Neuroscience has shown that we can train our brain to create a new mind/body map with the choices we make on how we mitigate stress and subsequently grow a new brain. In order to make such choices and shifts in our neurology, we need to feel safe and empowered to down-regulate and re-calibrate our nervous system to build new neural grooves in our mind/body map based on present moment experiences. A mind/body map is like a network or a road map navigating neural grooves created, mainly unconsciously, each time our awareness centers are heightened. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist who in 1949 wrote Hebb’s Law coining the phrase,
“Neurons that fire together wire together.”
In essence, this means that every experience we have is embedded into our brain and body through a network of neurons. With heightened awareness, the neurons fire together to wire that experience. Through repeated experiences, these neurons create neural grooves that reinforce our perception of the experience and strengthen the network or map of that experience. This is how we learn a new activity like riding a bike by recalling the memory from the day before to program our mind/body map to remember how to ride the bike. And this is also how we learn to remember a perceived threat like almost getting bit by a rattle snake when walking on a hiking trail and subsequently looking for a rattle snake on every trail on which we are hiking after that moment. In both situations, our awareness centers are heightened, hormones of action and attention have been released, and our neurons are primed to map to a new experience.
When we choose to map to fear by, sometimes unconsciously, calling up the memory stored in our hippocampus, we engage our limbic system and continue to look for the rattle snake on each hiking trail. When we choose to map to novelty by remaining in the WOW (Wide Open Wonder) of the moment, we engage the prefrontal cortex by illuminating our awareness centers in the wonder which releases hormones and neurotransmitters to prime our neural pathways for learning a new experience. We may even reflect on: “I wonder how this experience will unfold?”
These 3 empowering practices can be experienced anytime, anywhere to down-regulate your limbic system and train your brain to simply let go of the know and be in the WOW! (Wide Open Wonder).
1)Down-Regulate the Limbic System:
We need to feel safe in order to remember we can choose to respond rather than react to an experience. When we are running from a predator or a stress-filled situation, it is challenging for us to remember we have any other option other than continuing to run for our life. When we begin to self-regulate our internal pressure by down-regulating our limbic system, we turn on our inner compass of innate intelligence from which to navigate our life.
Just like a barometer detecting the change in atmospheric pressure, our bodies detect change in both our internal and external pressure. Often times this pressure goes undetected until we get triggered and an old experience is uploaded to respond to a present moment situation. This accumulated, unresolved internal pressure spikes a response from the limbic system which often results in distress in the mind and disease in the body.
Slow Down: Slowing down heightens our awareness centers into the experience of the moment to detect sensations of tension, constriction or pressure in and around us. Simply by noticing our inner environment, we begin to down-regulate our nervous system and navigate from our inner compass of awareness. Take several slow effortless breaths right now and perhaps you will notice an awareness that is unfolding as you begin to soften into the frame of present moment awareness. What do you sense in your lungs as you slow your breath? What is your body, as a barometer, detecting as far as pressure in your system? How does this internal pressure respond to slowing down? What do you notice about the speed at which your thoughts are moving as you slow down your breathing? When we consciously slow down our breath, our movements or our thoughts, our whole system begins to slow down. As I like to share with my clients, slow motion cuts through commotion. Try walking slowly through your office space with an an efficiently laid back attitude rather than one of self-inflicted urgency. What do you notice to your inner barometer? As we slow down throughout our day, we begin to respond rather than react to each moment. In slowing down, the nervous system realizes there is nothing urgent in the moment to flee from or fight against. This self-realization takes us out of the flight/fight/freeze pattern reducing resources being sent to the limbic system and re-routing them to the prefrontal cortex area of higher executive functioning like empathy, compassion, patience, and awareness. We then begin to allow life to happen through us rather than to us.
2) Recalibrate into the Moment:
Once we down-regulate our limbic system, we can recalibrate into the present moment experience by shaking off any residue from the spike of our limbic system. As we know, the limbic system responds to the seemingly life-threatening situation of self-inflicted urgency or resistance by releasing stress and flight/fight hormones of adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine and cortisol into the body. These hormones are released due to the activation of our alarm centers which begins the process of stinting blood flow from our vital organs and midline and directing it to our extremities and large muscle groups to prepare us to flee or fight. If we do not actively release this residue, it can take anywhere from hours to days to years to fully release these unused hormones from our system. Just as you have seen wild animals in nature, or even your favorite pet after an altercation, shake it off, this simple practice helps to release any residue and re-set the nervous system.
