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La méditation validée par les neurosciences.

Par Paul Molga, in Les Echos

Inspirées de la pratique des moines bouddhistes, les techniques méditatives agissent sur le fonctionnement et même sur la structure du cerveau, selon de nouvelles études.

Jusqu’à présent, le bénéfice de la méditation sur le vieillissement avait seulement été suggéré par certains travaux de la Nobel de médecine Elizabeth Blackburn. Une large étude américaine, conduite par l’université californienne de Davis sur 100 individus âgés de 24 à 77 ans, vient de fournir un nouvel argument à cette thèse. Révélée par l’imagerie par résonance magnétique (IRM), l’anatomie comparée du cerveau de la moitié d’entre eux pratiquant régulièrement cette discipline a clairement montré une moindre altération de la matière grise que dans l’autre groupe, étranger à la pratique. Selon les auteurs de l’étude, l’intensité de la méditation stimulerait les dendrites (le prolongement filamenteux des neurones servant à conduire l’influx nerveux) et les synapses (la connexion des neurones entre eux). Cette puissante sollicitation cérébrale agirait également sur le stress, délétère pour les cellules. L’équipe a montré que trois mois intensifs de méditation affectaient significativement l’activité des télomérases, enzymes essentielles à la protection contre le vieillissement cellulaire.

En dépit des apparences, yeux clos et position placide, la méditation n’a rien d’une détente. « C’est même tout le contraire qui se produit dans le cerveau », explique le docteur Jean-Gérard Bloch, qui a inauguré il y a trois ans un diplôme « médecine, méditation et neurosciences » à la faculté de médecine de Strasbourg. Il s’agit pour le sujet de se concentrer sur sa « météo intérieure » : les émotions, sensations et pensées qui circulent librement dans son esprit. L’exercice consiste à focaliser son attention sur un objet – sa respiration, une partie de son corps… – sans se laisser distraire par ses pensées ou des stimuli extérieurs. Comme c’est impossible, même pour les pratiquants les mieux entraînés, l’esprit est plus éveillé que jamais pour dompter ce vagabondage cérébral et ramener l’attention sur l’objet de la concentration.

Mieux gérer ses émotions

Pendant cette activité, le cerveau s’échauffe. Sous l’œil d’un IRM fonctionnel, une équipe de l’université Emory d’Atlanta a mis en évidence qu’il sollicitait successivement quatre réseaux neuronaux liés à l’attention : d’abord le cortex sensoriel et moteur, puis le cortex antérieur, puis les régions pariétales, pour finir par le cortex préfrontal, et ainsi de suite pendant toute la durée de la séance. La répétition de ce cycle n’est pas sans conséquences. « Nous avons montré que des exercices intensifs de méditation permettaient de soutenir l’attention et d’améliorer la vigilance cérébrale », explique Antoine Lutz, du Centre Inserm de neurosciences de Lyon, l’un des premiers à avoir mené des travaux d’imagerie sur le cerveau de moines bouddhistes comme Matthieu Ricard. Avec ses collègues de l’université du Wisconsin, il a mis en évidence que le cerveau des méditants expérimentés était capable de traiter des stimuli deux fois plus rapprochés (moins de 300 millisecondes) qu’un cerveau de novice, qui reste le plus souvent scotché à la première sollicitation.

En poussant plus loin leurs investigations, les chercheurs ont découvert que la méditation permettait également de mieux gérer ses émotions, une capacité qui manque aux dépressifs. A l’université de Toronto, des psychologues ont fait pratiquer pendant plusieurs mois des exercices de pleine conscience à des patients qui avaient connu au moins trois dépressions. « Le risque de rechute a été réduit de près de 40 % et certains praticiens considèrent aujourd’hui que ce traitement est au moins aussi efficace qu’une camisole chimique », rapporte Antoine Lutz.

Car les scientifiques savent désormais mieux ce qui se produit : dans un article publié en 2013 par « Frontiers in Human Neuroscience », Catherine Kerr, chercheuse à l’université de Providence, explique le rôle d’aiguilleur joué par le thalamus, une structure centrale du cerveau réceptrice des sensations corporelles, dans la distribution de ses informations au cortex : « Le thalamus transmet les sensations en adressant à la zone correspondante du cortex des impulsions électriques – les ondes alpha – dont la fréquence varie en fonction de l’intensité de la perception. Quand l’esprit se concentre sur une partie du corps, les ondes baissent sur la zone cible et la sensation augmente alors que, partout ailleurs, les ondes alpha augmentent et les sensations baissent. » On peut ainsi apprendre à atténuer la douleur ou à gérer des pensées morbides, comme c’est déjà le cas dans plus de 200 hôpitaux américains.

Compenser la fonte de la matière grise

La nouvelle étude des chercheurs américains sur les changements structurels induits par la méditation suit une série démarrée en 2005 avec les travaux de Sarah Lazar, du Massachusetts General Hospital de Boston. Elle avait alors remarqué que le tissu cérébral du cortex préfrontal gauche impliqué dans les processus émotionnels s’épaississait chez les pratiquants assidus, au point de compenser chez certains la fonte de la matière grise due au vieillissement. Plus récemment, ses travaux ont également montré chez ceux qui méditent un développement plus important de l’hippocampe (qui joue un rôle de premier plan dans la mémorisation, l’apprentissage, la vigilance et l’adaptation à son environnement), et au contraire un rétrécissement de l’amygdale (qui gère les émotions, en particulier nos réactions de peur et d’anxiété).

Certaines études suggèrent aussi que la méditation ne modifie pas seulement le cerveau, mais agit aussi sur la santé cardiovasculaire, la tension artérielle, l’immunité et même notre génome. Une étude d’Herbert Benson, de l’hôpital général du Massachusetts, a ainsi analysé le profil d’expression des gènes de 26 adultes avant et après une formation à la méditation. Son constat a créé la stupéfaction lors du dernier symposium de « sciences contemplatives » : en quelques semaines d’exercice, l’expression des gènes associés à la sécrétion d’insuline et aux mécanismes d’inflammation a significativement augmenté en même temps que la production de monoxyde d’azote, un gaz vasodilatateur bénéfique au rythme cardiaque.

HOW POSITIVE EMOTIONS REDUCE INFLAMMATION, by Adriana Ayales

Happiness isn’t the only emotion that can help you stay healthy as you age. Feeling excited, amused, proud, euphoric, strong, cheerful you feel on a regular basis matters, too. First-of-its-kind studies are being revealed over the years demonstrating that experiencing a broad spectrum of different positive emotions on a day-to-day basis actually signals lower systemic inflammation. Meaning, that allowing all kinds of euphoric, inspired, happy and relaxed feelings actually contribute to lowering inflammation. This study reveals that the simple acknowledgement of positivity “is related to lower biomarkers of systemic inflammation— which reduces the risk of chronic disease and premature death.” (R)

Previous research has identified many correlations between negative emotions and inflammation, but researchers believe this is the first study of many to come to identify that people who experience a diversity of 16 different positive emotions appear to have lower levels of systemic inflammation. This could be for many reasons, for example, a regular state of joy or happiness is known to produce dopamine, melatonin and serotonin, including its precursor tryptophan. These can all be called the « neurochemicals of happiness », as the secretion of these chemicals is what enables the neural pathway to experience happiness, positivity and well-being.

“Notably, researchers found that experiencing a limited diversity of positive emotions did not down regulate inflammation. Therefore, they coined the term “emodiversity” to emphasize the vitality of promoting various positive emotions on a daily basis. » (R)

16 different positive emotions. . . .You might be asking yourself, what are the 16 different positive emotions?!

There’s a lot more to just “happiness” and “joy”; there are many more positive emotions that can trigger the anti-inflammatory response. Some are: being active, alert, amused, at ease, attentive, calm, cheerful, determined, enthusiastic, excited, happy, inspired, interested, proud, relaxed, and strong.In a study to determine emotional diversity, researchers enlisted 175 participants to self-report their experience of the 16 different positive emotions at the end of each day. They also had the participants rate their experience of 16 negative emotions which included feeling afraid, ashamed, blue, distressed, drowsy, guilty, hostile, irritable, jittery, nervous, sad, scared, sleepy, sluggish, tired, and upset. The degree that someone had experienced any of the 32 positive or negative day-to-day emotions was rated on a scale of « not at all » to 1 (very slightly) up to 5 (extremely). Emodiversity was measured over a 30-day period and categorized by the number of times and degree to which each emotion was experienced. After the experiment was completed, blood samples were taken and tested for three biomarkers of inflammation: IL-6, CRP, and fibrinogen. Researchers concluded that greater diversity of day-to-day positive emotions was correlated with significantly lower systemic inflammation. As for the negative emotions, it was evident that stress and inflammation greatly increased.Anthony Ong, professor of Human Development and Gerontology at Cornell University says, « There is growing evidence that inflammatory responses may help explain how certain emotions get under the skin, so to speak, and contribute to disease susceptibility. Our findings suggest that having a rich, spontaneous, and diverse positive emotional life may benefit health by lower circulating levels of inflammation.” (R)A somewhat recent systematic analysis of over a decade’s worth of mind-body interventions (MBIs) found that practices such as yoga and meditation reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines (in other words, they become like anti-cancerous practices!) and down-regulate inflammation-related genes. This analysis was published several years ago in the journal, Frontiers in Immunology. The systematic review of 18 different MBI studies by researchers at Coventry University concluded that mind-body practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and tai-chi all appear to have the similar effect of reversing the molecular signature caused by chronic stress and the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.

Emotions as a Map to Yourself. . . .Think for a moment, which emotions or situations trigger you the most?

Emotions signal key location as to where inflammation lies within the body. Happiness and love sparks chemistry across the entire body, while depression has the opposite effect, it tends to dampen feelings in the body, generate rigidity, lock the legs and head, and essentially withholding circulation. Danger and fear, for example, triggers strong sensations in the chest area, while anger was one of the few emotions that activated particularly the arms.

KEY EMOTIONS + THEIR ASSOCIATED ORGAN 
*according to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Anger =  Liver
Envy = Liver + Gallbladder
Sadness = Heart + Stomach
Anxiety = Stomach + Kidneys
Jealousy = Thyroid + Heart

Tea Consent

Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios

How Trauma Lodges in the Body,


The following is the audio and transcript of an onbeing.org interview between Krista Tippett and Bessel van der Kolk.

KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: The psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk is an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society. We call this “trauma” when we encounter it in life and news, and we tend to leap to address it by talking. But Bessel van der Kolk knows how some experiences imprint themselves beyond where language can reach. He explores state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments, including body work like yoga and eye movement therapy.

He’s been a leading researcher of traumatic stress since it first became a diagnosis in the wake of the Vietnam War, and from there, was applied to other populations. A conversation with this psychiatrist is a surprisingly joyful thing. He shares what he and others are learning on this edge of humanity about the complexity of memory, our need for others, and how our brains take care of our bodies.

DR. BESSEL VAN DER KOLK: I think trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst. You see the horrendous things that people do to each other, but you also see resiliency, the power of love, the power of caring, the power of commitment, the power of commitment to oneself, the knowledge that there are things that are larger than our individual survival. And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life.

MS. TIPPETT: Bessel van der Kolk is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, and he helped found a community-based trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts. As medical director there, he works with people affected by trauma and adversity to re-establish a sense of safety and predictability in the world, and to reclaim their lives. Bessel van der Kolk was born in the Netherlands. His own father spent time as religious prisoner in a German concentration camp during World War II. I spoke with him in 2013.

MS. TIPPETT: I always start my conversations with this question, whoever I’m speaking with. I’m just wondering, was there a religious or spiritual background to your childhood?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah, multiplicity. My parents were fundamentalist Christians in some good and some not so good ways. As an adolescent, I spent a fair amount of time in a monastery in France called Taizé.

MS. TIPPETT: Oh, you did? Oh, interesting. So you went to Taizé just…

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Because I loved the music.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. This field you’re in of trauma, traumatic stress, nowadays, this language is everywhere, right? This language of “trauma” and “traumatic stress” has made its way into culture, movie, TV scripts, the news, public policy discussions. I’ve read a few different accounts of how you stumbled into this field. How do you trace the beginnings of your research into traumatic stress?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, it starts in a very pedestrian way. I mean, as characters from a generation that it was generally recommended that people have their own heads examined, which, I think, is sort of a good idea if you try to help other people. So psychoanalysis was the way to do that back then. And the only program that paid for that was the VA. So I went to work for the VA for the same reason that soldiers go to the VA, namely, to get their benefits package.

MS. TIPPETT: This was in the 1970s? Is that right?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: It was in the 1970s, yeah. And like many of my colleagues, I was just there to — as a step in my career. And then the very first person I saw was a Vietnam veteran who had terrible nightmares. I happened to have studied nightmares up to that point and some sleep studies, and I knew a little bit how to treat it, so I gave him some medicines to make the nightmares go away.

Two weeks later, he came back, and I said, “So how did the medicines work?” And he said, “I did not take your medicines because I realized I need to have my nightmares because I need to be a living memorial to my friends who died in Vietnam.” And that statement was the opening of my fascination about how people become living testimonials for things that no longer exist, but they need to hold it in their hearts and minds and bodies and brains. The loyalty to the dead, the loyalty to what was just blew me away.

And the veterans really touched me very deeply both for what they had done, how ashamed they were about what they had done, how they went in idealistically, how they came back broken, how they relied on their comrades. And they reminded me, I think, of the uncles and my father, who I grew up with in the Netherlands after the Second World War. So it resonated with me.

MS. TIPPETT: At that time, I believe there was no formal connection made between military service and problems after discharge, right? This diagnosis hadn’t happened?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, it comes and goes. I became quite interested in history of how Western culture has looked at trauma. And people were very aware of it in the 1880s, and after the Civil War, and during the First World War, and during the Second World War. And then, in between, it gets forgotten. And so, the way – the time that I got into the field, happened to be a time of ignorance again. It was come and go.

MS. TIPPETT: After the Vietnam War.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And my understanding from your writing that this diagnosis of PTSD, the term we use now, came about because of post-Vietnam War advocacy.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah, absolutely. And so later on, I became aware of all sorts of colleagues who had been working with abused kids and rape victims. And they had been trying to get a diagnosis in. And that group was too small to have any political clout. And it’s really the Vietnam veterans that brought this in and the power of the large numbers of psychiatrists and patients at the VA. That was strong enough to make it an issue and a diagnosis.

MS. TIPPETT: So I think that language you used a moment ago about that first veteran you spoke with, that he was a living testimonial to his memories and to something that had happened, which no longer was happening but utterly defined him, is a good way in to how you define trauma. So I’d like to spend a moment on that. I mean, start with me. How do you describe what this is, trauma, as you deal with it, as you study it, as you treat it?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, what I think happens is that people have terrible experiences and — we all do. And we are a very resilient species. So if we are around people who love us, trust us, take care of us, nurture us when we are down, most people do pretty well with even very horrendous events. But particularly traumas that occur at the hands of people who are supposed to take care of you, if you’re not allowed to feel what you feel, know what you know, your mind cannot integrate what goes on, and you can get stuck on the situation. So the social context in which it occurs is fantastically important.

MS. TIPPETT: Something that’s very interesting to me in how you talk about trauma, the experience of trauma, what it is, is how the nature of memory is distorted, that memories are never precise recollections, but that in general, as we move through the world, memories become integrated and transformed into stories that help us make sense. But in the case of traumatic memories, they’re not integrated, and they’re not even really remembered as much as they’re relived.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: That’s correct. There’s actually a very old observation, and it was made extensively in the 1890s already by various people, including Freud. That’s really what you see when you see traumatized people. Now, these days, the trauma is a popular subject. People say, “Tell me about your trauma.” But the nature of our trauma is that you actually have no recollection for it as a story in a way.

Many victims, over time, get to tell a story to explain why they are so messed up. But the nature of a traumatic experience is that the brain doesn’t allow a story to be created. And here, you have an interesting paradox that it’s normal to distort your memories. Like, I’m one out of five kids. When we have a family reunion, we all tell stories about our own childhood, and everybody always listens to everybody else’s stories — says, “Did you grow up in the same family as I did?”

MS. TIPPETT: Right. There are five versions of every story.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. There’s all these very, very different versions, and they barely ever overlap. So, people create their own realities in a way. What is so extraordinary about trauma, is that these images or sounds or physical sensations don’t change over time. So people who have been molested as kids continue to see the wallpaper of the room in which they were molested. Or when they examine all these priest-abuse victims, they keep seeing the silhouette of the priest standing in the door of the bathroom and stuff like that. So it’s these images, these sounds that don’t get changed. So it’s normal to change.

My old teacher, George Vaillant, did a study that you may have heard about. It’s called the Grant Study. And from 1939 to 1942, they followed the classes at Harvard every five years, and it’s going on to this day. Most of them went off to war in 1942, and almost all of them came back in 1945, and they were interviewed. And then they have interviews in 1989, 1990, 1991. It turns out that the people who did not develop PTSD, which was the vast majority, tell very different stories, let’s say, in 1990 than back in 1945. So now it was a glorious experience, it was a growth experience, and how good it was, how close they were to people, and how patriotic they felt. And it’s all sort of cleaned up.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. But it’s become a coherent narrative.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s very coherent, and it’s a nice story, and it’s good to listen to it, and relatives have all heard it a million times, but — because we make happy stories in our mind. People who got traumatized continue to have the same story in 1990 as they told back in 1945, so they cannot transform it. When we treat people, you see the narrative change, and people start introducing new elements.

I compare it very much to what happens when people dream. Maybe dreaming is very central here, actually, in that the natural way in which we deal with difficult stuff is we go to sleep and we dream, and next day we feel better. It’s very striking how we get upset and say, “I’m going to move to Florida, bummer day in Boston in the winter.” And the next morning, you wake up, and you shovel out your car, and everything’s fine.

And so sleep is a very important way in which we restore ourselves. And that process of that restoration that occurs during REM sleep — dream sleep — is probably an important factor in why traumatic memories do not get integrated.

MS. TIPPETT: And also, that gets at the fact that it’s not just cognitive, right? It’s not just a story that you could tell. I mean, it may eventually become a story, but that it’s body memory. It’s a neural net of memory. It’s not just about words that you can formulate.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. It’s amazing to me what a hard time many people I know have with that. This is not about something you think or something you figure out. This is about your body, your organism, having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe. And it has nothing to do with cognition, with — you can say to people, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” or, “You’re not a bad person,” or, “It wasn’t your fault.” And people say, “I know that, but I feel that it is.”

It was very striking in our yoga study because we see yoga as one important thing that helps people who’ve been traumatized because they get back into their bodies. How hard it was for people to even during the most blissful part of the yoga practice called Shavasana, what a hard time traumatized people had at that moment to just feel relaxed and safe and feel totally enveloped with goodness, how the sense of goodness and safety disappears out of your body, basically.

MS. TIPPETT: I want to talk about yoga in a minute. That’s really — I mean, as you said, people were talking about this in the late 19th century. Freud talked about it and I guess his phrase was “hysteria.” But something that you seemed to have noticed early on is that traditional therapy was ignoring this sensate dimension of these experiences in trying to reduce it to talk therapy, which absolutely didn’t fit with the experience.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Right, right. There’s a few people here and there in the last 150 years who do it. The great Frenchman Pierre Janet did, Wilhelm Reich, of course, who then went crazy afterwards. Here and there, people noticed the somatic dimension of it, but by and large, I think psychology training really breeds the tensions of body out of people. It’s a medical training. It’s amazing. Psychiatrists just don’t pay much attention to sensate experience at all.

Antonio Damasio, in his books, The Feeling of What Happens, in books like this, really talks about a core experience of ourselves is a somatic experience, and that the function of the brain is to take care of the body. But it’s a minority voice. It’s a small voice.

MS. TIPPETT: But it seems to me that what we’re learning from brain imaging is bearing out these kinds of observations. I mean, what are we learning? Is any of this surprising to you?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: What we see is that the parts of the brain that help people to see clearly and to observe things clearly really get interfered with by trauma and the imprint of trauma is in areas to the brain that really have no access to cognition. So it’s in an area called the periaqueductal gray, which has something to do with the sort of total safety of the body. The amygdala, of course, which is the smoke detector, alarm bell system of the brain — that’s where the trauma lands, and trauma makes that part of the brain hypersensitive or renders it totally insensitive.

MS. TIPPETT: And the Broca’s area?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, in our study and some others, I mean, for me that was really the great finding early on, is that when people are into their trauma, Broca’s area shuts down. That is something that almost everybody has experienced. You get really upset with your partner or your kid, suddenly you take leave of your senses and you say horrible things to that person. And afterwards, you say, “Oh, I didn’t mean to say that.”

