How to Change Your Brain's Habituated Beliefs with Curiosity, Mindfulness, and Somatic Techniques - A Sensorimotor Approach
The brain is malleable, meaning that it can change and is capable of growing new neural pathways. Why is this so cool and how does it relate to healing from traumatic stress? Well, because we can train our brain to build new ways of thinking and, thus, experience the world around us differently. We do not have to be stuck no matter what happened to us and how old we are. Through the tips below, you can experiment with new ways of observing, relating to, and experiencing your mind and body.
Change takes repetition and time, as the brain changes slowly. However, continuous practice will indeed reap benefits.
Tip #1 - Identify a negative belief
What is a thought you've heard played out in your mind over and over through the months, years, if not decades? Identify a negative belief that you'd like to work with in this practice on neuroplasticity. This can be a thought that you keep circling back to, you're stuck on, or habitually tell yourself. Examples: I am unlovable; I will always feel like this; people don't really like me. Sometimes we are not even aware of a patterned thought because it has been repeated for so long (e.g. stemming from childhood), that it's become an ingrained belief.
Tip #2 - Notice what occurs in your body with thought
This is an important step, as it fosters awareness of what goes on internally and how your negative belief/thought is associated with various physical sensations or experiences. Tune inward as your think of this negative belief or recite the negative thought. Try to observe with curiosity and openness what physical movements happen. Does your head drop slightly? Do your shoulders curl inward? Maybe you feel a deep pit in your stomach.
"Practice of new actions and thoughts can change our brains and transform outdated or painful patterns." – Pat Ogden & Janina Fisher in "Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment"
Tip #3 - What is an opposite posture or movement you can try out?
Try moving your body, or a part of your body, in the opposite way. For example, if you initially noticed that your negative belief resulted in crouching your shoulders inward, you can try to do the opposite by opening your chest outward while tilting your head up.
Tip #4 - Repeat and observe
Repeat this opposite movement or posture while paying attention to what happens internally. When we change our physical body through movement, breath, or posture, we also change our internal experience and build new neural pathways. It is ok if you do not notice much initially. Keep trying while mindfully observing your body's sensations, images, emotions, and thoughts. Notice any changes following this opposite movement: is there a shift in energy, confidence, hope? Do thoughts change or are they less rigid? Is there more openness in your heart? Even noticing subtle shifts, such as the ability to breathe deeper or a decreased sense of dread, are important.
Tip #5 - Keep practicing - change takes repetition!
Your brain is capable of changing! This means that by practicing new ways of moving and relating to your body, you can alter its associated experiences and belief systems. Yes, the brain changes after trauma, but it can also change after new experiences or by repeating new patterns.
It can help to journal or log your practice to see the changes that occur over time.
If you are interested in working with me using a somatic, bottom-up approach that is trauma-informed, feel free to reach out to me! If you are reading this as current client of mine, then thank you for your openness to experiment with these different movements and postures with mindful attention and courage. You have already begun the journey of empowering yourself towards the healing that you seek.