You may know Mary Bond best for her book The New Rules of Posture. In today’s conversation we’re talking about her forthcoming book: Your Body Mandala: Posture, Perception, and Presence. And her mission, which, much to my delight, is to contribute to humanity’s deeper embodiment.
Cynthia Price is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Washington in the Biobehavioral Nursing Department. Her clinical and research expertise is in the development of body awareness, or interoception, to improve health and well-being. She is the creator of an approach towards educating people in body awareness called Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy or MABT for short, and is the founder of the Center for Mindful Body Awareness.
Her research studies have focused on the use of MABT for multiple health conditions including Substance Dependency, PTSD, chronic pain, and HIV.Interested in the processes involved in learning mindful body awareness, Cynthia studies qualitative aspects and underlying mechanisms of the MABT approach. She is an author of two scales to measure interoceptive awareness: the Scale of Body Connection (SBC) and the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA). Committed to increasing health care access to underserved populations, Cynthia works with local and international programs to provide and improve complementary and integrative health care through her research, teaching, and service.
Cynthia’s work is essentially getting at the heart of what I’m most excited about in approaches towards the body. Cynthia and I talk about what MABT’s components are and how it helps people with a diverse range of challenges in clinical settings, how and why she came to do this work, and, more broadly, why we disembody, how individual that is, and what we gain when we cultivate a relationship with our bodies.
- Cynthia describes herself as a bodywork researcher.
- As a researcher she developed an approach that grew out of her clinical practice called Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy, or MABT. She took the key elements that people needed to develop body awareness and connect with their bodies.
- Research focuses on looking at how MABT helps people in their lives- people with trauma histories, substance abuse disorder recovery, veterans with chronic pain and PTSD, as well as people living with chronic pain.
- MABT involves developing interoceptive awareness.
- Cynthia trained as a massage therapist in 1981, and was in private practice as a massage therapist for 20 years. Halfway through those 20 years she went back and did her degree in counseling/psychology. She didn’t want to do psychotherapy alone, but wanted to feel more confident bringing a psychotherapeutic focus to her practice.
- Her practice became about body psychotherapy in approach, but really was about the development of body connection.
- She worked a lot with people who were in recovery from interpersonal trauma, mostly childhood sexual abuse.
- The key components of MABT- it is focused on teaching people the fundamental skills of connecting to their inner body sensations.
- It happens in 3 phases: 1: Literacy. How do you help someone develop a language and identify and be aware of sensation? In this phase they are using massage and stopping and pausing in places and asking people what they are aware of. 2: Learning what mindfulness is and how to engage in that in a somatic way. There are a series of exercises in this phase 3: A guided process of expanding capacity to attend to internal experience mindfully. People tend not to be able to maintain awareness for very long, and this helps with developing the capacity to stay connected inside.
- The incremental training orientation is enormously important for people who tend to avoid their bodies as a way of being in the world. What we find in our research is that people have gone to meditation classes and they are completely lost and this work helps them to know exactly how to meditate how to be in a mindful place.
- Why do we disembody? There is not one answer to that question. In my [Cynthia] clinical experience it’s such an individual experience why someone is disconnected.
- There is a cultural overlay but I think that individual reasons for why people get disconnected have to do with natural coping mechanisms that are really helpful for us for avoiding discomfort. Avoidance allows us to function in the face of things that are overwhelming.
- There are common things but the individual stories are so individual. It’s part of the beauty of working individually.
- MABT is differentiated by touch. Historically touch is not used as an emotion regulation tool.
- The field of psychology has created this split between the body ad psychotherapeutic practices. It’s understandable in that there has been so much abuse of touch- sexual assault and inappropriateness which created those guidelines. That’s why I [Cynthia] wound up in school of nursing. They understood that touch is healing. Massage used to be something nurses did in their care of patients.
