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Fire is Good Medicine

Can being cozy be a good Covid defense? by Alice Brink

What is it about a fire in the fireplace that immediately elicits feelings of comfort and ease? Is it the warmth reaching out into the room, the sound of gentle crackle and pop, the rhythmic pattern of undulating flames…?

A fire invites us to slow down, sit down, and enjoy. Our modern lifestyle, even without Covid, can keep us in a constant state of high alert status, or the “fight, freeze or flight response.” (FFF) This is a normal, healthy response to stimulus or threat that has kept us humans on the planet for millennia.

A tiny, 2- part gland called the Amygdala that rests in the center of our brains is programed to keep us safe by remembering a threat and triggering a response to it.

Stimulus = Saber-toothed Tiger; Response = Fight, Freeze or Flight.

However, that ancient protective response can be mercilessly triggered today. In its effort to make sense of the stimuli that it is constantly bombarded with, the Amygdala can generalize and lump vaguely similar threats together. Think about your most recent trip on a highway. Did someone cut you off? not let you in traffic? run a stop sign? (and if you had your kids in the car- wew!) Your Amygdala reads those stimuli in the same way it has been programmed to read “Saber-toothed tiger” – add Covid into the mix and- Yikes!

The sub-conscious does not know the difference between “real” and “virtual,” so even violent or disconcerting images on TV news and through other media can prompt the FFF response. That protective response floods the body with adrenaline, increases heart rate, slows digestion, tenses muscles and pumps blood to the extremities for fight or flight, (or worse- frozen with all those responses with nowhere to go!) leaving the brain sorely lacking in the nourishment it needs for optimal function, and us feeling like we just ran a marathon.

A surprisingly simple, comforting, and elegant way to de-stress and sooth the FFF response is to enjoy the benefits a fire in the hearth. Raising body temperature just a few degrees allows more efficient circulation; relaxing the muscles and bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body; creating a feeling of safety, security and ease. The sound of the gentle sizzle and crackle of the burning wood serve as pleasant “white noise” which gives the brain just enough to occupy it, allowing other overstimulated parts (ie: the Amygdula) to relax and rejuvenate.

The almost hypnotic visual pattern created by dancing flames also serves as a pleasant pre-occupation for an over-stimulated brain and may even induce an Alpha brainwave response, like that experienced in meditation or hypnosis. Maybe our ancestors were on to something? And for those that prefer our fires outdoors, it's also true. :)

Fire is Good Medicine.

Excerpts First published in Wood-Fired Magazine February, 2015

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