Finding New Ways to Heal through Understanding our Biology!
“A symptom will persist until it is understood, not pathologized“. These words struck me as incredibly wise as I was attending the Polyvagal Institute’s Many Voices of Polyvagal Theory Virtual Conference.
Many of us (myself included) have spent years going to doctors to find labels for our symptoms. Once they are labeled there is a range of standard and not so standard treatments to try. Sometimes, we feel better once we have given the disease or condition a name. However, pathologizing the symptoms often leads to us chasing our tails in an endless pursuit of the “magic bullet”. When this happens, our healing is hindered. Frustration settles in as the following complaints seem so difficult to heal.
- Why can’t I sleep through the night?
- Why can’t I lose weight?
- Why does my stomach hurt all the time?
- Why do I have chronic pain in my body?
- Why do I have persistent headaches?
- Bigger questions include how did I end up with diabetes, cancer, or any of the 100’s of autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s, R.A., Fibromyalgia, AFIB, etc?
What is your pain telling you?
Over time through a great deal of experience, research, reading, courses, and certifications, I have come to a deeper understanding that we cannot answer these questions or begin to really heal without understanding the messages from the pain!
- Why is the symptom there in the first place?
- What is it telling us?
- Why do many of us fail to listen to our bodies’ messages until we get sick?
These are complex questions and require a very nuanced and open-minded/open-hearted approach toward healing. New tools from brain science, HeartMath, and ancient tools from yoga help provide some answers and some real hope for healing.
Tools from Brain Science
Neuroception is a term created by eminent brain doctor and scientist, Dr. Stephen Porges, the father of the Polyvagal Theory. The term did not exist thirty years ago. You might not even find it in many dictionaries. Perception, yes, interoception yes, but Neuroception—look it up. Neuroception “is the way the nervous system takes in the information without the thinking parts of the brain,” according to Polyvagal Theory therapist and author Deb Dana. In a nutshell, it is internal detection without awareness. Every event in your body, in your environment, and in your relationships is being processed often without your awareness. When we start to become aware of how we are being affected by everything, it can be profoundly healing. We begin to understand whether our nervous system is able to accurately read cues of safety and danger, connection and disconnection, or approach and avoid. As Dana explains the stories our nervous system tells us creates our beliefs about ourselves and the world.
“Information is sent through the autonomic pathways from the body to the brain where it is translated into the beliefs that shape daily living. The brain takes the autonomic information and creates a story to make sense of what is happening in the body. If you want to change the story, start by changing the [nervous system] state.”
If it is autonomic, what can I do about It?
Lots according to research and it all starts with neural exercises to develop more awareness of your nervous system. Through daily practices, you can learn to listen with curiosity and compassion to what is going on inside your body (including in your heart and your digestive system). It is also about listening to what is happening outside you in the environment both near and far with a sense of curiosity. And learning to listen to the nervous system of those people around you! In other words, how is your nervous system relationally interacting with others? If your nervous system matches the moment, it will help you manage. However, if it does not match the moment, it might lead to an over or under-reaction. Over time, these mismatches can lead to di-sease or prevent healing.
With the nervous system attunement practices, you can help your own nervous system move more smoothly into states that both match the moment and allow for growth and well-being. While it is true that you cannot control Neuroception (it is autonomic), you can become aware of whether if it is working properly. This awareness turns Neuroception into perception and that can lead to different choices for ourselves. Here is a simple activity you can do this week. It is most effective if you create a journal to answer these questions daily.
“What is happening at this moment in this place with this person and is my response appropriate for what is needed?” Step one starts with simply making the unnoticed, noticed through AWARENESS!!!! Next week I will share more strategies from the approaches that I use with my clients. These include HeartMath, Polyvagal approaches, yoga, and tools from Integrative Medicine to help my clients feel better. If you want to explore my services, please check out my website further and reach out to me here.