Ayurveda & Vision: What Effect Does Watching Movies & Television have on Health?

“When you go out to eat, are you interested in the quality of the food at the restaurant? Does it matter to you what they serve? Of course it does. If the food is not healthy, it will give you indigestion and it can make you sick. The same is true of your choices regarding what you visually expose yourself to. Of course, by this I mean movies and television. 

One of my teachers used to tell me that the mind does not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. This is mostly true. While the intellect often discerns the difference, the emotional aspect of our consciousness does not. A happy scene in a movie causes the brain to secrete chemicals that make you happy and relaxed (dopamine, serotonin, tryptophan, phenyl-ethylamine, anandamide). An intense scene in a movie causes the brain and adrenal glands to secrete chemicals that make you tense (epinephrine and nor-epinephrine). The chemicals of tension, fear and anger stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. This is that part of the nervous system that controls the “fight or flight” response. Once it is activated, the neurochemicals that are secreted circulate through your body for several hours before being deactivated. 

The fight or flight response is meant to allow the body to deal effectively with threats. When a real threat is perceived, the heart rate increases to allow more blood to flow to the muscles of the body in case you need to fight or run for your life. Additional chemicals are secreted in the body that cause it to be- come more alert. Vision improves, strength increases and the breath is easier. These changes do not just disappear after the threat is gone. They stay with you for quite some time. Over-activation of this system has been understood to be a contributing factor in all stress-related illnesses. These illnesses include everything from arthritis and headaches to heart attacks and strokes. 

If the visual impression is strong, the mind will replay it again and again and this continues to trigger the fight or flight response. It is not easy to block out a tragedy that you have witnessed. Likewise, an impactful scene in a movie may be replayed over and over again in your mind and trigger the same feel- ings again and again. If the scene was intense, the fight or flight mechanism is activated each time and the body functions in a continuous state of sympathetic stress. 

Ask yourself what you are taking into your mind and consciousness when you are watching television or a movie. Are you watching horror movies, suspense and action films? These are sure to activate your sympathetic nervous system. At times, they can be fun, isn’t that why we watch them? A part of us likes the adrenaline rush of sympathetic stimulation. But, at other times, they can be disturbing. What is the value in watching a movie about child abduction? What is the value of witnessing a murder? Violence in movies and on television is quite extensive and people lap it up just like white flour, sugar and deep-fried foods. It is a quick thrill, but with a price to our physical and mental health. 

On the other hand, lighter films and comedies have been shown to have value in supporting the healing process. They encourage us to take life less seriously. Comedies also cause the brain to secrete chemicals. They could be called laughter chemicals. These chemicals relax the body and support the healing process. This was brought to the public eye in the popular book at the time by Norman Cousins called “Anatomy of an Illness”. 

Next time you rent a movie, ask yourself this. If this movie were a food, what food would it be? Are you about to consume fast-food junk, cookies and ice-cream or a bowl of organic brown rice and vegetables? Sometimes you may like to have dessert, but it is not healthy if you take it too often. Movies and television are the same way. An occasional adrenaline rush is not a problem for most people, but if you are highly sensitive or if it becomes the bulk of your visual diet, you will cause yourself harm. Some of the most intense movies are like food poisoning. It’s just not a good idea to consume them at all.

Excerpt from “Healing Your Life, Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda,” by Dr. Marc Halpern, Founder of the California College of Ayurveda. Available at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1GP7m28 and Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1PsYDUA (a great holiday gift idea!)