Brief summary of show:
I sit down with Irene Lyon, MSC. and nervous system expert.
Irene teaches people around the world how to work with the nervous system to transform trauma, heal body and mind, and live full, creative lives. To date, her online programs and classes have reached over 9,500 people in over 90 countries.
Irene has a Master’s Degree in Biomedical and Health Science and also has a knack for making complex info easy for ALL of us to understand and apply to our lives.
Listen in as we talk about:
What the nervous system is, what it regulates and why it’s important
Does our past trauma stay stuck in the body?
The impact of our mothers’ womb on stress and trauma
How trapped trauma comes out in illnesses and appears in the body
Tips to navigating chronic illness
Connect with Irene
Connect with Me
[00:02:06] What the nervous system is, why it's important and what it regulates
[00:10:14] How our nervous system is created from when in utero
[00:15:14] What happens when you don't take care of your nervous system
[00:35:54] How your job impacts your nervous system
[00:37:17] Authenticity and its impact to your nervous system
Full transcript of episode:
[00:00:30] Natalie: Hi everyone. Do you find yourself stressed, maybe anxious or depressed more than usual? Are you in tune with your body and aware of your nervous system? Well, my guest today is a nervous system expert. She teaches people around the world how to work with the nervous system to transform trauma, heal the body and mind and live full creative lives.
[00:00:53] To date her online programs and classes have been. Thousands of people. Irene has a master's degree in biomedical and health science. And today we're going to talk about so many things that I promise, apply to all of us, notably how trauma can be stored in our bodies and often comes out in ways that we don't expect like illnesses.
[00:01:17] Irene has a way of explaining these issues that make it so understandable and helpful. So I want you to head over to my blog and my website. You're going to find a whole lot of information there. Natalie dot com, blog posts, videos. There is always something going on there and if you haven't already be sure to sign up for my newsletter, where I offer tips and tricks and product discounts.
[00:01:40] I know you'll enjoy that as well. Again, Natalie. Bill.com. Okay. Let's get going. Prepare yourself to learn today and grow from this episode on your nervous system with Irene Lyon.
[00:01:55] Natalie: Irene is joining me now. And we have a lot to get to Iran and I want to start with the basics. What is the nervous system? Why is it important? What
[00:02:05] Irene: does it regulate?
[00:02:06] Yeah, so that's a very important question and it's very important information that I believe all humans need to know, especially now. So there's a few nervous systems.
[00:02:18] One is the central nervous system and one is the peripheral nervous system.
[00:02:24] So central is really simple. If you think center line, you know, down the middle center, central it's the brain and the spinal. And I think most of us know what our brains are and our spinal cord. Right. Right. Then the peripheral nervous system So peripheral means coming out of the center. And so the peripheral nervous system, those are all the nerves, all the little electrical pieces that come out of the brain. You have things that come out of our brain called nerves.
[00:02:52] And we also have lots of nerves that come out of our spinal cord. And so the peripheral nervous system goes to like, I've got a glass of water here and I've got a cup of coffee here. And to do that. I have to use obviously my muscles, but my brain is sending a signal through from the central to the peripheral spinal cord area that sends an instruction, pickup contract muscles.
[00:03:16] If this was a sculpting hot glass of water. I wouldn't be so liberal it just holding this with my hands. Right. But I would, if I have good sensation in my hands, I would feel it. Now, if you've ever had a tooth poles or a cavity, you know, and you get freezing, have you had that happen before? Okay. And then you try to like drink something or put some, and you, you don't know where it is in your even will fall out of your mouth.
[00:03:44] When an area is numb, those sensations are gone. And so it can't give you feedback. So this peripheral nervous system. Gives us feedback, but it also gives us the capacity to move and act the other part of this peripheral nervous system. So that would be like muscles sensations, those sorts of things. The other part is what's called the autonomic nervous system.
[00:04:07] So that's part of the peripheral. So we have the motor sensory, which I just explained was a cup of water. And then we have the autonomic and the autonomic nervous system goes to all the internal organs. Sorry digestion. So if I was to drink this glass of water, it would go into my mouth obviously and end up doing what it needs in my body.
[00:04:29] Hydrating me if I don't need it. And I'll pee it out. It doesn't automatically, right? You don't have to think about it. You don't have to say release into stomach and dah, dah, dah. It just happens automatically. Hence autonomic nervous system, same with your immune system. So like I'm recovering from a little cut on my phone from something I was cutting the other day.
[00:04:49] I don't have to tell my body how to heal this. But the system will do that automatically. Same with hormones. So if I eat something, the brain sends nerve impulses to the pancreas to release insulin so that the sugar in my blood, it doesn't stay in the blood.