The reason why you said it is because Broca’s area, which is sort of the part of your brain that helps you to say reasonable things and to understand things and articulate them, shuts down. So when people really become very upset, that whole capacity to put things into words in an articulate way disappears. And for me, that is a very important finding because it helped me to realize that, if people need to overcome the trauma, we need to also find methods to bypass what they call the tyranny of language.

MS. TIPPETT: Don’t ask to be verbal, to verbalize it.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Or to be reasonable.

MS. TIPPETT: Right.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: The trauma is not about being reasonable or to be verbal or to be articulate.

MS. TIPPETT: So it seems like there are all these impulses that we have that we’re working with all the time that get so out of whack with trauma, and so, I mean, I’ve understood that it’s not just that we have memories and that we process them in different ways, but also that we are constantly rationalizing, that we have this impulse to rationalize. But then when people are traumatized, they are actually — they also have this impulse to rationalize and then become unable to grasp the irrelevance of that memory and that feeling to the present moment.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. So we have these two different parts of our brain, and they’re really quite separate. So we have our animal brain that makes you go to sleep, and makes us hungry, and makes us turned on to other human beings in a sexual way, stuff like that. And then we have our rational brain that makes you get along with other people in a civilized way. These two are not all that connected to each other. So the more upset you are, you shut down your rational part of your brain.

When you look at the political discourse, everybody can rationalize what they believe in and talk endlessly about why what they believe is the right thing to do while your emotional responses are totally at variance with seemingly rational behaviors. We can talk till we’re blue in the face, but if our primitive part of our brain perceives something in a particular way, it’s almost impossible to talk ourselves out of it, which, of course, makes sort of verbal psychotherapy also extremely difficult because that part of the brain is so very hard to access.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. We’re pretty fascinating creatures, aren’t we?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Fascinating, disturbing, glorious, all those things.

MS. TIPPETT: All those things all at once. So I do want to talk about yoga now, which is something very important to me as well, something I’ve discovered in the last five or six years. How did you get interested — how did you discover yoga and then make that part of this kind of work?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: We actually got into yoga in a very strange way. We learned that there is a way of measuring the integrity of your reptilian brain, i.e., how the very most primitive part of your brain deals with arousal. And you measure that with something called heart rate variability, and it tells you something about how your breath and your heart are in sync with each other.

It turns out that the calmer people are, and the more mindful people are, the higher their heart rate variability is. And then we were doing that on some traumatized people, and we noticed that they had lousy heart rate variability. Then I thought, so how can we change peoples’ heart rate variability?

MS. TIPPETT: And is this something you’d naturally be aware of or not? You wouldn’t know if it was in sync or out of sync?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: No, but you can measure it and it’s fairly easy to measure it. There are like apps for your iPhone on which you can measure them. But, of course, we do it in a more sophisticated way. So we found this very abnormal heart rate variability in traumatized people. And then we heard that there were 17,000 yoga sites that claimed that yoga changed heart rate variability.

A few days later, some yoga teachers walked by our clinic and said, “Hey, do you think you can use this for some project?” And I said, “We sure can. We’d love to see if yoga changes heart rate variability.” This whole yoga thing also fits very well with the increasing recognition that traumatized people cut off their relationship to their bodies.

And I have to give a little bit of background here. Way back already in 1872, Charles Darwin wrote a book about emotions in which he talks about how emotions are expressed in things like heartbreak and gut-wrenching experience. So you feel things in your body. And then it became obvious that, if people are in a constant state of heartbreak and gut-wrench, they do everything to shut down those feelings to their body.

One way of doing it is taking drugs and alcohol, and the other thing is that you can just shut down your emotional awareness of your body. And so a very large number of traumatized people who we see — I’d say the majority of the people we treat at the trauma center and in my practice — have very cut off relationships to their bodies. They may not feel what’s happening in their bodies. They may not register what goes on with them. And so what became very clear is that we needed to help people for them to feel safe feeling the sensations in their bodies, to start having a relationship with the life of their organism, as I like to call it.

And so a combination of events really led us into exploring yoga for them. And yoga turned out to be a very wonderful method for traumatized people to activate exactly the areas of cautiousness, areas of the brain, the areas of your mind that you need in order to regain ownership over yourself. I don’t think that yoga would be the only way to do it, or I think if you only do yoga, that you can totally take care of it.

But yoga, to my mind, is an important component of an overall healing program and, again, not only yoga. You could do maybe martial arts or qigong, but something that engages your body in a very mindful and purposeful way — with a lot of attention to breathing in particular — resets some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma.

MS. TIPPETT: Do you also have a yoga practice?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: I also have a yoga practice. I do. Not enough, of course. None of us ever does enough. But I try to start every day with a yoga practice.

MS. TIPPETT: Now, did I read somewhere that you also found that your heart rate variability was not in sync and was not robust enough?

DR. VAN DER KOLK:  I like to keep quiet about it. That’s true, that’s true.

MS. TIPPETT: And do you know if yoga has helped your…?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah, I have a nice, even heart rate variability now.

MS. TIPPETT: I wonder if you have ever heard of somebody named Matthew Sanford, who I’ve had on my program. He’s actually…

DR. VAN DER KOLK: No.

MS. TIPPETT: He’s a very renowned yoga teacher. He’s been paraplegic since he was 13, and he had no memory of the accident in which he was disabled, and his body remembered it. He talks about body memory. It’s the same thing you say, this imprint that trauma has not just on your mind. The other thing that he’s doing recently is actually working with veterans and also working with young women suffering from anorexia and understanding also that, although that seems to be so much an obsession with the body, they are really in a traumatic relationship with their own bodies.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Absolutely, yes.

MS. TIPPETT: Some of the things he’s doing, which he actually did for me — I did a class with him, like just putting these very comforting weights on certain muscles, so you feel sunk into your body in a way. And I don’t know I just was thinking — I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been reading about your research.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Huh. It sounds very sympathetic and very right. The sense of the experiences, of feeling weight and feeling your substance…

MS. TIPPETT: Yes, feeling your substance which is bigger than just feeling a weight on your muscles, isn’t it?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. Really feeling your body move and the life inside of yourself is critical. Personally, for example, when people ask me, “So what sort of treatments have you explored?” — I always explore every treatment that I explore for other people — what’s been most helpful for me has been rolfing.

MS. TIPPETT: Has been what?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Rolfing. Rolfing is called after Ida Rolf. It’s a very deep tissue work where people tear your muscles from your fascia with the idea that, at a certain moment, your body comes to be contracted in a way that you habitually hold yourself. So your body sort of takes on a certain posture. And the idea of rolfing is to really open up all these connections and make the body flexible again in a very deep way.

I had asthma as a kid. I was very sickly as a kid because I was part of this group in the Netherlands. Finally, after the war in the Netherlands, during which I was born, about 100,000 kids died from starvation, and I was a very sickly kid. I think I carried it in my body for a long time, and rolfing helped me to overcome that, actually. So now I became flexible and multipotential again.

And for my patients, I always recommend that they see somebody who helps them to really feel their body, experience their body, open up to their bodies. And I refer people always to craniosacral work or Feldenkrais. I think those are all very important components about becoming a healthy person.

MS. TIPPETT: But they’re not that easy to find. They’re still kind of around the edges, Feldenkrais and craniosacral. Isn’t it strange how, in Western culture, in a field like psychotherapy — or even I see this a lot in religion — in Western culture, we turn these things into these chin-up experiences. We separated ourselves; we divided ourselves. I see this — I mean, yoga is everywhere now, right? And people are discovering all kinds of ways, as you say. There are all kinds of other ways to reunite ourselves, but…

DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s true. Western culture is astoundingly disembodied and uniquely so. Because of my work, I’ve been to South Africa quite a few times and China and Japan and India. You see that we are much more disembodied. And the way I like to say is that we basically come from a post-alcoholic culture. People whose origins are in Northern Europe had only one way of treating distress. That’s namely with a bottle of alcohol.

North American culture continues to continue that notion. If you feel bad, just take a swig or take a pill. And the notion that you can do things to change the harmony inside of yourself is just not something that we teach in schools and in our culture, in our churches, in our religious practices. And of course, if you look at religions around the world, they always start with dancing, moving, singing…

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Crying, laughing.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Physical experiences. And then the more respectable people become, the more stiff they become somehow.

MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, with psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. He investigates state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments, including body work like yoga and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy — or EMDR.

MS. TIPPETT: I also would like to ask you just about this EMDR because I had not heard of this before.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Oh, really?

MS. TIPPETT: No, I hadn’t.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, EMDR is a bizarre and wondrous treatment. And anybody who first hears about it, myself included, thinks this is pretty hokey and strange. It’s something invented by Francine Shapiro, who found that, if you move your eyes from side to side as you think about distressing memories, that the memories lose their power.

And because of some experiences, both with myself, but even more with the patients of mine who told me about their experiences, I took a training in it. It turned out to be incredibly helpful. Then I did what’s probably the largest NIH-funded study on EMDR. And we found that, of people with adult-onset traumas, a one-time trauma as an adult, that it had the best outcome of any treatment that has been published.

What’s intriguing about EMDR is both how well it works and then the question is how it works, and that got me into this dream stuff that I talked about earlier, and how it does not work through figuring things out and understanding things. But it activates some natural processes in the brain that helps you to integrate these past memories.

MS. TIPPETT: I mean, it sounds so simple. And even when I was reading about it, moving your eyes back and forth — I mean, is this something that you can do for yourself? Or is there something more complex going on?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: I imagine it can be done, but it’s usually better if you do it with somebody else who sort of stays with you, helps you to focus, makes eye movement for you by having somebody else follow your fingers. But it is astoundingly effective treatment. And it’s interesting that, even in the most biased studies, EMDR keeps coming up as this very effective treatment. It’s been very difficult to get funding to find out the very intriguing underlying mechanisms of it. And I think if we really find out the mechanism for EMDR, we’ll understand how the mind works much better. It’s an outstandingly effective treatment.

So if people have had one terrible thing that they cannot get out of their minds, that, for me, is the treatment of choice. Of course, the people who come to see me in my practice oftentimes have had multiple traumas at the hands of their intimates also, so then it gets much more complicated than just a memory issue. But if it’s just a car accident or a simple assault, it’s astoundingly effective.

