Becoming conscious of what you expose your senses to can dramatically change your health, according to a number of studies. (1-24)
A supportive, positive, non-violent environment—much like the one Ayurveda suggests—is something that we can create. Changing the desires of what we want to see, and longing for peace rather than violence is a choice we all have.
The desire to watch stimulating, violent, and thrilling content is just another example of the mind seeking satisfaction outside of itself. These over-stimulating, addictive, reward-based experiences are never more than temporary and always leave you wanting more.
According to Ayurveda, the sights, scents, noises and other things you expose yourself to have a lasting effect on what you think, how you act, who you become, and the state of your health. On an epigenetic scientific level, our behaviors, lifestyles, and environments influence how our genes will express themselves. (1)
What we see and take in visually is another form of nutrition and, just like food, we are what we eat, so we must be selective about the visual input we are feeding ourselves.
Do you demand organic, sustainably-produced, healthy food? Demand the equivalent from your visual input—positive, sattvic (harmonious) and nourishing visual stimuli.
Violence, the Media, and Us
According to Ayurveda, being mindful about what you allow yourself to see is of crucial importance.
Watching violence, death and angry riots on the news can literally morph the microbes in the body to somehow think that these kinds of scenes are normal. (2-7)
If the visual exposure to violence is repeated regularly, a more permanent shift in the microbiome and the human genome can manifest and affect our health. (8,9)
For instance, studies have shown that exposure to TV programs, movies, and video games that portray violence decreases sensitivity in our brain activity. This blunted sensitivity may reduce our ability to link violence and aggression with consequences—potentially promoting violent and aggressive attitudes and behavior.
These media-based portrayals of violence are also linked to decreased levels of empathy, emotional reaction to violence, and prosocial behavior. (2-7
Interestingly, while violent video games were found to increase aggression and decrease prosocial outcomes, prosocial video games with positive messages actually increased prosocial effects. (10) This really does reinforce the claim, “We are what we see.”
The implications of witnessing violence do not just apply to the media, such as TV programs, movies, or video games. Many people, on a daily basis, witness or experience violent behavior first-hand in their everyday lives. Science tells us that living in a violent environment can put us at higher risk for developing emotional and behavioral problems, as well as a propensity to experience more violence-based physical and emotional trauma. (11)
Young adults exposed to violence in the home they grew up in were found to have long-term negatively impacted self-esteem. (12)
There are many studies showing that soldiers who go to war and witness or participate in violence have significantly higher incidences of depression and PTSD. (13) Very sadly, in 2012, more U.S. troops died by suicide than in combat in Afghanistan. (14)
Violence and Physical Health
Experiencing visual violence has been linked with a host of negative physical health issues as well. One study found that subjects who played violent video games had significant increases in diastolic blood pressure, felt significantly less full with an increased appetite, and had a marked increase in craving sweets. (9)
Exposure to war violence has been linked to having negative effects on soldiers’ physical health, with pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal disturbances being some of the most prevalent complaints
Higher exposure to war trauma, and witnessing violence in general, is linked with higher incidence of PTSD, psychological imbalances, and increased levels of physical health issues. (8,9,15)
In the same vein, journalists in the newsrooms who are regularly exposed to images of extreme violence as part of their job were shown to have increased propensity for PTSD, depression, and psychological distress as measured in the body and the body’s anxiety levels. (16)
PTSD has also been linked to poor self-reported health and increased morbidity. (17) If watching or witnessing violence is linked with PTSD, and PTSD is associated with increased morbidity, then violent visual stimuli are clearly not ingredients in the recipe for health and longevity.
What We See, We Become
Science shows us that when we are entrained to look at images that affect us in emotionally positive ways, we tend to look significantly less at the negative images in our environment.
If you feed yourself positive visual stimuli, you tend to start seeing more of the positive and less of the negative images around you.
This isn’t to say that you would be immune from experiencing the full gamut (and sometimes violent realities) of our modern world, but your experience would be from the standpoint of a more positive mindset, which science shows can make all the difference in our health, vitality, and longevity. (18-23)
Today, there is more and more evidence suggesting that our bodies are able to thrive and live longer when we are in a loving, kind, environment in which we are supported by and engaged in, with positive emotions and a good attitude.
We are simply direct extensions of the world around us. (18-24)
As is our current cultural trend, if we continue to consume regular and daily dosages of extreme violence via visual exposure, the microbes epigenetically regulating our genome could begin to express more of the negative genetic susceptibilities, and our health and longevity can be impacted.
To a certain extent, we all have a choice as to what we expose ourselves to visually—the TV shows and news we watch, movies we go see, video games we play and how we choose to recreate.
Making an effort to be in nature, see beautiful things, and watch positive and uplifting movies can change your microbes, your genes, and your quality of life. This ancient wisdom of living a sattvic, uplifting and loving lifestyle is now backed by science!