[00:05:08] So. That's a very quick and Turkey example of autonomic nervous system governs these hormones. Even the reproductive functions, our heart, right? Our heart rate, our breath or sleepiness or wakefulness. We're looking at each other, Natalie. So if I was to like then you just, as I said that you smiled a little bit, Believe it or not. That is also part of our autonomic nervous system. If you were to just sit there with a stone cold face. I would have a hard time knowing if you were getting this and you just mentioned before we started to record, you teach a journalism class to students and you can kind of tell when you're a teacher what's going on.
[00:05:50] Right. Like you can tell if people are distracted, they're really interested. They're kind of leaning in, I don't know if kids take notes anymore, but they take notes. That kind of thing. That is also part of our nervous system. The other interesting part is let's just say, hope this doesn't happen, but let's just say a bird flies into my glass in front of me.
[00:06:12] So I have a big window here. I might get startled if I don't see it. And that startle is my autonomic nervous system going danger jumped back. Cause something might come to my face and that I realized, oh, pro bird, no big deal. No big deal probably will just be fine. I'll go back to talking to you.
[00:06:32] Natalie: So that's an all that, why does it matter
[00:06:35] Irene: like balance or, yeah, there's one more.
[00:06:40] So the other portion of the autonomic nervous system that jumping back that is part of our survival mechanism. And those are I'm simplifying, but they're fight flight and freeze. Okay. And so fight would be like, someone's coming at me and I'm like, you know, get out of my way, stop, push, whatever flight might be that jumped back.
[00:07:05] It might be I see something coming at me and I got to run out of the way or jump out of the way free. Would be, oh my goodness. I can't do anything about what's happening to me either. Something like an accident or an abuse or an attack, or even being screened at, let's say by an angry parent, I can't fight.
[00:07:26] I can't leave. So I'm going to freeze. I'm going to go into this survival mode to preserve myself. Which is actually more prominent than we realize in our Western civilization. So the reason why I'm saying all these pieces at the beginning, our fight flight freeze, again, I said governed by the autonomic nervous system when we're living in a lot of that, when we're constantly scared and fear under stress in an abusive environment, toxic environment, unsafe environment.
[00:08:02] When those are always on. Remember how I said the autonomic nervous system also governs the digestion, the immune system, the heart it's like it's being co-opted for survival. And so the other functions kind of get left behind. They don't work as well. They start to suffer or they go chaos. I'm getting very simple.
[00:08:23] Here they go into chaos or they become depressed. And so something like anxiety, for example, which is a common term in my world of the somatics and working with the nervous system is fight flight. On on, on, whereas freeze would be the system being like I can't get out of this situation. I'm going to shut all those systems down.
[00:08:48] The digestion slows down the blood doesn't flow as well. We don't get enough oxygen to ourselves. We don't repair. Our sleep can go off in many different ways. The immune system becomes depressed because we can't repair and we can't fight things that are supposed to be. You know, cancer is a great example of this, right?
[00:09:08] The system is just kind of going into a chaos mode. It's not regenerating and cleaning the cells. So the reason why it's important to go back to your question. Is that it is sort of like like the governor, if you will, of all of these internal systems. But if that governor is being attacked or is under attack where fear is in fear all the time or in shutdown, it can't do its jobs in here.
[00:09:33] Natalie: That makes sense. It does. And I'm thinking, okay, so life has stress. We're going to have a stressful week or you're gonna have a big test. If you're
[00:09:43] Irene: a student or work is going to be stressful.
[00:09:46] Natalie: is it that just that we need to learn how to deal with that in the moment? Or are we holding on to, and I think you're going to have two answers to those holding on to some of those things from say my journalism career in many years of covering traumatic stories and that, that pressure.
[00:10:05] Yeah. It's my nervous system, still dealing with some of that kind of PTSD of those issues and those stories
[00:10:14] Irene: myself as an example. Yeah, it could be, it could be an alley everyone's a bit different, but where the story gets really interesting is that a person's resiliency starts in utero. It starts even before we're born and how our two parents are and their nervous system health.
[00:10:34] You know, so you have little baby, you know, coming out or you have one little one in utero. They're feeling all the stress chemicals that mother is feeling or that even father is feeling. Or, and we know this through the research done post-World war two on those who are within the concentration camps and also post nine 11 with mothers that were pregnant, living in Manhattan.
[00:10:58] That environment, even though you're not born yet is giving you stress. It's giving you her adrenaline. Cause the umbilical cord is connecting you to. And so the little one, believe it or not inside is trying to flip. From their situation, but they can't because they're locked inside a safe womb. Right? So that's one example because a lot of times people will say, Natalie, I really did have a good childhood.
