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Touch for Health, Mindfulness and Brain Plasticity
Soothing the Amygdala, harmonizing the Hippocampus and growing the Corpus Callosum

by Earl Cook
May 2010

Our objectives in Touch for Health are very simple:

1. Improve posture by balancing the subtle energy system
2. Reduce the negative effects of stress before, during and after challenging times
3. Help people identify, verbalize and focus on meaningful goals

John Thie, DC (1), founder and author of Touch for Health, often stated how he and many others in our field recognize stress as a primary cause of multiple types of illness and distress. Today, the short and long-term detrimental effects of prolonged stress and trauma are being recognized and being studied in many disciplines. Of special interest to those of us in Touch for Health is that an increasing amount of attention is being placed upon the Mind-Body aspects of the stress process and its effects.

Ruth Buczynski, PhD, (2) President and Co-Founder of The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) has recently been hosting a series of online Mind-Body webinars. The webinars have included some of the leading researchers in the U.S. working in the areas of brain science and psychotherapy. This article presents some of the viewpoints of participants of the NICABM web events along with statements made by Dr. John Thie during his lifetime.

The focus of the NICABM online series has been the stress response system, memory and learning, and the effects upon the body that prolonged stress and traumatic events cause. This series is focusing on the Mind-Body connection and how techniques that focus on this psychosomatic connection are working as powerful interventions. Dr. John Thie, author and founder of Touch for Health stated on many occasions, “Up to 90% of our everyday, common and non-serious health issues do not require the skills, resources and attention of our highly-trained professional healthcare workers.” And,Dr. Rick Hanson (3), author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom offers a similar viewpoint as Dr. Thie and stated in the NICABM series, “Most suffering is not physical or emotional agony but everyday stuff like stress, worrying, feeling left out and anxiety.”

“Most suffering is not physical or emotional agony but everyday stuff like stress,
worrying, feeling left out and anxiety.”

Dr. Rick Hanson - author, Buddha's Brain

This article presents my opinion about how the ideas presented in the webinars relate to Touch for Health and, generally, to the energy kinesiology and energy psychology fields. While the primary focus of these professionals in the webinars is serious trauma and mental and emotional illness, their insight into the stress response system and their belief that Mindfulness and Brain Plasticity are powerful interventions and preventive measures should be of particular interest to us as we work with the common daily stress issues.

Note: This article is about the everyday life issues we face on a routine basis. For all serious and life-threatening issues, seek professional advice.

The stress response system of the body is complex involving neuroendocrine, cellular and molecular infrastructures. It receives and integrates a variety of neurosensory (visual, auditory, somatosensory, noiceptive, visceral) signals arriving through distinct pathways. The limbic (emotional), cerebral, and memory processing functions are all involved and their degree of involvement is determined by the intensity of a stress or threat and the individual's ability to process and manage stress. The way that the stress response system responds in either creating distinct life experience memories, or subconscious capsules of fear and trauma that have no conscious connection is decisive in causing positive or negative health results.

One of the speakers, Robert C. Scaer, MD (4), neurologist, renowned specialist in trauma and author of Your Body Bears the Burden Trauma, Dissociation and Disease states, “If we start to follow the effects of the hypothalamus - pituitary gland - adrenal axis (HPA Axis) we see that trauma is the root of all illness. Our negative life experiences directly affect our immune system.”

“If we start to follow the effects of the hypothalamus - pituitary gland - adrenal axis (HPA Axis),
we see that trauma is the root of all illness.
Our negative life experiences directly affect our immune system.”

Robert C. Scaer, MD, author of Your Body Bears the Burden Trauma, Dissociation and Disease

Much of the discussion in the webinars has been about how the stress response is triggered in the cores of our central nervous system in the survival reflexes and memories and then passed through our emotional and cerebral centers for review and evaluation before being committed to memory. In Scaer's theories, this is where the process can take several paths and intensity of response depending upon the perceived severity and duration of the threat or stress and our ability to process stress.

There is a critical moment in the process where the stimuli from the survival memories are modulated by the Limbic emotional, learning and memory capabilities interacting with the cognitive areas of the brain to create a response. If the survival response is strong enough or the survival memories are congruent, then the cognitive review and orderly posting of the event to explicit memory is bypassed.

