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How Do You Idle?

Alchemy Wellness SOMATIC INSIGHTS

Autumn, 2021





Does your Body Run Smoothly?


Physical Therapy admittedly has a bias toward a mechanical view of the body. The physics of pulleys and levers is more of a focus than the subjective experience of comfort. As the mechanics of the medical world, attempts at problem solving can be reductionistic and overly linear. That doesn’t have to be the case.


Internal felt sense in the body plays an important part in regulating responsiveness and efficiency of the organism. When the body is “at rest,” does it run ragged, smooth, lurch forward, tend toward sluggishness, flood out? These underlying qualities can be traced back to the function of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which uses feedback loops to automatically assess and respond to variations in temperature, chemical, fluid, energy, and toxicity levels, pressure in the vessels and valves, circulation, and emergency signals. It could be thought of as the Governor of the body, like the governor of an engine (or State.)


Neurological issues have historically been isolated to problems related to diseased, injured, or deformed nervous tissue. Compensatory strategies are generally the focus, though “neuromuscular re-education” is used to improve gross-motor coordination and balance. Newer research into neural plasticity (ability to change), central processing (how sensations are perceived), and the autonomic nervous system/HPA axis (neuroimmunoendocrine system) have shed light on the ability to improve inner as well as outer balance to maximize somatic (body) function. This type of balance improves function in all body systems, reduces inflammation, reduces pain, increases calmness and equanimity, and promotes positive relationships. This type of “neurological issue” precedes physical disease and is a normal coping strategy, when short term, to deal with stress and trauma. It’s only when it becomes habituated that it creates serious health issues, as seen in the ACES childhood adverse event study.


Ongoing stress biases the system toward hyper-alert focus which interprets benign signals as dangerous. The way out of this “positive feedback loop with negative consequences”( as Peter Levine PhD, founder of Somatic Experiencing, puts it) is to become aware of its influence and gently guide experience and focus back to safety. It comes down to sensory-motor patterning. Certain sensations invoke a “reflex/knee jerk” type response because the emotional link to it blocks the higher brain from participating in a response. Just like other lower level reflexes, it’s automated, like the auto-pay option for managing bills. When on high alert, however, too many withdrawals send the system into a tailspin.


This type of “emotional reflex” is more malleable than the other types which arc in the spinal cord or brainstem. The amygdala gatekeeper in the limbic system makes quick decisions regarding safety or danger, but it can be influenced by the type, rate, and rhythm of input given. This can reprogram its pattern recognition system. Working in these intricate looping systems is subtle, slow, and sensitive but ultimately very satisfying. Inner balance manifests in exquisite physical expression.


Chronic pain is responsive to this type of care which is available through Somatic Experiencing Practitioners (SEPs). This issue, as well as other Syndromal Patterns like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, Migraine, and Auto-Immunity related diseases, can be slowly unraveled and reprogrammed based on present moment responsiveness vs reactivity.


Brightest Blessings,

Rachel Bixby PT, DPT, E-RYT 500, PSEP

Ongoing stress biases the system toward hyper-alert focus which interprets benign signals as dangerous. The way out of this “positive feedback loop with negative consequences”( as Peter Levine PhD, founder of Somatic Experiencing, puts it) is to become aware of its influence and gently guide experience and focus back to safety. It comes down to sensory-motor re-patterning. Certain sensations invoke a “reflex/knee jerk” type response because the emotional link to it blocks the higher brain from participating in a response. Just like other lower level reflexes, it’s automated, like the auto-pay option for managing bills. When on high alert, however, too many withdrawals send the system into a tailspin. . .


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