Imagine if the habitual movements you performed required as much effort and thought as they did the first time you performed them. How many muscles or thoughts would it take to type the word, “word”? It’s unfathomable how much brain power it would take to complete the simplest tasks. Our ability to physically type while cognitively planning what to type next is a powerful brain function that gives us freedom to think and act without worrying about the logistics. The big question is, how are we able to do that?
Neural chunking, known in the yogic world as sanskaras, is the reason we are able to autonomously complete complex tasks. Habits, quirks, and routines are all products of neural chunking that give us freedom to drive while drinking coffee, brushing our teeth while planning out our day, and cooking meals while enjoying conversation. Often times our sanskaras are unnoticeable in our everyday lives. However, what helps us to function on such a complex level also has repercussions when traumatic events occur.
Traumatic sanskaras can be thought of like snapshot photos. Feelings of trauma will be held in the body position, environment, and emotional circumstance in which the event took place. Think back (carefully) to a physical or emotional trauma you’ve experienced. Can you feel your posture from that moment? Can you feel the physical tension? Can you recall the characteristics of the environment? Can you recall three thoughts you had from that moment? That is a sanskara that has changed your thought process, memory, habits, reactions, etc. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’ve relived that trauma multiple times since the incident. The reason why the sanskara lives just a thought away is linked to survival.
The primary role of the brain is prediction. At every second there is a dominant portion of our brain that is predicting probabilities of threat. At any given time, a worst case scenario of your environment is readily available to you. For example, for whatever activity you do, how many different ways have you imagined the potential for injury? Although you give your best effort and work hard, there lives within you endless predictions of how that can go wrong. If your sanskara occurred within that activity, that trauma undoubtedly further affects your behavior in that activity, potentially to the point of quitting! If the brain feels like the potential for injury or trauma is high, it will produce output from the sympathetic nervous system: increased heart rate, tunnel vision, hyperventilation, increased perspiration and often anger or terror.
That escalated quickly, didn’t it? Sanskaras allow us to navigate our lives with ease but they also hold incredible power over our futures. The more traumatic sanskaras we gain, and the less we address them, the more “in threat” we stay. Luckily, brains are plastic and sanskaras can be healed similarly to how they are created, through neural re-patterning, habit change and mindfulness.
Kiera Lucich is a neural integration specialist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s the owner of Smart Move Wellness, a brain-based wellness company dedicated to educating and training people to heal chronic and trauma-associated pain. For more information visit smartmovewellness.com.