Our mind is an interconnected matrix of thoughts, ideas and actions coming from our experiences, relationships and future possibilities. In traditional American and Australian cultures, they liken this to the idea of a ‘serpent’ and propose that this is the basis of all creation. Generally as we grow we do not have a lot of control, our mind will adapt to experiences; how we were raised, our friends, family and the things we get exposed to. We learn, grow and become who we are – unfortunately for some people this can be a painful experience. There comes a point in many people's lives where something will trigger a self-realization either through immense joy, sadness, pain or pleasure. Taking a glimpse into this ‘being’ can be an enlightening experience and will hopefully prompt you to understand the patterns that may be pulling you down or creating unwanted experiences whether that be a fear of rejection, a feeling of never being ‘enough’ or other childhood beliefs you may have carried with you into your adult life. As you can master these patterns you can begin to transform, heal and grow into the kind of person you want to be rather than becoming a product of your fears and anxieties.
When we consider this from a neuroscience perspective, we can consider the inner workings of the brain. This can be understood as a process of how the brain has evolved over time. In a very primitive nervous system such as a worm or jellyfish there is a basic set of nerves that will help the organism respond to stimuli: eat, breathe, mate – similar to the function of a brainstem. Over time, the nervous system evolved and developed a mammalian brain or limbic system. This is generally where stress comes from and will trigger a sympathetic response resulting in fight, flight, freeze or faint. This gives the organism an advantage over predators and over time, the nervous system with the best stress response will survive and their species will evolve.
The neocortex or ‘thinking’ brain came next and is involved in higher, executive functions including reasoning, experiencing joy, expressing gratitude, forgiveness, empathy and compassion – thus, a lot of these functions are unique to humans with arguably the most evolved nervous systems. The issue that comes into play is that these highly evolved nervous systems also come with a highly evolved stress response although now, instead of being triggered from physical stressors like predators it comes in psychological stress through money, work, taxes, health and politics. Although we have a great ‘thinking brain’ capable of experiencing immense joy, beauty and love a lot of the time people get being dragged down by this primitive limbic system. What can also happen with the limbic system is it can trigger a negative feedback loop where the ongoing stress can trigger negatively charged emotions – hate, jealousy, discontentment which can then re-trigger a sympathetic response – this is known as chronic stress.
Our thoughts are like muscles – they can be strengthened and weakened. As we begin to notice patterns and triggers that send us into a stress response we can start to change them. If a stress response is already triggered and the heart is beating at >100bmp control is lost. The best thing to do here is to remove yourself from the situation and control your breathing. Slow, deep breaths can then settle the heart rate and as such, we can regain control. The mammalian brain also has the potential to inhibit the limbic brain – so training higher thought patterns can also serve as a way to control the limbic system. Some ideas here may include keeping a gratitude journal or meditations on compassion. Training our body can also help us to train our mind. Interbody awareness has been linked with many health benefits and can result in improved well-being and healing – here we can think pilates, yoga, tai chi, body orientated psychotherapy etc. If such awareness is done in a style that is specific to you and can help you understand your patterns and movement dysfunctions it can open the door to a whole new life. Learn more about integrative physiotherapy.