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STREAM and THE PRIMACY of the ANS

Updated: Sep 22, 2023



Bodywork is not a traditional form of transpersonal psychology, but there are many similarities between the ways these two modalities seek to reach their clients: through education. Education is the basis for effective therapy. Somatic education, which is a vital part of the kind of bodywork I practice, embraces the distinction between "teaching," where the teacher leads (by proclamation), and educating, where the goal is to draw forth what is within the person (and our clients), according to Frances Vaughn.


I find the difference between "teaching" and "educating" interesting. In many somatic disciplines, the client's inner and outer worlds become linked by focusing their attention on sensation. When two people have their attention placed on one person's felt experience, it amplifies that experience and makes it more meaningful.


The emphasis on the importance and immediacy of felt experience can lead to valuable insights for the client. Attention to bodily experience means paying attention to our sub-cortical intelligence. When incoming data from the body below the neck is available, we learn more about our immediate experience. Information from beneath the brain gets ignored in the purely cognitive and behavioral therapeutic processes that define traditional psychology.


Yet, The unconscious mind LIVES in our bodies' sub-cortical, autonomic intelligence. The primacy of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) must be acknowledged and respected when we want genuine change. Connecting the dots between the minutia of autonomic responses and their physiologic consequences is the point of the somatic education I offer my clients and teach to my students.


My point of view can be a challenging bridge to cross, as it involves changes in the belief systems of many clients and students. We like to think of the body as coming along for the ride provided by a self-centered brain that suffers some illusion of controlling the lowly body. Yet the brain may be late to the party, as our connective tissue matrix may communicate at speeds 200 times faster than neural impulses can travel.


Connective tissue experts postulate that the matrix and ECM (extracellular matrix) prepare the brain for incoming neural information to prime it for successful responses to environmental cues. Some construe this as intuition, and I agree with that term. Accurate intuition is knowing in your bones (or guts) that something is about to happen and being right around 70% of the time.


What if that knowing was based on the speedy delivery of vital information that prepares our nervous systems for action? Action that happens before we even were consciously aware of the trigger? We can develop our ANS capacity and intuition by slowing down enough to examine how perception develops within minute time frames.


When we slow ourselves down and examine our physical assumptions about how our body works, we risk learning how we operate at the level of the embodied unconscious. That means listening to body cues that are ordinarily outside of awareness. Paying attention to minute particulars inside our skin may seem irrelevant. But when we ignore that information, disease can creep in unnoticed, and we feel chagrined that we missed the cues.


I teach people how to listen to their bodies in the deeper reaches of awareness. How to drop their suspicion of themselves and their unconscious, accepting what is at the risk of disappointment or embarrassment. When we make friends with our bodies, we free ourselves from the ignorance of what is always happening at the level of physiologic reality.


Who knows how to feel bile move from the liver to the gall bladder into the toilet bowl during a coffee enema? Who knows how to eat intuitively for their constitution, so they thrive emotionally and physically? Who knows how to turn over their gut flora from the opportunistic to the beneficent? STREAM Students learn all of these things and (of course) how to touch bodies, remediate scar tissue, and make a substantive difference in their health. They do it to walk with integrity into a meaningful dialog with clients who must also learn these skills to obtain their health goals.


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