Shake it Off! : This simple practice can be done in the moment of a stress-filled situation by flicking your fingertips and shaking off your hands as you are experiencing stress or a perceived threat. This practice can also be done in the privacy of your car or home to really shake off wildly your entire body from trilling your lips (like a horse) to shaking every part of your body while feeling the stress and residue flying off and out of your body. After experiencing this practice several times, you may even notice your body automatically and sometimes uncontrollably shaking on it’s own to release trauma and stress once your limbic system is down-regulated and your parasympathetic nervous system of rest and digest comes back online. This energy can be allowed to move through you like a wave that rises and falls without having to know what you are releasing or why you are shaking. Stay in the present moment of what you are experiencing without judgement or filters. Feel your body softening and surrendering to the release.
When we learn to release internal pressure and let go of residue from past-experiences as it arises, we recalibrate in the moment and begin navigating our life from a place of present moment awareness rather re-charging a past experience through prediction and projection. We are now choosing to create a mind/body map based on present moment experience.
3) Install and Integrate:
We can begin shifting our neurobiology in each moment by integrating these practices and installing them into our daily life. Simply by shifting your awareness through your Body Current, the abiding circuit or pulse of innate wisdom and learned higher intelligence between the mind/body/spirit, new neural pathways are formed. The language of communication of the Body Current is through the experience of sensation and practice of self-realization. Both of which stimulate our prefrontal cortex. During times when we are processing the present moment exclusively through our cognitive field of thought as the master of the moment determining what we know will happen, based in prediction or projection, our limbic system is activated and our abiding Body Current® intelligence becomes momentarily “clouded” in a fog. When we choose to navigate and translate the present moment through this field of Wide Open Wonder, we integrate our experience of the present moment through our body wisdom and into our neurobiology creating new neurons of WOW to fire and wire together.
It’s important to remember that the innate intelligence of your Body Current® does not need to be learned or attained, we gain access and insight to this abiding intelligence simply by expanding our awareness, acceptance and allowing of the present moment through the field of sensation and self-reflection.
Body Current® Practices of Integration & Empowerment:
*Awareness: What are you AWARE of in this moment through the field of sensation within your body (interoception), your thought world (introspection), and your physical space and surroundings (proprioception)?
*Acceptance: Can you unconditionally ACCEPT all that is showing up and moving through your field of attention and awareness? If not, what can you let go of in the moment to self-regulate?
*Allowing: Are you ALLOWING for the experience to happen through you with Wide Open Wonder (WOW) as the witness ? Perhaps wondering, “Wow, isn’t this interesting? I wonder how this will turn out?”
Why this works:
For those of you who enjoy the left brain candy of reasoning and research as to why this works continue reading. For those of you who feel safe in not needing to know the whys and hows, but are simply willing to try something new expanding beyond the patterns and conditioning of your comfort zone, you are invited to stop reading here and continue these practices to gather your own personal experiences through your Body Current intelligence.
We have two hippocampi, one in the left and one in the right hemispheres of our brain. This part of our brain plays an important role in converting short-term memories to long-term memories as well as spatial navigation. When the mind perceives or predicts a threat or stress-filled situation, the hippocampus uploads a memory which triggers a familiar mind/body map from a past real “life threatening” experience or it predicts a future anxiety-producing possible experience of gloom and doom.
Our awareness centers are lit up due to this perceived threat despite it not being real. Our amygdala, the part of our limbic system that is linked to emotions, anger and aggression, functions to secrete threat hormones, control fear responses and create emotional memories by communicating with the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands to release the stress and flight/fight hormones of adrenaline (epinephrine), norepinephrine and cortisol into the body. In this perceived threat, our alarm centers are activated and the blood is stinted from our vital organs and midline to our extremities and large muscle groups. Our body is preparing to flee the perceived or predicted stressful situation despite it not being real.
Simply by slowing down and shifting our focus from the commentary of our mind telling us how it’s going to unfold to the expression of our body’s experience of how the moment is actually unfolding, we begin to down-regulate our limbic system and empower the body’s wisdom to navigate from our inner compass detecting internal pressure similar to a barometer detecting external atmospheric pressure.
With these simple and potent practices, we learn to resolve stress in the moment rather than reacting to the moment based on fear and allowing stress to build up. That is why these tools are applicable to life. We use life’s happenings to resolve old conditioning and grow a new brain, literally. The moment begins to unfold through us like a wave rather than the focus being on what we know has happened to us or is going to happen to us. As we consciously down-regulate our limbic system, recalibrate into the moment through opening our awareness centers which heightens our attention releasing neurotransmitters primed for neuroplasticity, we light up and bring online our prefrontal cortex, the grey matter of our brain where new mind/body maps of higher functioning (empathy, compassion, fairness, presence freedom) can form to create a new neural groove. Over time, old conditioned patterns that are not reinforced literally get pruned away in the brain while other branches form new neural networks together to grow a new map in the brain.
Don’t over think this! These practices are simple and highly effective. Integrate them with compassion into your daily life. Enjoy the ride.