Modern neuroscience shows that “mind” and “body” are not two separate things, confirming the value of Bodymind, or Somatic, educational and therapeutic practices. Many current lines of research confirm this, giving solid scientific backing to traditional Asian practices as well as Somatic educational and therapeutic systems.
Our papers, our scientific research
In our paper Meditative Movement for depression and anxiety (Payne and Crane-Godreau 2013), we demonstrated that it is possible to approach the authentic teachings of Asian bodymind practices (Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga…) through the lens of neuroscience, without distorting the meaning of those systems.
In Movement-based embodied contemplative practices: definitions and paradigms (Schmalzl, Crane-Godreau et al. 2014), we continue to build bridges between modern neuroscience and the bodymind disciplines. Movement-based embodied contemplative practices are based on the recognition that bodily feelings and movements are just as much a part of who we are as thoughts and emotions.
In 2014, we began a series of research studies developing and validating a novel practice based on Qigong and our own theories. This research was conducted as a nationally registered clinical trial. Results from Phase I, where we taught our subjects in-person, demonstrated statistically significant changes in endurance, reduced blood pressure, and in CRP, an important marker of inflammation <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00067/full> (Fiering et al. 2017) The protocol for the Phase I Study is found here <https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00038/full> (Payne, Zava et al. 2016)
In Phase II, this became a randomized placebo controlled trial; we demonstrated similar statistically significant improvements in a number of health measures over a 4-month training period. Importantly, this study was conducted using only remote video training. (Payne P, Fiering S, Zava DT, Gould TJ, Brown A, Hage P, Gaudet C and Crane-Godreau MA.) This manuscript is in the peer review process. A link will be posted as soon as it is published).
In Somatic Experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy (Payne, Levine et al. 2015), we present a composite case study demonstrating the principles of Somatic Experiencing ® trauma therapy, and suggesting ways these techniques can be understood in terms of neurobiological processes.
In The preparatory set: a novel approach to understanding stress, trauma, and the bodymind therapies (Payne and Crane-Godreau 2015), we proposed a specific framework which integrates recent theories in neuroscience with the many educational, therapeutic, and spiritual bodymind systems. The two main concepts in this framework are the Preparatory Set and the Natural State.
The Prep Set is the instinctive preparation of the whole person to deal with a particular situation, such as escaping a threat, fighting a rival, searching for food, nurturing a child, and so on. Stress and trauma involve becoming “stuck” in a Prep Set. The Bodymind Training we offer shows how to get unstuck and return to the Natural State, where we function freely and effortlessly.
In Digital Delivery of Meditative Movement Training Improved Health of Cigarette-Smoke-Exposed Subjects (Payne, Crane-Godreau et al. 2018), we demonstrated that our novel form of meditative movement delivered through digital video training can lead to significant health improvements in mature adults. Health measures that showed significant improvements were the 6-min walk test, the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA) score, and the COPD Assessment Test.
The Prep Set framework is based in part on the work of Jaak Panksepp in evolutionary and affective neurobiology (Panksepp, Lewis et al. 2000). He identified 7 primary instinctive circuits in the midbrain and emotional limbic system (Panksepp 2011). These are present in all mammals, and they coordinate motor patterns, autonomic arousal, emotion, orientation of attention, and expectations. We can identify these core patterns as RAGE, SEEKING, LUST, PLAY, NURTURE, GRIEF, FEAR, and DISGUST.
In humans these core subcortical circuits form a central part of a series of resonant feedback loops including the autonomic nervous system, basal ganglia, thalamus, cerebellum, and the whole cortex (especially anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal). The whole-brain complex dynamic activity of these circuits correlates with our overall attitude and state of being—what we call a Prep Set. The functioning of these resonant circuits can be disrupted by chronic or traumatic stress (Lanius, Paulsen et al. 2014), and the practices we teach are ways of bringing the whole nervous system back towards a flexible, balanced state—what we call the Natural State.
In order to rebalance these resonant circuits (Ferrell 2013) and increase the coherence of the whole brain (Tononi 2008, Hepp 2012, Kringelbach and Berridge 2017) we use:
- Interoception, the internal, visceral, feeling of the body. This has been shown to be crucial in emotional intelligence and empathy (Craig 2002, Damasio 2003, Critchley and Nagai 2012, Harshaw 2015).
- Kinesthesis, the sense of bodily movement. This is basic to one’s sense of agency and self-competence (Sheets-Johnstone 2010, Haselager, Broens et al. 2011).
- Proprioception, the sense of where you are in space and in relation to gravity and ground support. This is essential to a secure and balanced sense of self (Butterworth 1990, Rochat and Striano 2000, Uchiyama, Anderson et al. 2008).
- Touch: this allows us to feel our boundaries and helps in establishing good relationships (Blackwell 2000, Feldman, Rosenthal et al. 2014).
- Imaging: the ability to make kinesthetic, interoceptive and visual images empowers us to control our own nervous system (Jeannerod 1994, Velikova, Sjaaheim et al. 2017).
- Intention: taking conscious control of our intentions is one of the keys to self-regulation (Desmurget and Sirigu 2009, Thinnes-elkar 2012).
The neuro-phenomenological work pioneered by Varela and Thompson (Varela 1996) provides further support for this framework. Their many-faceted work attempts to bridge the “mind/body” gap, thus opening the way for a true science of consciousness. Their work emphasizes that mind is intrinsically embodied (Varela, Thompson et al. 1991) and not an abstract “mental” realm. Further, the theory of enaction says that cognition, or knowing, is not separate in mind or brain from action (doing) (Thompson 2005)).
Relating well to others is also intrinsically dependent on bodily sensations. It is believed that the whole nervous system functions like a net of “mirror neurons” (Jordan 2003); we understand what we see by inwardly imitating it (Kinsbourne and Jordan 2009). The less we are in touch with our own inner sensations, the less we can empathize and relate with others.
These and other recent developments in neuroscience and philosophy strongly support the idea that posture, movement, visceral state, and the “felt sense”, are of as much—or even more—importance to our state of being as our thoughts and emotions.
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