Promoting Sleep and Enhancing Mood – Without Cannabis

Promoting Sleep and Enhancing Mood – Without Cannabis

While we often feel we have to use drugs and medicines to help us rest and sleep, we actually have all we need inside us.

Our bodies have a natural ability to rest and restore, but when we don’t know how to tap into it, we turn to pharmaceuticals. For thirty years now we have known about the Endocannabinoid System. It was found in the 1990’s by researchers exploring compounds in cannabis. The ECS is a complex cell-signalling system in your body that influences sleep, mood, appetite, movement, memory, pain and fertility. 

Drugs like cannabis use the pathways of this signalling system to move the body and brain into a more inert state. By activating the ECS, cannabis can help to reduce inflammation, to relieve pain and to allow us to experience our body in a softer state. While it has many benefits, cannabis can also have side-effects. Even the softer cannabis options can make you drowsy and unmotivated. It can leave your head a bit cloudy and affect movement. So what else can influence pathways to the ECS to bring our body into a softer state?

We have found recently that the fascia is intimately connected to the endocannabinoid system. Our fascia is a highly sensitive, connective tissue that surrounds all of our body. It holds our organs, blood vessels, muscles, bones and nerve fibre in place. It responds to the flight / fight system and it mobilises when we are safe and can get restricted when we are stressed or in pain. The fascia is like our inner ‘spidey suit’, it responds very quickly and helps us to move and it helps us to relax. If we are in pain for a long time, it can get fixed and stuck. We can access the fascia by massage and touch and help it to release and soften our physical system and it seems that this, in turn, softens or accesses the Endocannabinoid System.

Studies are showing that there are endocannabinoid receptors in the tissue of the fascia which suggests that the fascia communicates with the ECS.

Drugs like cannabis have been shown they may stimulate the fascia to become less tight and let the tissue soften and expand, however since the fascia responds well to touch, it also suggests that stimulating the fascia might also signal the ECS receptors and promote relaxation and pain reduction – thereby offering an alternative to medication.

More and more we are finding studies that show us that touch is a modulator of pain relief and these recent findings help to explain why. The body communicates in intricate, bidirectional ways. Everything is interconnected and we have so much at our disposal if we can see the innate sophistication of how it all works.

When we learn to work with the body, learn to give the body the right signals, we can learn how to naturally down-regulate the system. When someone has been in a consistent, constricted body state; gentle, focused touch can teach their inner system how to soften. The body can learn to experience something new and we can begin to understand the terrain of our nervous system and befriend it.

Working with A.R.T. (anxiety reframe technique) people often say ‘I feel like I’m stoned, I feel really relaxed like I’ve taken drugs, but my mind is clear’.

This may be because we have activated the ECS through the fascia, through gentle physical exercises that have stimulated the body to shift into a more down-regulated state. When we do this respectfully, with great regard for the intelligence of the entire system, we get results. When we work simply, the client is able to understand and incorporate the learning and they have tools that they can use themselves to bring their body into this state. We employ the natural ability of the ECS and fascial system to move ourselves into a calm state – naturally.

Come and learn more about how – naturally – get your nervous system back into a place of rest and restore.

An Autistic Revolution

An Autistic Revolution

This quote is from an article by an adult autistic talking about her experiences with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

“And yet it has remained, alongside its sibling “mindfulness,” as one of the more harmful tools offered, like giving me a hammer and asking me to hit myself with it over and over again and calling it help. Because that is precisely the direction it goes, asking me to turn against myself again and again, assuming that my own thoughts are incorrect and faulty and just need to be brought into correct alignment. What a terrible offense to my own self worth and integrity.”

 

Isabel Abbott

It speaks to the growing discontent of so many autistics with the therapies offered to them. So often our therapies are jarring for people on the spectrum. They, and sometimes the therapists themselves, do not know how to attend to the autistic.

Our present therapies require interoceptive skills of knowing how you feel. They have a neurotypical framework of assessment and a neurotypical conception of what constitutes a healthy human psyche.

They very often have little idea of the physical inertia and pain that people with autism live with and so concentrate on methods that try and get people to ‘think’ themselves well. All of these things can alienate autistic people and leave them feeling even more disenfranchised, and feeling like they have failed.

But really who has failed?

