“For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present.”
-Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The Body Keeps the Score
If you are dealing with addiction, harmful behavior, unresolved trauma, or any other ailment that has lead you to traditional therapy the foundation in healing must include incorporating the body. The mind and body are interconnected, emotional experiences affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body. In the other direction, your perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes also influences your consciously felt emotions.
Let's use the following handy brain model to explore this deeper.
The base of your palm represents your brain stem. This region of the brain is responsible for autonomic functions. These are the bodily functions that happen automatically, like heart rate and breathing.
Crossing the thumb over the palm, this represents your limbic system, it includes your amygdala and hippocampus. This part of the brain controls your sympathetic nervous system, the flight/fight/freeze response to threats or danger. It is also where old memories and emotions are stored.
Fold the fingers over the thumb, this is your prefrontal cortex. This is the only part of the brain in which thinking, analyzing, self-control, self-regulation, managing emotions, and problem solving occurs.
What happens when you get upset, overstressed, or experience a trigger to a past trauma?
You flip your lid!
Your fingers fly up, the prefrontal cortex goes offline and you no longer have access to your thinking, analyzing, and problem solving skills. The fight/flight/freeze response is exposed and active, old memories, and related feelings are triggered.
As you can see, when the lid is flipped this is not the time to problem solve!
Our nervous system cannot differentiate between stress from daily life and stress from imminent danger so this is where most of live, running from the bottom of the brain, in sympathetic response, living without the aid of our thinking brain. This results in the inability to control impulses, manage our emotions, tune into the feelings of others, and form relationships.
Talk therapy works exclusively with the top part of the brain, your prefrontal cortex. As we have seen, when it's offline everything you have learned here is inaccessible. This is why you may be able to rationally understand how to solve your chronic issues but continuously find yourself returning to the problematic behaviors or thinking patterns.
Practices like therapeutic yoga focus on the bottom part of your brain, the limbic system. Thanks to neuroplasticity, we are able to change the way the brain functions. By bringing the body again and again into the parasympathetic response, we are able to reprogram the conditioned sympathetic response to stressful triggers. It has been shown, with regular practice within as little as 8 weeks, we are able to decrease the size of the amygdala. This is the region of the brain that is associated with fear and emotion, and involved in the initiation of the body's response to stress. This allows you to come from a point of calm awareness when faced with threats or stress. It brings the tools you gain in talk therapy online so you can create real lasting change and once again enjoy your life.