You are what you think!
In this week’s blog I am going to discuss an area which plays a huge role in how we can improve our overall health and well being. As someone who has embraced somatics by learning Total Somatics online or in my classes, as a subscriber to my blogs or as a follower on social media; you know that I often highlight the very close link between our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health. Collectively this is referred to as our SOMA in the modality Somatics.
So today I am going to discuss an area of the brain which is involved constantly in how we perceive, register, respond or react to scenarios and situations. This area of the brain is called the Reticular Activating System.
So what is the Reticular Activating System(RAS)?
The RAS is a bundle of nerves which start at the top of the spinal column and extend upwards by approximately 5cm. The diameter of the RAS is slightly larger than the average pencil. All of your senses, except the sense of smell are wired directly into the RAS.
The RAS has several functions but the main one we are going to look at today is how it creates a filtering system to your mind. We can liken the RAS to a secretary, filtering the phone calls and emails to the CEO of a company. She will filter and relay the necessary information to the CEO so he can make a decision. The RAS works in the same manner. It makes sure your brain doesn’t have to deal with more information than it can handle. It plays a big role in the sensory information we perceive daily. But why? Every second 100 pieces of data flood our conscious mind and a staggering 40 million pieces of data enter our subconscious mind. Your senses are constantly feeding so much information to your brain that you cannot possibly pay attention to all of it. So just like the secretary, the RAS filters all this data and provides the relevant information to be bought to one’s attention. Stop for a moment and for ten seconds heighten your awareness to the sounds and sensations around you…There are so many! Take for example your skin. There is just over 2m square of our skin which contains millions of nerve cells which detect temperature, pain, location and pressure. Then we have the amazing structure of our eyes. They capture 300 megapixels of information every second! Your brain never switches off, its processing all of the time!
There are always certain pieces of information which get through to the RAS. For example you may be in a large crowd with lots of conversations around you but you hear your name mentioned and your RAS will hone in on that conversation, even though someone is talking to you in a separate conversation! Your RAS is also always aware of anything which could threaten your safety. Your brain has been wired to bring certain things to the top of your consciousness because it is considered important for survival and protection.
Nowadays we don’t have to worry about a bear jumping out at us, like we would have endured during the cave man era with the ‘fight or flight’ response. But the RAS can be seen in different facets of life. Whatever we focus our attention and interests on, we start to see these events and situations before our very eyes. We have set the RAS to filter and deliver events, conversations and situations to what we WANT to see. A well known example of how the RAS works is when we are looking to purchase a new car. We may read up on a certain car and test drive it. Once we focus our RAS on that car, we start seeing them everywhere! They have always been there, but because our filtering system is now looking for them, we see them everywhere! So this can be useful when buying a car, but in other situations, not so good.
In my clinical practice I see how the RAS can be debilitating to people’s growth and development. Long held beliefs systems which they have adopted from other people’s comments, diagnoses and actions have stopped them believing that they can change their mindset and approach to health, wellness and improving their quality of life. They have developed dis-empowering beliefs.
But why would the RAS cause such debilitating results? Your subconscious operates 95% of the time and from the content you provide to your subconscious, the RAS takes its instructions about what to filter and make relevant to your conscious mind. The RAS is like a radar and will hone in what you have trained your subconscious mind to focus on. To highlight this, I have seen clients in clinical practice who inform me that they cannot move their right shoulder because of X, Y and Z. They inform me that since their health professional told them to expect X, Y and Z to happen, they should expect never get full function of that right shoulder again. Only very recently one health professional told a client that its highly likely that she will have a frozen shoulder for at least 18 months. She advised her to start making plans for a full time carer. How dis-empowering are those words to her mind and body (soma)? Thankfully with somatics, she has regained movement in her shoulder and a reduction of pain. In some situations though, my clients can almost remember the entire conversation with their health professional as if it were yesterday, and yet it could have been years ago. They are re-living stress or trauma to their mind and body (soma) which has caused them to feel overwhelmed and having no control over their health and well being. In some instances, they never did get what their health professional had ‘prophesied’ about that specific body region. Yet their subconscious mind had locked onto someone else’s opinion and for years they have allowed their RAS to filter out opportunities and situations to help improve their mobility and reduce pain.
Often I find that people inform me that they have tried everything and Somatics is their last hope. But this is good because with Somatic education, the practitioner and client work together. The client starts to shift their mindset by actually changing the filtering system of the RAS once they are encouraged to mindfully move certain limbs which have been immobilised partially due to fear for many years. Somatics is all about mindful movement. The smaller and slower we make movements, we start sensing movement and how our body actually feels, rather than being told by others how it SHOULD feel. After all Somatics is purely based around syncing our mind and body or SOMA to start working in harmony together. Somatics is based on neuroscience. These are skills which anybody can learn and continue to practice. Somatics is known as ‘cortical learning.’ We are changing and improving the way the mind and body or SOMA move, sense and feel. WE are reducing pain by switching off chronically tight muscles, allowing people to move freely again. ‘Cortical learning’ also means WE are increasing the amount of space in our brain map (see my previous blogs at www.TotalSomatics.com in which I discuss your brain map) so we can coordinate, sense, feel and change old habitual behaviours - physically, emotionally and psychologically.
As you develop Mindfulness with Total Somatics, you’ll notice how your skill set will empower you. You will notice that you can start moving areas of your body which has been psychologically ‘braced’ for years. I often use the analogy of an onion and its layers to highlight how we grow in our understanding of our emotional, mental and physical health. Each time we practice somatics, we notice changes and peel away another ‘layer.’ We start to read more sensory feedback and movement from our mind and body (soma). When we adopt a somatic lifestyle which is taught in the MIndfulness with Total Somatics online program, we start to see life more objectively because we have started to develop a mindful approach to areas of life and changed our self belief. We begin to RESPOND rather than REACT.
Mindset and self belief influence your RAS
When we change our self belief to a healthier mindset rather than feeling we are not worthy or ‘nobody likes me’ or ‘they have it in for me’, we see situations differently. We realise a person may not be reacting the way we have PERCEIVED it. Rather it is how we perceive ourself. When you change your mindset and look with ‘soft eyes’ at events, rather than focusing on one small point which we have blown out of proportion, we start to see opportunities, friendships and solutions to situations. I often suggest to clients that they liken this to a camera. When we take a photo of a beautiful scenery, we want to capture as much as possible from the shot. So we photograph a fabulous panoramic view. But with the same camera and scenery, we could zoom in on a piece of litter that we noticed. The focus and attention from the serene image evokes upbuilding conversation about how beautiful nature is and how good is it to be alive. Then with the same camera and photographer, the photo which highlights the zoomed up image of the litter can evoke a completely different conversation. It can be negative, talking about how animals can die, an assumption that the younger generation has caused this and the negativity goes on.
Yet it is the same camera and photographer, but its what that person DECIDED to put their FOCUS on. It’s the same with us. Like the camera, we have an amazing mind. Like the photographer, we are in control of the lens on what to focus our attention and self beliefs on. Only we ourself can change that focus and how we view our self and worth. Once we realise we have the power and conviction within ourself to change our mindset and beliefs about who we are and our value, we start living a life full of opportunities which in turn improves our quality of life.
It takes small yet consistent steps to change our mindset, but thanks to the discovery of neuroplasticity, we know we are not ‘hard wired,’ our brain has the capacity to change for the benefit of our health and well being.
Take that first step today by joining the Mindfulness with Total Somatics online program. By taking back control of your health and well being, you too can live a more somatic, holistic, balanced life.
Take care and see you on the Total Somatics online program www.TotalSomatics.com
Heidi Hadley xx