- Psychologists will often wonder about this work- doesn’t touch create more trauma? Absolutely not. One needs to be sensitive in all sorts of ways, but touch allows people to ground their awareness in a way that provides an avenue for them to attend to their internal somatic experience. Touch is this centering focus for the mind.
- We don’t have an understanding that body awareness is a therapeutic and useful treatment for trauma, addiction, for emotional regulation more broadly
- That’s why it’s an exciting time. In mindfulness research there has been this focus on looking at mechanisms from a neurological and biological perspective. What has been written are theoretical models. What hasn't happened so much is really having the clinical component of this. How do we teach this work? How do people learn it?
- This work is ultimately about listening to their body to learn that they can trust their bodies. This sense that the body is against us can be something so pervasive- how do you soften into seeing it as something trustworthy?
- We get quote after quote [from research participants] of people really describing this. Saying they had no idea how they felt, and no idea that there was a link between physical and emotional sensation.
- A relationship with your body allows your life to unfold and most people don’t even know what that means unless they have experienced it. How do we talk about this? It’s such an internal process. It’s so experientially grounded.
- The most surprising and most challenging work with MABT has been with people who have chronic pain. Their pain is so big that it is their primary experience very day.
- Working with them to bring their attention into their bodies there can be a lot of resistance and fear. Someone who has lived with pain for 20 years and developed an array of coping mechanisms including medication- it’s a lot of them to shift and trust that they can go inside and be with this scary place. This is also true with people who are struggling with PTSD.
- In working with people with chronic pain that’s been the most amazing thing to witness- how much they discover that their pain is just one piece rather than their whole world.
- In MABT we’re helping people to take these baby steps. It’s an education process and a creative process.
- Work with women with substance use disorders: Learning MABT had a significant effect in relapse reduction. They are close to end of a larger study that National Institute of Drug Abuse is funding.
- The initial findings were quite positive. Not only did women with MABT have lower relapse rates and used less substances overall, they also had less depression, improved emotional regulation, reported less stress, less eating disorders which are often very high in women with substance abuse disorders.
- That study had a follow up at 9 months and the strongest results were from women continuing the practice on a daily basis.
- To date she has been training massage therapists in MABT. That’s shifting with growing interest from yoga therapists, psychotherapists, and more so they are starting to open up trainings to people across all these disciplines.
- One of the things I’ve [Cynthia] started to do is to consider how do we make this work accessible to more people? This started The Center for Mindful Body Awareness for people across all these disciplines and to work with non and for profits who are providing clinical care to incorporate and integrate this work so that it can be more accessible to people who are low income.
If you’re inspired to support the show, you can do that here. You can also leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher or simply tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!
Bo Forbes is a clinical psychologist, yoga teacher, and Integrative Yoga Therapist. She and I had a chance to talk way back in season one, and today I'm delighted that she joins the show again. A central guiding theme of Bo’s work is with interoception, and she has put together the Interoception Tribal Council which is bringing together researchers, primarily neuroscientists, who are looking at interoception and its effect on the whole person’s health both physically and mentally. In this conversation we talk about some of the amazing research that is coming out these days, but we also talk about her own experience putting her interoceptive abilities to the test when she underwent hip surgery this year- which was her 4th hip surgery in 8 years. It’s a really beautiful story of living one’s practice. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
- The creation of the Interoception Tribal Council- who is participating and what are they working on together?
- How has interoception become a central part of Bo's work?
- Bo talks about the study by David Creswell which demonstrates that mindfulness leads to reduced inflammation markers in the body.
- Remarkably, these changes were absent in people who practiced relaxation without mindfulness.
- The Default Mode Network of the brain- thinking about the past, wishing things were different, imagining what things will be- the tendency it creates towards a negative self-referential way of being in the world. "I am not worthy" or, "I will never get what I need" messages.
- This DMN (Default Mode Network) plays a huge role in depression. Mindfulness separates this mode from direct experience. This creates changes in the brain related to depression.
