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The Neuroscience of Being Human

Benefits of Our Work

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, the primary benefit you can expect to receive is the resolution of tension within your body. 

 

How much tension we can expect to resolve is not given, because it is dependent upon you.

 

Importantly, we (you and Jackson) will work together to help treat the tension within your body, not specific medical conditions. Any benefit you may experience to a specific medical condition will be the result of your body’s own brilliant and beautiful biological capacity to heal, once freed from any neurophysiological constraints (i.e. tension).

TENSION: A Neurophysiological Phenomenon

In a human body, tension is a disorder of stress within a body. It is a sign of maladaptation, a failure of the nervous system to adjust adequately or appropriately to its internal and/or external environment.

Tension indicates nerves are not healthy. Probably, there’s a disorder in action potentials (i.e. the change in electrical potential associated with the passage of an impulse along the membrane of a nerve cell.) This leads to nerves not receiving adequate blood supply, due to mechanical tension within regional vessels either feeding the nerves or draining the nerves (i.e. unhealthy nerves).

As tension accumulates, it triggers inflammation – an immune system response to the activation and sensitization of nociceptors (i.e. a sensory receptor for unpleasant stimuli), which detect pollution within the nerve and irritation in the surrounding tissue due to the accumulation of metabolic waste from overactive nerves.

This activates nociception (i.e. warning signals) within the walls of nerves and the walls of vessels inside it, sending ‘warning signals’ from the peripheral nervous system (i.e. body) to the central nervous system (i.e. spine and brain) and thus contributing to the brain’s perception of pain.

Nociception – the sensory nervous system's process of encoding unfamiliar, unpleasant stimuli. It deals with a series of events and processes required for an organism to receive an unfamiliar, unpleasant stimulus, convert it to a molecular signal, and recognize and characterize the signal to trigger an appropriate defensive response.

Tension occurs when neurophysiological strain remains long after fulfilling a protective function. This abnormal motor output from the brain causes basic movements like sitting, standing, and walking to be more effortful and uncomfortable than necessary, and can contribute toward feelings of pain, anxiety, fatigue, and lack of vitality.

INTEGRATION: A Neurobiological Enlightenment

In private sessions, you will learn how to ‘release’ tension, learning practical principles of neurobiology and developing your own resources for resilience. 

In effect, your integration therapist, Jackson Penfield-Cyr, approaches integration therapy from a biopsychosocial perspective. This means we (social) help your nervous system (psycho) feel more safe within your body (bio) through manual (hands-on) and movement (hands-off) interventions.

We call this work “Integration Therapy” because our approach focuses on strategically uniting the sensitive, cognitive, and affective faculties of your mind (i.e. nervous system), which is responsible for governing your body, and therefore, responsible for any tension you feel.

The integration of your mind reduces tension – and with it, the potential for or feelings of pain – and will thus improves your physical flexibility, mental adaptability, emotional resiliency, and overall sense of integrity, so you can be the best that you’re capable of being.

When integration happens, you experience a taste of enlightenment.

Primary Beneficiaries

Integration therapy will provide the most benefit to clients who experience pain with movement, usually coupled with secondary hyperalgesia (i.e. pain of any duration, no recent tissue disruption, usually confined to a neuroanatomically plausible region, and associated with moving too much or not enough).

Hyperalgesia

Hyperalgesia (‘hyper’ means “over”), ‘-algesia’ means “pain”) is an abnormally increased sensitivity to pain, which may be caused by damage to nociceptors or peripheral nerves and can cause hypersensitivity to stimulus.

Hyperalgesia can be experienced in two focal forms or as a more diffuse form.

The focal form is typically associated with injury, and is divided into two subtypes:

  • Primary hyperalgesia describes pain sensitivity that occurs directly in the damaged tissues.

  • Secondary hyperalgesia describes pain sensitivity that occurs in surrounding undamaged tissues.

 

The diffuse (i.e. body-wide) form is associated with systemic inflammation.

  • Studies have established that it is possible to experience a learned (i.e. conditioned) hyperalgesia of the diffuse form.

