07 Apr Test-exercise: integrated Vs disorganised emotional and stress responses?
Take the test!
This is an experiment that I run in various contexts, ranging from our training courses (prior to explaining specific techniques) through to sessions with patients and clients (depending on the environment) to lay the groundwork for more targeted objectives.
The primary objective is for people to feel first-hand how the connection between physical movement, posture, perception, emotional state and thought can make the difference between the ability to overcome a stressing and traumatic event positively or –instead- can create dysfunctional conditions and favour pathological developments.
Specifically, the experiment aims to highlight the important difference between what happens in synergic or physiological conditions between different systems and, vice versa, what takes place when there is a lack of physiology, a blockage or a not fully coherent response.
In other words, we will recreate, in a controlled environment, the conditions of acute or chronic stress, mismanaged emotional peaks or traumatic events.
By contrast, in the second phase of the experiment, we’ll analyse what happens if we respect the physiological and synergic conditions between the activation of the nervous system, the motor system, posture, emotional experience and cognitive flow.
LET’S START THE EXPERIMENT, we’ll come back to the theory and practical implications of these aspects further on.
For this first portion of the experiment you should be seated on standard chair such as a kitchen chair.
Now move your feet under the chair. Widen them slightly and push them forwards so as to hook them on to the chair legs.
Now comes the tricky part, but for the sake of the experiment I ask you to hold fast and listen to your body and your emotional and cognitive reactions.
Push forwards hard with legs and feet for one minute.
Continue pushing and focus on your different feelings.
There will be some more evident feelings, such as a bit of pain in the ankle or shin and fibula as they press against the chair. But also focus on which muscles you are contracting in your upper-legs, the abdomen, shoulders and neck.
Try to feel the different sensations: effort, burning, tension, heat, and any other sensation that you manage to feel even if you can’t quite put a name to it.
Similarly, focus on the emotions you are feeling, your sensations, how thoughts flow or stumble, where your imagination and memories lead you.
Once this minute is up you can release your hold and listen to your body another minute or two. In this phase note what changes over time: some physical and emotional feelings will remain vivid, others will fade more or less rapidly. Even your changing thoughts can vary interestingly.
Now let’s move to the second phase: stand up in front of a wall.
The tips of your toes, your chest and forehead should rest against the wall. Flex your arms and place your hands at shoulder height against the wall a little wider than your chest. You are basically in the same position as when you do a push-up, but standing-up rather than lying down.
Now push hard, but without moving backwards: you need to perform an isometric contraction of your muscles, or in other words your muscles should contract, but not shorten (you mustn’t move).
This push should last 8 seconds, and during this time you should exhale. At the end hold the position, but release the tension. Take half a step back with both feet.
Now perform another 8 second isometric push all the while exhaling. Once more, release and take half a step backwards with both feet.
Repeat the process one more time.
Pay close attention to your body’s signals during this process too (tension, unnecessary muscles involved, heat, burning sensation) and the matching emotional and cognitive experiences (feelings of power, of control, well-being, imagination, memories and other experiences).
What did we experience and what have we learnt?
If you carried out the exercises correctly you’ll notice some significant differences between them.
In both instances we performed isometric contractions, but with very different features across many aspects.
In the first exercise on the chair we amplified all the dysfunctional features that take place during any stressful, traumatic event or with any overwhelming emotion. The exact opposite took place in the second exercise.
1st principle – The importance of duration and alternation
The pushing motion was constant over the period of one minute, while muscle activation requires faster alternation to be efficient.
If you think about it, it’s intuitive: in nature movements tend to be dynamic and fluid.
Even from a biomechanical and neurological perspective, alternation and right timing are critical:
- From the fluidity and control of movements, which takes place when there is synergy between agonist and antagonist muscles (and more),
- Right through to the alternation between sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which were once regarded to alternatively switch each other off, while it is now acknowledged they function in synergy at all times.
2nd Principle – Space and Distance
Distance between ourselves and what we can describe as an ‘obstacle’ or ‘limitation’ was fixed in the shape of the chair, but gradually increased in the exertion of our feet. This represents the first proof of efficiency in the management of danger, especially if it takes place at interpersonal level.
Being able to actively manage distance and increase it proportionally to strength applied is therefore fundamental to our feeling of control over a danger and to the definition of role and identity.
These first two principles, time and distance, along with muscle tone and emotional experience, have a critical role in our adaptation and development systems.