- The Creswell study encourages specifically people to pay close attention to their bodies- even to notice the negative feelings in their bodies- so he was leading them in increasing interoceptive awareness.
- Bo's hip surgeries- two doctor errors and one hospital error led to 4 surgeries in 8 years. There was a strong PTSD issue with this, and a compelling narrative that made her look closely at chronic pain, the DMN, and interoception.
- The idea that someone had damaged her body and ruined it forever was pervasive in her life. The tendency to look for and predict the same pain she had felt the day before. It made her very stuck.
- Bo's choice to not be put under general anesthesia during the surgery- how that changed her interaction with the doctors and nurses.
- How Bo used her interoceptive practice to manage the experience of being awake through the surgery. Her intimate relationship with her breath and heart rate in order to maintain staying awake for the surgery.
- The direct impact the lack of general anesthesia had on her rate of recovery. For whose benefit are patients put under? Is it perhaps a protocol that has become so automatic that it never gets questioned? What happens when we question its necessity?
- Based on the Creswell study, cultivating this interoceptive ability also likely has a remarkable effect on immunity and the experience of pain. It was amazing how many times in the hospital they wanted her to take something but she didn't need it because she only had some soreness.
- It's also clear from this experience why we don't want to be in our bodies. Our bodies can be like a vacation home that you haven't gone back to in years and it's gone into disrepair- as you approach that home that hasn't been inhabited in a long time its intimidating.
- We get deliberate training to be out of body and to focus mostly on what is coming in through the visual cortex. Trauma also makes us not want to be in our body. It doesn't feel like a safe space to be in the body.
- Nervous system hyper-arousal is a form of collective trauma that we all go through in our culture.
- Being disembodied is also a form of trauma.
- Connective tissue has this amazing linkage with interoceptive awareness. Using self-care methods like Yoga Tune Up or MELT- these are objects without emotional load that can help us to check in with our bodies.
- Just putting our hands on our bodies and bringing attention to our bodies and where our hands meet our bodies can be so helpful.
- In modern yoga in our culture we have a focus on proprioceptive movement. We start with action, "do this". Then if there's time we will add in an instruction to breath. Then if we really have time there might be an awareness based cue. In [Bo's tradition] they reverse that. Starting with an awareness based instruction, from that place of awareness they can breath or move where awareness is growing.
Bo's beautiful post on her surgery experience The Beauty of Broken
If you’re inspired to support the show, you can do that here. You can also leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher , or simply tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!
Norm Farb is a neuroscientist whose research focuses on the relationship between present moment awareness and well-being. He is in the department of psychology at the RAD Lab (Regulatory and Affective Dynamics Lab) at the University of Toronto Mississaugua. In today’s episode we are talking abouta paper of his titled Interoception, Contemplative Practice, and Health. We dive deep into what the benefits- and risks- are to honing one’s ability to connect with a sense of what is going on in our bodies, and what we appraise that input to mean based on our perceptions of who we are in the world.
- Norm researches how people develop habits that serve them well or cause suffering, and is focused particularly on contemplative practices.
- Interoception is a sense of what is going on in our bodies. Bodily sensation comes from inside the skin- for example our heart beat is felt most through skin of chest. Interocpetion also includes what we do with that sensation- it is linked to our conceptual representations of what the sensations mean.
- There is not a thing such as pure perception- nothing is unadulterated. We always try to fit our perception to our interpretation.
- Even when signals are first hitting the brain they are already being compared to what it’s similar to.
- Initial thoughts on interoception were naive in that people thought more interoception was good and blocking sensation was bad. Want to have access to bodily signals, but also to regulate how much impact they have over mood or decision making. It comes down to a person’s interpretive framework.
- Most people out of touch with their bodies, but it’s too simplistic to say that if people got in more touch with their bodies they would do great. People with anxiety disorders have more awareness of their heartbeat. Interoceptive sensitivity is not a one way street into wellbeing.