How Bodywork Works

“Pain is a nervous system phenomenon – it’s in your brain, not your tissues.”

Yes – all pain is produced by the brain.

No, this doesn't mean that your pain is not real – much to the contrary – all pain is real. In fact, anyone who tells you otherwise does not understand biology.

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, we know basic pain education is the first step in healing.

How You Resolve Tension

The primary mechanism in any therapeutic intervention is descending modulation.

Descending modulation (top-to-bottom change) represents the process wherein your sensitive brain (i.e. nociceptive (i.e. danger-sensing) regions in your brainstem) is modulated by descending inputs from cognitive and affective brain regions that are assessing the overall safety of your body.

Nociception – the sensory nervous system's process of encoding unfamiliar, unpleasant stimuli. It deals with a series of events and processes required for an organism to receive an unfamiliar, unpleasant stimulus, convert it to a molecular signal, and recognize and characterize the signal to trigger an appropriate defensive response.

This modulation can turn the volume up or down on the ascending nociceptive signals. Turning it up is called descending facilitation and turning it down is called descending inhibition. The disruption of descending inhibition contributes to conditions of hyperalgesia (i.e. increased perception of pain).

Importantly, when you feel safe, your brain will exploit any chance it gets to modulate your nervous system toward a state of health (i.e. less tension, more relaxation).

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, Jackson will work with you to meet your personal needs in a way to promote your own processes of descending modulation, giving your nervous system the resources to feel safe and heal yourself.

Primary Interventions

There are several principal interventions we use to facilitate descending modulation:

  • Touch

  • Breathing

  • Movement

  • Education

These interventions represent non-invasive methods to promote your sense of self-efficacy in your health care, because each relies on your brain’s ability to choose how to best change yourself.

Touch

Treatment plans primarily involve you receiving therapeutic touch to influence your brain’s descending modulation. The only physical target is nerve and nerve physiology, not tissues.

Touch enhances descending inhibition is several significant ways:

  1. Blood Perfusion: When applying principles of neurodynamics to therapeutic touch, you can promote targeted blood perfusion within a neuroanatomically plausible region. Blood perfusion is the local fluid flow through the capillary network and extracellular spaces of living tissue, which is vital for normal tissue physiology and is responsible for the transport of oxygen, nutrients, and waste products. This relates to your nervous system because unhealthy nerves don’t receive adequate blood supply due to mechanical tension affecting regional vessels either feeding the nerves or draining the nerves. This causes activation of nociception (i.e. danger signals) within its own walls and the walls of vessels inside it, which may contribute to the brain’s perception of pain. In sum, when nerves are well-fed and well-drained via blood vessels, they do not contribute to pain experiences.

  2. Endogenous opioid release: Touch in a caring way creates a social grooming effect that will stimulate, via affective processing, the release of neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, serotonin, GABA, and endogenous opioids that are thousands of times stronger than morphine. Oxytocin, which is released from the hypothalamus in seemingly all pro-social contexts (e.g. hugging and holding hands), also plays an important inhibitory role.

These modulatory mechanisms also influence the spinal cord to affect ascending nociceptive signals and nociceptive muscle reflexes there.

When performed in a caring and strategic manner, touch is perhaps the most direct and efficient way for someone to influence positive health change within another human being.

Breathing

Treatment plans also primarily involve your engagement in breathing exercises, again (and always) to influence your brain’s descending modulation, but also, because your breathing directs every single process within your body.

 

Breathing enhances descending inhibition is one vital way: Exhalation inhibits your stress response.

 

During prolonged expiratory breathing, the function of your parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. your restoration system) is significantly activated and the function of your sympathetic nervous system (i.e. your stress system) is restricted.

Therefore, when you learn how to breath properly, you can exert influence over your autonomic nervous system – the network of nonconscious functions of your nervous system (i.e. heart rate, respiration, digestion, pupillary response, urination, sexual arousal, etc.).

This creates an opportunity for your mind (i.e. nervous system) and your body (i.e. all non-neural cells) to bathe in all those feel-good endogenous opioids (aforementioned in Touch) and invite all the trillions of your cells to heal.

