatory pleasure.Self-hypnosis Although the special states of mind attained through meditation and self-hypnosis share common features, the process of the techniques differ. Self-hypnosis relies on the ability to induce a hypnotic state by oneself, usually using a set of learned reflexes. Once the hypnotic state is reached, there is enhanced response to mental images. Consequently, personal changes can happen faster.
Autogenic TrainingSome individuals prefer a technique developed decades ago that progressively expands the range of self-control ever further into the autonomic nervous system. Mostly involuntary, this system is responsible for stress reactions.
The training begins by creating sensations of heaviness and warmth in selected body parts. Gradually, conscious control inches into the far reaches of the nervous system, and one learns to stop creating stress at its roots. Conclusion
Longevity training draws on the mind's potential to greatly surpass its usual funtioning. Pushing through its routine boundaries, the mind can be guided to reach ever deeper and higher into the wealth of its own dimensions.
Longevity training also seeks to expand the body's power by appreciating its dynamics from the infinitely small - such as chromosomes, mitochondria, and cellular metabolism - to the large, as in organ systems.
About the body and the mind, ultimately there are no boundaries separating the two, it is all a continuum. Longevity training respects this view of life and health.
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