Whirling Dervishes and Flying Reindeer


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Welcome to the season for love, peace, happiness, gratitude, generosity, family gathering and festal feasting.

Fires raged in the southland last week, burning hundreds of homes, barns and sadly, numerous uncounted sentient inhabitants not only of locked barns but of the burning forest as well.

It seems everytime I post there is some new disaster to acknowledge and assuage. We humans must be so resilient. LIfe is getting harder. Speeding up. Earth’s life systems are under strain by our polluting lifestyle. We are the Earth everyone. I feel like the Lorax sometimes.

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On a lighter note. Classes at CSUB are on winter break meaning two extra days a week for me to apply myself to working with pregnant moms through teaching prenatal yoga classes and also working with babies through craniosacral.

Last month, starting on my birthday, I attended a conference sponsored by the Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH). The title was: The Conscious Baby Emerges. Between the mix of obstetrician and gynecologists, there were doulas, midwives, craniosacral therapists, psychologists, chiropractors, lactation experts, meditators and yoga teachers in attendance.

The association sponsors this international congress biannually to educate people about this field. Our first speaker was Thomas Vierny, MD who talked about neuroscience and the baby developing in the mothers womb.

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He said that if the mother is always angry, fearful, anxious or upset then the baby’s brain doesn’t develop the dendrites that amplify neuronal connectivity in the brain, nor does the vagus nerve myelinate effectively which inhibits the “social nervous system” by returning the baby’s autonomic nervous system development to a more primitive fight or flight state. In Vierny’s words, the baby prepares its brain, in utero, for life in a difficult world.

Psychologist Darcia Narvaez, PhD, from the University of Notre Dame writes a blog for Psychology Today called “Moral Landscapes.”  The title of her presentation was called “The Evolved Developmental Niche,” aka “the nest.”

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Narvaez pointed out that humans are born with only 25% of their brain development. To be comparable to other infant mammals, humans need 18 months of outside the womb (postnatal) development to have a brain the same size as an infant primate. Narvaez calls this postnatal period the “evolved nest.”

PolyVagal Theory & Beyond

Somatic practitioners John and Ann Chitty talked about the Ployvagal theory which is a scientific explanation developed by neurophysiologist Stephen Porges on why being nice to each other is so helpful to life.

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and originates in the brain stem then exits the cranium at the base of the skull where the two sides divide into ventral and dorsal (front and back) components.

The dorsal vagus originated first in our evolution and is unmyelinated meaning slower to conduct nerve impulses.The dorsal vagus controls the digestive organs of the stomach. This dorsal vagus activates our parasympathetic nervous system.

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We share this aspect of our nervous system with other animals including reptiles. This primitive nervous system responds to a threat by immobilizing or “freezing,” playing dead, fainting, or passing out. When life threat is not present the parasympathetic aspect of our autonomic nervous system inspires us to: rest and digest; relax and renew.

The front or ventral vagus is myelinated and it controls the heart and lungs (organs above the diaphragm). Myelin is the “white matter” in the brain, spinal cord, and cranial nerves like the vagus. It is a substance made from cholesterol, a fatty substance, and it coats the nerve axons with a lubricant so the nerve impulses making up our central nervous system can fire more effectively.

In the case of the vagus this myelination helps us respond to danger with our mobile mammalian limbs so the ventral vagus evolved us into the flight or fight response to danger which is a component of the autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic system. Running away or fighting a threat broadened our opportunity for survival.

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Mammals are social creatures who need other mammals to survive so the most recent evolution of our vagus is called “the social nervous system.” This means that the nucleus of teh vagus in the brain stem shares the same nucleus with the facial nerve which activates the muscles around the eye that show true joy and emotion.

Therefore, if we see a kind face, that reflects into our vagus fight or flight nervous system showing us we are safe. If instead we see a flat face or hear a low monotone then our nervous system registers danger and we prepare for action.

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This social vagus nerve works like this. If the person we are talking to looks kind and their voice registers prosody (sing song) then our ventral vagus feels safe and we can learn from others.

In this response, the vagus nerve that controls the heart, puts a “brake” on the heart. It inhibits speeding pulse, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure. It slows down and relaxes the heart. It inhibits other behavior like too much talking to encourage the pro-social behavior of listening.

Chitty summed up this important concept stating that the most critical thing for babies is SAFETY. And the most important thing for us to do around them is watch our “state” which refers to emotions you are feeling. Even if you try to hide a bad mood, baby feels it. So change your “state” before bringing baby into proximity.

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Merry Christmas Everyone, Happy SOlstice and New Year. May your holidays be filled with the warm love of all your relations and the nurturing comfort of your greater than human habitat

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