- Panic attacks are an example of interoception gone awry. It is good to have a ping of butterflies in your stomach when public speaking, but n panic attacks there is catastrophization. “What if this is actually threatening to me?”
- Many contemporary health problems are a result of disregulated interoceptive processes.
- When people are aimlessly binge watching shows or mindlessly putting food in their mouths- or whatever self soothing there is- they are trying to get away from some discomfort in the body.
- Let the body be the canary in the coal mine. This isn’t to put the body above cognition- we can do incredible things with our minds- but there is a reason why intelligence doesn’t predict happiness for instance. We can get caught in a local maximum- doing the best we can do in a rational sense but that’s a limiting way of seeing the world.
- How are you going to escape a depressive self justification unless you can open up to conflicting information?
- Because the body is an untamed wilderness that’s a really rich place for inquiry.
- How does interoceptive awareness get integrated? We don’t have strong neural evidence for how it is substantiated in the brain.
- None of our perceptions are the actual thing.
- in situations where people have the misfortune to have part of the spinal cord severed and cannot receive input from bodies still they still can have rich emotional lives.
- Dimasio’s somatic marker hypothesis (in resources)
- Anhedonia is an example of pleasure signals not making their way through to the representation map. People are living less rich lives when they are not tapping into their bodies- we are cognitive misers and most of us live a life based on what has happened to us.
- A lot of the path is noticing things i do that make me or other people crazy. Without awareness that conditioning is running my behavior and conditions don’t change
- Things might seem darker before the dawn because you are coming into contact with how you have been conditioned. You need to open the door and see how cluttered and messy the room is before you can clean it out.
- Not all habit or behavior needs to be changed but to have deeper meaning one has to be around to witness what’s going on.
- Presence is allowing oneself to minimize the need to change or regulate what is occurring right now.
- At the heart of any regulatory state is a rejection of what is happening.
- The pursuit of happiness as a goal is self-defeating. Allowing experiences to play out without having to react to them.
- Agency- the feeling that one’s actions can effect desired outcomes in the world.
- Any systems that fire together wire together. The more we respond with the same response it’s more likely we will respond the same way in future.
- If you can do something to explore the quality of that stimulation you can starve the resources that would be allocated to responding to that stimulation.
- Thinking “don’t eat ice cream” is suppressive and we know in long term it’s not successful. As soon as we take energy away from “don’t eat ice cream” it’s the strongest signal. Stick with the sensory aspect of the stimulus arc. In doing that it is literally not reacting with overt behavior- we give the signal the attention not the non-desired outcome.
- How is interoception an intervention for chronic pain? There is evidence that paying attention to your body and not jumping into actions can turn down inflammatory markers. In the broader sense they are helpful because the suffering that comes from chronic pain is not the same thing as the sensory pain itself.
- In chronic pain conditions there is a recurring threat message coming from the body. The secondary appraisals about the ability to live the life one wants effects quality of life to a much greater degree than the pain signal itself. Migraine sufferers completely shut down when they feel one coming on. Yet every moment of a headache is not going to be peak intensity. Not every impending migraine is going to have the same catastrophic effect.
- How can people play with restoring interoception to a healthy state?
If you’re inspired to support the show, you can do that here. You can also leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher , or simply tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!
Today's conversation is with Ged Sumner, the director of Body Intelligence Training, about his book Body Intelligence Meditation. This book posed so many fascinating questions about the current state of mindfulness education. For example: Is traditional meditation treating the body like a machine to be broken, and is it therefore anti-body ? And: Are we bliss-phobic as a culture and is that a part of the reason why we engage with mindfulness in the disembodied way that we (typically) do? This has certainly shifted my perspective on my own practice in a much more delicious direction!
- Meditation can be, in trying to escape or "rise above" the body, anti-body and can lead to dissociation.
- What does it mean to "go into the cell" in meditation?
- "The way to the formless is through form"
- Is meditation treating the body like a machine?
- What is the human drive to make things painful or filled with suffering? The body responds well to ease and success can spring from doing something with ease.
