Come join me and journey together in creating a new neurological story. There is an impetus in human beings to survive and once these basic needs are met, to continue on to thrive. One of the most basic needs is safety. What happens when the feeling of safety gets compromised? When stress dominates one's life, the sympathetic nervous system takes charge and a whole host of dis-ease manifests. We see these in physical, mental and emotional illnesses. It is the organism's way of calling for help and balancing itself. With the right support, the parasympathetic nervous system can take more charge. The story of the nervous system is directly linked to our motorskills. The way we shape our bodies are our emotions, feelings and thoughts. It is not so much a cause and effect. It is our shape. Shapes are dynamic and fluid; however, when shape is linked with the lack of safety, the fight/flight/freeze response of the organism takes over.
Notice that when we are afraid, our feet and hands become cold and numb. Our heart races, our stomach and guts become fluttery and we might even have diarrhea or constipation. Our shoulders get tight while our chest caves in. Adrenalin production increases. The taste of saliva changes. Our smell becomes more pronounced.
Fear is simply a holding of breath, the rib cages in certain position, the cocyxx held a certain way. Shaping our center this way pulls the extremeties inward and not accessible for action. Working with emotion by intervening on a somatic reshaping of body parts is very effective.
My work with people and animals directly addresses the neuroplasticity of the stress chemistry between peacefulness and anxiety. By creating an environment of visceral and kinesthetic support, the student's nervous system attunes to my own nervous system. Latest scientific research demonstrates that a nervous system does not develop in a vacuum. From infancy, our nervous systems are linked with those of the rhythm of our caregivers' nervous systems. The very structure of our brain is interdependent by the rhythm of those around us. In short, the way we love, the way we recognize safety and comfort depends on how we were neurologically wired early on. The great news is that this wiring is pliable and can change. These neurological sructures can be altered and expanded to include healthier and more peaceful ways of experiencing one's self.
Body-mind-heart literacy is a learned skill. Often we give ourselves more space, more generosity and kindness to learn a new application for our computer than we do for ourselves in learning a new way of dealing with anger or disappointment. Face the simple facts. The baseline of which our parents modeled for us is simply a baseline that is finite and is based on what they know in terms of what their parents and culture taught them. It is not about judgment or pointing to where they went wrong or right. It is all about skill acquisition and having enough practice to master the dynamism required of being a human being. Learning a new skill requires vulnerability. The process of learning includes experiencing how not to do something in order to arrive on how to do it.
When something new is introduced to your life, what sense of your self emerges in relation to this newness? Newness could be a new car, a new idea of changing vacation plans, a cancellation of a date an hour before, a new job, a new home, a new dance movement? Do you feel excitement, fear, weirdness, difference? Is it followed by a sense of being judged, a big gap, a just right feeling or even awesome, some disorientation, a surge of new feelings (aliveness) with more breathe, more space in heart and belly, a felt sense of beig supported by gravity in clear distinct way?
This article explores the relationships we have with change and how habits are maintained. I invite you to explore what emerges as you add new possibilities in your day to day decision making.
Earlier this morning, I watched a young girl with her father on the beach. She must have been no more than three years old. She was filled with excitement as she ran towards the shore to meet the foamy waves. As soon as the waves approached, she ran even faster to not get caught by it. She then jumped up and down declaring her victory and delight. She then repeated the movement towards the waves and again with a free giggle allowed herself to be chased by the cold water. Her father was quiet not too far away. He did not encouraged nor discouraged the young girl.
From the other directions, two young boys wanted to play as the young girl did. They were, however, hesitant to approach the waves and would looked back at their mother for an approval to continue. She said nothing at first. Then the boys began to approach the waves a little and the mother discouraged them with her words. The emotion and body language in the boys were the pull between contraction and expansion - running towards the sea. There was a look of envy for the little girl who had full permission to jump up and down, to and from the waves.
Is the child feeling free to play and explore her own relationship with the incoming waves? What is the father's response/reaction? How free is the child's play from the father's intervention and support? If the child falls into the water and gets cold, how does the father meet her cries, uncertainty, doubt, excitement, etc?
The above event points clearly to relational structuring. Despite our best attempts to think that we are islands, we actually are formed by our relations. Please take this moment to reflect on the experiences that are evoked in your body, emotions and thoughts from these questions.