MS. TIPPETT: That’s fascinating. Something else I read is you were reflecting on Hurricane Hugo, hurricanes in general or natural disasters, this phenomenon we see of people helping each other, of getting out there and helping each other — and you also look at that and see that it’s not just that people are helping each other; they’re moving their bodies. Again, there’s this physical involvement kind of as antidote to the helplessness of the situation, which is so manifest.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Good. I’m really glad you read it because people talk a lot about stress hormones. Our stress hormones are sort of the source of all evil. That’s definitely not true. The stress hormones are good for you. You secrete stress hormones in order to give you the energy to cope under extreme situations. So it gives you that energy to stay up all night with your sick kid or to shovel snow in Minnesota and Boston and stuff like that.

What goes wrong is, if you’re kept from using your stress hormones, if somebody ties you down, if somebody holds you down, if somebody keeps you imprisoned, the stress hormones keep going up, but you cannot discharge it with action. Then the stress hormones really start wreaking havoc with your own internal system. But as long as you move, you are going to be fine. As we know, after these hurricanes and these terrible things, people get very active, and they like to help, and they like to do things, and they enjoy doing it because it discharges their energy.

MS. TIPPETT: So we are healing ourselves. We don’t realize that, but we know how to…

DR. VAN DER KOLK: We are using our natural system, basically. We’re not only healing; we’re coping. We’re just dealing with what we need to cope with. That’s why you have that stuff. That’s why we survive as a species. What was disturbing in Hurricane Hugo, which was my first encounter quite a long time, and what we saw again in New Orleans, is how these victimized populations were prevented from doing something, and that’s really what the observation was.

MS. TIPPETT: Right. And that that compounded the trauma.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. So I get flown into Puerto Rico after Hurricane Hugo because I’ve written a book about trauma. I knew nothing about disasters, but nobody else knew anything either, so they flew me in. And what struck me — I landed in Puerto Rico, and everybody is busy doing stuff and building things, and everybody’s too busy to talk to me because they’re trying to do stuff. But on the same plane that I flew in with, officials from FEMA came in, who then made announcements, “Stop your work until FEMA decides what you’re going to get reimbursed for.”

And that was the worst thing that could have happened because now these people were using the energy to fight with each other and to pick war with each other instead of rebuilding their houses. That’s, of course, similar what happened in New Orleans, where people also were kept from being agents in their own recovery.

MS. TIPPETT: I wonder how you look at this world we live in now where it feels like there’s an acceleration of what you might call collective traumatic events or tragedies. It seems to be more and more predictable that around the corner there will be a bombing or a school shooting or a terrible event that’s involved with the weather. How does what you know about trauma help you think about this or…?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: I’m not sure if I share that view with you. I think there’s so much more news, so we’re much more aware of whatever happens at any particular moment. And of course, the news media, when you wake up in the morning, find the worst thing that happens somewhere in the world to serve it to you for breakfast. So we get served much more. I don’t think there’s more trauma, actually.

MS. TIPPETT: You don’t think more bad things happen? You just think that…?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: When I read about how Abe Lincoln grew up — he’d lost his mother, and they moved to houses all the time, and they were starving, and he had nothing. I mean, you read the stories about all the immigrants, all those people who died, and the number of assaults in New York City and around the country. I don’t think we live in the worst world. And I think people are also much more conscious today than they were, let’s say, 100 years ago.

No, I really have studied the history of trauma. My favorite human folly is the First World War. If you think the world is bad right now, think about the First World War. Unbelievable. So I don’t think things are necessarily worse, and I think — when I go around the country, and I see the number of programs that very goodhearted people have for school kids, etc., I’m continuously astounded by the amount of integrity and creativity and good will that I see everywhere around me.

At the same time that you see something as horrendous as in Philadelphia — the school system of the public schools in Philadelphia abolished arts programs, gymnastics, counseling, and music programs. I go, “Where have these people been in order to have a minded focuses?” You need to move your body. You need to sing with other people. And if you think that your kids are going to do better if you keep them stock-still in a classroom taking tests, you don’t know anything about human beings.

So you still hear about horrendous things all the time, but I see a great deal of consciousness at the same time. And I see that people are really trying to carve out more consciousness and more democracy in various places around the world.

MS. TIPPETT: I mean, you’re right. It’s all these things at once. But let’s say — something I’m aware of is how — and this would be different from the First World War era where we get these pictures, these vivid images with this immediacy brought to us, right? And I personally — and I think this is true collectively too — I don’t know what to do with those images. And what I often — it’s so disturbing, and then there’s also this impulse that you just have to cut yourself off from that feeling because I can’t do anything for that particular picture. And then there’s this guilt and this feeling that that’s not a satisfactory reaction. I mean, it’s altogether…

DR. VAN DER KOLK: See, there’s a very dark side to this also and that is that there’s a certain tropism, a movement towards misery in our lives so that, if things become too quiet, it becomes boring. When you see the preview of coming attractions in the movie theater, you go like, “Oh my god. What are these people watching?” People are drawn towards horrendous stuff all the time. So it is part of that dark side of human nature to want to live on that edge. It’s very hard. It’s hard to deal with.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s very hopeful that you spend your life working with trauma, with victims in this research. But you have a pretty refreshingly, hopeful feeling about us as a species.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, you see, part of that I get from my patients. What is so gratifying about this work is that you get to see the life force. People go through horrendous stuff everywhere all the time, and yet, people go on with their lives.

MS. TIPPETT: And you see that, you experience that again and again.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: I see it all the time. I see kids who grew up under terrible circumstances, and some of them do terribly. But then last week, we had our conference here, our annual conference in Boston, and somebody presented her work on doing meditation in maximum security jails. And you see these really bad-ass guys come to life because of this meditation program.

And I see people getting better with another program that I’m involved with is a Shakespeare program for juvenile delinquents here in Brookshire County where the judge gives kids a choice between going to prison or being condemned to be a Shakespeare actor.

And, I go to the Shakespeare program, and these actors do a beautiful job with these kids, and you see these kids come to life as they’re being valued as an actor and a person who is able to talk. What I see is the huge potential that people have to crawl out of their holes.

MS. TIPPETT: I read your research, and I think about this whole picture that we’ve been discussing of all the different ways people are reaching out for methods to become more self-aware — yoga, meditation, using these insights of neuroscience. Sometimes I wonder if, 50 years from now or 100 years from now, people might look back on therapy, the way we’ve done it for 50 years or whatever, and see it as a really rudimentary step towards a much more profound, reaching for awareness and consciousness, mindfulness.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, I think people have always done good therapy, and our culture and our insurance structure is not really geared towards really very good therapy nor is our psychological training, which is there to fix people and get rid of their disorder as fast as possible. But therapy as in people really getting to know themselves very well and examining themselves and being seen and being heard and being understood has always been around. And I think it will always be around.

And I don’t think we’ll ever talk about it as necessarily primitive because the intimate interchange of people really talking about their deepest feelings and their deepest pain and having persons listen to it has always been, and I think it always will be, a very powerful human experience.

MS. TIPPETT: So the language people sometimes use about trauma would be — there’s a lot of spiritual language that we intuitively grasp for, “soul stealing.” I wonder how you think about the human spirit in the context of what you know about trauma and resilience and healing.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: That’s a very tough question.

MS. TIPPETT: I know. I think you’re up to it, though.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Something that I tended to stay away from. But, I think trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst. You see the horrendous things that people do to each other, but you also see resiliency, the power of love, the power of caring, the power of commitment, the power of commitment to oneself, to the knowledge that there are things that are larger than our individual survival.

And some of the most spiritual people I know are exactly traumatized people, because they have seen the dark side. And in some ways, I don’t think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you also know the dark side of life. And I think the traumatized people certainly know about the dark side of life, but they also, because of that, see the other side better.

MS. TIPPETT: You said somewhere that PTSD has opened the door to scientific investigation of the nature of human suffering. That’s a profound step, right? I mean, to me, that’s the spiritual way to talk about this field with a profound understanding of what the word “spiritual” means.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah. Well, I think this field has opened up two areas. One is the area of trauma and survival and suffering, but the other one is also — people are studying the nature of human connections and the connection between us, also, from a scientific point of view.

As much as trauma has opened up things, I think the other very important arm of scientific discovery is how the human connection is being looked at scientifically now and what really happens when two people see each other, when two people respond to each other, when people mirror each other, when two bodies move together in dancing and smiling and talking.

There’s a whole new field of interpersonal neurobiology that is studying how we are connected with each other and how a lack of connection, particularly early in life, has devastating consequences on the development of mind and brain.

MS. TIPPETT: And it’s true isn’t it from your study that, that if people learn to inhabit their bodies, to be more self-aware, that these qualities and habits can serve, can create resilience, can serve when trauma hits. Is that right?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Absolutely. So if you particularly — there’s two factors here. One is how your reptilian brain — if you breathe quietly in your body and you feel your bodily experience, and stuff happens to you, you notice that something is happening out there, and you say, “Oh, this really sucks. This is really unpleasant.” But it’s something that is not you. So you don’t necessarily get hijacked by unpleasant experiences.

The big issue for traumatized people is that they don’t own themselves anymore. Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves. And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully. And if somebody says hurtful or insulting things, you can say, “Hmm, interesting. That person is saying hurtful and insulting things.”

MS. TIPPETT: But you can separate your sense of yourself from them.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Yeah, but you can separate yourself from it. I think we are really beginning to seriously understand how human beings can learn how to do that, to observe and not react.

MS. TIPPETT: I think I just want to come back as we close to this idea that somehow, the point of all of this, the take-home for you, and I’m not finding the quote, is that we have to feel safe, that we have to feel safe and that we have to feel safe in our — that has to be a bodily perception, not just a cognitive perception. And that somehow everything comes back to that.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: It is the foundation, but you need to actually feel that feeling. You need to know what is happening in your body. You need to know where your right toe is and where your pinkie is. Your body — you need to sort of be aware of what it’s doing.

MS. TIPPETT: It’s very nitty-gritty. Is that what you’re saying?

DR. VAN DER KOLK: It’s very, very basic but sorely lacking in our diagnostic system is simple things like eating and peeing and pooping because they’re the foundation of everything, and breathing. These are foundational things, all of which go wrong when you get traumatized. The most elementary body functions go awry when you are terrified.

So trauma treatment starts at the foundation of a body that can sleep, a body that can rest, a body that feels safe, a body that can move. And I love the example of your guy who’s paraplegic and who does yoga because, even when your body is impaired, he can still learn to own it and to have it.