Dr. Rick Hanson, further states, “Our brain is Velcro for negative memories and Teflon for positive memories. We are wired with a negative bias. It's part of the survival instinct so negative memories easily stick and positive memories slip away.” Scaer states that the brain is extremely efficient at taking a snapshot of all the stimuli from the different systems during a stressful or traumatic situation and storing this information into capsules of stimuli that reside in sub-conscious implicit memory.

“Our brain is Velcro™ for negative memories and Teflon™ for positive memories.
We are wired with a negative bias.
It's part of the survival instinct so negative memories easily stick and positive memories slip away.


Dr. Rick Hanson - author, Buddha's Brain

These dissociative memories will run with their highly charged capsules of experiences (fear, pain, stress, anxiety, etc.) running in background memory below the level of consciousness without a link for the person and the body doesn't know the threat has ended. This also causes people to overreact to situations because the underlying memory is triggered by something in the ‘capsule’ of experiences. However, it can also have the opposite effect and cause people to turn off and disassociate from present reality. So, once again there is balance to be achieved.

Our brain’s limbic (emotional) system normally reviews our experiences in the Hippocampus with input from the Amygdala. If they fit our personal narrative or if they are accepted as a new learning experience, they are efficiently submitted into long-term memory by the Hippocampus. This is an orderly process and these explicit memories are filed with attachments to consciousness that can be used to spur the memory in the future. But, this orderly process takes time.

During trauma this orderly process gets bypassed by the need for survival whether they be real or falsely perceived threats. In these cases, the memories do not go through the orderly review and submittal to memory process involving the Hippocampus, dreams and the Amygdala. As a result, the traumas are committed into memory without the proper timestamps of beginning, middle and end and do not have an attachment to conscious memory and dissociative memories are created.

These disassociated traumas and memories are also stored throughout the body. As we know in TFH, when we do a TFH balance, we often find areas of stress or dysfunction present in the energetic kinesiology system. People will often tell us, Yeah, that's my bum shoulder that I hurt when... as we come across an unlocking muscle. Often, there are stories associated with the dysfunction that we find during the muscle testing - stress monitoring - energy balancing session.

Babette Rothschild, MSW, LCSW (5) in her NICABM presentation entitled, The Body Remembers: Harnessing Somatic Memory in the Treatment of Trauma states, “Motor development is linked with psychological development. In the early 90’s it was recognized that there were body and psychological aspects to trauma, both body and mind. The body keeps the score book of traumatic events and that is what makes the link. The alternative people realized that there is a link and this fact has caused a major leap in psychology.”

“The body keeps the score book of traumatic events and that is what makes the link. The alternative people realized that there is a link and this fact has caused a major leap in psychology.”

Babette Rothschild, MSW, LCSW

Pat Ogden, PhD (6), author of Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, says that traumatic memories are implicit and separated from the conscious brain's cognitive areas of speech and expression so the person finds it difficult to find words and language to describe the event. Therefore, she thinks that a traditional therapy narrative ‘top down’ approach is not as effective as finding the trauma's location in the body and working ‘bottom up’ from the body to the mind. Ogden says that approaching it from a perspective of the body stimulating the memory in the brain is important so that an attachment for awareness and remembering can be made to the memory so that it can be understood in a cognitive sense and then dealt with.

One of the most hopeful developments in this area is the concept of brain plasticity... that the brain does and can change beneficially with some types of stimuli, nurturing Mindfulness (awareness of states and processes) and through movement and learning. The researchers agree, if the body can be allowed to reset itself to a state of balance and homeostasis after a stressful event, then the immune system is enhanced and the many negative efforts of the stress response system are avoided.



Mindfulness

A central part of mindfulness is being aware of one's own state of being and finding ways to enhance life without unnecessarily triggering the hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal axis during our daily lives.

Important factors in fostering mindfulness and processing stress that were presented were:

1. Be especially mindful of early childhood development and the need for touch, nurturing, love, support and stimulation for learning and resolving challenges. We need some stress in our lives to grow and survive. Children need good examples of handling stress from those around them and they need opportunities to learn and establish their own healthy stress response processes and resiliency to stress.

2. Do anything where there is a conscious effort to focus, breathe and increase awareness of internal stimuli whether it is, for example, meditation, fishing or chess.