- Is ease a radical concept?
- "The body will readjust itself." Profound shifts in physiology can happen when we invite our own deep [somatic] intelligence to arise.
- Proper meditation is like a body therapy.
- Why does it sound ludicrous to people that we can shift our own physiology with mindfulness?
- The way we learn biology can give the sense that all the cells are dead.
- My "one thing"- when people ask me [Brooke] what the one thing is that I think most people don't realize about their bodies I say it is that we forget that we are alive.
- The greatest miracle of all is that we seem solid when really we're 80% water- we are jellyfish essentially.
- Most of us are just coping. Our nervous systems are cracking up all over the world.
- How we're seeing more and more neuro-endocrine issues from this nervous system overwhelm.
- The idea that thoughts need to stop [as in conventional meditation forms] is erroneous.
- How does the vagus tie into our inner life?
- What are some of the ways technology might be changing how we are embodied?
- We have become too obsessed with pathology and not connected enough to what feels good.
- "Biology is just another subject taught in school, but when you take away our beliefs, all we are is our biology."
- The body is full of bliss, yet somehow we remove ourselves from it.
- Have we become bliss-phobic as a culture?
Let's do some somatic meditation shall we!?
First, do check out Ged Sumner's generous free downloads of some of the meditations included in his book. You can do that here: http://bimeditation.com/download-audio
Second, I put together this micro e-book with a somatic meditation (and meditation set up) together recently for a giveaway my friend Kate Hanley of Ms. Mindbody put together. That giveaway has since passed, so I wanted to share the goodies with all of you here. There are 3 files- the ebook Letting Go of the Busy by Saying Hello to the Body (which chronicles much of what was on my mind during the hiatus between season `1 and 2 of the podcast), and then 2 audios- one is for the meditation set up, the second is a guided somatic meditation.
P.S. I'd love to hear how it goes with your somatic meditations in the comments!
Body Intelligence Meditation by Ged Sumner
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Today we're kicking off season 2 of the podcast with a conversation with Jamie McHugh of Somatic Expression about embodied mindfulness. Somatic Expression helps people to research and resource their own bodies through the 5 essential somatic technologies: breath, vocalization, contact, movement, and stillness. In our conversation today we hone in on what embodied mindfulness means. Jamie says his work is really about changing people's perception of what it means to be a body. He asks, "How can we invest ourselves in curiousity? How can our bodies be places of inquiry and exploration?".
- What are the 5 essential somatic technologies and why does Jamie use the word "technology" to describe them?
- We spend plenty of time talking about teaching critical thinking skills to children, but where are we teaching critical sensing skills to both children and adults?
- What is physical education really?
- How can working with the body in an educational setting be subversive?
- Are classical meditation forms such as vipassana incompatible with the modern mind and with modern life?
- Can sitting in this way (classical meditation forms) cause a person to go into more of a fight-or-flight pattern?
- Because of that does it pose some risk to those who aren't connected to the body?
- Why sit in meditation at all?
- What is a somatic mantra and how can we use one?
- How technology is changing our perception of time and removing our fallow time where we aren't stimulated by input.
- How do we re-calibrate this constant input to the neocortex?
- The indigenous practices- especially Jamie's experience with the Pomo Indians- of using the expressive capacity of the body to connect the whole community.
- Reviving the tradition of community dance and song in a non-stylized way (and how not to give your authority over to Beyonce).
In the spirit of reviving spontaneous dance we're having a home dance party today! So turn on your favorite music and dance like no one's watching. What do you discover when it's just for you?
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Bo Forbes, clinical psychologist, yoga teacher, and Integrative Yoga Therapist talks about what Integrative Yoga Therapy is, how interoception develops a body-based rresiliencethat translates to emotional resilience, relaxing rather than corralling into expansion, why vinyasa and restorative yoga fit together on a continuum, and how using momentum when we get uncomfortable can get us onto some pretty slippery slopes.