The therapies have failed. Based on outdated models they fail to take into account so many premises that neurodivergents explicitly understand. They fail to understand the language and the nuance associated with a divergent way of being in the world, one that is complex, beautiful and whole on its own terms. It is one that is rich in symbolism and meaning and one that is craving room for unique acceptance and expression.

Autistics are now asking for new modes of therapy that are in line with their sensibilities. So many therapies come as a fix it model, as a one size fits all, as if ‘if you just fix your faulty thinking’, or just unlearn your unhelpful behaviour; or just learn to cope with your problems – then all will be well and you can carry on.

But they can’t just carry on. Autistics are often debilitated by an ableist society. They are often debilitated by inertia and executive deficits that make knowing who you are and knowing how you feel (let alone making decisions and putting things into action) really difficult. So telling people to ‘buck up’ and ‘if you could just get your head around it’, doesn’t work.

They don’t work, and nor do platitudes and paying unhelpful lip service to neurodivergence.

What we need is a revolution in our approach to autism. We need a therapy model that has a strong neurodivergent framework and a capacity to attend to the physical ailments that come alongside autism.

This is why I created Anxiety Reframe Technique. A.R.T. is a radically different therapy that doesn’t seek to fix, or dig into your problems with a cookie cutter solution. A.R.T. works to get you more aligned, to feeling more like yourself. It gets you feeling more robust and able to be more flexible and to express yourself authentically. It teaches you tools and skills that allow you to bring yourself into alignment – rather than always relying on others (who know better than you). A.R.T. was created by a neurodivergent mind.

This is a statement from an adult client. It shows very clearly that for her, A.R.T. ticks all the boxes.

“It was the viable way I’d been seeking. After the second day of the Intensive, I noticed that something inside me had rad-ically shifted:

 

I had a nap on the sofa in my doorless family room while there were workmen in my house. Historically, not even being alone in a locked room sufficed for me to feel calm and secure enough to rest while workmen were in my personal space, and there had been a lot of work-men in my house over the years.

 

After the third day, I had a serious conversation with a family member that was more meaningful and engaging than I’d had with that person in a long time, I stood up for myself, spoke with compassion for them, and did not implode or quickly buckle under pressure as per decades of precedent.

 

After the fourth day, I realized what had happened: that I had unlocked a key component of my ability to advocate for myself respectfully however distressed I felt. After the fifth and final day, I was seeing so differently that I made an appointment with my eye doctor, who prescribed new glasses and visual therapies.

 

Holly’s technique offers me a way to harmonize body, mind, and spirit on demand that works for me, in a way that is natural and nourishing for me. It’s play. As I do her exercises, I finally sense and respond effectively to my body telling me how long to spend in any one activity, how many times to do them, how to sequence them, like how I can sense my body telling me it’s thirsty or ready to get up. It’s fun. Her technique does not force my body to do things it doesn’t want to do or force my mind to do things it doesn’t want to do, like override every plea from my body that it’s nearing or past its limits.

 

It’s joy. Her technique is so simple that I can focus on feeling the moment and adjusting as my body needs, so empowering that even I with my demonstrably poor working memory can remember what to do, so nourishing every time that I want to do it again. Often. Plus, I keep gaining insights and making spiritual breakthroughs while doing Holly’s exercises and I keep finding better flow after doing the exercises, so it’s become my meditation form of choice and a valuable addition to my daily religious devotions.

 

It’s amazing. I feel more me. I feel more saturated and potent, like I was previously washed-out and nebulous. I experience things as more vivid and engaging. The way I speak to others is more powerful, more personal, more genuine, more resonant, more compelling. It’s like I’ve regained the open-ness and wholeness I had as a child, and it’s so better than when I was a child because I also have an adult’s discernment and wisdom.

 

I wasn’t broken, I was misconfigured; my hard-ware had the wrong drivers and firmware, so my operating system couldn’t use it effectively. It’s like the Intensive was a critical platform update and the exercises are the development kit so I can update myself.”

 

K. Davey, USA

This work is profound in its simplicity. It is easy to teach, but it requires a paradigm shift and a challenge to your preconceptions. It can be life-changing and life-bringing and sometimes, life- saving.

To learn more about this way of working please join me for my online course that includes regular live calls to support you in your A.R.T. journey

Start the New Year with something new!

In Ocean

In Ocean

I am a sea creature forced to live upon land. Although the earth has many marvels, I still long for the water, where I am home.