MS. TIPPETT: Yes. he says he’s not cured, but he’s healed. And here’s a striking statement you’ve made that “victims are members of society whose problems represent the memory of suffering, rage, and pain in a world that longs to forget.”

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Did I say that?

MS. TIPPETT: You did.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: That’s brilliant.

MS. TIPPETT:  And I find that so worthy of reflection.

DR. VAN DER KOLK: Well, that’s the literature we read, that’s the movies we watch, and that’s what we want to be inspired by. That’s what we observe is that spirit. Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou and these people can talk very articulately about having dealt with and stared adversity in the face and still maintain that humanity and faith. That’s what’s it all about.

Bessel van der Kolk is medical director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts. He’s also a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School. His books include Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on the Mind, Body, and Society and The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.

On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Bethanie Mann, Selena Carlson, and Rigsar Wangchuck. On Being was created at American Public Media. 

Agir vers ce qui compte améliore la qualité de vie

Une étude dans la revue Emotion a évalué si le fait d’agir régulièrement dans le sens de ce qui compte pour soi (ce qu’on appelle « l’engagement vers les valeurs ») a des effets sur le bien-être et sur les troubles psychologiques.

Un groupe de 42 participants souffrant de trouble d’anxiété sociale a renseigné chaque jour pendant 2 semaines ses activités, à quel point elles étaient en accord avec leurs valeurs, et à répondu à des questionnaires évaluant les émotions et le bien-être.

Les résultats ont montré que les jours où les patients agissaient en direction de leurs valeurs correspondaient aux jours où ils se sentaient mieux. Tout aussi intéressant, les auteurs ont testé si l’inverse était également vrai : est-ce que les patients sont plus actifs les jours où ils se sentent mieux. La réponse est non. C’est donc bien l’action vers ce qui compte qui agit sur le bien-être, et non l’inverse.

Au passage, l’étude évaluait un autre groupe sans trouble psychologique, et les résultats montraient une amélioration de l’estime de soi, une augmentation des émotions positives et une diminution des émotions négatives les jours où les participants agissaient vers ce qui compte pour eux. Pas besoin de souffrir d’un trouble psy donc pour profiter de l’engagement dans ses valeurs.

Source : Kashdan, T. B., & McKnight, P. E. (in press). Commitment to a Purpose in Life: An Antidote to the Suffering by Individuals With Social Anxiety Disorder.

How to Avoid Destroying Emotions when Tracking Body Sensations?

How to Avoid Destroying Emotions when Tracking Body Sensations?

by RAJA SELVAM, PHD

Summary: The paper explains how tracking of body sensations can eliminate emerging emotions and then offers  ways of working more effectively with emotions in the body to improve not just emotional outcomes but also cognitive, behavioral, relational, and spiritual outcomes in all therapeutic modalities.

1. The Problem

1.1 How tracking body sensations can be helpful in body psychotherapy

Tracking of body sensations is becoming a popular tool for working with the body in psychotherapy.  It is indeed a powerful technique. When the brain consciously tracks the body in great detail, two things happen at the same time. The brain receives more information about what is happening in the body and the brain allocates more higher-brain neurological resources to regulate the body. Therefore, conscious tracking of body sensations can be extremely effective in regulating the physiology. Given that clinical populations show increasing levels of physiological dysregulation, tools such as tracking of body sensations that promote regulation can be very useful in therapy.

Tracking of body sensations, because it regulates the body, can also undo the defenses in the body against emotions and make the emotions more available. And it can provide emotional regulation by stabilizing the body experiencing an overwhelming emotion. Therefore, tracking of body sensations can also be a useful tool in working with emotions.

1.2 How tracking body sensations can be hurtful in body psychotherapy

The more detailed the tracking of the body, the more the body gets regulated down to states of rest and relaxation. While these outcomes might be desirable for those who chronically suffer from high levels of arousal or other kinds of extreme dysregulation, they can destroy emerging emotions; and compromise the formation of relevant cognitions and behaviors in relation to those emotions. Approaches that use detailed tracking of body sensations as the primary tool appear to be unaware of this downside of the technique for a good reason: The scientific knowledge that sheds light on why detailed tracking of body sensations can destroy emerging emotions and compromise the formation of relevant cognitions and behaviors does not appear to be widely known even in body psychotherapy circles.

1.3 How emotions are generated in the body

According to the science of the physiology of emotions, pleasant emotions in the body are generated from placing different systems in the body (such as the muscular system and the autonomic nervous system) into states of regulation; and unpleasant emotions in the body are generated from placing them into varying states of dysregulation and stress (Damasio, 2003; Sapolsky, 1994). If you have trouble imagining this, think of the last time you fell in love and of the heartache you experienced from the subsequent breakup.

1.4 How emotions and sensations are related in the body

In the body, emotions are meaningful patterns of sensations. They can be likened to the picture of a woman carrying an umbrella in an impressionistic painting. The thousands of dots that make up the woman’s image can be likened to the individual sensations that are aggregated and mapped on a higher level in the brain (as the image of the woman with the umbrella). The brain constantly maps the body at different levels of detail (Damasio, 2004). In general, higher order maps such as emotions are theoretically easier to sense in the body than the lower order maps of individual sensations from which they are aggregated. However, it is psychologically harder to make emotions conscious than the sensations that make them up because emotional experiences need much inner and outer support.

1.5 How tracking sensations can interfere with emotions in the body

Detailed tracking of body sensations in a mindful (non-reactive) manner leads to the down regulation of the body. But unpleasant emotions in the body are by definition states of stress and dysregulation in the body. Therefore, it can be understood that resorting to tracking body sensations when difficult emotions arise can compromise, if not destroy, the very emotions as they are forming.  This is akin to going so close to the impressionistic painting that one can see only the dots. The woman with an umbrella is no longer there. At times this is often misunderstood as having completed one’s work with emotions just because they are no longer there and the body is peaceful.

For the same reasons, the strategy of alternating the tracking of emotions and sensations and the strategy of tracking them both at the same time in the body can compromise work with emotions. It is akin to trying to turn up a flame and to turn it down at the same time while cooking something. In addition, our working memory capacity is rather limited. To appreciate the neurological difficulties involved in these strategies, just imagine holding the image of the woman with the umbrella and all the dots that make her up at the same time or quickly alternating between the two in your awareness.

1.6 How tracking sensations can damage sensorimotor emotions in particular?

Emotions have been classified into primary emotions such as happiness and sadness, secondary emotions that are combinations of primary emotions (such fear and shame mixing to form guilt), and sensorimotor emotions, psychologically meaningful body states such as feeling good and bad or attraction and revulsion psychologically in a situation. Sensorimotor affect states are more common than primary and secondary emotions. They can be likened to the trunk of the tree of affect with primary and secondary emotions likened to the leaves and the flowers. But sensorimotor affect states have been neglected in psychotherapy because psychotherapists have historically paid little attention to what is happening in the bodies of their clients.

Sensorimotor emotions require the tracking of body states in a meaningful way in relation to a situation. Detailed tracking of body sensations without attending to the meanings embedded in the form of sensorimotor emotions neglects important and more common aspects of emotional experience; and can destroy sensorimotor emotions even more than primary or secondary emotions because the latter are more understood and attended to in therapy. The loss of sensorimotor emotions is not only a significant loss of an important aspect of every emotional experience, its very base or trunk,  but also carries the risk of the loss of primary and secondary emotions.

And, over time, detailed tracking of body sensations can become automatic response patterns to thwart the formation of emotions especially unpleasant ones. Detailed tracking can even become a learned defense against emotions as observed in systems that use detailed tracking of body sensations as a primary tool for working with the body. This, by the way, is also true of other tools that are used to regulate the body such as looking for good places in the body to soften bad experiences in other places. In fact, any tool for working with the body, such as touch, breath, tracking energy in and out of the body, voluntary or involuntary movement, and positive imagery or memory, will have the same effect if the intent behind their use is one of down regulation of the physiology.

Unfortunately, psychology appears to be increasingly in the grip of the psychiatric point of view that the resolution of psychological problems lies primarily in the regulation of the physiology. This tendency has also increased the use of tools such as detailed tracking of body sensations more for regulation (especially down-regulation) than for other purposes such as undoing defenses, accessing and supporting unconscious content, and developing a capacity in a person for the ups and downs of life, to resolve current symptoms as well as to develop resilience for the long run.

2. The Solution

2.1 How are emotions, body, and psychophysiological symptoms related?

Overwhelming emotions can shut the body down and lead to physical, cognitive, affective, behavioral, relational, and spiritual symptoms. And they can stress and dysregulate it towards psychophysiological (psychosomatic) symptoms. This is particularly true for unpleasant emotions that are, by definition, states of dysregulation and stress to begin with. It is often the inability to tolerate unpleasant emotions that shuts the body down or further stresses and dysregulates the body to cause psychosomatic (psychophysiological) symptoms, even serious ones such a chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. The Psychophysiologic Disorders Association in the US estimates that as many as two-thirds of symptoms for which people seek medical help are psychological in origin.

Psychologically, it is the ability to experience and tolerate an emotion that allows it to heal. It is when one can get to a place of sensing a heartache as something that one can live through that it becomes possible to keep one’s heart open for engaging others more fully in the future. It is when one can tolerate an emotion that one can stay with the information in the form of emotion long enough to process it cognitively and behaviorally. Otherwise, one might resort quickly to meaning making or acting out behaviorally as a defense against emotions.

The basic problem in psychotherapy, psychoneuroimmunology, and psychopathology is the lack of affect tolerance (Stolorow et al, 1995; Pert, 1999). The primary determinant of the outcomes of a person’s attempts to separate, differentiate, and individuate as well as an individual’s ability to relate to others and to the collective levels of one’s psyche is the capacity to tolerate opposites in one’s experience (Jung, 1960). The ability to grow personally as well as spiritually is constrained by a person’s inability to tolerate opposites in one’s experience. (Dayananda, 2002). And what often makes any psychological experience unbearable is the emotion associated with it.

2.2 How can the body be used as a container for emotions and for building affect tolerance?

The experience of an emotion can potentially involve the entirety of one’s brain and body physiology (Damasio, 2003; Pert, 1999). The whole body can therefore be used as a container for creating a greater capacity for experiencing and tolerating emotions over a longer period of time to heal them; and for generating more cognitive and behavioral information from the greater emotional information available for a longer period.

