“The same nerves that carry the sensations of misery carry also the sensation of happiness.” – Vivekananda
Neuroscience is the cool kid on the block these days. So let us look at its history and understand that neurology is simply the story of the nervous system. The nervous system is 600 million years old. Modern man is only 50,000 years old. The earth is 4+ billion years old. Short story: nervous system mapping is older than modern day cognitive thinking.
Mechanism of firing and wiring together:
What fires together wires together is how neural plasticity is described. Let us look at how neural structures are created. A thought is a mental activity. So mental activity creates neural activity. Repeated mental activity creates repeated neural activity. Repeated neural activity builds neural structure. According to Neuropsychologist Rick Hansen, what matters most is not the event, but what is the implicit residue of experience. He says that our brains are velcro to negative experiences while teflon to positive ones.
In other words, you’ve got a thought that lasts 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Joe Despanza, Joe Despanza, author of Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind, describes it in layman’s terms this way. When it continues for hours or days, you’ve got a mood. When it continues for weeks and months, it is now a temperament. Give it a several years and it is your personality trait! The important point to remember though is that it is learned behavior and sticks around because we keep doing it over and over again. We simply memorize it and therefore we have its autograph on our synapses!
According to the Neuroscientist Merzenich, motivation and change is neurology. Ancient wisdom reminds us that it is all about change, impermanence.
The key is that as long as we are breathing, the opportunity for change and creating a life that works better and makes us happier is always available!
Anatomy of Stress
When you are stressed as in stuck in traffic again and you are late for a very important meeting, this is what happens to your body.
The amygdala in the brain initiates the stress response. Think alarm bell! The pupils dilate looking for danger. Heart rate increases. The extremities prepare to fight or run. Certain chemicals are released to alter our perception. The hippocampus (forms and retrieves contextual memory) in the brain inhibits the cortisol and amygdala. The adrenals pump cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol gets us out of danger quickly. It is meant to be short-term fuel. It inhibits and shrinks the hippocampus (killing brain cells). It can impair sleep, digestion, metabolism, memory and learning.
How do you find a calm place in your neurology?
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind….no, it lies in your gut!!
The gut is our second brain! There are nine meters from end of esophagus to anus. Sheaths of neurons are embedded in the walls of this long tube called your gut! It contains 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system.
We are wired and designed to activate more quickly in the parasympathetic part of our nervous system than the sympathetic drive. That means we are geared towards peace rather than stress. We are meant to find our power in relaxation, not fighting.
A quiet lizard brain is important because of the health of digestion, sleep, cardiovascular system, decrease of inflammatory and autoimmune efficiency. Do you know that 90 percent of neurotransmitters are made in your gut? Over 60 percent of your immune system function is within the gut walls. 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut as well.
The gut-brain axis affects the HPA axis in the upper brain. The bacteria in your gut influence the biochemistry and development of the brain. There is a 10:1 ration of internal bacteria to human gene. Ninety percent of information is passed from from gut to brain, not the other way around.
Healthy nutrition is good. But taking in oxygen fully is key. So breathe, breathe and breathe…all the way down your belly!
How is your strength, stamina, or energy level compared to five years ago? My work is about bringing awareness to specific movements in the body in order to improve and maintain the vitality that leads to an independent life.
In my work, I see clients who have difficulty sitting, either because of chronic pain, injury, Parkinson’s, MS or stroke. After a few lessons with me, numerous clients have reported experiencing powerful outcomes including: increased flexibility, pain reduction, better balance, relaxation and ease of movement. Miriam, who sees me for her stiff neck states, “the work with Kathrina has made me aware of all the subtle ways I use my body that aggravate my neck condition… What is most surprising about her work, is how something can be so subtle, so entirely pain free, and yet so effective .”
Our bodies are always changing and each part influences all other parts. Movement with awareness is a proven method to train the brain to reorganize itself from functioning with pain to experiencing more ease. The Katz Index of Independence in Activities of Daily Living defined the basic activities of daily living as bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring, continence and feeding. All these activities require getting up from a chair. As we get older, the ability to reach for objects and get up from a chair means independence, or, dependence if they become too painful to perform on our own.
Although done with ease in our early years, getting up from a chair for many older adults becomes effortful and a clear strain on the neck, shoulders and abdomen. I teach individuals to be aware of where they are straining, where the movement stops and how all parts of one’s self may be brought into moving as one. The key is to know how to function more intelligently when one’s strength and stamina are reduced because of the natural ageing process. As a result of experiencing these movement lessons, habitual patterns are replaced with healthier ones. By using different variations of sitting up slowly and gently, the individual learns how to better organize movement with less effort. One then gains the confidence to move and live life more fully.