On Yoga Restorative Therapeutics: Restorative means a lot of different things today. Many use it to describe holding poses for an extended period of time, like Yin, or a very slow variation of Vinyasa. Our system refers to lying down, as a "passive" practice, no muscular contraction or active stretching.
We're taking into account neuroplasticity- how does the brain change and how does the body change? When we try to create opening or a big stretch, it can create muscle tension and fascial tension and lines of glueing that reinforce the holding we're trying to change. We try to make it more therapeutic by having little elevation and more support. Less is more. you can relax the body into expansion rather than corralling it into expansion.
Yoga, mindfulness, neuroscience, especially affective neuroscience, therapy, and a more physical therapy-type rehabilitative approach. So we're bringing in different capacities and understandings.
How does vinyasa teaching meld with the more passive restorative? Very often there is a discrepancy between active and "passive" forms of yoga, but they lie on a continuum. There's not such a disparate relationship between then in Yoga Restorative Therapeutics.
Interoception: it is mindfulness expressed in the body. What makes it hard for many of us is that the body is unpredictable, it is constantly changing in unpredictable ways. Proprioception answers the question, where is my body in space. Interoception is what is happening in my body at any given time. Going into the body is a little bit scary. Interoception is attending to momentary bodily sensations as they change from one moment to the next.
This mirror our emotional lives as well. In order to deal with the unpredictability we often fix our bodies in space and in time, and we also fix our body in terms of its health. It's almost like we're making a contract with the body never to change.
When the body does change in ways that are bigger than we acknowledge we can feel at a loss as to how to deal with those changes.
Over time if you imagine interoception as entering this wilderness of the body it starts to create a kind of reserve, and eventually we come to enter the wilderness and to have it feel like home. We develop a sense that we can handle the unpredictable.
It develops a body-based resilience that becomes a direct parallel to emotional resilience.
How can one begin stepping one foot into that wilderness? One of the best ways to do that is a very simple check-in with the body several times throughout the day. Even noticing- am I in my body? Or in this moment am I out of my body?
There is a direct correlation between this kind of interoception and self-care. When we can attend to state in the body we can also address them.
We can bring interoception into an active practice like Vinyasa, which in the yoga world in many cases has been focused on proprioception. Neuroscientists are starting to study yoga as exercise (proprioception) vs. Yoga that has this additional component of attention and mindfulness, and finding that yoga that has this added component is significantly more effective in alleviating depression and anxiety than yoga as exercise.
Familiarity and discomfort breed momentum. When we move very fast, and when we’re moving into yoga as exercise (which we know is beneficial, so I’m not saying it is a bad kind of practice), but we use momentum to repeat familiar patterns in the body, and to speed up transitions between poses. This is why things stay the same.
The transition between Downward Dog and Lunge is a place where many of us put our bodies into a box that doesn't fit them. 80% or so of people have a body whose proportions don’t make that shape well, so that in order to transition between those poses we have to do things- like moving fast- to accomplish the transition and we sacrifice the opportunity to not what might be going on that makes it hard to make that transition.
We’re using our practice to awaken more as opposed to creating mastery. Mastery and mindfulness are almost on opposite ends of a spectrum.
Where there is mastery usually by definition we have less neuroplasticity- less new learning- we feel very comfortable in those places. We've lost the opportunity to gain new neural plasticity.
When we’re meant to- in a music analogy- play the same notes every time, we assume that we should move in the same ways, but how do we powerfully bring the mind into the body and practice as though it were new?
One tool for that is to use the toggling technique, where you’re moving back and forth between an old way of moving and a new way of moving and really feeling the difference. Where is there awkwardness? Because often the awkwardness is a really important learning moment.
If we practice for many years, being able to tolerate that experience of awkwardness- or not mastery, and even seeking it out.
When we move in a proprioceptive way we do the movement first, “put your hand here…” and if we have extra time we have the luxury of noticing things.
