Your Body Is Your Soul with Jaap van der Wal (LBP 057)

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Jaap van der Wal is a phenomenological embryologist who is searching for the soul via the embryo. He teaches about this all over the world through his Embryo in Motion project.

In our conversation today we talked about the dualistic time we are living in and how we make the brain and/or the genes the most important “parts” of the body, how we conceptually consider the body a machine that comes in parts, and the way we separate the soul from the body. Jaap discusses how the embryo challenges the notion that we are our brains, says that genes do not cause what happens in a body, that motion is primary and form is secondary- or that we are always a present-tense alive process that is performing, and hence creating, the body, what fascia has to do with all of this, and that the body does not have a soul, it is a soul.

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Conversation highlights

  • Jaap van der Wal introduces himself as an embryologist and anatomist who is searching for spirit in the human being. He wants to help people to see and become aware that there is something more at stake than just body dimension. 
  • The embryo is the perfect domain to ask questions like what are we doing? What is a body? Is a body something producing us or that we are producing? Is my consciousness coming from my body? Am I shaped by myself?
  • He is not trying to get people to believe in spirit, but to approach it scientifically
  • Early in his career he started having questions like, w"What is anatomy actually telling me about MY body?"
  • The body that I am, that I experience, is quite different than the body I have learned, studied, and dissected.
  • This led him to phenomenology- where you don’t become an onlooker, you primarily start to experience the reality. The body you live, the body you are is different than what he had to teach the students.
  • From the beginning your body is a performance, a life-long process.
  • The embryo challenges the idea that we are our brain. For more than 8 weeks in the embryonic stage you do not have a brain in the way we do now. How do you exist when you are an embryo?
  • There is so much presence or awareness in your body that is not your brain's behavior.
  • He learned from the embryo that your body is not producing a brain which is producing you. You are producing from day one til your last day- it is the primary thing you do. Every morning you wake up new. You are not a machine
  • Your brain is not moving your arms, you are moving your arms. I need a brain, I need muscles, I need a lot of things to produce that movement.
  • Every day or every moment you have a new body. This is your body being a performance. We are a time body. Every living organism is a process, not a machine built up from particles. The anatomist is wrong. All phases of your life are a part of the whole performance in time which your body is.
  • Genes do not cause anything. The most lifeless molecule is the DNA. It is a molecule of heredity. It is produced by living organisms, and not the reverse.
  • Genes and brains are necessary but not sufficient conditions to give a body its shape.
  • When you change the genes or brain the organism behaves differently, but that does not prove that they cause behavior. His wife’s brain tumor and her personality changed. If you damage a brain you get a damaged personality. Yes, but that does not prove that the brain is primary.
  • Modern science thinks the experiment proves that they are right. Science is not what they want us to believe. They want us to believe that it is a new way to know everything, yet every scientist has in his or her mind the frame of thoughts that is looking for the facts in harmony with the idea.
  • What is making the embryo? The only answer is that apparently in me and all of us there is something else realizing itself in us.
  • Spirit and matter if they exist must be one.
  • Modern materialism has no future. He is worried about the future that will be realized by a society that only believes in brains, genes, and bodies.
  • If you’re alive then you’re alive but we don’t understand what aliveness is or that it’s happening all the time.
  • Learned from the embryo motion is primary, forms come out of motion- the embryo is not past.
  • Motion is the primary dimension and related to time. Bodies appear in time. Time and motion are related.
  • We are motions and processes producing forms.  That’s what we can learn from the embryo
  • Erich Blechschmidt- the German embryologist, "Don’t consider soul or psyche as something added to the body later." The soul is pre-exercised in the body. Your body is behavior. If you want to understand human behavior psychologically you also have to look physiologically. The way we shape our body is what we are capable of psychologically and physiologically.
  • Fascia is about this "producing" our body. It is faithful to actions and emotions
  • Stop talking about “germ layers” ecto, endo, meso. It’s too anatomical. We don’t have 3 layers. We have ecto and endo and then we have an in-between, an innerness.
  • We are addicted to causality. Why? Finding a cause means you can manipulate it. It’s our only motive. Finding the cause of disease means we can manipulate it. It is very helpful, it saved the life of his wife, but it is not the only reality.
  • The body does not have a soul it is a soul. It is one.

