Explorations at the cutting edge of applied neurophysiology :: please forgive the lack of clarity here, these are things that we are still very much thinking about and exploring through our work

Uninhibited Somatic Self-Regulation and primal gestural sequences

One of the things that we are really interested in at Applied Mindfulness is what we think of as primal or archetypal gestural sequences, through which the body unconsciously self-regulates visceral or emotional states.  These are motor expressions generated in response to internal states.  Since stress is often accumulated when these motor expressions are inhibited, or supressed (see Peter Levine and AMI advisor Steven Hoskinson's work), they are a very interesting window into ways that the nervous system self-regulates.  One of the great places to watch for these is with little kids, who haven't yet been taught to inhibit or suppress their natural gestural repertoire.  The video below looks at two of these gestural sequences in a two-year old (video used with permission of her parents.)

Primal Gesture :: Irritation & Attachment

James/ Lange theory of emotions suggests that emotion is outward expression of internal visceral states, i.e., the socially-oriented expression of an internal visceral state, i.e., the translation of inner world state into outer world intelligible material.  Porges polyvagal neuroanatomical studies note a category of 'special visceral efferents', the nerves that control somatic muscles in the face [which, interestingly, evolved from the gill arches of bony fish], that defies clear categorization, as the autonomic nervous system has typically been defined as involuntary, or not under conscious control, which would imply innervation of smooth muscle or cardiac muscle, whereas facial muscle is striated and under conscious control.  The social engagement system, in infants, interestingly, relies on the coordination of affective states and attunement with care-giver through eye gaze, facial expression, jaw reflex (sucking, swallowing), vocalizations, and middle ear tuning from the infant's side.  If social engagement depended on motor control of limbs or other striated muscle, this would be a problem, since an infant can't control these– an infant can't even hold up the weight of its own head.  However, from birth, infants have enough myelination to control eye gaze, facial expression, jaw reflex, vocalizations and middle ear tuning.  These are the avenues through which infants express internal visceral state to an attuned caregiver.  In other words, although they can be controlled 'consciously' or intentionally, in fact, in an infant specifically, it is likely that spontaneous or uninhibited motoric expression in these systems is the outward facing representation of visceral state without interference.  These are deeply sub-cortical, sub-limbic primal reptilian level networks.

Think about what these early attachment moments look like, and you can see how this system is working.  These neural systems are also closely coordinated with the vagal nerve and innervate the medulla via the NA (nucleus ambiguus) therefore intimately linked with cardiac and respiratory systems (and isn't it interesting to note that these facial muscles evolved from gill arches, which are linked to breathing.)  In some strange way, our facial muscles then may by phylogenitically linked to our breathing apparatus.  Infants are in some sense breathing through their face, through the uninhibited expression of these muscles.

This is potentially quite important, because part of where we are going with this line of inquiry is into what happens when motoric expression is supressed.  The reason it is so potentially eye-opening to look at uninhibited motor behavior in young children is because it is often directly expressive of internal visceral state, before they've been taught not to express like this.  A large part of our social conditioning (at least in America circa 2012) involves suppression of motor instinct, and suppression of emotion.  If facial muscles are in fact tied to autonomic nervous system social engagement regulatory processes, then it is conceivable that inhibition of facial expression is a cortical over-ride of a reptilian or deep-brain process.  And that this cortical over-ride in fact blocks the de-activation of the motoric elements of the neural circuit that are seeking completion.  Said in a slightly different way, unconscious suppression of facial motoric responses accumulates stress (or prevents the stress response from de-activating.)

Part of why I think that when we do close facial scans of sensation in the face itself we often find a lot of residual tension, twitching, or impulses for eye movement in different directions, is that we are habitually suppressing these movements that want to happen, and that represent motoric completion of self-regulatory process in response to internal visceral state.

In some sense, when the autonomic nervous system seeks to regulate visceral state through motor movement, the recruited motoric circuits become functionally a part of the Autonomic Nervous System until their completion.  If we suppress this movement, which most people do on a regular basis, we're trapping activation in our physiology.  If we really understood this, our behavioral repertoire would probably change significantly.