When it comes to healing we can do all the right things yet fail nonetheless. There is a simple reason why. What I’m about to share contains mildly graphic content but there is no other way to tell it otherwise the rest of the video will not make sense.
In this picture you see a scar, I’ll explain how it appeared on my arm. Throughout my childhood I don’t remember a day were my head didn’t hurt. I was often head heavy, constantly absorbed in thought and unable to sit still. I would take panadol most nights to ease the pain so I could sleep. When I was 19 years old, my Father took me to see his lifelong Mentor who was 92 years old at the time. He didn’t speak much but used his wooden walking stick to walk to his room and came back with two books in his hand and asked me to pick one. I may never know what the other book was because I simple picked one based on the cover. The one I picked was The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. I read it cover to cover 3 times in the space of a week and for the first time in my life, not only could I sit still, my headaches vanished never to return. This impact was so profound for me that I would not allow my mind to deviate from the present from that moment on.
It would be four years later, at 11am on October 11th 2008, I decided to put another theory to the test. I had already started studying neuroscience by this time and I came across the idea that the brain processes emotional pain in the same brain regions as physical pain, the insular and anterior cingulate cortex to be specific. Being young and foolish, I decided to put this theory to the test – the hard way.
I underwent a procedure known as scarification, like something straight outta Wakanda, where a piece of art that I designed myself was carved into my skin with a knife. I want to make clear that I’m in no way justifying self-harm. At the time this was shear willpower to face my fears and see how far I could stretch my mind before breakpoint.
In order to do this, I mentally prepared myself to cross the pain barrier. But there was a more immediate challenge that I would have to overcome, I used to faint at the sight of blood. I had trained my mind to not get interrupted by thought when I was doing brain surgery on sharks for my Masters degree. This is how I learnt not to be afraid of my own thoughts. So at this point, I could remain hyper focused for hours and neutralise emotional pain. I was ready. The procedure took two hours and I was bleeding the entire time. I did not use any pain killers or anaesthetics. In fact, I was able to detach from the pain as if it wasn’t my own. I’ve never had an out-of-body experience, but you can think of it like that.
I would later learn that this separation between mind and body is how people cope with trauma. They check out from their body and become numb to feeling. This is a complete separation between mind and body. The only difference was I had done this voluntarily.
Having voluntary control over my mind and being at peace did not make me happy. I had become a monk in a modern world. The nature of my experiences meant it was un-relatable, unbelievable and unattainable. But I wasn’t going to extreme lengths to be understood but rather to test what sounds great in theory but how well did these neuroscience principles hold up in practice?
I was studying neuroscience to find a softer entry point, something easier, something simpler. The goal was not a million practices but the one practice that just worked. The shortest path to stillness.
I was looking for something, specific, tangible and measurable. Neuroscience became an obsession against the un-relatable, unbelievable and unattainable. Maybe there was something that I could discover, a clue, a hidden door into the mind, yet the key to opening this door was hidden where I did not care to look.
The mind is a useful servant but dangerous master ~ Osho
So far I had looked at the mind over matter, but this is only half the story.
As my interested in neuroscience descended deeper into the brain from the unconscious to the subconscious, I began to realised that neuroscience has led us to believe that the brain has authority over the body.
Self-dominance, this mind-over matter was the source of separation between brain and body .
More importantly, the strength of connection between brain and body could be measured and is know as vagal tone. Finally, a clue. Something tangible, something that can be measured and what can be measured can be improved on. This was the beginning of my life’s work – the connection between brain and body.
There was however, a price to pay. I’ve been in the field of neuroscience for 20 years, yet the significance of classical neuroscience was beginning to erode before my eyes. Without harmony between brain and body, we can do all the right things yet fail nonetheless. Luckily, besides neuroscience, I also fell in love with the way the human body moves. I did for Capoeira for 8 years and became an instructor, did yoga for 3 years without missing a single day, by the time I started my PhD, I was training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week under the Ido Portal Method. Towards the end of my PhD, I began to combine some of the movement techniques to improve vagal tone. I taught these techniques in workshops attended by hundreds of people and this is how I tested what worked and what didn’t. One thing became consistently clear:
In order reset the body to it’s natural state, you have to teach the body itself and the body does NOT learn verbally, it learns in the language of movement.
Using movement, I trained the vagal breathing technique to kick in by itself, before the fight or flight mode is triggered. These movements reset the nervous system to a parasympathetic baseline. This is the inverse of techniques that are trying to show you a way out, when you are already in the sympathetic fight or flight state. The movements train the nervous system to act instinctually rather than when you are already stuck in your head and instructing the body what to do. We do not need to be at war with out own mind. This was no longer about mind over matter but rather the ultimate act of self-dominance which was for the mind to let go all together. This is how we heal the connection between brain and body.
Working with the body instinctually lead to the genesis of the Train your Nervous System Course.
Your body has been with you through everything you have ever experienced and it will stay with you till the very end. When the mind steps out of the way and allows the heart to lead, we experience the sensation of inhabiting our own body for the first time. It is then that we realised that the separation between brain and body is an illusion.
I designed the scar on my arm as two spirals, one traveling inwards and the other outwards based on the fibonacci sequence. The meaning behind it is that:
Once the inward journey is complete, it’s time for the outward journey to begin. Because the greatest journey you will ever take is the one the begins with your heart.
This brain-body synergy is how we live wholeheartedly and it creates a domino effect where everything else starts to fall into place. You can learn more about the brain-body connection here.
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