Resources

Jaap van der Wal's website www.embryo.nl, and the Embryo in Motion project

Article: The Embryo in Us: A Phenomenological Search for the Soul and Consciousness in the Prenatal Body (English version)

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Embodied Cognition and Health with Cathy Kerr (LBP 056)

catherine-kerr
catherine-kerr

Cathy Kerr is the director of the Mind-In-Body Lab at Brown University. Her research focuses on whether brain rhythms underlying body awareness and movement are actively modulated by mindfulness and movement practices such as Tai Chi and Qigong. Her hope is that understanding how these therapies work will have a positive impact on conditions like aging and chronic pain or functional disorders where these approaches have shown the clearest therapeutic benefit.

She joined me today to talk about the focus of her research broadly, but also to discuss a specific research study that is in progress which is looking at the effects of Qigong on distressed female cancer survivors.

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Conversation highlights

  • What does her research focus on? The status of body awareness as a therapeutic mechanism and looking specifically at mechanisms related to body awareness in the brain; How neurons process and relate to body focused attention, primarily in the somatosensory cortex.
  • Became interested in body awareness originally a Qigong practitioner because of having a difficult chronic illness for 20 years. Cathy noticed that with her practice the sense of touch in her hands would change.
  • Started to wonder if body experience could be part of a therapeutic mechanism. Was it a way of signaling healing? Or a very active way of creating the placebo effect?
  • Initially began researching the placebo effect with Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard
  • In 2005 departure from work on placebo and learned the neuroscience of body awareness.
  • First project to look at the effects of body awareness within a healing technique- for that technique they ended up choosing MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction).
  • It was paradoxical because they were not a part of the mindfulness research community, and mindfulness as a body based healing technique not the majority view.
  • The study showed that after 8 weeks of MBSR training people were better at exerting pinpoint control over neurons in their somatosensory map.
  • Cathy's TED talk mindfulness begins in the body.
  • There is an interesting suta by the Buddha- the 4 foundations of mindfulness, and mindfulness of the body is the first foundation. Cathy wrote a review paper on this in 2013.
  • Cathy's teaching with medical students at Brown how to have immediate access to body sensations as an anchor for mindfulness.
  • This is an immediate way of stabilizing the mind. For many Western people their mind can be floating free and ungrounded and anchoring your mind in the body is very powerful.
  • Some people don’t even know that they can voluntarily shift their attention to their body. (story of a man who jumped away from his own hand because he was so startled when he shifted his attention to it).
  • Many people with chronic pain, and IBS don’t have that ability to bring the mind to the body. The reason is that they are already always preoccupied with these negative body experiences.
  • What’s really exciting right now is that The Davidson Lab has begun to look at the effects of mindfulness and exercise. They are bringing mindfulness off the cushion. It really helps people to understand a broader range of embodied approaches like Tai Chi, or yoga.
  • At the University of Washington Dr. Cynthia Price is working with assisted mindfulness in people with trauma. In  assisted mindfulness a bodyworker helps them to be and stay present while they work with mindful attention to body sensation.
  • Cathy's current study on the effects of Qigong on distressed female cancer survivors.
  • She chose Qigong because she wanted to see what would happen if researchers expanded the number of modalities they looked at in addition to just mindfulness.
  • There is a novel undertanding of how the mind and body relate in Qigong. The hope was that they could capture these ideas and understand them in scientific terms
  • Cancer survivors are really underserved and have a lot of psychosocial needs. About 30 to 50 % of them are actively fatigued and distressed for years following cancer remission. Is this chemo? Existential effects? They don't know but the main thing is people are not able to return to their full lives. The whole pink ribbon campaign doesn’t really capture this reality.
  • Gentle physical movement in a group can really transform people’s experiences. The question is why, and how does it work