The ocean matches my thoughts – deep, shimmering and shifting, made of colour and light like an abstract painting. Mysterious, magnificent and needing no words but hinting at unexplored fathoms beneath. A world below, then worlds within worlds filled with strangeness and wonder.

On land, thoughts need words and labels and boundaries. They hit against social constructs and fall apart or smash into each other. Sharing thoughts that crash or trickle or drip or rush on land is so often seen as wrong – not steady, sensible, ordered or ordinary enough. Water allows my thoughts to move and twist and turn and ebb and flow so fluidly.

In the ocean, I am suspended in another dimension and captivated by the timeless soul-whisper of great poets, artists and philosophers who have also been touched by the vastness of the sea. Just me and the universe, surrounded by the space for thoughts to expand, for splendid plans and fractal dreams to flourish.

The ocean matches my weightlessness. If I don’t feel my body on land, it’s a problem – bumping into things, so sorry, oops! The land is full of spikes and walls and things that itch. It demands that you wear foot coverings yet doesn’t care if you can’t walk because one shoelace is tied tighter than the other, cannot hear the screaming in your head because the seam of your sock isn’t in the right place, and ignores you when you’re immobilised by a single grain of sand in your shoe.

Water is soft and smooth and glides like everything and nothing against my skin. On land, I don’t know where the edges of me finish and space begins, but in the water, it doesn’t matter – I don’t have to start or finish, I can just be liquid – graceful and rippling instead of stumbling. I can dance effortlessly, unbroken and free, tossing aside the laws of physics and no longer a slave to gravity, no longer plodding and always watching my step to keep from falling.

The sea demands no layers of clothing or makeup. A minimal covering of fabric will suffice if propriety demands it. No need for shoes, accessories, tidy hair or professionalism. Appearance fades into the background and wave-wise current-connection takes centre-stage in the swell.

The ocean matches my feelings. On land, my emotions are too loud, too soft, too fierce or too hidden – never quite correct. In the water, I don’t have to divide them into boxes and label them. I can swim in grief and joy at the same time, let them flow out of me and mingle with the waves to pound ferociously or float namelessly.

Here, in this aqueous world I can let go, sink beneath the surface, tears suddenly indistinguishable from water and fear abandoned. For a moment, there is a womb-like safety to remember and forget, to be everything and nothing – absolved, disappearing and becoming just another drop in the ocean.

The ocean matches my movement – surging breakers and rolling surf mirror my restless inner landscape and I am heard. Here, I can flick my fingers, tap my toes or fidget without constraint and the water accepts it all without judgement. Here I can frolic, dive, leap, wiggle, slam, laugh or shout and there is enough sky to absorb my sound, enough space to welcome my dimensions and enough sea to allow my eccentricity.

And here, I can also be still and let the water rock me and move for me so I can just breathe and be.

The ocean waterbed allows me to relax and be held. On land, there is nowhere that provides relief – the softest mattress and fluffiest pillows only cradle me for a short time, until the hard edges of life come poking through again and my bones and spirit ache.

The ocean matches my senses. Surrounded by the beauty of shifting sand on the ocean floor, the caress of the sun sparkling through aqua-marine water and over delicate white foam I am consumed by delight. There is so much to soothe and enchant – endless patterns of colour, vibrant shadows and lines to watch, an infinite mixture of repetition and change in a personal theatre show just for me. So much stimulation – intense but natural, unlike the assaulting sounds, stabbing lights and crowds of the land.

I can sink under the water into dimness and muffled sound or watch the light-glitter flit over undulations. On land, it’s strange to want to look at shiny things again and again, or to turn your head this way and that to see the light change. It’s weird to block your ears from too much sound or to be transfixed by the movement of leaves. On land, I am always in contact with some surface or other but in the ocean, I can choose to float and be texture-free or let sand flurry through my fingers.

In the ocean, I can escape humanity for a while. Even with others sharing the space, it’s not hard to go a little further out or to the side and claim my own piece of sea. I can duck under and ignore everyone on the surface. I need those moments of denial because on the land, rooms and walls and aisles and roads define so much space and imprison me with too many people and not enough doors. And every day that I walk again into the man-made construct of exclusive dog-eat-dog towers and societal scaffolding that will not support everybody to thrive, my essence is burnt a little more.

