There are 3 portions of the brain. Each part of the brain has balanced and imbalanced functions.
The first to develop was the reptilian brain, when in balance, it allowed for sleep or relaxation and helped to freeze a creature/ being when they heard a noise to track where the threat was and/or play dead, and/or not feel itself be torn apart. This second function is incredibly protective when needed, but this function can stick to a person as well, leaving them stuck, paralyzed or frozen in their lives: When they have to make choices or act fast, they cannot. Hearing is still enabled in this part of the brain even when one is comatose.
The second part of the brain to develop is the limbic, or feeling, brain. Balanced, it is the fight/ flight function, allowing one to act in an emergency, as well as feel feelings. For example, when one is able to get someone in need to a doctor, lift a car off a child, or function under stress generally. In an imbalanced state, the function gets stuck, and one lives in a constant state of fight or flight, always triggered, looking for threats, often where there are none, and ready to run or fight. The sense of smell goes directly to this part of the brain.
The third part of the brain to develop is what’s called the neo (new)- cortex (brain). Balanced, it helps one to socialize, read facial & body expressions, understand language & speak, empathize, witness yourself, be present and remember. In overwhelm, this part of the brain simply shuts down. When one drinks or takes in other toxins, this part of the brain is overwhelmed. So when a person is very angry, or is drunk, this is why they (or we) often cannot remember exactly what was said, or we often misconstrue, because we are not able to feel or even recognize, what someone else is doing or saying.
And conversely, regularly practicing mindfulness of our physical sensations and feelings in a low stakes, low stress environment, on a yoga mat or doing the dishes, builds the function, and actually builds the muscle/ tissue of that part of the brain. Likewise, if we practice empathy and compassion, it builds our memory, builds our ability to speak what we mean, and accurately read people’s facial expressions and body language.
Each of these brain portions have corresponding nerves to our own facial muscles, which we built through mimicry of people we love and spent our formative years with, as well as organs. This is why when we are functioning in fight/ flight, our digestion shuts down, sending all the blood to our skin and other sense organs, to be able to fight our threat. Or why, when we freeze, we actually lose feeling in our entire body.
The endocrine system is what fuels this transformation, providing the proper adrenaline to run for long distances when chased by a predator. Or, in an imbalanced way, the master glands malfunction, sending too much adrenaline, cortisol and epinephrine constantly to work, because you just think you are constantly under threat.
There are more or less two experiences in this life: pleasant and unpleasant. When we are experiencing pleasant stimulus through our five senses, dopamine, seratonin and oxytocin are released. These are the main hormones of pleasure. When we experience pain, adrenaline and friends go to work to help us extract ourselves from the situation causing pain.
When the nervous system malfunctions, the wrong hormones get sent out, thus the wrong message. Malfunctions can be caused by a genetic predisposition, toxic buildup in tissues like inflammation, or enduring too much stress over a long period of time. But genes still require a situation outside the uterus to turn on.
Having a practice that massages the nervous system and muscles regularly
definitely helps the messages to be sent along clearer channels. And through strength building practices, we can literally build our window of tolerance, so not every poke feels like it cuts like a knife. In this way, we can reduce the causes of overwhelm, commonly what makes us reach out for something to make us feel better, and soothe the deeper regions of the brain that may otherwise send messages of ‘help needed.’ We become stronger and better able to set clear, kind boundaries well in advance of a threat, and negotiate relationships better, especially with increased empathy. And we have a better ability to show up for and attune to the people who matter most to us.