  • Inflammatory cytokines show an up-regulated process of inflammation going on in the body. Especially in people who are highly fatigued. This process of inflammation is really important for many diseases.
  • There are now some markers in blood that we can measure- giving insight into this process of daily inflammation. They are associated with feeling sick and tired daily. If you are bathed in inflammation for years it can bode poorly for susceptibility for many issues like heart disease, vascular disease, it is associated with dementia... Getting a better understanding of inflammation is one of the main scientific tasks right now.
  • We know that if you are injected with one of these inflammatory cytokines you will get "sickness behaviors" like not wanting to get out of bed and feeling generally unwell... but we don’t know how to clear these inflammatory cytokines out.
  • There is an old Chinese folk saying- the mind (yi) leads the qi, the qi leads the blood.
  • This seems to suggest a solution to the puzzle of qi. So if you behave as a scientist you can measure the mind and its ability to focus on the body. You can measure the yi and the blood... So maybe that is a pathway of how mind intent or somatic awareness might have an effect on parameters in the blood like inflammation or the ability of the blood to flow through the body.
  • Embodied cognition: many philosophers have gone on this mind trip and have posited these ideas of brains in jars and brains in vats- that we can only look at brains. They are saying no there is a relationship between brian and body and body and world and if you miss that you miss everything.
  • Interoception research has been a very brain centered endeavor to the point where all the relevant processing is considered to takes place in areas in the brain. But in fact there is a lot of bodily signaling from the heart and other centers.
  • Neurons in the body have their own way of processing experience and an ability to send independent sources of information that are not simply sensory through-puts but are actual information processing. There are independent sources of information and embodied cognitive processing to help the body in the brain.
  • We want to measure different forms of connection between the hand and the brain. Want to see if that changes during the course of practice.
  • We hear a lot about consciousness. One of the main factors is something called a brain rhythm. The gama rhythm is of consciousness. There was a study in 2004 of Tibetan monks doing compassion practice gama rhythms go off the charts. It turns out these rhythms also extend into the muscles, and these rhythms of consciousness that extend into the muscles also relate back to the brain.
  • The beta rhythm is a stopping rhythm. It’s very operative in thinking and in moving. If you need to hold something in memory beta says no more info for a bit please. Beta becomes disregulated in parkinson’s disease. Measuring beta in Qigong. Looking at quality of information that the muscle spindle neurons send back to the cortex.
  • Curious about if that somatic awareness has effects on the ways that the muscles process information. Do some of those effects tell us anything about changes in blood flow or in inflammation?
  • The rubber hand illusion tells us that there is this very interesting multi-sensory body sensing capacity.
  • It tells us that our sense of the body is being knit together by these different streams all the time.
  • Their biggest hope with this study is that they will learn something new about how some of these body awareness practices like Tai Chi and yoga might have an impact on inflammation. It could be a novel mechanism for understanding inflammation. That’s the big home run hope.
  • Being able to have an impact on the distress of this population would be wonderful.
  • Cathy asks me is there a discussion about the intelligence of the body? How do I as a practitioner use that? \
  • I talk about the Liberated Body tribe- most of us are in a variety of manual and movement therapies. The thing that makes us all stand out is that we have a reverence for the body - we believe in its importance to life.
  • My life changes the more engaged I am with my body.
  • As a larger group the thing that makes us different in terms of the broader culture is that we talk about the body as something critical to a rich thriving life.
  • Cathy: there is so much wisdom in people who are carrying that out in a daily practice. There are so many of these practices across all cultures. There must be something universal about this, it's not just something people are making up. I’m excited about people engaging with the science.
  • Fascia research: We are all learning how the nervous system and the connective tissue scaffolding are so intertwined.
  • There is a lot of exciting sense of possibility. It’s like we discovered we have the amazon right here in the body.

