The brain stem goes directly into the spinal cord, which is encased in the spinal column and is comprised of 31 vertebrae. Between each two vertebrae are openings where nerves leave the spinal cord. There are posterior neurons that carry information to the spinal cord; anterior neurons carry information away.
Afferent nerves, also referred to as sensory, carry sensory information to the spinal cord and brain. The nerve fibers that carry information away are efferent nerves, also referred to as motor nerves, bring commands to the muscles and organs. The connection between the nervous system and the rest of the body comes from these spinal nerves. The sole connection between the brain and the rest of the body (with the exception of cranial -neck-nerves )is the brain stem and spinal cord.
In an earlier post, I suggested sitting quietly and doing a slow body scan, from the feet all the way up to the head. If you’d like, you can add one more element. After you complete the scan, imagine the spinal cord. Try to visualize it, starting from the brain stem and moving down; imagine all the wonderful energy that passes through the spine-stay with this and try to get a sense of it flowing through your body.
Our brain’s organization is firstly influenced by genetics and then by experience. Our experience influences which genes are actually expressed (Siegel, 1999). We constantly have inner and outer experiences that neurons, forming synaptic connections with each other, send to the brain. They are carried by energy (electrical firing) and information (mental representations that happen with the firing).
All parts of an experience gather in a neural net, that encodes that event (this is how memories are formed). When one strand of that net is activated by current experience, it is likely the whole net will be activated (this is remembering). Remembering playing ball with your father on a sunny day, you may feel the warmth of this connection, the sensations in your body as you remember throwing the ball, the laughter shared, etc. Thoughts, images, feelings, body sensations and personal connections tend to flow together. (Badenoch, 2008)
I love the book, Being A Brain-Wise Therapist, by Bonnie Badenoch; most of what I’m going to write today comes from this fascinating book.
1.The adult brain has roughly 100 billion neurons (nerve/neural cells) that connect by synapses to 7,000-10,000 other neurons. This adds up to 2 million miles of neural highways in our brain(Siegel, 1999).
2. The neural cells in the heart and gut work as a little brain; the data sent from these two places has an impact on the autonomic nervous system, as well as the higher cognitive and emotional areas of the brain.
3. Neurons are connected to one another by synapses; it’s been estimated that the brain of a three year old child has about 1,000 trillion synapses! Many of these cells are pruned (called cell death). The neurons that have not been incorporated into the developing brain structure are eliminated. Another burst of overproduction commences as adolescence begins, followed by more pruning. The brain finally stabilizes in the mid-twenties.
A crucial aspect of self regulation is the flow between the two branches of the Autonomic Nervous System; the sympathetic and parasympathetic. In my last post I talked about sensing into your body (using your felt sense) to feel the difference between the two branches. The idea was to feel how a good thought affects you inwardly, how an uncomfortable one changes your sensations. I then asked you to return to the comfortable place.
It’s important to remember what you found in the comfortable-or parasympathetic-place. Probably you felt more grounded; maybe your feet in the floor, or the back of your legs in the chair, etc. This tool can help you when you want to regulate. Say you suddenly feel anxious-another way to say this is you’re in the sympathetic branch, without a flow down to the parasympathetic.
You can start the flow again-ease the anxiety-by finding your grounded place. So if it is your feet and you’re sitting, focus on the feel of them on the floor, especially the heels. Take your time. Breathe into your feet. If you’re walking, same thing; focus on the feet, especially bring awareness to your heels.
Let me know how it goes!
Let’s go back to experiencing the sensations of the body; the ‘felt sense’. We need quiet for this so find a place and get comfortable. Notice your body, where you feel settled, comfortable. Now, as discussed previously, do a body scan starting from your feet, going up to your head. Notice active areas, quiet areas.
Imagine being with a person you feel safe with; notice your full body, notice body temperature, find any arousal (activation), notice your comfort, your breath.
Now imagine being with someone you don’t like, someone with whom you do not feel comfortable and do the body scan again. What do you notice now-probably parts of your body are activated, probably your breathing and comfort level has changed,
Now go back to the first image, the one of comfort and safety. Notice changes again.
You have now completed an SE (Somatic Experiencing) pendulation; you’ve gone from the Parasympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous System(ANS), up to the Sympathetic branch, and back down to the Parasympathetic.