There are different factors at play, but these two are certainly worth a mention:
- The role of the insula in integrating all the signals from the body and in the development of body maps;
- The role of the PAG – periaqueductal grey (along with the amygdala and other structures) in the evaluation of one’s own resources in comparison with those of another and in dictating the move from intention to action.
It is therefore already evident how important it is to act on these aspects in a proactive and targeted fashion in order to manage the feelings of self-control and adaptation or emotional mechanisms at ‘grassroots’ level.
There are a few more important aspects to analyse: let’s now focus on another two.
3rd Principle – Breathing and Physiology
Breathing plays a key role. In the first exercise I allowed you to use it spontaneously, while in the second instance we managed it in a controlled and highly physiological fashion.
In various neurobiological physiology studies and research by Van Der Kolk on trauma and adverse experiences in infancy, it clearly emerges that constricted breathing (or any similar dysfunction) during a stressful event can be dictate the degree of seriousness of the symptoms to follow.
This, not only in terms of emotional reactions or behavioural patterns, but also at the level of changes to the brain structure and neurotransmitters involved.
Practice using breathing in a way that is coherent with movement, in order not to halt breathing under stress or when we perceive pain, as we did in the second exercise, helps to avoid the development of negative consequences. On the contrary, it actively improves physiology, recovery times and the feeling of having retained self–control.
In our day to day we often forget the most obvious things: each behaviour, emotion or thought takes place because it has a function.
When this function is successful, so for example when a problem has been solved, the specific behaviour needs to cease and the system to return to its physiological state.
Perhaps the new physiological state won’t coincide with that prior to the problem, situation of stress or traumatic event, but is a new physiological state that represents a starting point and not the continuation of the previous state of activation.
There are specific efficiency signals during any type of behaviour and signals for termination of the state of activation.
As far as our physical example is concerned, sensory variations at the periphery of our organs and their integration in the insula and thalamus are key.
There are certain criteria we can take advantage of to maximise these perceptions. For example the 7-8 second muscle contraction allows us to correctly stimulate the Golgi cells to memorise the ideal muscle tension to hold without maintaining an excessive contraction, even after the traumatic event has passed.
Further analysis and developments – how to proceed
The inter-relations you have experienced during this experiment and the principles we’ve referred to are just a small example of what can be achieved by taking an integrated approach to working on adaptation and stress responses, emotional problems and post-traumatic disorders.
Our Isometric Emotions and Interpersonal Accommodation courses are a couple of practical tools -declined in different variants- highlighting the potential applications of work based on these principles. They can also be used in different contexts and are entirely furnished with all relevant scientific and theoretical references.
- Isometric Emotions focuses on exercises that can be carried out alone, intervening on primary defence mechanisms to bring the subject back to a state of balance: from antalgic reflexes (avoidance of pain) to those in response to acute stress, right through to constant alterations overt time due to on-going emotional or interpersonal conflicts.
- Interpersonal Accommodation focuses, on the other hand, on the use of these mechanisms in interpersonal dynamics. The objective is to create greater understanding and room for emotional and physical action on the basis of attachment, trust, conflict, aggression or challenge.
There are another two tools for analysis and self-awareness.
3. The first step tool is the Modular Breakdown Technique. As the name suggest, this technique allows you to break down feelings and complex emotions in order to develop awareness and acceptance on many levels so as to integrate them and use them in a proactive and beneficial way.
4. Finally, the consistency of bodily movement (and postural dynamics in general) with the flux of emotional states and functional and coherent thought is at the heart of the Flows technique (the flow of our behavioural registers) linked to the expression and realisation of Ancestral Needs.
Isometric Emotions, Interpersonal Accommodation and Modular Breakdown Technique are available as online courses within the Integrative Sciences HUB, our practical 24/7 educational platform presenting theory, techniques and applied strategies with a pragmatic approach and interconnected modules.
By registering to the HUB you will be able to take all available courses and one new course each month.
These will include the Ancestral Needs module and a series of practical use sessions such as Flows which we referred to earlier.
The HUB is available for a limited time only at the highly discounted rate of 90 euro per year providing access to 10 readily available courses in addition to one new course per month. Additional benefits of subscription include: focus webinars, work-on-it sessions to resolve queries and uncertainties, exclusive activities and much more.
Discover more and register here, or visit the Integrative Sciences HUB website.