Resources

Dr. Cathy Kerr's Mind-In-Body Lab at Brown University

Cathy's TED talk: Mindfulness Starts in the Body

Cathy's paper in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Mindfulness Starts with the Body

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Ted Kaptchuk and placebo research 

The Davidson Lab

University of Washington Dr. Cynthia Price

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!

A New Paradigm of Anatomy with John Sharkey (LBP 055)

In this episode I am talking with John Sharkey who is a Clinical Anatomist, Exercise Physiologist, and European Neuromuscular Therapist. He has developed the worlds only Masters Degree in Neuromuscular Therapy which is Accredited by the University of Chester, he is on the editorial board for the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, the International Journal of Osteopathy, and the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. He is also a member of the Olympic Councils medical Team and a founding member of the B.I.G, otherwise known as the Biotensegrity Interest Group. He has also authored several books including the 3rd edition of The Concise Book of Muscles which we talk about in the interview.

John and I are talking here in great depth about the old paradigm of anatomy and biomechanics and what the new paradigm holds. This is critical stuff here. We are on the brink of a new understanding of the living human body and it’s time to look at the old models, where they come from, and why they are outdated. So if you’re interested in living tissue vs. cadavers, biotensegrity vs. biomechanics, continuity of form vs. origin insertion, and how individual human anatomy is and what that changes about our often dogmatic approaches to the body this episode is for you.

