How We Work Best
Safety, Healing, and Flow
You are a collection of around 70 billion cells, trying to have a good day together! We’re never just dealing with a physical issue when we think about human performance, recovery from injury or promoting change. We’re addressing the wellbeing of a complex evolving organism. To respect each individual, and get the best results, we need to understand what drives them, what state they are in, where they would like to go. It all starts with safety…
Meet your brain and autonomic nervous system.
Its key messenger is the vagus or ‘wanderer’ nerve, 80% of its function is sensory. The feedback it receives allows the autonomic nervous system to judge risk factors, exploring the environment inside and outside the body. It makes decisions as to what is necessary to survive, and ideally thrive – are we safe, are we in danger or is our life in threat..?
It originates at the brainstem at the base of the skull and cruises down past the heart and lungs to the gut before returning back up by the throat and ear to report to the brain. Here lies attention, emotion, memory, cognition – what do we feel about this situation from past experience? We are all about feedback, attempting to read patterns and guide actions. Do I trust, will I be trusted? In social interaction it seems to start with the face and eyes: truly the windows to our soul, but vocal tone, pre-existing state, environment all come into play… Our state is being set, dependent on the hierarchy of information we receive, our best guess is made: responses are made, nerves fire, neurochemicals are produced to support the response…
As we evolved as mammals, we realised that we did best in groups.
Safety, shelter and food was easier to gain and maintain. We began to adapt to produce this ‘emergent state,’ when we felt safe our breath would slow and allow us to concentrate on using the muscles of our face, our voice and hearing, smell and taste to keep making the good stuff happen. Relationships, playfulness and creativity: all serving our internal environment by fostering an improvement of our external environment. The more glimmers of support and connection we get, the further we can go.
If the cues are wrong in our interactions we react quickly – defensive reactions and judgemental feelings soon escalate to a crisis point. Push a little more and we mobilise to either fight or run away, in a completely overwhelmed state we ‘freeze.’ Either with traumatic events or learned behaviours these can become deeply ingrained triggers we adopt in the hope that they protect us from further harm. Letting go of these emotional narratives can be the breakthrough moment in someone’s healing process…
Get the cues right and we can get the real gold of ‘blended states:’ If we feel safe, supported, relaxed; the vagal brake, or the ‘therapeutic sigh’ can be felt. This is a protective state where we can actually rest, nourish and heal ourselves rather than defend. We can become aware of our vulnerabilities, talents and their accessibility. We’re producing the neurochemicals which allow us to be intimate with someone - trust enough to love them and grow with them...
Mobilised, yet safe and confident and we can attain what is known as ‘flow state’ – the
conscious brain’s chatter switches off and the subconscious brain does the work. The rider is quiet and calm while the horse does its thing! The brain is flooded with a cocktail of high performance and relaxation neurochemicals, learned motor skills act by reflex, allowing more room for innovation, time seems to stand still… We use ‘The Force,’ amazing things can happen!! Find yours – it might be playing the guitar, it might be gardening; it might be sailing, it might be running… Practice it regularly, embrace it, play with it!
Our states are hopefully transitory – we could measure our wellbeing by how well we can move between them, just like Heart Rate Variability or breath dynamics. The bigger your bounce on the trampoline; the more you can control your frequency: the more fun you’ll have. This is not all conscious, or static: start slow and small, within your comfort level and keep experimenting, challenging and adapting.
Another key thing to remember here, and perhaps something for our continued place on this planet. We are not creatures of isolation, we thrive on social interaction and relationships. It’s how we evolved, we’re hard-wired for it. Here we find meaning, inspiration, build knowledge, change for the better…
So far we’ve taken 30,000 generations to adapt to controlling fire, departing from nature and giving us a light in the darkness. 600 generations have adapted to the agricultural revolution, perhaps also the start of a classed society. Just 3 generations have grappled with the digital revolution, the beginning of a global brain. The total amount of written word involved in recording our entire world history, art, literature and science up to 2012 is now replicated in volume every 48 hours!
Although new technology could be argued for as a way to bring us closer together, we see that face to face conversation happens less and less. Texts, e-mails and social media give us potentially overwhelming amounts of information, but not genuine human interaction. Heart attacks and stroke are on the rise for the first time in 50 years in the developed world. One in eight of New Zealand’s adults are taking anti-depressants. Chronic stress, poor postures and poor breathing patterns are becoming the norm.
Switch that phone off more often. Find more ways to get together with others for exercise, play, learning, sharing, random acts of kindness, building your sense of community. It makes you better, it makes us better – we can change this!