InTended Holistic Wellness
I used to be drawn to orchids for their beauty, but now I admire them even more for their balance of being so delicate but also thriving when given the right environment and care. There’s no question that their blossoms are exquisite, but their roots are incredibly intricate and their stems are strong. Now it makes perfect sense to me why orchids have always been my favorite flowers…
I have spent my whole life being super sensitive to much of the world and emotions around me, without knowing there were reasons why, as well as solutions. That all changed when I discovered Functional Medicine and Mind-Body techniques. Eager to get my hands on anything that could possibly help me (and now the people I work with) I have read many books about health, wellness, healing, and Mind-Body Medicine since my health crashed in 2011. I have absolutely fallen in love with most of them, but there is one that stands out as my all-time favorite…and I don’t say this lightly. This book is the perfect combination of scientific data and personal experience. It is courageously open and honest, helps connect dots, inspires with concrete tools to use, and best of all…leaves you with the greatest sense of hope!
What book am I talking about? Donna Jackson Nakazawa‘s “The Last Best Cure.” It actually became like a best friend to me, and it got me through my first airplane trip and time away from home since becoming so sick. I spent much of the trip feeling pretty terrible, but this book was my comfort. There are so many gems and epiphanies in its pages, but one of the biggest for me was learning about the “Orchid Hypothesis.” Not only did I identify with it, but I could see how it might be impacting some of my family, friends, and clients. To help you understand what it is and why it matters I am sharing some excerpts from Donna’s amazing book…
“I have recently been reading about a relatively new idea in biological psychology that a few of us – some 15 percent – possess two copies of a variant of a behavioral gene that makes our brain more vulnerable in the face of life’s stressors. That same gene – if we have both copies of it – also makes us more likely to thrive in a positive and nurturing environment. Our brain is more plastic, shaped by our circumstances. Some call this the plasticity hypothesis or the sensitivity hypothesis; others term it the orchid hypothesis because of the way this brain plasticity impacts us early in our growth and development. There are children whom researchers think of as “dandelion” children, and those they think of as “orchids.” Dandelion children do well almost anywhere, flourishing in any soil whether they grow in the equivalent of a well-tended garden or an abandoned lot. The so-called orchids are more sensitive to their soil, their day-to-day environment. Life’s stressors seem to affect them more powerfully.
But the orchid gene also brings with it distinct neurobiological advantages that dandelions don’t seem to have. Having a particularly plastic brain also means you have a brain that makes you more responsive to the environment around you in general. The same plasticity of the brain that makes the orchids highly reactive to stress also makes them more easily impacted by what is good in their environment: the love they’re shown, the mentor or teacher who helps them, the opportunity to be creative and express themselves – and even efforts to reshape and retrain their brain. When orchid children experience a supportive, nurturing childhood, they actually show the fewest signs of depression in later life, even compared to those with the dandelion gene. They become even more likely than other people to develop positive and beneficial psychological characteristics. They do better than dandelions.
Why does all this matter? Growing scientific consensus tells us that efforts to meditate and retrain the brain might help to rewire bad epigenetics and even induce new, better epigenetics. Undo the damage of gene methylation, or what some scientists now term our “DNA memories.” The sensitivity hypothesis when viewed alongside ACE (Adverse Childhood Event) research, suggests that perhaps those who are most likely to end up facing chronic adult health issues as the result of ACEs are also those who are best able to turn their bad epigenetics into good epigenetics.
No matter who you are – regardless of your experience or your genetics – it is quite possible to engage in regular practices that downshift the fight-or-flight response and grow new, healthier neural and chemical pathways, simply by adjusting your psychological state of mind. Meditation studies in posttraumatic stress patients and others tell us that anyone can get a better brain. And the scientific speculation is that those with orchid genes may have the evolutionary advantage of having the most pliable brains of all.”
It is all so hopeful and quite beautiful, really! We can take the label of “too sensitive” and empower ourselves by identifying with the term “orchid” instead. The very thing that can make us more susceptible to illness can be turned around and used to heal us. This just further confirms my belief that all the wisdom we ever need we can learn from The Peanuts Gang!