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Nervous system regulation and nervous system healing is about learning new inputs, doing subtle techniques and identifying a new language system, to override our habitual responses. This is done through actually listening to the body, following the body’s cues and practicing a more sophisticated awareness.
Oh and practicing radical self acceptance!
Think of your body as a smart phone or computer with its own operating system. That operating system has default settings that run in the background. If you do not update the operating system or input preferences, the default is what will run.
Your autonomic nervous system is your default operating system. It comes with pre-installed operating systems based on people, places and things. There are preloaded software systems that were imputed before you could speak or understand language. Preverbal.
There are programs that got installed in school, from friends, from family, from work…all running in the background. Until you can recognize those pre-loaded, default programs, and update them to your preferences, they continue to run on autopilot. Thus-autonomic nervous system.
Best news is, it is totally within your capability to install new programs, recognize when the old programs are running, reboot, upgrade and continually improve your experience, through nervous system regulation and nervous system healing.
What I have witnessed with many of my clients is that they have denied their body for so long, stopped listening to it and following the body’s cues that it takes a minute, to actually re-attune to what their body has to say.
So a quick simple tip I can share right now would be to go to the bathroom when you need to, sleep when you are tired or drink water when you are thirsty. These basic needs, when answered, can help you attune to the body’s requirements instead of the habitual default of, overriding what you need in the moment for finishing a task or just straight up denying a basic need because we have been conditioned to.
Remember being in school and having to ask to go to the bathroom? Ingrained responses run deep.
Nervous system regulation is a brilliant practice and one that you can practice all on your own. You get to be the subject, practitioner and teacher. You can learn this new language system and practice the techniques all by yourself.
Of course, having a therapist, pet, family, people around you to co-regulate is important and I will talk more about that in subsequent series.
For now I want to empower you with the awareness and knowledge that you can upgrade your own operating system. And yes, have a support network too, just know that a little goes a long way and you can start today, right now, well, when you finish reading!
Why is nervous system regulation such a big deal?
Because as a society we excel at emotional suppression and avoidance. Unwittingly, we have all internalized and celebrate the societal norms of over working, people pleasing and using drugs and alcohol to numb out.
Without realizing that these can be trauma responses cloaked in approved behaviour.
Being an adrenaline junkie, micromanaging, workaholism, codependency, being boundary less, over serving or over giving can all be signs of a dysregulated nervous system.
That dysregulation has originated from pre-loaded inputs from your life, that have caused you stress, harm or pain.
Allow me to quickly interrupt and say, that frankly, I think the word trauma is overused and abused in our culture. I think most people are not aware of what trauma is, so they use it like an adjective. Trauma is real and there is big T and little T trauma, but for mine and your’s sensibilities, I will instead use somatic stress and stored survival responses.
Somatic stress is stress in the body and is caused by accidents, chronic illness, anaesthesia, surgery and injury. Stored survival responses are the inputs and default software that have been accumulating since birth. These included the preverbal pain points (not being soothed when crying) and all the times we missed the opportunity to return to safety.
There is no self blame game here, please be gentle with yourself as you read this. Just reading about nervous system regulation can activate you and make you feel feelings. If that happens, take a pause, orientate yourself to your present surroundings. Look around the room or space you are in and identify, 5 things, feel the texture of your clothes, ground your consciousness in the now moment and breathe.
The nervous system heals through feelings not thoughts. So at times it may be uncomfortable. I speak about titration in this video here, but for now, know that you can titrate your experience, meaning, take in info, process it, back off, re-approach it. You add slowly. Just like when you were a kid learning how to do life. You didn’t just jump on the bike. You had someone old the frame while you peddled, then you had training wheels, then you took off the training wheels. Titration is similar to this, you add slowly and take away when needed. It is a somatic experiencing term as well as a scientific term.
The nervous system consists of your brain, autonomic and peripheral nervous system, para-sympathetic and sympathetic nervous system and our memories. Our brains have a negativity bias = this bias means we are more likely to pay attention to threats than we are to safety. This bias is compounded by the autonomic nervous system that is our main operating system that has been pre-loaded with software from the culmination of our life experiences, which has many, stored survival responses, as pre-loaded templates or just default storage, using the smart phone/computer metaphor.
I will talk about survival responses in my next series but for now, I am sure you recognize these responses: Fight, Flight, Freeze.
When I talk about the somatic stress and stored survival responses, I am referring to how these responses got trapped due to injury, surgery, trauma, experiences or chronic illness or injury and how they override cognition, how they will run on automatic, how they are an operating system that is preloaded. We all have a continuous feedback loop and outdated operating systems of faulty alarms before we practice nervous system hygiene.
And again, know that you can influence, heal and change by doing nervous system regulation. Stay tuned for a deep dive into thsese survival responses.
Diane Seamark is co-owner of Sadohana with her husband of 25 years, Michael Seamark. She is a veteran yoga therapist having logged over 5000 clinic hours, is a 5th degree black belt in KoKoDo Jujutsu and a mom to twins.