Oxytocin, Your Body’s Natural High
I recently read a fascinating research article published by Patricia Sharp on meditation-induced bliss, which differs significantly from addiction-induced bliss.
In this issue I want to describe research that’s revealing the power of a natural neurotransmitter in your body that’s easy to produce and gives rise to its own amazing effects of joy, love, and well-being. Welcome to the wonderful world of oxytocin.
Oxytocin (Greek: quick birth) was first discovered as a natural hormone released by the pituitary gland that causes increased contraction of the uterus during labor and stimulates the production of milk in the ducts of the breasts during lactation. Subsequently, oxytocin was also discovered as released by centers within the brain during hugging, touching (of one’s self and/or another), as well as during lovemaking. Studies have shown how oxytocin is involved in social bonding and the formation of generosity, and the reduction of fear within one’s self and between others. 1 2 3
“If I were to introduce a fine, imperceptible mist of oxytocin around you right now, you would immediately begin to feel seen, heard, connected, and loved. You’d experience an increased felt-sense of belonging, well-being, and an internal sense of joy, even, perhaps, a touch of bliss. Amazing, isn’t this! But the affects of oxytocin go on. It also increases your felt-sense of trust. It reduces your feelings of anxiety, and increases your ability to feel generous, kind, and compassionate towards yourself and others. 4
This neurotransmitter is easy to produce. Simply place your hand on your heart and take several gentle long exhalations. You can also produce oxytocin by thinking loving thoughts about yourself or another, or by relaxing deeply, as we do during practices like meditation yoga nidra, and body- and breath sensing.
I’ve incorporated these understandings into my own practice and teachings of meditation. You might try your own research right now with yourself as N=1. Place your hand on your heart and take several slow exhalations. As you exhale, allow your thoughts to drop away and your attention to rest in the sensations that arise in your heart and throughout your body. You may notice a warm tingling arising within your body as oxytocin is released through this simple exercise. You might close your eyes and continue deepening your experience of feeling seen, heard, connected, and loved. Other ways of releasing oxytocin include rubbing your head, hands, or feet, rubbing the back of your neck, or getting or giving a hug. 5
1. Kosfeld, M et al. 2005. Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature. 435:673-676.