Essentially, when performed in a gentle and deliberate manner, breathing is the most direct and efficient way for you to transform your health and well-being.

Movement

Treatment plans always incorporate movement as a means of sensorimotor rehabilitation and progress evaluation.

 

Movement makes the effects of recent descending inhibition more permanent within your nervous system because:

  1. It is through frequent and variable movement that nerves are well-fed and well-drained via blood vessels. Remember: Healthy nerves do not contribute to pain experiences.

  2. Movement cleanses unhealthy nerves that weren’t receiving adequate blood supply due to mechanical tension.

 

Throughout a session, you will be invited to notice the changes within your body through exploratory movement. This reinforces your brain’s sensorimotor perceptions of improved flexibility and mobility, giving you a sense of new options and possibilities for movement in daily life.

Additionally, it’s easy to look after your own nerves once you understand ways you may be unconsciously contributing to your pain problems.

Education

The foundation of all treatment plans is education – conscious and nonconscious – to empower your process of embodiment.

  • Nonconscious education – the spontaneous modulation within your nervous system via therapeutic touch, breathing, movement, environmental cues and contextual factors.

  • Conscious education – the intentional modulation of your nervous system via executive function, such as intentional learning and abstract reasoning.

As you know by now, we will work together using both approaches to educate your mind (i.e. nervous system) in order to support your personal health care goals.

There are three basic steps to your education process:

  1. Foremost, Jackson will teach you the fundamental principles of neurobiological health and well-being.

  2. Then, we will consider how these principles apply to you within the context of therapeutic bodywork.

  3. Finally, you will explore these principles on your own within the context of your daily life.

Above all, be curious and ask questions!

This work is a guided self-exploration – and through your practice of critical thinking and critical feeling, this work gives you an opportunity to learn and grow, to heal and discover, and to know yourself.

This is your opportunity to truly reconsider and recondition your relationship with your body, mind, and self.

How Bodywork Doesn't Work

Healthcare providers of non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical treatments can only influence the nervous system and can only touch skin. Period.

This seems obvious, but too many healthcare providers believe they can treat tissues beneath the skin without regard for the nervous system (or that they can treat meridian lines, without regard for the science of human anatomy), basing their treatments on logical fallacies and specialized techniques from various therapeutic traditions. This is problematic, for many reasons.

Perhaps most importantly, this is problematic because it’s disempowering. When people become reliant on a therapist to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ their issues, it represents a dependency that doesn’t serve anyone (except the finances of the healthcare provider). Instead, the focus ought to be on developing a person’s sense of personal integrity by teaching them principles of healthcare and practices of self-care.

For starters, here’s a simple therapeutic truth: Any lasting change that occurs within a person’s body is the result of their brain having decided to change its own output, not because a therapist has any special, expensively obtained manual technique or skill set, or magical power in their hands. Additionally, any therapeutic treatment represents an interaction between two nervous systems (i.e. client and therapist), not an operation by one (i.e. ‘healer’ – an operative term motivated by a person’s ego).

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, we feel a moral and ethical obligation to empower you in your health care. Jackson is a survivor of many ‘therapeutic’ modalities, and it is his personal mission to give you the information and experiences necessary for you to make the best decisions possible regarding your own health and well-being.

Bottom Line

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, we are all about giving life to your choices and your changes.
 

When you practice mindful embodiment, you empower yourself to know [who, what, when, where, how, why] you are, in order to realize all that you always and already are.

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” – Coach John Wooden

A Truth for Your Meditation

There are two meta­-principles of the universe:

  1. Change is the only constant.

  2. Choice is all you every truly own.

At Upper Valley Integration Therapy, we invite you to consider the power of change and choice.

It is through the process of working with your relationship to these universal principles that you will learn that:

All Is Within. Seek And Find.

Seek Peace In Body. Find Peace Of Mind.

When you choose to change yourself, you change to choose yourself.

Our work is your invitation to do so – to create a more perfect you.

 

Perfect – (adjective) as good as it is possible to be; (verb) to bring to completion.

Change – (noun) the act of becoming different.

Choice – (noun) an act of selecting between two or more possibilities by a mind.

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