The Hungry Mind and the Runner’s High

From time to time I want to point to science that while studying a different subject, can nevertheless shed light on the nature of animal consciousness.

The main premise of my model for the animal mind is that the hunger/balance processes of the body and brain, do double, triple and ever-more elaborate duty in their service as a platform on which emotion evolves into feelings, all of which proceeds according to the principle of emotional conductivity.  An animal knows that what it is doing is working when it “feels right” which as I’ve indicated before, is a state of emotional suspension. The animal “projects” into an object of attraction, and if the hunger component is strong enough, the object becomes its counterbalance and the observing animal feels as if in a state of physical suspension. This sense of weightlessness/resonance is the core of every true feeling (and which we can all discern for ourselves whenever we are fully integrated into an energy system such as driving a car or when emotionally bonded with another being). In the article cited below, researchers intrigued by the phenomenon of the runner’s high have arrived at an interesting proposition and I’ve added emphasis in service to my model for the animal mind.

For decades, endorphins have hogged the credit for producing “runner’s high,” that fleeting sense of euphoria and calm that many people report experiencing after prolonged exercise. Who among us, after an especially satisfying workout, hasn’t thought, “ah, my endorphins are kicking in.”

As the article points out however, the problem is that endorphins are large molecules that can’t pass through the brain/blood barrier and so prove to be an unlikely candidate for runner’s high. Instead, research into the mechanism for the euphoria from smoking cannabis has brought forward a more compelling candidate than endorphins, and one that more directly involves the body as a substrate for the emotional experience.

“The endocannabinoid system was first mapped some years before that, when scientists set out to determine just how cannabis, a k a marijuana, acts upon the body. They found that a widespread group of receptors, clustered in the brain but also found elsewhere in the body, allow the active ingredient in marijuana to bind to the nervous system and set off reactions that reduce pain and anxiety and produce a floaty, free-form sense of well-being. Even more intriguing, the researchers found that with the right stimuli, the body creates its own cannabinoids (the endocannabinoids). These cannabinoids are composed of molecules known as lipids, which are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, so cannabinoids found in the blood after exercise could be affecting the brain.”

Running and slurping sugar previously were identified as pleasurable behaviors in animals. Now the researchers saw that both activities lit up and sensitized portions of the animals’ endocannabinoid systems, intimating that the endocannabinoid connection may lend both exercise and dessert their appeal.”

Whether this accumulating new science establishes, or ever can establish, definitively, that endocannabinoids are behind runner’s high, is uncertain. As Francis Chaouloff, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux in France and lead author of the genetically modified mouse study, pointed out in an e-mail, rodents, although fine models for studying endocannabinoid action, “do not fill questionnaires to express their feelings related to running,” and runners’ high is a subjective human experience. Still, endocannabinoids are a more persuasive candidate, especially given the overlap between the high associated with marijuana use and descriptions of the euphoria associated with strenuous exercise. One recent review article described them: “pure happiness, elation, a feeling of unity with one’s self and/or nature, endless peacefulness,” and “inner harmony.”

So, the significance of seeing the body, rather than higher cognitive processes, as chief modifiers of simple emotion so that it can elaborate into a feeling, is that the environment and the energetic principles by which it is composed and by which it changes, thereby become intimately affiliated with the mind of the animal. The environment becomes part of an animal’s consciousness; its mind does not stand alone or can ever be cognizant of it having a self as something separate and distinct from its surroundings. Thus the animal arrives at an experience of consciousness that is organized according to how nature itself is organized. I believe this is the most parsimonious explanation for the evolution of adaptive behavior as well as the guiding principle by which animals learn as opposed to a rational construct of cause and effect, i.e. reinforcement theory. So if two dogs meet and greet, and if they can reduce their impressions of each other (by referencing their body via their hunger circuitry) to the simple laws of motion and the related principle of every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then they will get along. They get along because they have become each other’s opposite polarity, i.e. one internalizes a force of motion just as if it is being pushed on by a physical force, while the other expresses a force of motion just as if it is being pulled forward by a physical force. They ultimately bond through this process as they will invariably switch roles and flip polarities and they experience this kind of play via a state of emotional suspension. Then over a prolonged period of contact, their state of resonance each evokes in the other, continues to elaborate until their collective energies combine and deflects onto a complex object of resistance, which now can induce the state of emotional suspension as well. In short, they help each other realize more pleasure than they can possibly attain singly. So if we were to suspend what we think of what a dog is doing, in other words, were we to choose to observe dogs as creatures of the immediate-moment that go by feel, then the logic of this inherent intelligence becomes apparent. The body does more than carry the head around. It plugs the brain into the mind and the endocannibinoid system will undoubtedly prove to be part of the mechanism by which a state of emotional suspension is induced by the energetic principles of nature.

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Published February 20, 2011 by Kevin Behan
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10 responses to “The Hungry Mind and the Runner’s High”

  1. AZStu says:

    Hi Kevin,
    I think you may find this article interesting it discusses the eCBs system in animals as well as humans and its role in stress response, sex etc. I immediately thought of it when I read this post.

  2. Christine says:

    Interesting…I was discussing runner’s high just last week.

  3. Donnie_O says:

    Recently there was a TED talk presented by Christopher MacDougall, author of “Born To Run”. In it, he discusses the many social and physical benefits of running. To paraphrase a part of the talk, he compares early humans to a pack of wild dogs, running down and hunting prey. Definitely worth giving a listen to!

  4. Donnie_O says:

    Just to add to my above post, it sounds to me like Christopher MacDougall is saying something very similar to Kevin: that running (our most basic hunting behaviour)creates social behaviour.

  5. Hey, guys! I miss the NDT Buzz button! Is it gone forever?

    I hope not…


  6. kbehan says:

    It’s still on my browser but that must be due to an admin account. Yes it will be restored and also the roster of links as well. A proverbial work in progress, thanks.

  7. Donnie_O says:

    For the past few months I’ve been learning about “Chi-running”, which is a running method that uses the principles of Tai Chi. Essentially it is a more natural form of running: erect posture, short, quick steps and a midfoot landing directly under your mass, like a controlled forward fall. The creator, Danny Dreyer, talks a lot about flow states as well as energy. One thing that resonated with me in his book is the concept of “y’chi”, which really is emotional projection. I don’t have the book in front of me, but one example of y’chi that he uses is that of the cat stalking the mouse. The cat is completely focussed on the mouse and every part of his body feels pulled toward the prey. Chi runners use y’chi to feel pulled along their path as opposed to pushing themselves with their legs.

    In learning about this, it occurred to me that this is what we’re trying to get our dogs to feel.

  8. Crystal says:

    Donnie_O thx for the links. I just started running 12 weeks ago and I run in minimalist shoes, same posture and techniques as you describe Chi-running to be.

    Very interesting to me that CM equates running to the hunt. I run more for my emotional well being than my physical though it does great things for both.

    Kevin do you think it is satisfying for the dogs to come on the runs? I have been walking them in the mornings so they can wander and hunt and doing my runs in the evening. They are often with me, but they are trotting most of the time, not off sniffing or playing with other dogs they might meet. Just curious if they feel the runs as a hunt too.

  9. kbehan says:

    If they are in sync with you so that all the energy is moving as a whole, so that they’re orbiting you and always attending to your line of travel, then that’s a hunt.

  10. Crystal says:

    Excellent. I have been thinking I would like to incorporate the run into the morning walk. Start out that way as I only run for thirty minutes.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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