Last week I discussed not letting our reptilian vagus nerve get the better of us in stressful situations (like auditioning or asking Heidi Klum out on a date or parachuting at 10,000 feet) and thereby shutting us down from the potential of expressing empowered, authentic feeling that these experiences may evoke.
But just like training your pet snake to do something (besides eat rats and constrict!), it’s difficult to make changes that are permanent in our own physiological system, if we don’t know how it works.
Dr. Alan Watkins, who lectures on neuroscience (and could very well be an acting teacher!) – teaches that to understand optimal performance, it would help if we understood the science of it.
And in order to understand science, it helps to become aware of feelings and work with them so that they don’t shut us down or overwhelm us and cause our system to spark and overheat.
According to Dr. Watkins, emotion is just energy-in-motion created by our biochemical responses that occur due to our physiology.
So physiology – which is information sent from our organs to our brain – is then expressed as emotion. Our bodily systems (electrical signals, chemical waves, electromagnetic waves, etc.) send these permutations of energy to our brains, and feelings, then, become our awareness of the energy that is there.
For example, physiologically-speaking, if we’re in a situation that causes anxiety, the symptoms of that state that our body generates could be a fast-beating heart, sweaty palms and our gut starting to churn. We might get short of breath and feel nauseous.
I often ask actors, “How are you feeling?” during a scene. And they say, “I don’t know.” Or “I’m fine.” Or they describe it in a way that doesn’t actually pinpoint what the feeling is; describing it vaguely.
But we can’t change physiology without knowing that we have control over how our physiology makes us react to things. So changing physiology can change our patterns of behavior.
One way is the breath. (Hmmmm . . . something meditators and yoga instructors and spiritual teachers have been teaching for thousands of years.)
Dr. Watkins takes it one step further and his research has shown that rhythmic breathing (which is another way of saying mindful breathing) actually steadies our heart rate, reduces stress and drops our awareness into our bodies when practiced regularly and with awareness.
So breathe through the heart. Consciously.
It is the epicenter of feeling and also oftentimes, it is one of the prime areas we feel the experiences of stress in our bodies. Partly this is because it’s an immense power grid (and according to Dr. Watkins, generates more power than any other part of our body), but also by breathing through the heart we begin to move our awareness from our very noisy, turbulent and sometimes sabotaging heads into our heart center.
And really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for, always?
To be more heart-centered, fully expressed, free, emotionally available, less analytical and self-critical, more joyful and open?
It seems once again, the science is in.
Let your heart be your guide.