What Animals are Teaching Us about Human Health
from May 18, 2017 New York Times Magazine, the Health Issue
Something extraordinary occurs when we’re in the presence of a fellow sentient being. When we let go of language’s tacit conceptual constraints and judgments, we allow ourselves a kind of time travel toward our own inner animal. Science is revealing the ways that the physiology of our psychology can be found across species: the common neuronal structures and attendant nerve wirings that we share in varying measures with a startling array of both vertebrates and invertebrates, including fellow primates, elephants, whales, parrots, bees and fruit flies. Animal therapy makes us aware of this cross-species interconnectivity on the purest, subconscious level.
It has been established that the tactile element alone in animal therapy releases endorphins, so called feel-good hormones that counteract the trauma hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. But neuroscience is also revealing the ways in which the brain’s neural networks can be both experientially marred and therapeutically mended. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, among many others, have demonstrated the brain’s “neuroplasticity” by showing that the mere act of meditation and thinking compassionate thoughts can physically alter and enhance the wiring of the brain’s empathic pathways. Felicity de Zulueta, a psychiatrist who worked with victims of extreme trauma, including former child soldiers in Uganda, at Maudsley Hospital in London, told me that the healing of trauma has physical correlatives in the brain just as assaults on our psyches do, forging new neuronal connections that bypass the traumatically scarred regions.
Read articles from the entire issue here, starting with one entitled:
Why Close Encounters
With Animals Soothe Us
Compton Jr. Posse in Los Angeles, which
brings inner-city children and horses
together, reveals the therapeutic power of
communing with fellow sentient beings.