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Conversation highlights

  • What is a clinical anatomist?
  • For a long time there was a big gap between the medical field and massage therapy. He made the decision that physiology and anatomy were gong to be the foundations that he was built on.
  • Alma mater is Dundee University in Scotland. The clinical anatomy department there was within the department of anatomy and human identification so it was a broad speciality.
  • Clinical anatomy is all about "where". Where is the phrenic nerve? Where is the... and not just where, but what is its path? What structures lie close to it? This informs surgeons as to where the nerves are and in what percentage of population would you find it 1cm lateral or medial etc. Anatomists feed on technicalities, detail, and specificity.
  • Me: If clinical anatomy is about where and about knowing the names of structures then it is steeped initially in the old paradigm. Yet you are also a champion for the new paradigm. Do you agree with terms old/new paradigm and how would you differentiate them?
  • His work with Dr. Stephen Levin who was investigating the biotensegrity model.
  • When studying anatomy, new students are given a textbook like Grey’s, they open it up and will tell them how to carry out a dissection. They will follow the dissection descriptions the same way previous students carried it out the same way students previous to them carried it out and on and on... from that viewpoint dissection always the same.
  • We also want to get through the skin and get to the structures that matter the most like the nerves, blood vessels, and viscera. This is the focus of parts and the language of parts. John wanted to explore the language of wholes and appreciate the relationships and continuities.
  • John's work with Dr. Levin's BIG (Biotensegrity Interest Group).
  • Definition of biotensegrity in his terms.
  • To give a visual people will often use the Skwish toy made by the Manhattan Toy Company. However we are not made of wooden struts and elastic bands.
  • Words are hugely important. Human tissue is not supposed to be stretched. It does not stretch.
  • Once tissues in the pelvis have stretched they will not return to their former state. There are many people who will spend hours stretching- gymnasts for example. How are they achieving this new range of motion? We don’t want to take the origin and insertion further away, so we are changing the tissues that lie between them.
  • Also doesn’t like the term sliding. Many people use that term. However place one hand on top of the other and move your hands back and forth. Feel the heat which is the consequence of friction. This is not a good way to build a body. In living architecture tissues do not slide, they glide relative to each other. Guimberteau’s videos demonstrate that beautifully.
  • We talk about stretching in a Newtownian way. If we take the Newtowninan tube- for example the heart or blood vessels- the tube would lengthen and it would expand under pressure and with all the pressure the blood vessels of the brain should also expand and would squeeze the brain out of the ears. And that doesn’t happen because of non-linearlity.
  • Language has to evolve alongside our models as they evolve.
  • We’re getting a very antiseptic view of the human body. However let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. He loves the history of anatomy.
  • The icosehderon as the building block of biotensegrity. We will never get to see that because the icoshedron is a 3 dimensional version of a 4th dimensional thing.
  • We have a right eye and a left eye. All the visual information you take in that goes to the brain will cause the brain some problems because the images from the 2 sides do not correct, and the brain fills in gaps. At best we see in 2.5D, but tensegrity icosehedrons happens in 4D. Like a mobius strip- there is no inside or outside but only continuity- that is what living architecture is like.
  • We need to recognize that what we are dealing with requires soft matter physics. This will give us the mathematical models that will provide us with computer graphics to help us to explain the multidimensional dynamics. 
  • It's amazing to me that we are still working on the idea that the body is a lever based system. In an x-ray we can see there is space between those bones. Why are the bones not crushing each other? People have this notion that there must be a lot of fluid in the knee joint. However if you lick your hand- that’s how much fluid is in the knee joint.So what is keeping the integrity of that joint space?
  • People like Serge Gracovetsky have demonstrated that to do a deadlift it would have to demonstrate so much intra abdominal pressure that they would explode.
  • Bone is soft matter- it is all it is is a continuation of the fascia.
  • Me: You recently co-authored 3rd edition Concise Book of Muscles. What was the approach to building bridges between new and old paradigms in that book?
  • Change takes time. Origin and insertion type of detail is important for med students. However, the other aspect is introducing a section co-authored with Dr. Stephen Levin to introduce biotensegrity for a new anatomy of the 21st century. In the next 10 to 15 years the 6th and 7th editions will look very different.
  • Working with cadavers treated with formaldehyde changes the texture and color- everything looks same.
  • Once you make an incision to skin and allow atmospheric air to touch what is beneath the skin you will begin to see changes taking place. From that viewpoint if someone takes a tissue out of the body and investigates it what you are actually witnessing are emergent properties. You have to see it in situ.
  • Jean Claude Guimberteau could do what no university would allow. He got permission from patients to place a camera under their skin. For the first time in history we have recorded images of our connective tissue in living tissue. It has blown people away.
  • This is the type of evidence that demonstrates to people that you cannot stretch tissues. Tissues glide relative to each other. In fact in Dundee we are going to bring in an endoscope and use it on the Thiel cadavers. The cadavers hold on to original colors, fluids move, lungs inflate and deflate. It is as close to being a surgeon as possible. However there is no life in the tissue.
  • Aliveness changes so much which is why Guimberteau’s films are so important.
  • Individuality is the norm of human anatomy.
  • Every bone is a sesamoid bone.
  • Anatomists have discovered a new muscle in the quadriceps- not sure what we're going to call the quadriceps group now...
  • In the dissection room students will take out boxes of femurs and pelvises and they will measure them. When they come back they will find none of the measurements are similar in any of the bones. This tells you that there is no one squat that fits all. You have to work with people as individuals.
  • There is nothing perfect in human anatomy or neurology.
  • The real motors for movement in shoulder come from lower limbs. So many people who train things in isolation do it for purely for cosmetic reasons. If you think of it in terms of chains and links you have this massive link with no relationship to the entire chain. Now it produces forces out of sync with the entire chain.
  • Our strengths used to be dictated by needing to climb a tree or over rocks. We didn’t have a fitness center where we could put our legs in a leg press and disassociate these structures and ask them to repeatedly contract. When we do this we are teaching the body new neuromuscular anagrams and losing the connection between the whole body.
  • People should be informed. Once people understand the ramifications they can make an informed choice.
  • Children involved in sports and demanding activities will have long term ramifications to their adult form.

Resources

John Sharkey's website

Upcoming event pre-conference day of the British Fascia Symposium

Upcoming event Dundee University Biotensegrity dissection

Dr. Stephen Levin 

My interview with Dr. Stephen Levin

Skwish Toy

Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau

Serge Gracovetsky

Concise Book of Muscles 3rd Edition

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!