The land breaks time into impossibly small chunks and expects them to provide sustenance. It expects rules to be followed and small talk to be made. It expects each piece of the day to be cut up and shared in an effort to prove my value. It asks more and more of me, demanding layer after layer of paper-mache protection be built until I am glued shut and left begging for slivers of recognition.

There is no small talk in the ocean because everything is small and nothing is small and the rules are few and universal. In the water there is nothing to prove – all swimming styles are valid and no topics are taboo. I am free to imagine a world where everyone is wanted and cared for, and free to wonder what would happen if one day, I just left the land behind and let the tide carry me out to the horizon. Then I remember that the land has blue wrens and sunflowers, rare moonlit conversations, music and mangoes and I wonder if there is a way to have land and sea meet.

At a surface level, I am sea creature because I love the water. In a world draped around me like sandpaper, it feels so cool and so gloriously delicious. And diving down further, as Anais Nin said, “I must be a mermaid, for I have no fear of depth and a great fear of shallow living.”

I was not well-made for this world, yet here I am, a daughter of the sea, a selkie living on land.

Scraped raw by the hard edges of reality, bruised by fallen ideals, and worn thin by the struggle to survive. But still here. Still seeking truth and still finding relief in ocean.

Saani Bennetts

This was written by my dear friend Saani, who wrote this for me to help me illuminate the beauty that comes with autism. May we find better ways to nurture and support our loved ones as we progress and evolve. Wishing you a beautiful, joyous and inclusive 2023.

Happy New Year to all!
~ Holly

Eyes as a Biomarker for Autism

Eyes as a Biomarker for Autism

A new potential biomarker for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism has been found.

“It’s often said that ‘the eyes tell it all’, but no matter what their outward expression, the eyes may also be able to signal neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD and ADHD”

Researchers from Flinders University and the University of South Australia studied ERG electroretinogram (ERG) – a diagnostic test that measures the electrical activity of the retina in response to a light stimulus. They found that people with ADHD and Autism had distinctly different responses. People with ADHD had a high response to the light stimulus and autistics had a slower response.

This study is interesting from a Polyvagal Theory perspective. The Polyvagal Theory highlights the way that the body works in response to the internal and external environment. Internally the vagus nerve is the part of our body that helps our system go into flight/fight, stay in a soft, calm state or go into an immobilised state.

The vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve and it influences our other cranial nerves. The other cranial nerves operate our eyes, ears, tongue, taste, head turning muscles. The vagus nerve will turn the other cranial nerves on, or off, depending on what we need and four of these twelve cranial nerves relate to the eyes and their ability to move and respond to light.

When we are in a flight/fight state our eyes move very fast, they are darting around focused on a threat. When we are in an immobilised state, our eyes can become very switched off and unfocused (think grief or shock). It makes sense then that their eyes will reflect this is an ERG test for people with developmental issues. The eyes may well get stuck in a fixed pattern that reflects the overall pattern of the nervous system.

“Retinal signals have specific nerves that generate them, so if we can identify these differences and localise them to specific pathways that use different chemical signals that are also used in the brain, then we can show distinct differences for children with ADHD and ASD and potentially other neurodevelopmental conditions.”

I see this often in my practice. When we can teach people to move their body out of a fixed state – either high or low – they gain more flexibility in being able to move into other states. Their vagus nerve becomes more robust and their eyes and ears follow suit, they become more responsive.

I often have clients who are able to see better, read better and socially respond better – because their eyes are more fluid and able to attend to their world. Sometimes they need new glasses or are told they no longer need glasses.

The eyes are intimately connected to the nervous system and when we soften the system as a whole all manner of things can change for the better. To learn more about this way of working please join me for my online course that includes regular live calls to support you in your journey.

Start the New Year with something new!

I am Octopus

I am Octopus

I often liken working with the nervous system to making friends with an octopus.

 Octopi are really smart, sentient beings that have a mind of their own. We can’t boss them around and make them comply, they will only do what we want if they choose to; if they deign it is safe enough to do so; if it is meaningful to them.

If you’ve seen that wonderful documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ you will have seen how he makes friends with an octopus and it ends up swimming around on his chest. This only happens because of a bond of 100% trust and 100% no agenda. Anything less and the octopus would not have engaged.

It’s the same with the nervous system. We can make people comply, we can make them do what we want, but we only get real change when we humbly engage. We have to make the work meaningful and there has to be an implicit respect for the innate and highly sophisticated nervous system of the person in front of us.