But if we start with interoception, we bring our awareness to our body and our breath, and the movement is funded from that place.
How momentum affects other parts of our lives- getting carried away with momentum to stay in that relationship you shouldn't stay in, or that job you don’t want to be in…
Our practice can allow us to colonize new areas of awareness in our lives. So if we get angry, and we have difficulty experiencing sadness, cultivating the time to notice that vulnerability underneath the anger can happen via interoception.
Lately Bo is exploring the connective tissue matrix and looking at fascial reintegration and the degree of listening and communicating that happens in that matrix. And in particular using fascial release tools.
Earlier in my (Bo's) teaching I would think about getting an area to open a lot, and then we would have a window of time to re-integrate movement. But I’m starting to realize that it’s not about barreling in to the area we want to release, but actively communicating in a non-verbal way with where we’re going.
It’s starting to feel to me as though there is a form of fascial signaling that happens beyond neural impulses, and listening to that and cultivating permission to enter certain parts of the body. Allowing the mind to surrender to the body.
It’s very humbling to not know an area and how it communicates and what’s happening- to try to curate a new body of knowledge.
Seeing connectedness in the body is, for me (Brooke), helping me to see connectedness in the world.
Tissue work is a great entryway into interoception. In some ways, getting people to listen to their tissue teaches boundaries, and then feeling how connected things are in the body in a very physical and visceral way, and how connected we are to others and to the Earth.
There is so much potential to use the body as a hologram for social change. We’re not just here to change our own bodies and emotions. Neuroplasticity as a social construct- that we’re here to grow as a culture and as a society as well.
I love this idea of not giving in to momentum. For this week, see if you can notice the urge towards momentum- whether in a physical practice of yours, or in your emotional life, and then- if you can notice- can you slow it down? How do things change when you change the pace?
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Steve Haines talks about Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, body maps and how they become strange or distorted, interoception and why there is more pain in areas that we have less interoception about- or are more poorly mapped, the huge role the vagal nerve plays in our bodies and our sense of well-being, and much more!
*Thanks to Danielle Rowarth for helping to make this interview happen!*
Defining Biodynamic Craniosacral Work: The essence of cranial work is that you touch people and they change. It is really light, slow, gentle work. The understanding is that we're really interacting with the autonomic nervous system.
Another big theme of the work is the sense of a living organism. You're always touching a person, not body parts. And by appreciating wholeness it changes your touch and changes your focus.
There's a sense of a rhythmic body- so bodies pulse. We're never completely still. Rhythm- heart beating, cerebrospinal fluid moving, blood pumping- is an essential part of the body. Interacting with those rhythms is fundamental to Biodynamic Craniosacral.
The smartest thing in the room is the intelligence of the body, so less is more. We are trying to facilitate self-healing.
It's hard work being in a body, it's really not a given. Trying to get a clear sense of your body is difficult. It's a deep practice to be able to experience the nuances of sensation.
Our brain has whole series and layers of body maps. You use different maps at different times- skiing vs. sitting on the sofa for example. I have different ways of representing my body to myself.
A body schema is a sort of default map and that governs reflexes. and people have a limited view in these schemas of their bodies.
What does the word "dissociation" mean in relationship to the body? It is a word in some ways owned by psychotherapy. In cranial work we use it in a looser sense as a loss of relationship to the body. And it's a whole spectrum of things.
The sense of being outside of our body is a common theme actually. Or maybe people can't get a sense of the size and shape of their feet, or feel their belly. The belly commonly is a hollow, empty area that they can't feel really.
I mention that it's like the song "You Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone" but its inverse: "You Don't Know What Was Gone Til You've Got It Back". It's kind of an unknown unknown.
People don't know that there is this much richer experience of the body. It's really not a given.
People with pain commonly have more of this dissociation. Dissociation comes first likely due to the responses to being overwhelmed.
Dissociation is a last ditch survival strategy, and often the root cause of more pain.
