We live in a world that trains us to feel disconnected, fearful, and disempowered. Religion, politics, and the educational system are systems of control through fear. Our beliefs become patterned, built around protection. Living in a chronic state of protection prevents us from broadening our sense of humanity.
The potential of individuals can only be realized in a context of safety. Can you imagine schools that offer environments that make our children feel safe? With teachers who have time to truly listen, to offer cues of safety such as vocal intonation, positive facial expression, and gentle touch? Can you imagine a place where kids truly want to go? To play, to create, to sing, to dance, to talk about what's really going on in their lives?
Unfortunately, many of our elementary schools have thrown out art, physical education, and recess in exchange for laptops, "academics," and for greater time spent in preparation for tests.
Apparently, the drive to dismantle the jungle gyms of America is in response to Common Core examinations, according to Arthur Caplan. Dr. Stephen Porges, author of The Polyvagal Theory, emphasizes the importance of time for play and stresses the fact that "we have to have a place to go that is safe." With a sense of safety we can express our innate human desire for uncertainty.
Uncertainty is something that all human beings, and animals, crave.
However, we can only truly crave uncertainty when there's safety in the background. For example, a dog likes to play; he likes uncertainty, but he can only really play when he's reassured that you won't be aggressive. Similarly, babies love to play games like "peek-a-boo." This game proves to be fun, however, only when there's a clear sense of trust and when the child knows it's playful, that it's safe to "play."
Dr. Porges recommends inserting neural exercises such as playing wind instruments, singing, and lots of free play into the curriculum. By doing so, he says we can change our physiology, our health, and our sense of connection. Our children can grow and allow their creativity to enhance all of humanity with a background of safety. Essentially, Dr. Porges is telling us to shut our textbooks, to be cautious of our language as words can distort meaning and makes understanding difficult. We must, instead, learn how to listen to our nervous systems, listen to what our bodies are telling us. When the nervous system is safe, it promotes the ability to engage socially, supports positive affective experiences, relationship building, and opportunities for spirituality.
Porges calls this neuroception, the idea that our neural receptors are always picking up a sense of safety or risk, and this is not occurring on an aware level. We are constantly being informed by our nervous system, by our gut, by our physiology, whether we feel comfortable or whether we should prepare to fight or flee. But we are conditioned to overlook ourselves in school. We learn to distrust the self and instead are forced to rely upon outdated, irrelevant, dispassionate external sources to guide us.
Basically, when we are with people who make us feel safe, we feel good and feeling good shifts our physiological state - especially at the heart center.
Some examples of what makes us feel good:
Sound. It's no revelation that melodic music makes us feel good. Female vocals, Gregorian chants, Disney songs all have melody and thus affect our frequency. Sound frequency enters through the ear, is sent up to the cortex, and then travels back down to the middle ear -- to the muscles that regulate and change our facial muscles. When we hear melodic music, we feel love and a sense of trust and when we hear dissonant or cacophonous music, we may want to march and fight.
Breath. Long out breaths help calm the nervous system. Playing a wind instrument, like the clarinet, allows inhalation, followed by an exaggerated exhalation, while listening or paying attention to tone. Similarly, Yoga, particularly pranayama yoga, focuses on the breath and exercises the facial muscles. It is at the middle ear where we integrate the striated muscles of the face with the heart. The middle ear houses nerves that are shared with our face. A flat face indicates a middle ear with weak muscle tone.
Facial expression, which expresses a heart connection through the vagus nerve, is a principal part of our social, interpersonal behavior. It's so vested into the features of who we are as human beings that when we use our facial expressivity and we use intonation to engage people using our voices and people turn away from us, we get a visceral response. That visceral response prepares us to fight or to flee.
Compassionate listening is good for our health. When we are kind or compassionate, we activate our vagus nerve. Activating our vagus nerve often can improve the tone of this nerve. High vagal tone is correlated with a healthy heart and increased resilience to stress. It is also correlated with better emotional regulation. Somatic Experiencing such as TRE (Tension & Trauma Release exercises) stimulate the vagus nerve. Scientists believe it can help with depression.
The Listening Project. Stephen Porges has gone as far as to set up “The Listening Project” encouraging peoples’ ability to listen and attend to human speech. It is also designed to promote social engagement behavior in children with problems in social interaction and communication and to help to strengthen the important middle ear muscles, as the middle ear is linked into the sympathetic fight and flight response.
When we are in Fight and flight mode, in other words when our sympathetic nervous system is in a high state of arousal, our ability to be friendly, sociable and to evaluate others is compromised. As the Polyvagal theory emphasises, it is social engagement itself that tends to “down regulate” (calm) the sympathetic nervous system, and the fight and flight response.
“Safety is a powerful metaphor… And it is a metaphor that carries with it a physiological state. So if we feel safe, we have access to the neural regulation of the facial muscles, we have access to a myelinated vagal circuit that is capable of down regulating more traditional fight/flight and stress responses, and we have an opportunity to play … An inability to play is a frequent characteristic of many individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis. And what I mean by play, is not playing with a Game Boy or computer. Instead it requires social interaction. Play requires an ability to mobilize with the sympathetic nervous system and then to down-regulate the sympathetic excitation with face-to-face social interaction and the social engagement system” Stephen Porges.
Passionate about self-healing and empowering others to take healing into their own hands.