The End of the Structural Model? with Eyal Lederman (LBP 054)

Dr. Eyal Lederman joined me in season one to talk about his paper on the myth of core stability. As if that topic alone wasn’t controversial enough, I heard from many listeners afterwards that the really challenging part of that talk was his rejection of the structural model- his point of view that it just plain does not give us much information about why a person is having pain or dysfunction and, more importantly, how that person will recover. To shed some light on that, today we talk about his paper titled “A process approach in manual and physical therapies: beyond the structural model.” We’re talking about why he says the structural model is outdated and needs to be replaced, what he sees it replaced with and how patients are treated at his clinic, and what the benefits are to people when we expand beyond structural explanations for things as well as structural approaches to treatment.

Dr. Lederman is the director of CPDO, which provides continuing professional development for manual and physical therapists. He is also the co-director of a masters of science in Manual and Physical Therapy in Musculoskeletal Health at University College London. He graduated from the British School of Osteopathy and completed his PhD in physiotherapy at King's College, London, where he researched the neurophysiology of manual therapy. He has a number of papers to his name and has also authored several books including Fundamentals of Manual Therapy and Neuromuscular Rehabilitation in Manual and Physical Therapy.

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Conversation highlights

  • What is a process approach?  Co-creating with the individual to support their capacity for self-healing.
  • Most of the conditions seen in the clinic are not to do with biomechanics or structural reasons, but rather represent biopsychosocial processes in the person.
  • The forces that go through the body during daily activities are tremendous the body is really tough stuff- can you change the structure and biomechanics? It’s highly unlikely- it has to withstand tremendous forces during the day that cannot be replicated in manual therapy.
  • I ask - yes but hasn't our model been wrong? We are learning based on cadavers and living tissue is different. It's more like soft matter physics rather than hard matter physics. [resources- paper on hyluranon]
  • Everything works. If you brush against somebody something will change in their body- massage will get a change. The question is what is the magnitude of change? Is it going to be an amazing change? How long is the change going to be there before homeostasis resets it to its original level. Most of the effects in manual therapy are unlikely to last the duration of the treatment and beyond that. Manual therapy should not be the sole therapy.
  • It is problematic that our clinics becomes a temple of healing- the person is then not aware that healing happens in their body. Healing depends on self-healing capacity.
  • How is the process approach informed by biopsychosocial research?
  • We are being called to work in the psychological and behavioral dimension of a person as well for true healing to occur.
  • For example imagine someone has knee surgery and it is a brilliant surgery- if they are elderly, have no social support, and have depression all the wonderful rehab is ineffective- there is nothing to maintain what happens in the clinic.
  • You have to co-create with a patient an environment in which they can improve.
  • Functioncise is using your own movement repetoire and then challenging the things you are missing.
  • There are three processes by which people can heal: repair, adaptation, and modulation of symptoms.
  • Imagine a patient with lower back pain. In an MRI scan before and after you wouldn't see anything really different, this person is still living with the underlying issues. A lot of what we seeing as healing and recovery has to do with the modulation of symptoms.
  • In chronic conditions you are looking at neuroplasticity.
  • Ask the question what the best environment is for recovery? We need to create an environment that will support each phase of recovery.
  • Most of the time we get better without any kind of help.
  • A historical mistake in physiotherapy is when they gave remedial exercise based on body building health industries. Quite often clinics look like gyms. You have to wonder why do we give activities that don’t resemble anything that people do in their lives?
  • Don’t invent anything for the patient, use their own movement and pick activities to challenge their losses
  • Imagine soothing and calming a child after a fall. Manual therapy is emulating what happens naturally. All we are doing is giving it fancy names- ultimately we are using the same behavior and professionalizing it.
  • Why do some people fail to recover?
  • When we are in pain we can’t sit in the dark alone and manage it ourselves. Having other people helps a lot.
  • Pathologizing of things blocks people from their innate self healing because we are inserting fear into the equation. There is a disparity between pain and pathology. It’s very damaging to pathologize things.
  • A lot of my clinic is helping people to re-work the narrative about what happened to them and what they are going through. The fear of movement is the nail in the coffin.