3. Perform moderate exercise such as walking and dance that increase circulation and brain activity but do not activate the stress-response system

4. Learn a musical instrument

5. Get into new social situations


Brain Plasticity

Part of brain plasticity is getting people moving and into a new environment which gets old and new circuits firing in the brain. This action provides new stimuli from the senses... new sights, new sounds, new smells, new people, new circumstances. Firing circuits can cause neurogenis and new connections in the brain and is a good state of preparation for learning. It is also a foundation for creating healthier, more efficient and positive internal brain connections. In the theories of brain plasticity, the opposite states of disassociation and hopelessness can cause the opposite effect... neuro-apathy.

When there is evidence of trauma, Babette Rothschild suggests to start at the end of the trauma by saying, “You survived! It is over. Tell the brain and the body that it is over. You are here now. Now let’s do something new. What are you good at doing? What makes you happy?”


Plasticity through Goal Setting

With Touch for Health goal-setting, Dr. Thie emphasized, “Assist the person identify what is important to them. What do they want to do in life? What is their purpose in life? What is their calling? What’s important to them? What are they good at?” Then as we test and balance the muscles and subtle energy systems, we are stimulating the brain causing plasticity and mindfulness when the neurons fire, some which may not have fired in years due to inactivity. I think this is the use of a wonderful ability we have as humans... transcendence. We can look forward and place our focus on sights on where we wish to go and we can create and experience hope. Some stress actually has a positive effect upon us as we learn, grow and become stronger in our ability to cope with stress and be resilient.

Bill O'Hanlan (7), pyschotherapist and author or 29 books stated in the NICABM series, “People are strongest at the places where they have been broken. They have developed strengths and developed ways to overcome. People are resilient. They can thrive as a result of trauma. Sometimes trauma can cause growth in positive ways, spiritual sensitivities, new personal relationships, finding purpose in life. So, positive things can come out. Growth often follows trauma.”

He continues, “When having positive emotions, implicit views of oneself and the world in whole body ways, we are having positive states of the mind that are sculpting the brain. What the sculpting causes the brain to do is to generate positive thoughts that further sculpt the brain to have positive thoughts. Deepen the ability to stimulate the parasymphathetic system which is the antidote of the fight/flight/freeze stress response.”

In dealing with trauma and stress, Rothschild also made the statement,If people get adequate support in the immediate aftermath of a trauma then they are less likely to develop PTSD and dissociative memories.” Dr. Rick Hanson, states, “Give your clients tools that they can help themselves from the inside out.” I heard Dr. Hanson's statement and thought, “What about the awareness and mindfulness of the mind-body link that we provide through our TFH muscle-testing energy balancing and the stress reduction techniques that we include with ESR and meaningful goal-setting?”

If people get adequate support in the immediate aftermath of a trauma then they are
less likely to develop PTSD and dissociative memories.”

Babette Rothschild, MSW, LCSW

Detecting the Effects of Stress with TFH

In TFH we can demonstrate the immediate effects of stress through a simple muscle test of the PMC. We can monitor the response of the muscle when contrasting the pondering of a thought of a safe place as opposed to the result of the muscle test with the introduction of a mental/emotional/biochemical/light/sound/vibrational stressor.

What do we use in TFH for this to help people minimize and reduce the effects of stress? The TFH Emotional Stress Relief (ESR) technique is a tool that can be used at many times by people to help themselves manage the HPA Axis and stop or moderate it's negative effects by using it before, during and after stressful and traumatic situations. This technique is taught the first day of TFH training and repeated in each level.

We use the Emotional Stress Relief (ESR) techniques to move the consciousness and blood flow from the centers of the Fight-Flight-Freeze-Feign Response located in the reptilian survival brain to the forebrain, where our reasoning and cognitive abilities take over and we realize that we have options. This is Mindfulness. Just realizing that you have this ability as a human is comforting and reassuring to most people and can reduce stress just in this realization. Moving this consciousness from the rear brain to the forebrain has the effect of disarming the HPA-Axis with many beneficial results.

“You can actually grow your brain. They grow larger with learning and movement.”

Bill O'Hanlan, LMFT

Bill O'Hanlan also stated, “You can actually grow your brain. They grow larger with learning and movement. A simple intervention for depression... do a walking session with them to get the brain working again. Find old brain circuits that were well developed in the person and where they were more productive and get those active again. Change the brain”.


