Have you ever given any thought to your body’s assorted aches and pains? From where did you develop that ache in your jaw or pain in your lower back? Yes, a history of high-risk sports definitely contributes. Yet, many of us never participated in extreme sports and we still struggle with physical stress and the resulting complaints. Could there be other reasons we experience body pain and stress? Sigmund Freud certainly thought so. He was the first to suggest our body was simply a container for our unresolved thoughts and memories. He even coined the term psychosomatic to reference a physical condition that originated in the mind. The mind, according to Freud, covered all areas of the brain’s conscious and unconscious processes.
Our brains are extremely complex, intricately designed, multi-dimensional structures. It is impossible to discuss a topic as large as our brain in a blog post. However, would you be interested in discussing current research on the importance of rethinking the body-brain connection and how to effect positive change in our lives? As a Neural Change Coach, I can assure you it will be a fascinating journey down the rabbit hole of behavioural and neuroscience.
Let’s begin with a bit of a history lesson regarding our evolutionary development. Before there was a brain, there was a spinal column. It’s sole purpose was to create motion and to monitor sensations from the external environment. Primeval beings with no access to a brain, understood whether their environment was wet or dry. They knew whether there was a fire burning or a storm raging. Yet, they didn’t have the capacity to problem solve how best to avoid these disastrous events.
As the earliest creatures evolved, they developed an extension to their spinal column called the brain stem. This primal brain helped them to sense and detect those items crucial to survival like food, water, shelter, potential mates and predators. When faced with adversity, these creatures could learn to problem solve a way out.
The next physical evolution was the limbic brain. This mid-brain feature gave early creatures the ability to understand body language, vocalizations and facial expression. It also helped humans to organize these items into meaningful, emotional communication. Man was already becoming a social being and understood there were opportunities for success and safety in a community. Think of a caveman as he prepares for a hunt. His success rates go up if he travels in a group. So, he grabs his spear and gestures to his tribe that there is food over the hill.
Our modern brain, the cerebral cortex, shows an increase in neural connections in all species that live in social groups. Researchers suspect that one reason this new, modern brain may have developed was to help us navigate the complex situations one encounters when living in group settings. One of the most prominent evolutionary advancements is the need to be valued by others. This search for individual recognition is in evidence across cultures and across the globe.
Together our brain’s progressive components work to keep us safe, encourage connection and seek recognition from our families and colleagues. If this is where it ended we might presume that our brain was responsible for all of our well-being, physically and emotionally. And we would be wrong! It is actually our memories that mold our physical and emotional structures.
A child’s brain goes through growth stages much like the evolutionary brain described above. This is why an infant can sense Mom’s touch or hear her voice but they can’t yet move toward her. As the child’s brain develops, she learns to reach out for Mom or crawl towards her. The child also develops attunement to language and can replicate sounds long before she is able to form them into words.
Even though the child’s brain is not fully developed, she is unconsciously learning and experiencing the world through motion and sensation. These early experiences develop into muscle memory. A child whose parent is gentle and nurturing may feel safe to explore and be curious about its environment. While a child whose parent is perpetually angry may learn to be still or stay quiet. In this last instance the child’s primal brain is keeping her safe, while her limbic brain is storing away body language cues and tone of voice. This may explain, years after being taken from this toxic environment, why a teen or young adult reacts adversely to unexpected movement and loud voices.
Although the original events happened long before the child’s brain has developed actual hard-wired, conscious memory (via the hippocampus around age 4) the body stills retains the unconscious sensations that initiated that strong emotional response. When strong emotions flood the brain, typically happiness and joy or anger and fear, our body’s neurotransmitters fire to support rapid learning, even in infancy. This is where we discover that the body works to develop physical memories to keep us safe before the brain has developed that capacity.
It is true that our early environment often lays down the foundation of our first experiences into muscle memory. These unconscious biological-behavioural strategies provide so much safety when we are young. However, they often don’t serve us as well after we grow and develop more conscious and situation-specific strategies to address our problems. Exploring our bodies past, specifically the memories it retains and the game plan it developed, can alleviate physiological stress and body strain.
If you’d would like to learn how to recreate an efficient body-brain connection, to eliminate old outdated patterns of muscle or body memory stay tuned for our next post, ‘What is NLP.’ Or call to book a 30 minute phone call with Simone Usselman-Tod, Stress Management and Mindset Breakthrough Coach, Certified Neural Change, NLP Master Practitioner and Coach. simoneusselmantod.com/book/