Resources

Eyal Lederman at CPDO

Dr. Lederman's paper "A process approach in manual and physical therapies: beyond the structural model"

The paper I refer to: "Mathmatical analysis of the flow of hyaluronic acid around the fascia during manual therapy motions"

Dr. John Sarno

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!

Interoception in Practice with Bo Forbes (LBP 053)

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.

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Conversation highlights

  • 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.

Resources

Bo's beautiful post on her surgery experience The Beauty of Broken

Bo's article on the Creswell study in Yoga Journal

The New York Times on the Creswell study

The Creswell study in Biological Psychiatry 

Farb and Segal research on the Default Mode Network and depression

Dave Vago

Catherine Kerr

Mind and Life Institute Fellow Program

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

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!

Interoception, Contemplative Practice, and Health with Norm Farb (LBP 052)

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.

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Conversation highlights

  • 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?

Resources

Norm Farb's site

The RAD Lab at the University of Toronto Mississagua

Norm Farb's publications

Paper we discussed: Interoception, contemplative practice, and health

Damasio- The Somatic Marker Hypothesis and the Possible Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex

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!

Discovering The Line with Will Johnson (LBP 051)

Will Johnson is the founder of the Institute for Embodiment Training and the author of several books including The Posture of Meditation and Balance in Body, Balance in Mind. In today’s conversation we dove into what Dr. Rolf’s original concept of “The Line” was, and discuss its implications for both finding delicious support in our bodies and also for its ability to evoke our evolutionary potential.

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Conversation highlights

  • What is “The Line” and how did Dr Rolf define it? It's more like a koan than a thing...
  • The evolutionary implications in Dr. Rolf's teachings and intentions which have to a large degree gone by the wayside since her passing. Rolfing was not just to feel better, but was a practice that would liberate a different quality of consciousness.
  • The idea was that playing with upright balance in this way would liberate evolutionary energies that would manifest as a growth in consciousness.
  • When we get in touch with how we are withholding emotional expression this work [Rolfing] is more akin to something like meditation or spirtiual pactices. Dr Rolf would at times implore and beseech students not to view this work as a form of glorified physiotherapy.
  • The parallels between Buddhist teachings and Rolfing felt remarkable. From the earliest moments of Buddhism there was an understanding that if we can bring the upright spine to a condition of ever greater alignment that will allow the practices to begin.
  • The whole thing about creating the upright in sitting posture is it allows you to let go and relax. Relaxation is nothing more complicated that to surrender the weight of body in gravity. If your body is out of alignment, what happens when you let go is you topple over.
  • The Buddhist dharma is to let go. We have to be able to relax and you cannot relax and let go through a body that is not playing with balance.
  • Dr. Rolf's answer to a student question about how a Rolfed [aligned] body breaths, "In a truly balanced and integrated body as we breath in and out breath cause subtle motion to occur at every single joint in the body." It is a condition of really profound upright balancing where things are so relaxed that as you breath in and out breath can move through the body like a wave moves through water.
  • We talk about alignment in many realms and it’s this imagined perfect locked-in position. in reality, it is an exquisite unfolding of finding movement and ability for things to flow through. For relaxation to continue the entire body has to be subtly moving like an amoeba. If this is not occurring you are going into holding and freezing and relaxation goes out the window.
  • The majority of people somehow have gotten this crazy notion that stillness of mind depends on a still and frozen body. That frozen quality just locks people. Buddhist dharma has painted itself into a corner of frozen stillness which ironically also fuels the unbidden thoughts.
  • Yoda “there is no balance, there is just balancing”. Balance is not a condition to attain and then maintain.
  • Letting go is tricky business. We both stop ourselves from allowing these spontaneous flows, and we also come across people who are “acting out”. It’s about finding that place in the middle.
  • There are traditions where people are moving or rocking constantly like Sufi or the Jewish tradition of davening. The magic is in the allowance of these as spontaneous motions. 
  • Is there an anatomical structure that describes The Line? No- we're each different and it's about the play with balance, or the integrating force as we play with balance.
  • Relaxation is nothing more or less complicated that the willingness to surrender to gravity.
  • In most practices the body is viewed as an obstacle. I think that notion is crazy. We’re here, we’re incarnated, the body is literally going to be our vehicle.

