Our nervous systems have an archaic rhythm, evolved over thousands of years, with innate functions that, in our modern world, may not seem rational or sociable and are therefore often resisted. This rhythm mirrors all of life and moves like a wave. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, the tides come in and go out, as our breath expands and contracts, as our bladders fill and then empty, as light moves in waves to our eyes and sound as waves to our ears, our nervous system too moves in the motion of a wave. Through following this rhythm we find ourselves in deep connection to nature and others.
The nervous system rhythm is another wave in the ocean of our universe. The wave begins with a rising and condensing of energy. Wilhelm Reich, father of Somatic Psychology, called this charge. Charge happens whenever the body is called to mobilize its energy, aka resources, for action. In charge, your heart rate and pressure increases, blood moves to the limbs, adrenaline secretes and digestion slows. Charge happens for many different reasons; as a result of stress, a response to a threat, an engagement of play, a social or sexual arousal, a personal sense of excitement, or some other source of stimulation.
Our own thoughts, memories and emotions can produce charge within our bodies, just as much as a physical threat outside of us. Charge is the energy of life, preparing us to engage with life. It rises up in us as a physicality. Most people know the feeling of charge, and it is used in statements such as “this situation has a charge to it”, “I feel charged”, etc. Many can even feel the charge of other people’s nervous systems, because our nervous systems are in constant conversation with one another. Charge is a powerful and useful force that catalyzes the movement and action in our life.
Next, in the natural form of a wave, charge reaches a crest, or tension point, a point at which our body is maxed out in its capacity to hold more energy. Here, we can feel like a rubber band that can stretch no more. We have reached our limit to handle upward energy, the same way a wave in the ocean can no longer rise and gather water against gravity, and so must begin to head in the opposite direction. Tension is held and felt in our nervous system as well as our muscles. The physical energy from charge is materialized. We can “cut the tension with a knife”.
With no more upward movement available to us, the next part of our rhythm is a downward cascade, the body releases its charge and tension through a releasing discharge. Discharge is a release of both the physical and emotional “stuff” of charge. Discharge is a downward action that requires a sense of grounded-ness, safety, and embodiment. This includes release activities such as crying, kicking, belly laughing, rocking, shaking, trembling.
Discharge tends to be where most people begin resisting their nervous system rhythm. This stems from multiple reasons including a suppression of discharge activity and a disconnection from body and therefore a lack of ground. If you are not grounded in body, and bio-energetically to earth, then the downward action of discharge is not fully available. Without grounding, body must hold onto something in order to feel safe, so it holds on to tension. Held tension disrupts the flow of spontaneous movement that is full discharge. Without full discharge, we cannot complete our stress response and so we cycle right back up into another charge and begin a self-feeding stress cycle.
When we have the capacity to fully discharge, and release the charge and tension from body, we can finally reach the trough of the wave, where the relaxation response becomes physiologically possible. In the relaxation response, the body mobilizes your inner resources towards yourself, instead of outward as in charge. Here your life-force energy is used for long-term projects of the body, such as digestion and cellular regeneration. This is where self-healing occurs and resilience is created. It is this trough that allows us to handle the peaks of charge, or stress, with an ability to “bounce back”.
-excerpt from my upcoming book “Nervous System Rhythm”
Watch the video introduction to Nervous System Rhythm here.