Movement and Firing Circuits with Cross Crawl

In Touch for Health, we often use the cross-crawl kinesiology exercise techniques to awaken the brain and to get the circuits in our brain firing. Drs. Paul and Gail Dennison (8) built Brain Gym using movement-generated learning techniques for use in schools. They have expanded the techniques and they now are helping children around the world overcome learning difficulties and better prepare them for learning. They do this by going through a series of kinesiological movements to get the circuits firing and in a receptive state for learning... brain plasticity. Neurons that fire together, grow together.

Ruth Buczynski states about exercise and depression, “...patients who exercised experienced a 20% decrease in anxiety compared to those who didn't exercise. We've known for years that exercise was helpful in treating depression but a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that patients who exercised experienced a 20% decrease in anxiety compared to those who didn't exercise. Researchers from the Univ. of Georgia analyzed the results from 40 randomized controlled clinical trials involving nearly 3,000 patients who suffered from a variety of medical conditions. In 90% of the studies, participants who were assigned to the exercise group exhibited fewer anxiety symptoms, including worry, apprehension and nervousness than those participants in the control group.”

 

“Mindfulness can change the wiring and growth of the brain.
Highly skilled Buddhist meditators are able to change their EEG by changing their breathing.”

Daniel Siegel, MD, author of Mindsight, the new science of personal transformation

Daniel Siegel, MD (9) author of Mindsight, the new science of personal transformation stated, “Mindfulness can change the wiring and growth of the brain. Highly skilled Buddhist meditators are able to change their EEG by changing their breathing. Oxytoxin is a nurturing hormone. Buddhists cultivate compassion. So, does meditation increase the production of oxytoxin?”

The amount and amplitude of stressors have dramatically increased in our modern society and most of these are caused by common factors in our lives... work, finances, relations, school and embarrassing social situations. For these common, everyday stressors, there is not enough time, finances or professional help available to address each situation for everyone! So, what do we do?


TFH in our Daily Lives

Prevention - the effects of a postural balance are that circuits in the brain begin to fire again keeping the brain in a state of plasticity where the capability to learn is enhanced, stress is reduced and a general feeling of wellness, balance and homeostasis is reached. goal-setting helps focus on the future with a positive anchor to attach new neural growth and connections.

Maintenance - getting exercise and attempting something new in one's life is offered as a good way to break out of depression, reduce stress and overcome the effects of trauma. People often have nagging everyday aches and pains that may prevent them from exercising. A TFH 14-muscle balance is a great way to keep the circuits firing and the subtle energies flowing.

Intervention - TFH is a non-diagnostic model and is not used for the diagnosis or treatment of disease. For all serious and life-threatening issues, always seek professional healthcare attention. For those thousands of everyday stresses and lesser traumas that we undergo in our daily lives, TFH is an excellent holistic model using relatively simple means to help the body maintain its balance and homeostasis. For example, there is beginning to be acceptance within the traditional healthcare community that the mind and body are connected. There is also widespread acceptance of the negative effects of prolonged stress as the evidence continues to mount. As the world begins to accept these facts and look for ways to implement the knowledge learned, we see that Touch for Health, the energy kinesiologies and energy psychologies have been using these techniques since the mid 1960’s.

Our simple objectives:

1. Improve posture by balancing the subtle energy system
2. Reduce the negative effects of Stress
3. Balance in a goal

Effects upon our wellness and overall health:

1. Postural balancing - resets muscular circuits that have been turned off due to stress or trauma or not being used. Allows inactive circuits to start firing again which can help create positive brain plasticity.

2. Reduced stress because of ESR
is where we work to prevent the Hypothalic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis from inappropriately firing by moving the consciousness from the survival brain to the Cerebral Forebrain initiating the touch reflex by lightly touching the neurovasculars on the forehead.

3. With goal-setting
, we move the focus and the consciousness to something that is meaningful for the person which creates new neural activity in the brain and attachments for these goals which become explicit memories in this process.

4. By finding stress in the body
, we can help identify and re-associate implicit memories to their source so that they may be remembered and mindfulness of the event be used for healing.


Chi and the Subtle Energies

The subtle energy system of Chi and the acupunture meridians which we work with has not been mentioned in these discussions. The speakers are promoting the mind-body psychosomatic interrelationships. Touch for Health is an excellent protocol that can be used by lay people and professionals for everyday issues that we routinely face in our lives. Exercise is routinely offered as a great way to change the overall health of a person on many levels. But, people often develop aches and pains that aren't serious enough to see a doctor but they are serious enough to prevent the person from getting exercise. With our TFH balancing techniques, many of these common aches and pains disappear as a result of a TFH muscle & energetic balance.

