As theories develop in the body/mind field, both mental health professionals, different kinds of bodyworkers and movement facilitators saw that emotions could be held in injured tissues. Whether it was a holding pattern from a psychological wound or the result of a car accident or IED explosion, the tissue held a time capsule of the emotions felt at that moment. What bodyworkers see every day in the healing process, is the emotions of past events held in the tissues that stiffened or shortened because of what happened. Talk therapists describe a physical holding that they can’t get to with words and seek an entry into the body. An interesting field in trauma healing, tension release and body/mind integration is using neurogenic motion to resolve old issues. Since we each have our very own body, we can find ways to access our own tissues, and not just turn ourselves over to someone else without participating by using these motions ourselves.
All mammals have the ability to shake off old emotions or traumatic experience so the body can return to homeostasis, its natural equilibrium. When an animal goes through a harrowing experience, it shakes all over and then walks away from it. Whether a gazelle in Africa or a dog in your hometown, it is a genetically-based capacity found in all mammals. We have this same capacity but have overridden it. It still does function in extreme situations, but it is generally viewed as weakness or pathology when it shows up. As social beings, we care what others think and have inhibited this very normal response.
So let us begin with the simplest shift. There are many motions that the body makes to self-correct. We can access these movements by very simple means. They may seem strange when they occur because they do not generate from the neocortex, but from the mid-brain that does that type of maintenance work for the whole being and is always making adjustments and sending messages to the other parts of the brain and body to accomplish this.
The two sides of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, were designed with very specific jobs. The parasympathetic is our calm nervous system, the one that rests and digests, enjoys the sunset and works out in the garden. The sympathetic nervous system is designed to give you the shot of adrenaline to move out of the path of the oncoming car, or tweak the senses when you are walking on a dark street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. The sympathetic nervous system is designed for short bursts of energy to handle an emergency. The parasympathetic is designed to live in.
Stephen Porges began a very important conversation when he wrote The Polyvagal Theory in 2011. It was a dense scientific tract that was considered by more than the medical community that he wrote it for and began the conversation with bodyworkers, psychologists, doctors and holistic practitioners that considered the vagal ventral complex and how we connect socially with others or self-regulate in social situations. By looking at the sensory portion of the vagus nerve he gathered data that hadn’t been considered before, what does the body say to the brain? Although people from various disciplines drew different conclusions the conversation took a form it never had before. It showed when we stopped thinking exclusively from a hierarchical model, we saw the body calm the mind, we saw the lower brain help the neocortex remove trauma and stress. By having the conversation be inter-disciplinary brought a bigger understanding to the data. Great strides are being taken in several fields to help us understand trauma and the positive and negative affects it can have on the health of the whole being.
This could be easily accomplished if we still were using neurogenic motion to clear the adrenaline, slow down the heart rate, loosen the muscles and return the blood to the job of digesting our food. However, since we have overridden this mechanism, we continue to build up tension with every little thing that is upsetting until just about every little thing is upsetting. We are spending almost as much time in our sympathetic nervous system as we are in our parasympathetic nervous system. That ’s hard on many of the body’s systems and organs, and there are many studies of the effects of extended stress on the human body.
The simple and fortunate fact is this maintenance system is still in us ready to be put back online. We just have to tweak it a little to get it working again. A simple way is to stress a muscle that holds tension and is used by the sympathetic nervous system to ramp up for action, like the illiopsoas.
Developing our self-regulation and interoception, keeps us healthier and more self-aware.