Resources

The Institute for Embodiment Training

The Posture of Meditation

Balance of Body, Balance of Mind

Retreats with Will Johnson

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful. If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!

Stop Mindless Stretching with Steve Gangemi (LBP 050)

Dr. Steve Gangemi, aka The Sock Doc, has ruffled more than a few feathers with his proclamations that stretching is for Bozos... In today's conversation we reconnect to talk about why he's tempered his statement to "stop mindless stretching", what stretching even is, what flexibility is really a reflection of (hint: it's not your stretching regimen), why we might feel the need to stretch, and more.

Steve is a chiropractic physician who has trained in the fields of functional neurology, biochemistry, acupressure meridian therapies, applied kinesiology, and dietary and lifestyle-modification methods. He practices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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Conversation highlights

  • What is stretching and why does its definition seem so different depending on who is delivering it
  • What is the difference between flexibility and mobility? Steve likes Ido Portal's definition of mobility which is flexibility plus strength. Being mobile is being stable- able to resist force in certain positions.
  • How do we determine what range of motion is useful range for any particular individual?
  • The musculoskeletal system and fascia are a reflection of our nervous systems.
  • When you get into Eastern medicine they talk about how your emotions affect your muscles and directly affect your ability to stretch and be more flexible. The emotional component is big and manual therapists can forget about it.
  • There is a huge campaign right now to get people to stop sitting so much in chairs. However, you are still going to have the same locked up psoas if you aren’t breathing even if you’re moving. It can happen with sitting, but can also happen because you are in a state of fear- that’s how Chinese medicine would look at it.
  • Gel fascia:that was the big talk at the FRC this past fall. Most people about fascia as Saran Wrap or a thick angora sweater. That's true, but a different type of fascia is hyaluronic acid. This specifically is a gooey jelly-like fascia that’s everywhere in our body. It hasn’t been talked about because you don’t see this stuff when a person is dead and most students are studying cadavers.
  • The extracellular matrix as a body wide communication system- how that works and how it works in the context of people having changes in mobility or ranges of motion.
  • Gerald Pollack has some YouTube videos about the 4th state of water as gel. We think of ourselves as 2/3 water, but our molecules are 99% water and it has a high gel-like form. This gel form of water is what makes up the ECM. That is pretty much all of our cells within this fascial matrix. It can change within seconds and some people talking about tit as a separate nervous system.
  • How critical touch is in a very under-touched society.
  • Why say to move instead of stretch?
  • You should not feel the need to be stretching. One of the most important questions to ask yourself is, “why do you feel the need to stretch?” If you are moving well throughout the day you shouldn’t need to stretch out after you’re done, because you should have generated more flexibility during that workout. If you have to stretch out you just did something detrimental to your system.
  • Many people feel stretching will decrease injury rates or improve performance but this is inaccurate.
  • Is yoga stretching? Contrary to popular belief "yoga" is not sanskrit for "stretching". It is a mindful practice.
  • Yoga is like the gluten issue, or yoga is becoming popular like the gluten free diet. A lot of people are doing it but they don’t know why they’re doing it.

Resources

Steve's website Sock-Doc

Stop Mindless Stretching Part 1: Stretching for Flexibility, or Not

Stop Mindless Stretching Part 2: Flexibility, Fascia, and Your Nervous System

Stop Mindless Stretching Part 3: Yoga (Not Stretching), Movement, and Mobility

Stop Mindless Stretching Part 4: Warm-up, Cool-Down, Injury Treatment, and a Bozo Prevention Strategy

Ido Portal

Gerald Pollack The Fourth Phase of Water

If you’re inspired to leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher I would be oh so grateful. If technology isn’t your thing however you can just tell your favorite body nerds about the show. It keeps the show rolling and connects us more as a community. Body nerds unite!