Some therapeutic and spiritual approaches do recommend ‘staying with’ uncomfortable experiences till they ‘transform’ as a strategy for healing. But just staying with an emotion wherever it shows up in the body does not necessarily lead to a greater quantity of it or a greater capacity for it. In fact, it can stress and dysregulate the body further and create psychophysiological symptoms. For example, one can develop respiratory or cardiovascular symptoms from ‘just staying with’ grief or heartache in the heart and lung areas where they often show up first. To avoid such risks, one needs to know how to increase, deepen, and expand the emotion in the body and, at the same time, regulate the body in such a way that the body does not get too dysregulated from the emotion or too regulated that the emotion is destroyed.

2.3 What is needed to work more effectively with emotions, cognitions, and behaviors through the body?

What is needed is a better way to work with emotions in the body. Emotions have to be supported psychologically on the inside and more importantly from the outside while the body is worked with in relation to them. Work with the body during an emotional experience has to able to undo the body’s defenses against emotions and make them easier to access for processing. It also has to be able to manage the extreme stress and dysregulation in the body so that the emotional experience is more bearable. At the same time, it has to ensure that the body is not excessively regulated so that the very emotional experience one is working with is not destroyed. Tools such as detailed tracking of body sensations that tend to regulate the physiology quickly either have to be avoided or used with due diligence so that they are not used at cross purposes when one is working with emotions.

Also, to work effectively with emotions through the body, one has to understand how emotions are generated and defended against in different layers (muscle, organ, and nervous system) of the body; how emotions are related to cognitions and behaviors; and what has to happen in a person’s process and body for emotions to heal and for emotions to be of further use in forming relevant cognitions and behaviors.

2.4 What do emotions have to do with cognition and behavior?

Availability of emotion improves a person’s behavior. Research shows that a person who has access to emotion is not only able to generate more relevant behavioral alternatives but is also better at choosing the best course of action to deal with a situation (Damasio, 1994).

Research also shows that embodiment of emotion, defined as expansion of emotion in the physiology, improves a person’s cognition about a situation (Niedenthal, 2007). That is, a person with emotions is better able to name the emotion and makes sense of the emotion by associating it to the appropriate context for it.

Longitudinal research in the UK has shown that children who are better at managing emotions do better as adults not only in their personal lives but also in their professional lives.

2.5 How can Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) help in working with emotions, cognitions, and behaviors?

Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) is based on affect theory, the science of the physiology of emotions, the science of the physiology of regulation, and principles of energy psychology. ISP offers a complementary approach for working with emotions using the body as a container to improve cognitive, emotional, and behavioral outcomes in any therapeutic modality.

The core strategy in ISP is embodiment of emotional experiences. And, rather than rely on a more complex tool of detailed tracking of body sensations with its attendant problems, ISP uses simpler tools of self-touch by client, breath, and voluntary movement that are easier for both therapists and clients to adapt to across therapy settings.

2.6 How is embodiment of emotion defined in Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP)? 

In the Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) approach, the ability to experience different emotions  (primary, secondary, and sensorimotor) in as much of the body as possible and the ability to tolerate them as long as possible are defined as the two most important aspects of embodying emotions (with the ability to make sense of them and the ability to express them as its third and fourth aspects).  Expanding and tolerating emotions in the body is a missing piece even in traditional body-oriented Reichian and Neo-Reichian psychotherapies. To learn more details about the theory and practice of this effective paradigm-shifting complementary approach, please visit integralsomaticpsychology.com.

 

References

Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Penguin Books.

Damasio, A. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, sorrow, and the feeling brain.  Orlando, FL:Harcourt, Inc.

Dayananda, S. (2002). The teaching of the Bhagvad Gita. New Delhi: Vision Books.

Jung, C. G. (1960). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Pert, C. (1999). Molecules of Emotion: The science behind mind-body medicine. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Niedenthal, P. (2007). Embodying emotion. Science (316), 1002-1005.

Sapolsky, R. M. (1994). Why Zebra’s don’t get ulcers. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

Stolorow, R., Brandchaft, B., & Atwood, G. E. (1995). The psychoanalytic treatment: An intersubjective approach. New York, NY: Routledge.

Passer son angoisse à la machine,

Passer son angoisse à la machine, par JL Monestès –

 

Et la faire bouillir, pour en conserver l’essentiel, l’essence.

Il n’y a peut-être pas qu’une brûlure dans cette souffrance, qui sait ?

Voici un exemple de transformation de fonction de l’angoisse via un augmental.

Jules : je suis très angoissé à propos de ma meilleure amie. Elle commence à sévèrement déprimer et j’ai peur qu’elle fasse une bêtise. Je fais tout ce que je peux pour l’aider, je lui propose des activités, j’essaie de lui changer les idées, mais rien ne marche. Je suis tellement angoissé pour elle que j’en suis arrivé à l’éviter parfois pour ne pas ressentir l’angoisse de ne pas parvenir à l’aider. Je sais bien qu’en n’allant pas la voir je l’aide encore moins, mais la voir comme ça est presque insupportable pour moi.

D’où vient mon problème ? Pourquoi je suis angoissé comme ça ? Est-ce que je me fais trop de mauvais sang ? Est-ce que je suis trop sensible, ou trop fragile ? Pourquoi je suis angoissé comme ça ?

Thérapeute : vous faites-vous du souci pour Barack Obama ?

Jules : pardon ? Euh, non…

Thérapeute : vous faites-vous du souci pour les migrants en Méditerranée ?

Jules : ce qui leur arrive ne me réjouit pas, j’aimerais pouvoir les aider, mais pour être honnête je ne peux pas dire que cela m’angoisse, non.

Thérapeute : vous faites-vous du souci pour Pierre-Olivier Gaudrillu ?

Jules : euh… qui ?

Thérapeute : un vieux copain à moi.

Jules (amusé) : je ne le connais pas, alors non, je ne me fais pas de souci pour lui !

Thérapeute : vous faites-vous du souci pour Tabaré Aguerre ?

Jules : qui c’est encore celui-là ?!

Thérapeute : le ministre uruguayen de l’agriculture !

Jules (riant) : non, aucun souci pour lui !

Thérapeute : bien, je pense que je sais pourquoi vous êtes angoissé. Vous êtes angoissé parce que vous aimez votre amie et que vous tenez à elle. Vous êtes angoissé parce qu’être fidèle aux personnes que vous aimez est quelque chose qui compte pour vous. Vous n’êtes pas angoissé parce que vous seriez trop fragile ou trop sensible, mais simplement parce que vous aimez votre amie. On se soucie des gens qu’on aime, pas vrai ? Cette angoisse que vous considérez comme un problème est le signe que vous tenez à votre amie et que votre amitié est importante pour vous. C’est une preuve de l’amour que vous lui portez. Ce n’est pas la plus facile à vivre, ce n’est pas celle qu’on vous souhaiterait en priorité, mais c’est bel et bien la preuve que vous aimez votre amie et que la fidélité est importante pour vous.

Il n’y a peut-être pas qu’une brûlure dans cette souffrance, qui sait ? On s’en passerait bien, mais puisqu’elle est là, autant en tirer le meilleur parti, non ? Ca vaut peut-être la peine de regarder en détail ce qu’elle peut vous apporter, ce qu’elle vous apprend sur ce qui est essentiel pour vous.

————————–

NB1 : cette séquence s’inscrit dans un contexte thérapeutique et ne saurait en aucun cas constituer un passage obligé, ni être une baguette magique capable de résoudre tous les problèmes de chaque patient…

NB2: les plus aguerris d’entre-vous peuvent débattre de la caractérisation de cet augmental, entre formative et motivative

 

L’acceptation : forme ultime du contrôle, par JL Monestès

Dans le langage courant, on confond souvent « acceptation » et « lâcher-prise ». Pour les deux termes, on comprend qu’il s’agit de ne pas s’arc-bouter inutilement face aux événements pénibles qui croisent notre route. L’hypothèse sous-jacente est qu’une souffrance inutile émerge d’une recherche de contrôle à tout prix, et que laisser les événements se dérouler sans notre intervention est parfois préférable (en poussant la démarche à l’extrême, on arrive parfois à « frôler la vie ».

Pourtant, lorsqu’on regarde dans le détail, alors qu’elle semble être un abandon du contrôle -un « lâcher-prise »-, l’acceptation est en fait la forme ultime du contrôle, et de loin la plus difficile à atteindre.

En effet, quand nous ressentons de la peur ou de la colère par exemple, ces émotions nous dictent les réactions que nous devons avoir. La peur nous enjoint d’éviter ou de fuir ; la colère nous intime de mordre. Ces émotions nous poussent à agir automatiquement et rapidement, pour nous sortir de situations dangereuses ou éviter de nous y fourrer. Ou encore, paradoxalement, ces émotions nous poussent à agir afin qu’elles-mêmes cessent au plus vite. En fait, bien que ce soit le plus souvent pour notre bien, lorsque nos réactions sont dictées par nos émotions, nous perdons le contrôle.

Au contraire, l’acceptation consiste à contrôler nos réactions en présence de nos émotions difficiles, à résister aux impulsions à agir dictées par nos émotions. Il faut garder à l’esprit que si les émotions nous poussent à agir d’une certaine façon, elles n’ont pas un pouvoir absolu sur nos comportements. Nous vivons tou.te.s des situations dans lesquelles nous allons à contre-courant de ce que nos émotions nous dictent. Nous désobéissons à la peur des examens médicaux ou de parler en public. Nous retenons les coups que la colère nous demande de porter. Nous dépassons le dégoût pour soigner les plaies d’un être cher. Il existe un espace entre nos émotions et les réactions, apparemment automatiques, qu’elles déclenchent. Cet espace est celui dans lequel nous pouvons nous glisser pour prendre le contrôle avant que nos émotions soient totalement aux manettes. Face à des réactions automatiques, produits de la sélection naturelle, il est nécessaire de se contrôler pour ne pas réagir comme nous sommes programmés à le faire. Ce faisant, on reste parfois plus longtemps en contact avec ces émotions pénibles, mais elles ne contrôlent plus notre vie, c’est nous qui la contrôlons à nouveau.