More next time on how to use this in your daily life.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the brain is divided into two hemispheres-right and left. Although there are two amygdalae, two hippocampi and two temporal lobes, the way they process information is quite different.
The left hemisphere likes things to make sense; two plus two never equals three. Language, logic, and linearity are its hallmarks. It explains the input from the right hemisphere and puts it into neat packages.
The right side is nonlinear, receptive to everything that comes its way. It perceives and processes spatial and visual information such as nonverbal signals. Our mental model of the self and the way we relate to the world is formed on this side; the way we feel ourselves, our story, our relationship to our body and the way we relate to others.
Fight, flight and freeze (please see earlier post) is experienced on the right side. When the two sides are integrated, the right hemisphere provides the felt context for the left side to make sense of; the information flows.
It’s so clear to me that technique, although very important, is not the whole picture. Whether a musician; actor or singer, connection to one’s body is crucial. And not just to the outer body; the sensations of the inner body lead the performer to genuine connection first to oneself and then to the audience.
I often think of two well known violinists who are brothers. They often perform together and are widely admired for their spectacular technique. One brother is also admired for the feeling he pours into his playing, for the soul that shines through. He draws people to him; to my ear there is a world of difference between them.
I know both musicians and was pleased to count one of them as a client for a few years. His body mind connection is evident in everything he does and he brings this to his music. He can engage his body from the inside and let it lead his playing. His unique creative voice is evident and brings to his audience much joy.
Thank you again for your comments; I do appreciate them.
My time at NYU was just great; a wonderful group of aspiring-and clearly very talented-actors/singers. This was a performance class and their teacher works with them on bodily expression; this was good to see.
My model of whole body consciousness mixed with Somatic Experiencing and neurobiology works as well with actors as it does with musicians. Here’s why:
1. No matter how you express yourself artistically, turning inward to find your unique voice is crucial. Somatic Experiencing (SE) is based on tuning into the sensations of your inner body (felt sense). This is where-I believe-the artistic soul is, where you’ll find your essence.
2. Again, no matter how you express yourself, it must be done with the whole body. If you are standing playing the violin, if you are singing, if you are sitting playing the piano or acting, you must know where your feet are. Literally. And your legs, pelvis and on up. Every bit of you.
3. The way you use your body in everyday life is reflected in the way you perform; if you don’t move your arms from their connection to the shoulder blade and from your back, for example, you won’t have the power you need to express yourself. An arm not connected can not express feeling strongly and genuinely. If you are not grounded as you walk down the street, you won’t be grounded on stage.
I am going to be a guest instructor at a performance class at NYU(New York University) next week so I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve been thinking. This is a continuation of what I’ve written previously so you might want to back up and read my posts on Somatic Experiencing(SE) if you’re new to my blog.
Sitting comfortably, sensing into your back in the chair, your feet on the floor, let yourself wonder about what you’re doing when you feel most yourself-let it come to you, wait for it to appear. Stay with it, let it expand as you sense it in your body. Let this felt sense grow; not thinking but allowing yourself to listen to the sensations that grow in your body.
Feel how this place, whatever it is, affects your inner body. Maybe you feel an internal warmth growing, maybe you feel more settled in the chair-let it grow. You are now in your reptilian brain(brain stem), a place of instinct. A place that can lead you to clarity, instinctual power and fluidity-what an important place for a performer to be able to inhabit. Enjoy!
Okay, let’s keep going. Today I’ll begin discussing the cerebral cortex, also referred to as the neocortex. It consists of four lobes that are mostly concerned with relationship and reasoning.
The occipital lobe at the back of the head takes pieces of visual information and turns them into whole images. The parietal lobes process information about temperature, pain, touch, where we are in space, sensory understanding, speech and reading. It also receives informationabout the body from the spinal cord.
At the side of the head are the temporal lobes responsible for processing more complex information about smell and sounds. It also is part of the process that integrates memory. The fourth lobe is the frontal cortex, housing regions for control of voluntary muscle and motor planning. Here also is the region for concentration, judgement, organization, creativity, personality, emotion, ETC.
I have discussed the prefrontal area in other posts; it is where our working memory. When we pay attention to something, the information is in our conscious awareness where we can adjust it, adding new input-information and energy-before it is restored.