This article addresses relaxation and tension in interpersonal relationship. Relaxation and tension need to be talked about together as they are flip sides of the same coin. Our physiopsychospiritual journey comes down to a common denominator. Are we relaxed or not? A relaxed system experiences itself differently than a stressed system, both in relation to self and to other. It is a matter of degrees: of where we are in the continuum at a given moment, acutely or chronically. Health in its most profound landscape is a system that is relaxed and, thereby, poised to interact without unnecessarily protecting itself.
Human beings are social animals and need social support to be healthy. What happens, though, when foundational social relationships provide more negative experiences than positive ones? How does healing happen when the underlying physiology of relaxation is not a felt experience in the body? How does one reconcile and bring in new learning to a belief, and experience, that social exchange is more costly than supportive?
For the purpose of this article, I am defining tension as a way an individual knows how to support one’s self in times of stress. Many times earlier in life, these coping mechanisms worked to “get the job done”. It may have meant pushing down one’s emotions of fear, anger, despair or/and anxiety. It may have meant experiencing numbness in the inside, while a smile on the outside prevailed. It may have meant “pulling up one’s socks” or “keeping it together” or “”pushing through” or “holding it in”. It may have meant pushing others away through rage and bitterness. In short, the individual learned the ability not to feel pain.
Each emotional state also has a corresponding physiological conglomeration. This may mean the belly is held in tightly while the throat is constricted in an attempt to choke back tears, and, the heart is wrapped a particular way as not to feel its vulnerability. It may mean a heated body. Whatever structures one adopts, they become familiar and habituated to the extent that they feel natural. It really isn’t natural, however. Rather, it is a learned reaction to a situation or/and person, repeated over and over again. It may be the safest and most valued way to hold one’s self: as a child, in order to survive, or, as an adult, in a life threatening situation.
This way of holding may not be the best way to be, yet it is the best that the individual body/mind knows how to do at the present moment. When one is in stress, one holds one’s self a particular way so as not to “fall down” or “fall apart”. The irony of this is that by not "falling into", one actually separates one’s self even more by solidifying one’s structures and becoming denser. This density provides a sense of protection. It is similar to embracing one’s self to keep the self together. The identity of self and other is even more pronounced.
When there is no external support, as with the loving presence of another person, the individual finds other ways to support the self. The effects of a life-long habit of holding in one’s self and not feeling pain, however, have their costs.
When one is physically and safely embraced by another, the accumulated tension of internal bracing can transmute. One can allow the feeling of contraction within the supportive embrace of another. The power of two, instead of one, meets the tension. One feels safer. One can let go of the ability to numb and disassociate. One can feel the heart. By falling into the loving and supportive embrace of another, the tension can release through shaking, rattling, whimpering or sighing.
To be met, held and not demanded to be other than what one is at that moment, translates to being supported in safety. It is not solely an emotional support. It is a physiological relational reality. The parasympathetic nervous system responds. One naturally allows a full breath, because, at that moment, one experiences trust in falling into the web of life where one is held. The individual relates to connection, to the oneness to which we all belong. One embraces and is embraced by the flow of the life force, by its influx of cycles. The feeling of self is of generosity and spaciousness.
A fundamental relational experience of relaxation is essential. Once the experience of support is felt as a basis, one can meander into social exchange as opposition and still be relaxed. Dancing with another force helps us connect with our strength and grace, not just with grit and armoring. The other supports the self in the uniqueness of being. The experience of self as whole is not so easily threatened. Trust is rooted.
By the time we are able to tell what happens in a moment, the moment has been replaced by another. So the closest we can come to the present once we verbalize is it by making it past. It's like film. As long as the projector is running, it seems like one seamless piece. Take a moment to slow down and stop it, and we are surprised to discover each still picture joined one after the other. So is a moment in our reality of ourselves.
There are numerous books for more than thousands of years around this topic and even a longer amount of time that humankind has pondered on this. After all, we have all its aftermath: religion, science, psychology, art.
What is a moment....right now...a thud heard, a motion in the distance, coolness felt. Next moment, thud is a car door slamming, motion is a twig dangling across the horizon, coolness is the afternoon breeze against my arm. Notice the huge gap between receiving sensory perception and giving language to differentiate it further into a communicable culture, even if it's within ourselves alone. Wait, I have not even added any emotional content or color to the previous moment. Let's do it. Next moment: thud brings excitement of lover arriving, motion brings nostalgia of a childhood swing tied to a tree, coolness brings irritation that I must get a sweater. All these in less than a minute.
Moment after moment after moment.
What does it take to glimpse a moment, unadulterated?
Awareness, sharpened as you would a knife that could cut easily between the tendons of raw chicken.
Awareness to the movement of perception. Awareness to the movement of differentiation. Awareness to the movement of labeling. Awareness to the movement of preferring. Awareness to the movement of thinking.
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.