Il s’agit donc, et c’est peut-être le plus difficile à saisir, de reprendre le contrôle pour finalement ne pas réagir ; c’est-à-dire reprendre le contrôle pour ne rien faire. Apparemment ne rien faire. Apparemment « lâcher-prise ». Mais en réalité, il s’agit de faire « rien » vis-à-vis de ces émotions. Quoi de plus difficile que de faire « rien » lorsque la brûlure qui est en vous vous commande de vous agiter en tous sens pour la faire cesser ? Faire « rien » en présence de ces émotions difficiles, c’est les laisser faire ce qu’elles veulent, mais en étant très actif pour contrôler nos réactions « naturelles » à ces émotions. Il s’agit finalement de déplacer la recherche de contrôle depuis les émotions –qui sont très peu contrôlables, ou à un prix très élevé-, vers nos réactions à ces émotions, qui sont elles bien contrôlables, et souvent sources de nos souffrances.

Accepter, c’est mettre toute son énergie pour contrôler ses réactions à ses émotions, afin parfois d’organiser une réaction contraire à celle qui nous vient automatiquement. On peut alors rester de marbre tout en étant terrorisé, voire se rapprocher de ce qui fait peur, embrasser la honte, chérir la colère, laisser la tristesse prendre sa place, pour finalement être libre de faire tout ce qui compte pour soi.

Moshé Feldenkrais, Learn to Learn

 DO EVERYTHING VERY SLOWLY

I do not intend to « teach » you, but to enable you to learn at your own rate of understanding and doing. Time is the most important means of learning. To enable everybody-without exception-to learn, there should be plenty of time for everybody to assimilate the idea of the movement as well as the leisure to get used to the novelty of the situation. There should be sufficient time to perceive, and organize oneself. No one can learn when hurried and hustled. Each movement is, therefore, allotted sufficient time for repeating it a number of times. Thus, you will repeat the movement as many times as it suits you during the span of time allotted.

When one becomes familiar with an act, speed increases spontaneously, and so does power. This is not so obvious as it is correct.

Efficient movement or performance of any sort is achieved by weeding out, and eliminating, parasitic superfluous exertion. The superfluous is as bad as the insufficient, only it costs more.

No one can learn to ride a bicycle or swim without allowing the time necessary to assimilate the essential, and to reject the unintended and unnecessary, efforts that the beginner performs in his ambition not to feel or appear inadequate to himself.

Fast action at the beginning of learning is synonymous with strain and confusion which, together, make learning an unpleasant exertion.

 LOOK FOR THE PLEASANT SENSATION

Pleasure relaxes the breathing to become simple and easy. Excessive striving-to-improve impedes learning. It is less important to learn new feats of skill than it is to master the way to learn new skills. You will get to know new skills as a reward for your attention. You will feel you deserve your acquired skill, and that will add satisfaction to the pleasurable sensation.

 DO NOT « TRY » TO DO WELL

Trying hard means that somehow a person knows that unless he makes a greater effort and applies himself harder he will not achieve his goals. Internal conviction of essential inadequacy is at the root of the urge to try as hard as one can, even when learning. Only when we have learned to write fluently and pleasurably can we write as fast as we wish, or more beautifully. But « trying » to write faster makes the writing illegible and ugly. Learn to do well, but do not try. The countenance of trying hard betrays the inner conviction of being unable or of not being good enough.

 DO NOT TRY TO DO « NICELY »

A performance is nice to watch when the person applies himself harmoniously. This means that no part of him is being directed to anything else but the job at the hand. Intent to do nicely when learning introduces disharmony. Some of the attention is misdirected, which introduces self- consciousness instead of awareness. Each and all the parts of ourself should cooperate to the final achievement only to the extent that it is useful. An act becomes nice when we do nothing but the act. Everything we do over and above that, or short of it, destroys harmony.

These courses are made to help you to turn the impossible into the feasible, the difficult into the easy: beautiful to see and lovely to do.

 INSIST ON EASY, LIGHT MOVEMENT

We usually learn the hard way. We are taught that trying hard is a virtue in life, and we are misled into believing that trying hard is also a virtue when learning. We see, therefore, a beginner, learning to ride a bicycle or to swim or to learn any skill, making many futile efforts and tiring quickly .

Learning takes place through our nervous system, which is so structured as to detect and select, from among our trials and errors, the more effective trial. We thus gradually eliminate the aimless movements until we find a sufficient body of correct and purposeful components of our final effort. These must be right in timing and direction at the same instant. In short, we gradually learn to know what is the better move. Thus it dawns on us that moving the handlebar so as to twist the front wheel in the direction in which we tend to fall stabilizes us on the bicycle. Or that if we move our arms and legs slowly forward in the swimming direction and rapidly in the other direction we actually swim easier and faster. We sense differences and select the good from the useless: that is, we differentiate.

Without distinguishing and differentiating, we perpetuate-and possibly fuse-the good and the bad moves in a haphazard order as they happen to occur and make little or no progress in spite of diligent insistence.

 IT IS EASIER TO TELL DIFFERENCES WHEN THE EFFORT IS LIGHT

All our senses are so built that we can distinguish minute differences when our senses are only slightly stimulated. If I were to carry a heavy load (say a refrigerator) on my back, I could not tell if a box of matches were added to the load, nor would I become aware of it being removed. What is, in fact, the weight that must be added or removed to make one aware that some change of effort has occurred? For muscular efforts or our kinesthetic sense, that weight is about one-fortieth (1/40) of the basic effort for very good nervous systems. On carrying 400 pounds, we can tell at once when 10 pounds are added or removed from the load. On carrying 40 pounds, we can tell a change of one pound. And everybody can tell with closed eyes when a fly alights on a thin matchlike piece of wood or straw, or when it takes to the air again.

In short, the smaller the exertion, the finer the increment or decrement that we can distinguish and, also, the finer our differentiation (that is, the mobilization of our muscles in consequence of our sensations). The lighter the effort we make, the faster is our learning of any skill; and the level of perfection we can attain goes hand in hand with the finesse we obtain. We stop improving when we sense no difference in the effort made or in the movement.

 LEARNING AND LIFE ARE NOT THE SAME THING

In the course of our lives, we may be called upon to make enormous efforts-sometimes beyond what we believe we can produce. There are situations in which we must pay no heed to what the enormous effort entails. We often have to sacrifice our health, the wholeness of our limbs and body, to save our life. Obviously, then, we must be able to act swiftly and powerfully. The question is, wouldn’t we be better equipped for such emergencies by making our efforts efficient in general, thus enabling us to exert ourselves less and achieve our purpose economically.

Learning must be slow an varied in effort until the parasitic efforts are weeded out; then we have

little difficulty in acting fast, and powerfully.

 WHY BOTHER TO BE SO EFFICIENT?

We need not be intelligent, for God saves the fool. We need not be skillful, for even the clumsiest of us succeeds in the end. We need not be efficient, because a kilogram of sugar yields-roughly speaking-20.000 calories, and one gram calorie produces 426 kilograms of work. From that count, we can waste energy galore. Why go to such troubles as learning and improving? The trouble lies in that energy cannot be destroyed; it can only be transformed into movement, or into another form of energy.

What, then, happens to the energy that is not transformed into movement? It is, obviously, not lost, but remains somewhere in the body. Indeed, it is transformed into heat through the wear and tear of the muscles (torn muscles, muscle catarrh) and of the ligaments and the interarticular surfaces of our joints and vertebrae. So long as we are very young, the healing and recovery powers of our bodies are sufficient to repair the damage caused by inefficient efforts, but they do so at the expense of our heart and the cleansing mechanisms of our organism. But these powers slow, even as early as at our middle age, when we have only just become an adult, and they become sluggish very soon thereafter

If we have not learned efficient action, we are in for aches and pains and for a growing inability to do what we would like to do.

Efficient movement is also pleasant to do and nice to see, and it instills that wonderful feeling of doing well and is, ultimately, aesthetically satisfying.

 DO NOT CONCENTRATE

Do not concentrate if concentration means to you directing your attention to one particular important point to the utmost of your ability. This is a particular kind of concentration, useful as an exercise, but rarely in normal occupation and skills.

Suppose you play basketball and concentrate on the basket to the utmost-you will never, or nearly never, have the leisure to do so unless you are alone in front of the basket. When there are two teams playing, the opening for a throw is a short, fleeting instant in which you have to attend not only to the basket, but to the players around you, and to the balance and posture that enable you to perform a useful throw.

The best players are those who attend to the continually changing position of their own players as well as of the opposing team. Most of the time, their concentration is directed to a very large area or space; the basket is just kept dimly in the background of their awareness, from where it can- at the most fleeting opportunity-become the center of attention.

The best and most useful attention is similar to what we do when reading. When we see the whole page, we cannot perceive any of the content, although we can say whether the page is in English or some language we cannot read. To read, we must focus on a minute portion of the page, not even a full line-perhaps, merely a single word, if it is a familiar one and rather short. If we are a skillful reader, we keep on picking our word after word, or groupings of words, to be attended to by our macular vision, which is only a minute portion of the retina, with sufficient good resolution to see small print clearly.

The good way of using our attention is, for the most part, similar to reading. One should perceive

the background (the whole page) dimly and learn to focus sharply on the point-attended (concentration) rapidly before the next so that reading fluently means reading 200 to 1000 words a minute, as some people can.

Therefore, do not concentrate but, rather, attend well to the entire situation, your body, and your surroundings by scanning the whole sufficiently to become aware of any change or difference, concentrating just enough to perceive it.

In general, it is not what we do that is important, but how we do it. Thus, we can refuse kindly and accept ungraciously. We must also remember that this generalization is not a law and, like other generalizations, it is not always true.

 WE DO NOT SAY AT THE START WHAT THE FINAL STAGE WILL BE

We are so drilled or wired-in by prevailing educational methods that when we know what is required of us, we go all-out to achieve it, for fear of loss of face, regardless of what it costs us to do so. We have it instilled in our system that we must not be the worst of the lot. We will bite our lips, hold our breath, and screw up our straining self in an ugly way in order to achieve something if we have no clear idea of how to mobilize ourselves for that task. The result is excessive effort, harmful strain, and ugly performance.

By reducing the urge to achieve, and attending also to the means for achieving, we learn easier. Achieving-we lose the incentive for learning and, therefore, accept a lower level than the potential we are endowed with. When we delay the final achievement by attending efficiently to our means, we set ourselves a higher level of achievement if we are not aware that that is what we are doing. On knowing what to achieve before we have learned to learn, we can reach only the limit of our ignorance, which is often general. Such limits are intrinsically lower than those we can foresee after knowing better.

