The Instinctual Self

How can we learn to trust our instincts?

The Instinctual Self is that animal part of us, governed by the reptilian brain & the limbic system (Mammalian brain). It is our body, our gut instinct, our “belly-mind” that knows when something doesn’t feel right. All mammals have this sense, and we are no different. Some of us can trust that sense, while many of us have learned to follow our minds. We don’t realize that our thoughts actually come last, after sensing, then emotion.

According to Scientific American, 90% of the information between the brain and gut (enteric nervous system) goes upwards and only 10% flows down. That means we perceive directly from our gut, which informs our higher brain, via the vagus nerve, then action is taken. The nerves in our gut influence a big part of our emotional experience as well. Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, is but one example. So if our brain, our mood and our gut are so intrinsically connected, how can we make that relationship a healthy one?

When we take the time to connect with our bodies, especially our belly or core, and breathe and soften there, we come into relationship with our instinctual self. Hopefully, unless there is pretty active stress or trauma there, we can relax. We know that if we need to act we can, but that there is no threat now. We observe any “emotions” that may be present, but don’t get caught up in them. We allow the body to inform us, and we can help it begin to unravel the subtle tension it has been holding. We become more aware of the chatter of the mind, and less attached to it.

Somatic practices such as yoga, qigong, dance, pilates, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, and many more are extremely helpful. The first step is to get in touch with sensing your body, and really being here. Then, with the right tools, its safe to allow old emotional baggage to resurface and move away. Talk therapy can be helpful, but should be in conjunction with body-oriented practices.

The practice of TRE invokes an involuntary tremor – this is a profound practice that involves letting go of mental control and trusting out body to instinctively release. It is a gentle yet powerful letting go from deep inside the nervous system.

My Experience

How can we learn to trust our instincts? Our heart, our gut? Especially when our mind creates uncertainty, and we might feel that in our chest or our belly? It is a gradual process, not a quick fix. However, with consistent practice I managed to dramatically shift my thinking and achieve what had always eluded me: a sense of trust, ease, presence & the ability to experience pleasure. All in the space of 2 years. Hallelujah!

The turing point in my life was when I had permanently injured my thumb doing too much deep tissue massage; I was suffering from sciatica and a disc bulge after 2 pregnancies close together, and I felt like the treatments I were offering my clients were more like bandaids. I knew that something deeper within them was causing much of the disharmony they presented with.

I prayed to the universe for grace – I knew that a simpler, more profound healing method must exist to help us let go of our wound up stress, tension and long-held “stuff”. Funnily my father had given me a DVD of Trauma Releasing Exercises a couple of years prior and I hadn’t got around to watching it. (My daughter was only 3 at the time.) An inner voice told me clearly “Watch that DVD your Dad gave you” ….I watched it, did the exercises and a tremor activated involuntarily in my inner thighs – it felt amazing. My husband said “This has gotta be good for you…” (knowing my defensive tendencies in the bedroom!) I booked into the next course that very weekend when David Berceli (American founder of TRE) happened to be teaching TRE Level 1 – in Melbourne! Syncronicity indeed.

Practicing TRE helped me to trust and unwind a lot of tension patterns in my body, then practicing Tigress Yoga® helped me to grow new neural pathways to pleasure. Teaching these modalities has taught me so much about the human body and its capacity to heal and transform, consistently and reliably, bit by bit. I am so very grateful!

P.S. I  highly recommend the book “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine. It opened me up to a new understanding which I could begin to apply to my own life.