As Mammals, we have an innate program in place to mirror each other’s energy.
You may have heard of mirror neurons before. These fascinating brain cells are like the superheroes of our social interactions. They allow us to understand and connect with others by mirroring their actions and emotions. It's the secret code that lets us decode the intentions and feelings of those around us. Talk about a superpower!
So why does this matter? News flash; your regulated nervous system doesn't just impact your own well-being—it has the power to regulate everyone around you.! There is a reason your dog gets more worked up the more you yell at them to get to stop barking! Ever try to rock a baby to sleep form a state of frustration and sleep-deprived rage? NOT GONNA Happen! They are feeling your vibe and not paying much attention to your words or actions.
Allowing your body to adopt a state more grounded in your “the social engagement system” can positively influence your pets, your neighbors, and especially your children. So, why settle for anything less than an optimally functioning nervous system?
Enter breathwork, the ultimate tool for gaining flexibility and adaptability. By understanding the intricacies of your nervous system, you can become a facilitator of change in the world around you! Breathwork allows you to expand the capacity of your nervous system, like stretching a rubber band, but in a safe and gradual manner. It's through these challenges that we truly grow and learn. After all, if we never change anything, we'll just stay stuck in the same old patterns. And who wants that?
So let’s talk polyvagal theory, discovered by the brilliant Dr. Stephen Porges. For a long time it was said that our nervous system experiences either "fight or flight (sympathetic)" or "rest and digest"(parasympatheir) states..
But Dr POoges shed light on a whole new dimension to explore—the social engagement system. This playful mix of activation and calm is where the magic happens. Imagine experiencing both the thrill of being fully alive and the serenity of a calm lake at the same time. It's the sweet spot where your parasympathetic state resides, the perfect balance of nuanced activation and tranquility.
Let's break down these three states a but more:
First, we have the "fight and flight" or sympathetic response. This is your survival strategy, your inner superhero ready to take on tigers and conquer the world. Anger, rage, and irritation fuel your fight, while hyperarousal, panic and fear fuel your flight. Physiologically, your blood pressure rises, adrenaline surges, and digestion takes a backseat.
Next up, we have the "freeze" state, the emergency mode of your primal self. When the dorsal vagal nerve takes the stage, you enter a state of shutdow or numbness. It's like your body has hit the pause button, waiting for a signal to come alive again. We can move into immobility or dissociation.This reaction is where we can feel hypoarousal,, dissociation, numb, shame, hopelessness, and overwhelm. Imagine a voice inside your head saying, “it’s hopeless.” “Don’t bother” “nothing will ever change” “You’ll never get better”. Think of when you have a million things to do, but rather than actually doing any of them, you find yourself scrolling social media.
Last but not least, we have the "rest and digest" response—the parasympathetic, also known as a ventral vagal state, your ticket to safety and homeostasis. This is our “social engagement system” and when you're in this state, you're grounded, joyful, and connected to yourself and the world. It's the ultimate power-up for your digestion, immune system, and ability to form meaningful connections. You are not so calm as to be anywhere close to shut down, yet you are not so activated that you are chemically ill equipped to bring yourself back into balance after excerpting your energy and connection. Picture controlling a horse as you ride it back to the stable. You would continue to pull back on and release the reins in nuanced ways to ensure that the horse maintains an appropriate speed. Likewise, the ventral vagal nerve allows activation in a nuanced way, thus offering a different quality than sympathetic activation.
But here's the plot twist: unresolved trauma can throw a wrench into our body’s ability to adapt in a natural way. Having trauma whether real or perceived can be like living in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode, where even everyday activities feel like battlegrounds.
Breathwork assists us in exploring states outside of our baseline (that for many of us thanks to modern day stressors, is a sympathetic state) so that we can begin to lean into that happy place of connection in the middle.
Using the Right Breathe
When practicing breathwork we play with several areas of concentration. We need to focus our Breathing rhythm so that it will invite in the desired state we are looking to play with. Breathe rhythm is made up of the breath pattern (nose breathing, mouth breathing or both) and intensity (speed and depth). If we are looking to activate the body and stir up energy (ie. if someone is in a freeze response and we want to titrate their re-activation) we might breathe with an open mouth, using shallow quick breathe with the emphasis on the inhalation. Should we be seeking to bring in calm for a breather who is perpetually in a heightened state of arousal, we would likely work with deep inhales through the nose, with elongated exhales.
Embodiment practices, body awareness and breathwork can be your allies in resetting your nervous system and reclaiming your social engagement biology. Remember, you have the power to transform yourself and those around you!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this podcast is for educational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional before implementing any breathwork or nervous system regulation techniques. Breathe responsibly and rock on!
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