How do you experience your adventures with newness? Were you supported by your parents with their words, looks, gestures? Take an example of when you were five years old, ten years old, sixteen years old?
Were you encouraged to play? What physical proximal distance away from you was comfortable for your parents? How often were you expected to check in? Did it have a relationship to their anxiety? Your anxiety? Did it differ between siblings? Between brothers and sisters? Did this particular flavor become an identity of yours into your adulthood that when it is not present, you feel that something is missing?
Notice the relationship of early developmental patterning with the way as adults we relate with newness in our lives: new projects, different ways our spouses do things than we do, abrupt change in schedules? How close is your anxiety to change? What is your relationship to disorientation (which is really just another orientation)?
Feldenkrais speaks of the human body as made to function optimally in a state of uncertainty. Being on two legs instead of four gives us a narrower base, which means the possibilities for movement expands exponentially. Moreover, our brain is made to learn. Habits do not induce learning. So even if we add a small change to a habit, the brain eats it up and sees it as something new. A new neural connection is established.
We recognize ourselves and the world through shapes. For the purpose of this discussion, let us look at the meaning of shapes.
1.(n.) To adapt to a purpose; to regulate; to adjust; to direct; as, to shape the course of a vessel.
2.(n.) Form of embodiment, as in words; form, as of thought or conception; concrete embodiment or example, as of some quality.
3.(n.) A piece which has been roughly forged nearly to the form it will receive when completely forged or fitted.
4.(v. i.) To suit; to be adjusted or conformable.
5.(n.) To design; to prepare; to plan; to arrange.
6.(n.) Dress for disguise; guise.
7.(n.) That which has form or figure; a figure; an appearance; a being.
8.(n.) To image; to conceive; to body forth.
9.(n.) A model; a pattern; a mold.
10.(n.) To form or create; especially, to mold or make into a particular form; to give proper form or figure to. (http://thinkexist.com/dictionary/meaning/shape/)
We look at these letters and recognize its shapes. We look at the furniture in the room, the models of vehicles, the songs and the evocations of emotions and thoughts. There is an agreed basis that we don't question daily, but which we take for granted as the building basis of this reality. Similarly, we carry and present ourselves as shapes. Friends and family recognize as to what has been established and familiar. Strangers often peg us into a stereotype of what presents itself in the moment, for example from the way we dress or hold our stature whether uprightly or sloppily. We recognize ourselves through familiar shapes as well. We know we are sad when we feel a particular shape, heart aching, or recognize anger because of the heat and sudden compactness in our bodies. Similarly wonder presents itself as a particular configuration in our bodies and our faces light up.
When we come to this world, we are open to being informed. The way we hold our bodies, emote and think are directly correlated to our time and place. As I work within generations of the same family, I see similar ways children, parents and grandparents hold their sternums and lower backs. I note the trajectory of their affect to not be too different from each other. The adage "the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree" has proven to be more true than not. Unless we stop, reevaluate and bring awareness to this "belonging", we get stuck in this identity. The question is: are we at ease and at peace with this configuration? What benefits and payoffs are we getting from this shape?
In my work, I return again and again to the quality of openness to being informed that we all started with. We open this conversation and continue the curiousity and enthusiasm to be morphed into something new that is more optimal to a life that has more ease. Essentially, the intelligence of the body-mind will not adapt something new unless it is functional to itself. A particular thirty-year-old adult has lived in the most intelligent way its system has known to adapt and survive. No matter what anyone else thinks, whatever he has done has worked from the perspective of survival. These strategies of thinking, emoting, moving are strategies that worked to get him here. At this particular moment, these shapes are no longer the optimal way for him to thrive. What is familiar is no longer comfortable. When we recognize somatically that forcing ourselves to be small is not the same at being at ease in ourselves, then we caress that longing to be who we truly are, not by being defined by another in reaction to survival. We then walk in the world with an open heart, an exposed belly, occupying our width, breadth and length as a body. There is nothing to hide and protect.
Think of it as upgrading the system.
The phrase "letting go" is so familiar to hear in psycho-spiritual circles. What does it really mean to let go? Let go from what into what? Why would that be valuable to us? A quick answer is to flourish as human beings. To be well.