No matter what they are presenting on the outside, each person is an intelligent, observant, sentient being who we are lucky enough to serve.

When we provide this level of respect and we have something of use to offer, all manner of things become possible.

To learn more about this way of working please join me for my online course that includes regular live calls to support you in your journey

Earth Unreal
Image Credit: @enricosomogyi

Why do toddlers climb on everything?

Why do toddlers climb on everything?

Toddlers climb on everything to train and integrate their nervous system with their environment. It is a fun and complex task that takes up all of their time.

During this time, they learn all about their orientation schema. They are building spatial awareness, fine and gross motor skills, how the weight of their body mobilises in reference to their environment. As well, their brain is making and integrating maps of their body at higher and higher levels of sophistication. The baby is learning to be embodied.

So what happens when this doesn’t happen? What happens if the person was immobilised at birth? What if their nervous system was in a shut-down mode and they could not mobilise their body? What if they could not build and integrate that spatial awareness of self?

Many people on the autism spectrum, and people with intellectual disability fall into this category. They have never truly been in their body. They didn’t get to make friends with it when they were little. They didn’t get to move it and to learn what it could do. They didn’t get to make internal maps and schemas of the body that let them know what was happening inside them. They were estranged from their body.

“It’s part of the ORIENTATION schema! They are learning about spatial awareness, force, weight, and the abilities of their body. They are building gross-motor skills and developing risk taking skills that will actually help prevent injuries as the get older.”

@responsive_parenting

Often the body hurts, or the brain is in cortical shock which leaves the tiny system in a lockdown, safety state. The developing nervous system is then unable to move freely and spatially orient the body. In this state often the eyes and ears are locked in a certain pattern, the vestibular system is locked in a pattern and the person becomes accustomed to this being their truth.  

These babies end up being big people who do not have a good relationship with their body. They have poor interoceptive skills – they don’t know what’s happening in their body. Their body is stuck in a loop and this has modified how they see themselves and how they see the world. 

This then becomes a fixed loop that is confirmed and maintained by medical and allied health practices that tell you you have a lifelong and mostly fixed, condition. 

But what we know about neuroscience is challenging this. 

Firstly, because the brain is so clever it will, in its confinement, in its constriction, make other pathways and develop other skills. You often see people with autism and intellectual disability being highly insightful and empathetic; they might have amazing memory or analytic capacity. Sometimes they have incredible ability to connect with nature – one ID client of mine could hear the snap peas open in Spring! (her mother only knew of this when she asked why she was always standing out under the washing line for hours listening intently!).

Not only this, we also know the brain can change at any age. So what are the actual possibilities for people with these difficulties? Can we help soothe the body? Can we help wake it up? Move it out of its immobilised state? If we move it out of an immobilised state, does the brain then access capacities that were maybe not as ‘broken’ as we thought? Were some of the functions – executive skills, coordination, communication skills, demand avoidance… more about the body being stuck in a fixed state and the brain followed?

What happens when we release the body from its fixed state? Does the brain open up? Do a lot of these capacities come back online? Can we open and assist the system to do all the mapping and integrating that it couldn’t do before? Can this affect who these individuals are and how they orient in the world? Can it allow them to know themselves anew? 

The answer is yes.

What I am seeing time and time again is that the brain has an amazing ability to ‘get to work’ on these issues the minute it is given free reign to do so. If we can re-mobilise the body – in a way that is meaningful and accessible for the individual, the brain/ body is very open to growth and change. I have a forty-year old client with severe intellectual disability who has shifted in ways that were unimaginable. She is now choosing her own clothes, getting her own breakfast, articulating her wants and needs and her staff and family are having to totally renegotiate who and how they are with her. They are now not calling all the shots and she now has a say in her life – because she can.

I have a thirteen year old young female client with ID whose interoceptive capacity changed after a few short sessions, so that she could know when to use the toilet and when to vomit before it happened. We did not formal training on these issues, we just worked with her body. 

Another client with cerebral palsy began walking with a lot more ease and strength in her ‘weak’ leg, as well her speech, hearing and hand-eye coordination also improved. Again, with working to realign her with her body.

There is so much we can do when we take a step back from what we have been told is true and start to look and listen to the potential and innate wisdom of the body and what it can do.

If you want to know more about this exciting new pathway to change, please see my book or my course.