Core Functions: Balance

A driving interest in my career has been on understanding and being able to explain in simple terms what’s happening in our mind, body, and emotion when people are struggling and what’s restored they’re functioning at full capacity. My focus has been on identifying core functions, the essential physiological and psychological mechanisms essential to healthy functioning. These are the basic components of a healthy and fulfilling life. Core functions are the key to what’s wrong when we are struggling as well as the means to restoring and maintaining health. They are activated when we are improving or maintaining health and dormant or missing when we are not functioning well. I believe they underlie every successful treatment.

There are a wide range of activities and therapies that can activate the core functions with varying degrees of success in different circumstances. It’s common for counselors and trainers to have a “tool box” of activities to help their clients and trainees to relax, learn to redirect their thinking and deal with difficulties in a healthy way. My interest has been in identifying the essential core techniques that directly address the primary physiological and psychological processes that are critical in restoring physical, mental, and emotional Balance. I have found a few simple techniques that are consistently effective and easy to learn and practice. Thousands of students, patients, and trainees have been helped by them. I have fine-tuned these techniques for over forty years to address what was missing when they weren’t effective and what was happening when they were.

How It Works – Graphic of Essential Components
What Works – Graphic of Essential Components
What Goes Wrong – Graphic of Essential Components

Core Functions and Techniques: Body

The parasympathetic nervous system is default. If there is not a build up of tension the parasympathetic nervous system operates naturally when we’re not physically active. The parasympathetic is the part of the autonomic nervous system that supports health and maintenance and it works opposite the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the musculature. Stress, tension, and exhaustion overload the sympathetic nervous system. This results in a continuing build up of tension and the release of stress hormones, which keep the sympathetic system operating as part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response.

Natural Rhythmic Breathing appears to directly activate the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the right vagus nerve, which passes through the diaphragm via the esophageal hiatus. I observed that movement of the diaphragm through slow, effortless, rhythmic breathing provided immediate relief from the build up of tension early in my career. Over a number of years, I was able to narrow down the precise rhythm of diaphragmatic movement that was consistently effective by identifying what was happening when it did not have the desired effect. Three to four seconds of downward movement followed by three to four seconds of upward movement with minimal pause resulted in clear evidence (both observed and reported) that the parasympathetic nervous system had been activated. The build of tension had stopped and clients and students reported a sense of calm, relaxation, and relief after three or four effortless breaths incorporating that rhythm. I believe this is our natural way of breathing when we are in balance.

Video – Natural Rhythmic Breathing
Video – Dealing with Obstacles to Natural Rhythmic Breathing
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 7 – Reaction: My Nerves Are Shot
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 11 – Getting Our Nerves in Balance


Becoming aware of how and when we tense our bodies is an important step in restoring physical balance. Stopping the build-up of tension involves developing awareness of posture and movement. The term “Grounding” describes a process of learning to relax areas of the body that habitually build tension. It is a process of aligning posture and movement so there is minimal wasted effort. This involves uncurling toes, unlocking knees, allowing the belly to relax, the shoulders to drop, and the jaw to loosen.

In the grounding posture, we’re sitting or standing so that we are being primarily supported by our skeleton with minimal muscular effort and no build up of tension. Grounding exercises involve slow movement from the grounding posture that gradually resolve patterns of tension while developing awareness of how our body habitually reacts to stress. I have found that regular practice allows us to become aware of when and where tension first starts to build. This alerts us to the beginning of the stress response and allows us to reposition and respond appropriately.

Video – Grounding
Video – Common Patterns of Tension and How to Resolve Them
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 12 – Recognizing and Releasing Physical Tension

Sleep is essential for clear thinking. We tend to build tension when we push ourselves to keep going despite being tired. Research indicates that people who have been awake for 18 hours or more perform at the same level on cognitive tests as those who are legally drunk. Recent research indicates that most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night to be able to function at full capacity.

Video – Removing Obstacles to Sleep

Core Function and Techniques: Mind

Recognizing when our thoughts are creating tension and learning to redirect them are keys to mental balance. It is much easier to master this skill when the body is in balance and the parasympathetic nervous system is active.

Recognizing when thoughts are taking us in an unhelpful direction involves interrupting pathways in the brain that feed fear and stress and then forming other pathways that allow us to focus on understanding and effectively respond to our difficulties.

Establish a Rhythm Phrase in your brain. Silently repeating a short phrase or prayer hundreds of times per day creates a well established pathway that gives your mind a place to go when you realize your thoughts are taking you in an unhelpful direction.

Video – Clearing Your Mind by Using a Rhythm Phrase
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 4 – Perception: All the Difference in the World
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 8 – Reaction: My Mind Is Spinning
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 13 – Recovering Mental Balance

When we become aware that our thinking is not taking us in a helpful direction we can create a “Y” to establish a new brain pathways by asking questions or clarifying the effects of following habitual pathways. If we compare brain pathways to roads, it is the equivalent of creating a turn off that takes us away from an undesirable destination.

Creating a ‘Y’ in Unhealthy and Unhelpful Pathways (coming soon)
Asking Helpful Questions (coming soon)

Practice regular Montra Meditation. This involves silently repeating a sound in rhythm with your breath while at rest for ten to thirty minutes on a daily basis. This practice develops and maintains the skill of recognizing where your thoughts are heading while deepening the capacity to redirect them.

Core Functions and Techniques: Emotion

Emotions actually take place in the body. One can observe and experience movement in different muscle groups when we feel certain emotions. The experience is blocked when we tense these muscle groups. Chronic tension leads to sustained emotional blockage that contributes to numbness, reactivity, anxiety, depression, and a host of other difficulties.

Emotional balance is restored and maintained by developing the capacity to allow the full experience of emotion without tension or breath holding. This requires that the parasympathetic nervous system be activated. Since the experience of emotion is blocked by tension, it also requires gradually resolving patterns of tension that cause the obstruction. In my experience this happens naturally as Balance is restored. Blocked emotions are re-experienced during this process and gradually released over time when there is no resistance through tension or breath holding.

A key factor in restoring emotional balance is to be able to separate thought from emotion. Dwelling on thoughts or events related to an emotional reaction tend to stimulates more of the same emotion. Shifting focus to simply experiencing the emotion or using a Rhythm Phrase to refocus thinking prevents building additional emotional tension.

There are times when reflecting on emotion helps you to learn from or determine how to manage a situation. Talking about your feelings can also help others understand what you’re going through. The point at which this is not helpful is when you begin to tense or hold your breath to block the emotion, which builds more tension adding to the imbalance. That is when separating thought from emotion is important. A critical component of counseling is recognizing when clients are beginning to us tension and breath holding to block the experience of emotion.

Patterns of emotional tension can be identified by paying attention to how one tenses during an emotional reaction. This commonly involves some combination of curling toes, lifting heals (while sitting), locking knees (while standing), lifting or pulling in the belly, raising the shoulders, or clenching the jaw. Stopping this build up of tension while maintaining parasympathetic activation with Natural Rhythmic Breathing and Grounding allows a fuller experience the emotion. Emotional tension is gradually resolved as these emotions are experienced without resistance or recycling.

Video – Understanding Emotion
Video – Understanding Anxiety
Video – Understanding PTSD
Slow Down and Lighten Up – Chapter 14 – Maintaining Emotional Balance
Simple, Effective Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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