 DO A LITTLE LESS THAN YOU CAN

By doing a little less than you really can, you will attain a higher performance than the one you can now conceive. Do a little less than your utmost while learning. You are thereby pushing your possible record to a higher setting.

Suppose you have not been running for a few years or that you are a middle-aged adult with the usual spread that goes with it: Suppose that you want to do some running again, and set out to the speed you remember: You will soon find yourself out of breath, your heart pounding, and compelled to stop, only to find that you have not achieved what you intended to achieve. Moreover, you will most likely be stiff all over and find it very difficult to persist in what you set out to do.

Now suppose you make your first attempt a little less fast than the top speed that is possible for you at this moment and, looking at your watch, you find that you are short of what you used to be able to do: But you will feel and think you could have done a little better had you really tried your best: This feeling will lead you to try again. The next attempt will be a little faster anyway, so that, continuing to do a little less than your utmost, you go on improving. In the end, you will in a short time give a better account of yourself than in your younger days when youthful stamina and ambition made you always do your utmost. The wisdom of doing a little less than one really can pushes the record of achievement further and further as you come nearer to it, similar to the

horizon that recedes on approaching it.

You will understand now why I say in the lessons « lower your knees in the direction of the floor » rather than « try to touch the floor with your knees. » This makes no difference to anyone who is beyond improving; but you will convince yourself that it makes a real difference, reminding you to keep yourself out of stress and give yourself a real chance to learn to learn.

© Feldenkrais Resources, Berkeley, CA

PMA,GPA, quelles conséquences ?

PMA,GPA, quelles conséquences ? par Linda Gandolfi

Les États généraux de la bioéthique ont ouvert les débats sur les nouvelles avancées scientifiques notamment en matière médicale. En tête de ces débats, la PMA (procréation médicalement assistée) et la GPA (gestation pour autrui). Faut-il libéraliser les procédures d’aide à la procréation ou au contraire y mettre des limites ? La question fondamentale est celle des libertés par rapport aux limites du corps et donc aux limites de la nature.

Les partisans de la libération expliquent : les limites du corps peuvent aujourd’hui être dépassées par la science, pourquoi y renoncer ? La chirurgie dentaire permet bien de remplacer une dent et personne ne s’en offusque. Sans compter que cette dent « fausse » permet de manger normalement. Certes, il ne s’agit pas de dent mais d’enfant. Mais ce n’est jamais qu’un prolongement de ce que permet la science. Où est donc le curseur ? Peut-on allègrement s’affranchir des lois naturelles sans conséquence néfaste ? Y aurait-il des lois naturelles moins importantes que d’autres ?

Dans le cas de la venue d’un enfant, on connaît aujourd’hui assez bien les lois de la construction psychique notamment grâce à la psychanalyse aujourd’hui relayée par les neurosciences. Pour que la sauce psychique prenne, certains éléments qui entourent la venue d’un enfant doivent être présents : au-delà de l’ovule, du spermatozoïde et d’un ventre féminin, il faut un désir, une personne pour le porter et l’accueillir et une autre personne de sexe différent pour jouer l’altérité. L’unité psychique se construit au carrefour de ces rencontres.

Certes, jusqu’à présent et de tout temps, l’un des membres du trio pouvait être absent ou défaillant mais cela relevait d’une histoire accidentelle que l’on pouvait expliquer : mort en couche de la mère très fréquente dans les temps reculés, père inconnu ou défaillant ou mort accidentellement etc…. Par ailleurs, ce n’était pas sans conséquence affective mais il faut reconnaître que, dans la plupart des cas, la situation était gérable et on ne compte pas les orphelins devenus artistes renommés, chercheurs reconnus ou inventeurs de génie. Tout au plus peut-on constater en en cas de père inconnu ou d’adoption, la recherche obsessionnelle des origines manifestée par les enfants.

Avec la PMA ou la GPA, les problèmes sont toutefois différents car il s’agit de surseoir à une impossibilité physiologique ou même psychique.

La science permet une dissociation des acteurs assez spectaculaire :

– Spermatozoïde différent avec ovocyte et ventre de la mère.

– Spermatozoïde différent, ovocyte différent et ventre de la mère.

– Ovocyte différent, spermatozoïde du père et ventre de la mère.

– Ovocyte de la mère, spermatozoïde du père, ventre différent

– Ovocyte différent, spermatozoïde du père et ventre différent

– Ovocyte différent, spermatozoïde différent et ventre différent

– Dans le cas de jumeaux, il peut y avoir deux spermatozoïdes différents dans un même ventre.

– Dans le cas de parents homosexuels, il peut y avoir un spermatozoïde différent et l’accueil de l’enfant par deux personnes du même sexe.

La liste des possibilités est incontestablement vertigineuse.

Nous n’examinerons pas ici les arguments moraux tels que la marchandisation du corps des femmes. Non pas que ça n’existe pas, mais parce que cela rejoint la question plus générale de la pauvreté. Nous pensons en effet que ce n’est pas le cœur du problème. La marchandisation du corps existe déjà avec la prostitution y compris celle des jeunes enfants qui est bien évidemment insupportable. Il est aussi incontestable qu’il y a des mères prêtes à porter un enfant dans un objectif uniquement altruiste, on ne peut pas les oublier.

La véritable question autour de ces techniques visant à satisfaire le désir d’enfant est celle des conséquences sur la construction psychique. Comment la construction de l’enfant peut-elle être impactée  notamment par l’éclatement des éléments de formation à la base de la gestation ? Quelles conséquences pour l’enfant à naître ? Quelles conséquences pour la construction d’un moi ?

La plupart des pédiatres qui suivent ces enfants nés et élevés dans ces contextes ont tendance à dire qu’ils ont un développement tout à fait normal et qu’ils vont plutôt bien. En tous les cas, aucune manifestation particulière n’est à signaler : pas de problème physiologique flagrant ni de fragilité psychique remarquable et pas de problème de développement visible. Mais il ne faut pas trop s’y fier car on sait très bien que la génétique met du temps à s’organiser et on ne peut absolument pas présumer de ce qu’il se passera par exemple, pour les enfants de ces enfants.

En effet, les règles de filiation ne sont pas simples : on sait que la génétique se modifie de génération en génération selon des schémas logiques qui échappent encore à la compréhension. On a pu constater par exemple, qu’un père violentant ses enfants pouvait générer chez ses petits-enfants, le gène de la violence. Par conséquent, les constatations actuelles ne permettent pas de se prononcer de manière définitive sur l’absence de conséquences. Lacan signalait à ce propos qu’il fallait trois générations pour former un psychotique.

Sur le plan des conséquences physiologiques par exemple, au début du développement du tabac, à la fin du XIXe siècle, il n’y avait que très peu de cancers. Or, ce n’est qu’à la fin du XXe siècle (soit trois générations plus tard) que l’on a constaté l’influence incontestable du tabagisme sur l’ensemble des cancers. Tout se passe comme si le corps mettait du temps à réagir.

Dans le cas de la PMA ou de la GPA, la question que l’on peut se poser concerne les conséquences de cette multiplication des acteurs et de la confusion originaire engendrée.

Prenons l’exemple d’une famille française qui a opté pour la GPA et qui a donc organisé la naissance de leur enfant avec une mère porteuse américaine, avec don d’ovocyte et don de sperme :

Dans ce cas, il y a eu le choix d’une femme donneuse d’un ovocyte que les futurs parents ont généralement rencontrée (cette possibilité n’est pas obligatoire), choix de l’homme donneur (généralement sur catalogue ou totalement anonyme). Puis il y a eu l’entrée en jeu de la mère porteuse.  Celle-ci dès le départ, a pris soin d’indiquer à l’embryon puis au fœtus qu’elle n’était pas la vraie maman. L’enfant est né et les parents ont emporté l’enfant en France. Le contact avec la famille de la mère porteuse a été conservé. Les deux familles se voient régulièrement par Skype et parlent de l’évolution de l’enfant. Tout est fait pour que tout se passe avec le plus d’harmonie possible et on peut même penser que des enfants de parents « classiques » n’ont pas la chance d’un tel entourage.

C’est exact, mais le doute de ce qu’il se passe dans les tréfonds de la psyché demeure. En effet, comment l’unité psychique qui est la base de la construction du moi intègre-t-elle cette confusion de départ ? Comment cet éclatement originaire peut-il être perçu quand on sait à quel point la faille sur laquelle repose la psyché est abyssale ?

Deux solutions :

– Soit la faille n’est que superficiellement refermée et la confusion risque de réapparaître un jour : je pense que cela pourra se traduire par des difficultés physiologiques encore inconnues dans les générations descendantes (tares, stérilités…). Dans ce cas, le non-respect des limites corporelles serait pris en charge par le corps référant et protecteur des lois naturelles. Cela voudrait dire que la science doit se contenter d’observer et de comprendre mais pas de transgresser. D’autres lois supérieures la chapotent.

– Soit, nous changeons de paradigmes à la base de la construction psychique et là tout est envisageable. Ce serait une émancipation de la psyché vis-à-vis du corps et la mise en place de nouvelles lois d’accès à la conscience. Le corps ne deviendrait que l’instrument secondaire de la conscience. Une conscience qui devrait-être suffisamment puissante pour s’affranchir de tous les clivages.

 

Aujourd’hui, c’est un peu le pari de Pascal. Pour ma part, je pense inutile de s’opposer à l’expérimentation. A partir du moment où les pratiques sont légales dans un bon nombre de pays, le mouvement est en marche et il me paraît inutile de vouloir l’arrêter. En revanche, la responsabilité individuelle est à son comble et il appartient à chacun de parier en fonction de ses convictions. On l’aura compris, je ne crois pas à une émancipation de la psyché par rapport au corps. Je pense juste que le corps va mettre du temps à réagir. Réfléchir aux conséquences de ce que l’on engendre que ce soit dans le quotidien comme à une plus grande échelle, me paraît être l’enjeu d’un nouveau saut temporel pour l’homme. En effet, les processus de conscience sont intimement liés à l’appréhension du temps et sa pénétration. La liberté a un prix celui d’être toujours plus conscient des conséquences. Chacun peut donc choisir en son âme et conscience et en toute liberté de transgresser les lois. Bien sûr il y a l’enfant au bout de ce choix mais l’enfant est un futur adulte et on sait que ce sont les générations futures soit qui récoltent les avancées, soit qui paient pour les erreurs des précédentes.

 

 

 

 

 

Par Linda Gangolfi