What is the common factor between doing body-mind oriented psychotherapy, taking a class and /or an individual session of the Feldenkrais method, Fitzmaurice VoiceWork or Focusing? Your body and the way it influences your behavior! Your brain, your prefrontal cortex more precisely, is heavily reliant on the messages sent by your body. Let’s see what Scientists can tell us about it.
The limbic system (see diagram) is modulating our emotional states. Within the limbic system, the hypothalamus acts like a “thermostat”. It influences our emotions via the regulation of our hormone levels and/or our Autonomic Nervous System response (Sympathetic/Alert pathway: “Fight/Flight”- and Parasympathetic/Peace pathway: “Rest/Digest”-). The hypothalamus mediates sensory-motor or visceral information coming either from the brain (top-down pathway) or the body (bottom-up pathway):
- Top-Down pathway (brain to body): the prefrontal is a decision-maker regarding our emotional state and monitors our body response:
“I decide to feel good”, “I notice I am stressed”, “I can do something to calm myself”, etc.
- Bottom-Up pathway: the body (autonomic nervous system, hormone) sends message to the brain. The prefrontal cortex analyzes it and then gives a meaning to it:
“I’m sweating, I must be scared”, “My blood pressure increased, I must be angry”, “My heart rate speeded up, I must have felt in love”, “My muscles are stiff, I must be stressed”, etc.
Neurocientists studied the Bottom-Up pathway and noticed that BEFORE WE CONSCIOUSLY process the information coming in, our BODY IS ALREADY RESPONDING and ITS RESPONSE INFLUENCES the way OUR BRAIN DRAWS CONCLUSIONS:
As Sapolsky, Profesor at Stanford University and author of Why zebras don’t get ulcers
, highlights it in his lecture (watch video)
, one’s specific behavior is strongly dependent on body cues
. The way the hypothalamus relays the information to the brain is central in the resultant behavior. Sapolsky gives several interesting examples from experimental research to demonstrate this. I will mention one example directly related to the work we can do with a body-mind approach:
You experience either a physical distress (case #1): muscle spasm after pulled muscle injury) or an emotional distress (case #2): high stress level, depression, etc.
You may be prescribed a drug to feel better: myorelaxant (case#1): or anti anxiolytic (case #2). BOTH DRUGS are made of the SAME COMPONENTS. Why?!
In both cases, the muscle tone of your body is in a state of contraction. By relaxing your muscle tone, your body sends a new, different message: “relaxed/pleasant muscle tone”. Eventually the brain translates the “felt sense” into words to explain it. Remember that as humans, our brain (prefrontal cortex) has a sophisticated level of processing information and needs to explain, give meaning in order to justify its response/correlated behavior.
When you engage yourself in a Body-Mind oriented Psychotherapy, go to a class/individual session of Feldenkrais, Fitzmaurice VoiceWork, or Focusing, you give yourself the possibility to have different and positive body experiences and open the door to healthier embodied sensations. Your brain receives a new set of information, and the prefrontal cortex is given the opportunity to think differently therefore to behave differently.