Anxiety, Depression & the Nervous System
Yoga lead me to sobriety, Sobriety lead me to a desire for understanding, expansion and the capacity to share what I know.
The lineage of yoga that I study focuses on energy. Everything is energy. “Yoga at it’s best is a practice of energy management.” Mary Bruce There is a whole science of the subtle body (energy, the breath, chakras, koshas, how to work with what you have, and increase your storehouse.) I am only saying this because the way our energy moves or does not move in our body is directly related to the nervous system, the state of our nervous system is directly related to our life experiences.
I am fascinated by a human’s potential to change their experience of life through the process of energy management, this could also be described as regulating the nervous system.
A healthy nervous system is able to move between sympathetic (fight, flight or freeze) and the para-sympathetic (rest and restore) with ease. This is called regulation.
The best analogy is imagining an animal in nature. If a deer is grazing in a field and senses danger, it’s head picks up, ears twitch, pupils dilate as it searches its environment for the danger. If the animal does not sense danger it goes back to eating grass. Regulation.
If that same animal senses danger, it runs (Flight) or defends itself (fight) or plays dead (freeze). If that animal gets away, wins the fight, or fools its prey it wakes up and continues on with life as if nothing has happened. Regulation
For humans it’s a little different.
“Humans also have the largest frontal lobes of any animal, Holland said. The frontal lobes are associated with higher-level functions such as self-control, planning, logic and abstract thought — basically, "the things that make us particularly human," “LiveScience.com This creates a more complex, sometimes more confused internal conversation in the brain.
A perfect example is meditation. When you meditate and really sink in, the para sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. Digestion occurs, heart rate slows, cortisol production is reduced and the breath slows. The breath slows so much that at times it is as if you are breathing very little, and you are, just enough to stay alive in the space of meditation. But if you stay in this state long enough the mammalian brain (frontal lobe), our thinking, rational part of the brain starts thinking this may not be good. This is communicated to the reptilian part of our brain (survival) which gets involved and begins to feel threatened. The message is “There isn’t enough oxygen, paralysis, death”, so the sympathetic nervous system kicks on and “wakes” you up. It’s a like a jump start or quick shock to the body saying "Stay alive, breath!!" This is when the meditator comes back to the breath to slip back into the state of stillness and remembering, the para sympathetic nervous system kicks on again, body functions (breath) slow. The message of danger is re-iterated when the breath slows. This cycle can repeat 100 times in 20 minutes.
There is no real danger, but because we our frontal lobe is so highly developed the conversation with our reptilian brain can get a little confused. We are not always certain what a real threat is.
When trauma is added to the conversation sustained de-regulation occurs. In my opinion it starts the moment the trauma occurs. The message that you are not safe and that danger is imminent begins to weave itself into every part of our being. Disrupting our personalities, relationships, and how to be in the world. I believe that addiction and mental health challenges stem in part from unresolved trauma in the body and mind.
Hyper vigilance is the state of sustained arousal and activation of fight, flight and freeze. As people who experience trauma, we may never have learned coping skills. I developed my own with drugs and alcohol and it was good temporarily. But underneath my yoga teacher zen mama persona was a low simmer of rage and fear (hyper-vigilance), 24-7, even with drugs AND alcohol AND yoga AND meditation. Rage=fight fear=flight/freeze This manifested in my life as anxiety, depression, and mania. Every choice I made was in an effort to not feel what I always felt. Finally the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain it took to change.
If a person can never remember feeling safe there’s nothing to regulate to. There’s literally no other way of thinking until we train our nervous systems and teach ourselves that life is different now as an adult and that threat is no longer real. We know this logistically but the old patterns are stronger than this new thinking. These stories are old, they run deep, it can be painful. AND!!! When we work with the nervous system there’s no real need to get into all the details. (I believe in talk therapy and it’s been helpful to me, but I owe my “sanity” to AA, yoga, meditation and breathing practices) We teach our brains how to operate differently, by breathing differently.
When I got sober I really started studying the energetic dynamics of addiction and mental health challenges. I have learned a lot and am on a lifelong journey to expand my knowledge. It’s my calling to help people find the wisdom contained within their own bodies (breath=energy=energy regulation=nervous system regulation=internal peace and contentment) It’s all connected.
The beginning stage of healing the nervous system and creating a foundation of regulation is awareness. Simply observe your breath. This is the foundation of energy management.
Pay attention to your inhalation and exhalation, notice where one is longer or shorter, where the breath feels stuck or flows, where the greatest concentration of breath is in the body (navel, chest, throat).
Pay close attention to when you stop breathing and hold your breath. For me this usually indicates fear, vulnerability, feeling overwhelmed, or lack. This is a very indicative point of awareness.
When we create an awareness we can then take action and make an intentional choice to do something differently. We can move towards balance.
For the next few days get curious and interested about your breath. Begin to develop a relationship with how you breathe, honoring that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, we are simply gaining information to begin our own process of healing and steadiness.
Stay tuned for some breathing tutorials!!! It’s in the works! If you want to be a step a head of the game subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
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