Your brain is expecting you to have a body, so if we're beginning to cut ourselves off from that, if we're flooding bits of the spinal cord with endorphins to limit the incoming signals, then you've got a big absence. And the absence of something when your brain is expecting it to be there is a threat. It may be that we fill that absence with pain to say, "Do something about this."
Study on back pain counting receptors in fascia in the back on people with chronic back pain and the expectation was that they would find heightened activity or more activity in the slow receptors, and what they actually found was this paradox of people experiencing more pain who were receiving less information from the tissues.
Phantom limb pain tells us so much about how our brain works. After amputation 63% of people still experience themselves as having a limb, and usually it's painful. It's something the brain is expecting to be be there and is not there.
Proprioception is when you hold your arms out, close your eyes, and you can touch your nose. If you just hold your arm out and close your eyes, how do you know you have an arm? The internal subjective experience of an arm: that's interoception. It generally goes along slower pathways.
Interoception connects differently in the brain, it's much more associated with consciousness. Interstitial receptors carry far more information than for proprioception. Robert Schleip says 7 to 1 (in resources).
There are two big sources of interoceptive information: fascia and the vagal nerve.
What's the important information that the brain uses to let us know that we have a body? The fascia, the flow of information from your guts and your hearts and around oxygen control and the sense of metabolic activity in the body- and most of that is vagal. It's a huge source of information about your sense of self.
People who have high vagal tone are seen as happier and more trustworthy. They are the people who you would move towards in a social situation. So when your vagus is firing you love, you trust, you feel yourself being happier.
How does one have problems with vagal tone, or have low vagal tone? Trauma or anything that overwhelms- too much stimulation. Stephen Porges is an amazing theorist around seeking safety- it's his Polyvagal Theory (in resources). We're constantly scanning the environment for danger, and it often is an unconscious process.
Safety is the most important thing your brain is negotiating. If there's threat in the environment we go into fight or flight, and if that isn't successful we immobilize or dissociate.
As therapists we can mimic what creates safety as a mother would to a baby. There's great research around slow gentle touch activating interoceptive fibers in fascia.
I really believe that you don't change pain by giving pain. You can engage those deep receptors by slow gentle touch. We really don't need to use the deep stuff. I'm not saying it doesn't' work, but I am saying you can have an enormous change in physiology with gentle stroking to trigger that quality.
A simple movement practice to enhance vagal tone: when we're stressed we're checking our environment you have lots of activity in the neck muscles, the eyes are darting- there is a big surge of activity in the head. And your big flexors muscles are getting activated.
The opposite of that might be coming into the extensors, firing the back of the body. When we do that our throat is open, our heart is open, our belly is exposed. This can allow parasympathetic tone to be present.
And the counter-action to all this movement up in the head is to feel their feet and find their feet. I sometimes think what I do should be "feel your feet therapy". But switching on a downward firing coming into the ground you switch off all the business in the head.
Steve talks about your skin as this boundary between the inside and outside. Steve says he likes to have people even imagine walking in soft grass or imagining walking barefoot in a variety of environments. And he likes having people get their softest and fluffiest towel and really luxuriate in getting the receptors activated.
Steve is currently playing with: Trying to find ways to create safety and stimulate the vagus. It's quite hard to touch people's throats. I've enjoyed finding soft ways to tune into the carotid sheath. Often one feels radically different than the other. There's an awful lot of things you might be influencing by touching into that throat area. That might be feeding the vagal nerve and getting some good tone.
I like Steve's very practical exercise for stimulating vagal tone by activating the extensors of the body. There are a number of ways you can do this, from simply lying on the ground and pressing your back body into that surface, or stretching and reaching, or my current favorite way of swinging and hanging on monkey bars. (I'm working on it!)
Summary of papers from the second Fascia Research Congress. I'm not sure if any of these include the study Steve Haines was referring to when he talked about people with chronic back pain actually having fewer receptors, but several of these studies talk about that.
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