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I Care About the Science


I care about the science of yoga, of the stress response, of the relaxation response, of anatomy, physiology, neurology- I care about what's happening on the inside of the body. Mine and yours.

The question is: Why?

As a physical therapist, I trained didactically for six years and practiced in hematology and oncology for seven- I speak fluent anatomy and physiology. I understand the gross body and it's anatomical nuances. It's actually easier for me to speak direct alignment then to speak in the colorful metaphors I LOVE to hear in class. But I speak in metaphors too- especially in my restorative classes. Why? Because sensorial cues switch us from our linear, logical, pragmatic thinking left brain to our creative, visual, artistic right brain. It changes HOW we take in the information and that in turn changes HOW our body responds. Yep.

I can never subtract my PT brain from my body (thank goodness!). But understanding more about the nervous system...to me, its personal- because I panic.

Panic is a tricky son of a gun. I'm going to broad stroke here and say what panic has been/can be *FOR ME*: Panic is sneaky, elusive, minimizing, embarrassing, maddening, confusing, sad, unpredictable, totally predictable, stifling, halting, exhausting, unkind.The more panic became a part of my life. The more I craved understanding. Why is this happening?!?!? What the F is happening?!?! Tell me the things!!! I'll do the things. I must have said those last two sentences a thousand times. For me, the transition from be a victim of panic to someone who happens to panic came from the knowledge of what happens behind the scenes in my brain and body.

I care about the science because science tells us that when we experience a traumatic event or live in a state of constant stress (it doesn't matter if it's work or family or traffic or finances, etc)- our body produces hormones that keep us in a state of hyper-alertness. Back in the day, when we were running from actual animal predators, it made sense to be vigilant. A hungry tiger was an oh shit moment. The lower brain changed our heart rate and respirations, shut down digestion and reproduction, turned on the psoas (hip flexor muscle) and got us ready to run! If our lower brain thought we had a chance, it offered the adrenaline, cortisol and power to fight and do uncanny things. (Think nanas lifting cars off babies.) And if our lower brain thought stillness was our only chance, it shut us down to freeze, appearing as close to death as possible so perhaps the tiger would pass on by.

The thing is, when everything spikes or stays elevated for too long (i.e. A traumatic event or chronic stress)- the body never gets to recover, the lower brain goes on autopilot and senses any threat as THE threat. Our smart rational upper brain never gets to kick in and say, "that's a leaf in a tree, not a tiger. " So our stress level gets higher and higher yet again.Over time, people who panic can go from zero to panic in a second. Less than that actually- the time between two heartbeats. The perceived threat starts the stress response without asking any questions from me. It's not my fault. My "job" is to spend more time figuring out how to initiate the relaxation response when I'm not panicking. And over time make it a higher threshold to hit the panic button.

So. I learn the physiology. I plug hip joints into sockets because they trigger the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. I invite deep breaths and sensation to the lips which turns on the rooting response from when we were babies. I use metaphors to get us out of our dense, language-y brain. I cautiously use imagery to do the same. I teach that neurons that fire together wire together. Think muscle memory- the third warrior three is easier than the first, the 100th is even easier. Think a mantra the first time being uncomfortable, the third time possibly easing the brain and the 100th time deepening the breath. I teach about the sequelae of panic. If you notice you may be about to panic- shit it's more awareness than the days you don't, even if your attack is awful. Because one day that awareness will link to a cue to do something different. We can learn. Panic is physiologic. It's hormonal. It's reinforced. But we can break the cycles with more information. I know we can. Because I have. I try. And some days, I do.


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