Another example is that people often lose their motivation or become stressed for a number of reasons. The TFH Emotional Stress Relief (ESR) techniques are powerful to use before, during and after stressful or traumatic situations to help calm the HPA-Axis stress response system. Goal-setting is a great motivational aid to help people define their goals and express them to explicit memory with positive neural connections.

Touch for Health presents a systematic protocol to work with individual energetic circuits
for restoring their continuity and function.

Touch for Health presents a systematic protocol to work with individual energetic circuits for restoring their continuity and function. According to these researchers, the effects of this actions have the ability to increase brain plasticity through causing old circuits to refire and through goal-setting, we are helping people to rewire their internal circuits of the brain and anchor these to meaningful goals for the person. This process involves Mindfulness as the person being balanced experiences aspects of their body and mind and their relationship they never knew existed. Unlocking blockages in the energetic system can restore function and understanding through reestablishing attachments between aches and pains in the body with specific implicit memory events and thereby providing a link for resolving issues.

The biofeedback nature of the muscle test as an effective monitor of the effects of stressors and connection to traumatic events by providing immediate feedback is one of the most powerful tools we have in understanding the Mind-Body relationships.

So, I think Touch for Health is an excellent tool for:

1. Helping people maintain the balance in their lives that assists them in achieving their natural homeostasis through postural balancing and emotional stress relief.

2. Reconnecting and building new neural circuits through meaningful goals

3. Helping people remain active and exercising, with all of its healthy benefits, by providing a natural way to reset the body so that many common nagging aches and pains are reduced or, often resolved.

“As the evidence is showing, any time we can help the body maintain its balance and homeostatis without engaging the Hypothalamic-Pitutary-Adrenal Axis and without creating dissociative memories associated with stress and trauma, we are assisting the body and mind and the whole person.”

Earl Cook, Professional Touch for Health Instructor, Chair Research Committee, TFHKA

For more serious cases and once a person is under professional care, TFH also offers many benefits as complimentary model to assist a person prepare for or recover from both physical events such as surgery and injury while also offering techniques useful for addressing the emotional trauma often associated with these events. “As the evidence is showing, any time we can help the body maintain its balance and homeostatic without engaging the Hypothalamic-Pitutary-Adrenal Axis and without creating dissociative memories associated with stress and trauma, we are assisting the body and mind and the whole person.”

The psychomatic link between trauma stored in the body and dissociative memories in sub-conscious memories is especially interesting and should be explored more by researchers. These are exciting times.

Earl Cook - co-developer of the eTouch for Health, TFH eCharts, John Thie Memorial Online Research Database and the eInstructor software systems. Earl and his wife, Gail, have worked with Touch for Health since 1976 when a seven-year old injury of Earl's was fixed in only seconds using TFH and acupressure. They worked closely with TFH founder John Thie and Matthew Thie is developing the eTouch software. Earl is a Professional Touch for Health Instructor and Chair of the Research Committee for the Touch for Health Kinesiology Association in the U.S.. He is a microcomputer pioneer and has worked in the computer industry since 1980. As a consultant and software application developer, Earl has solved complex problems for some of the world's largest organizations.


Sources:

1. John Thie, DC, author, founder of Touch for Health. http://www.etouchforhealth.com/john_thie.html
2. Ruth Buczynski, PhD, President and Co-Founder of The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM). http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/
3. Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. http://www.rickhanson.net/
4. Robert C. Scaer, MD, neurologist, renowned specialist in trauma and author of Your Body Bears the Burden Trauma, Dissociation and Disease http://traumasoma.com/
5. Babette Rothschild, MSW, LCSW psychotherapist and body-psychotherapist, author of The Body Remembers: Harnessing Somatic Memory in the Treatment of Trauma http://home.webuniverse.net/babette/
6. Pat Ogden, PhD, author of Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, http://www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/faculty.html
7. Bill O'Hanlan, LMFT, pyschotherapy author of 29 books. http://www.billohanlon.com/
8.
Drs. Paul and Gail Dennison, Brain Gym http://www.braingym.org/
9. Daniel Siegel, MD author of Mindsight, the new science of personal transformation, http://drdansiegel.com/

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