As a movement educator, I observe many people who move as though their shoulders are on a coat rack. Bodies look suspended on the air while legs and feet appear to be disjointed from the torso. To simply tell someone to relax often does not simply work because the whole system doesn't know how to hold itself any other way. Ignorance is simply not knowing. It is also true in this case. Relaxation and letting go are visceral learnings, just like learning a language. I've been in movement classes where teachers speak of moving one's ribs and watch students struggle with this leap. To see someone in point A and want them to be in point B without understanding the gap between A and B fails to successfully address learning.
I was a reading specialist many years ago and taught children with different abilities how to decipher letters, put them together in order to read and then to comprehend. There were many steps from actually seeing the letter on paper to learning it multi-modally in the brain to finallly enunciating it with delight and certainty. It wasn't about simply addressing the learning challenge but also skillfully working with the emotional pretzeling around it.This is the similar process for how to relax and let go. To avoid reductionism, let us look at a few different possible ways that a learning is created.
We each have learnt a baseline as what is the comfort zone for breath retention, speed and length. That means the sacrum, the belly, the ribs, the lungs, the jaws, the little toes recognize this pattern as familiar and comfortable. It is associated with a sense of safety. Sometimes safety means not sensing one's body fully or feeling one's emotions to completion. Looking at it from the perspective of attachment and bonding theories, the infant's breath follows the rhythm of the mother's breath. If the mother is chronically anxious and depressed, then the infant uses this as a model for what is possible. True but inaccurate and limited. This becomes the baseline for what is possible within that neuromatrix. It is not about letting go of that "story", but creating and adding another story that encompasses a spectrum that includes wellness that matures. It is a conversation. Alive. This opens up the conversation between the maps etched in the cortex with the input from the periphery of the nervous system. Think brain and skin. They are truly modifiable by experience.
For thousands of years, breath has been a doorway in spiritual technology. Breath has been known to be the link between body and mind. The Satipattana Sutta of the Buddhist speaks directly as a meditation instruction to know for one's self the effects of a short breath on the body-mind and to know the effects of a long breath on the body-mind. In this process, one understands and knows one's self. Yes, breath is somatic. It is also an intersection of what compels us in our lives, often unconsciously.
To go out of this pattern means to learn a new pattern. We are rewiring the nervous and psycho-somatic circuity of the individual. Biofeedback is one modality that addresses specifically the relationship of this neuro-chemical dance with relaxation. This is why it is used with some success in patients with chronic pain. Unfortunately, when someone also has deep unresolved trauma, deeper levels of relaxation triggers the trauma. It is then very important to work with someone skillful about this relationship. I use Neurovascular Integration to support the resetting of the parasympathetic nervous system. Because we live in a culture that has the sympathetic nervous system (stress) turned on most of the time, we need all the help in balancing it with the parasympathetic nervous system (peaceful and powerful).
Chronic pain is biopsychosocial disease and interjecting at any point in the cycle breaks the pattern. A few tangible ways to break the cycle is to be curious, delighted, grateful, feel one's vitality, feel love, see beauty and appreciate a blessing in one's life. By understanding the loop of the physiology with the psychology, one can introduce positive feedback that builds resiliency. What is resiliency and why do we need it? According to positive psychology, resiliency i s 1. the capacity to be realistic, 2. to sense trust and faith, 3. to have the capacity to reinvent one's self, 4. to have the ability to create and maintain a social support system and 5. to have a sense of humour. Resiliency is linked to good health.
Movement and social support are the most important parts of health. Our bodies are hardwired to resolve dangerous situations that trigger the "withdraw, protect, resolve" pattern primarily through movement. Think of a baloon filled with water as opposed to a bottle with water. Our cells, tissues, bodies respond accordingly. Trauma laden tissues are rigid, either in freeze, flight or fight mode. Our tissues need to feel safe to circulate and soften. The body has its own innate intelligence to spontaneously self correct given the right kind of information. A human being that feels safe can truly relax, let go and attend its energy into flourishing.
My name is Kathrina Peterson and I invite you to participate in this forum around awareness and movement. I have been a Buddhist meditator for over 20 years and have been exploring in depth what it means to develop as a human being: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is my passion, both on a personal and a professional level. I welcome you to share thoughts around what it means to be awake.