[00:11:25] Like I had the parents, they taught me right from wrong. They loved me. They didn't coddle me helicopter parent me. Like they were really good. And then you say, well, what happened? Like what was going on when your parents were, were before they had you, what happened to their ancestors? Right. And so it transfers through but this idea of stress It comes down to a few things. So how we were raised, did we get good nurturing from our primary caregiver? Cause some kids didn't. So I just gave the example of someone who maybe did a lot of humans. Don't get that when there isn't that solid attuned, safe relationship with little human and the primary, it doesn't have to be a mother.
[00:12:09] It could be a negative. Grandparent that kind of thing. The little one won't form nervous system wires that are solid and what we would call, offering them the learnings towards self-regulation. So when an infant comes out, granted they're full term. Their digestion is working pretty good, their immune system, not so much, but they get that as soon as they're exposed to the environment and to mom and the things that they eat and consume and breathe.
[00:12:39] But what they don't have Natalie is they can't communicate yet, right. Takes a long time for an infant to talk and to understand, but they can see our facial expressions. You not at them. They look at you, they're upset. If you go in with a scared face, that's not going to help them. You, you know, if they're crying, crying, crying, you'd be half there needs to be this hello.
[00:13:05] What's going on. Like very soft, not necessarily. That's how they learn, how to take that, fear, or maybe the belly discomfort or whatever it is. And then they bring it down through what's called co-regulation with us as the primary caregiver. So when we're born, the main nerve that allows our heart to come down, like from high.
[00:13:31] It isn't properly working yet. I'll throw out a fancy world word called myelination. So our nerves, some nerves have this fat sheath around them that allows conductivity through the system to be really sharp. And so it's not fully covered in fat, some of these nerves when we're born and believe it or not that interaction with a primary caregiver.
[00:13:54] Healthy attuned safe, builds that resiliency in this specific part of the nervous system that calms us down. If we don't get that, we then have a little one who doesn't know how to self-regulate and their system becomes what we would call dysregulated rather than regulated. Now for some humans, like we're really robust.
[00:14:20] We can push through a lot and I'm sure you know, that I know that, you know, and we can be fine. And I'm great. I'm putting the smile on, I'm sure you knew that from your journalism career, you feel terrible, but you're, you're like I'm here and to be really good at that, unfortunately, hopefully, and, but inside there's like a little storm going on.
[00:14:42] But what's interesting with us is that we can actually function really well when we're shut down and frozen to what's happening inside. I would say that the bulk of really, really successful people and I'm generalizing here, but they're pushing in a way that shows their success, but they're, they're, they're negating the fact that they're hungry for the thirsty or they're tired.
[00:15:07] Natalie: Well, and my question about that is how long does that last and when do they start paying the price for that?
[00:15:14] Irene: What often happens, Natalie is they get sick. That's an extreme example, but I know enough people now I'm 45. I have enough friends, friends of friends whom are pushing, pushing, pushing. And then they get diagnosed with a terminal illness or they end up with an autoimmune condition or they have severe depression, or they have severe anxiety or insomnia.
[00:15:38] Usually there's something physical or mental, something coming out of the body that says we can't keep going like this. And so we're going to give you a sickness, a crisis to pay attention. And we know this. I mean, it's so interesting. Kind of the history of current society many people don't just die of old age. And by that, I mean, The day before they die, they're walking, they're cooking their own food. They're mentally they're they're they're going for a job.
[00:16:10] They're with their family, they're doing their, creative stuff. And then they go to sleep and then they just don't wake up. That rarely happens, especially in kind of our north American society. Usually there's an illness that gets them. There is a complication of an illness that gets them. And so it's kind of a sad thing to think about, but in my opinion, it doesn't have to be that.
[00:16:34] But it's, we've become used to it. Oh, you're just used to having medication because that you're old. That makes sense. When I go to a hospital, which doesn't happen very often, but the first thing they ask, are you on any medications? And I often wonder how many people actually say no, you know, cause I'm not.
[00:16:55] But I think most people are typically, and it's just what we've gotten used to. So. To go back to your question. How do people know that this stuff is in them? It's usually coming out in ways that are symptomatic. And then what occurs Natalie is because of our kind of sick care culture. It's like, oh, well you have a digestion problem.
[00:17:16] Let's put you on some drugs to change that. Or you better stop eating this or you have prediabetes, okay, you better do this. And it doesn't, we don't go back to like, well, what's causing the system to create that. Yeah.
[00:17:32] Natalie: Okay. So let's use me as an example. I'm, I'm pretty open with my listeners and I think it's probably a fairly good example for people.
[00:17:41] Ever since I have three kids and ever since my first daughter, after that pregnancy, I had restless legs and it seems to be something when I talk to people, they say, oh, I have that. Or my grandma has that or whatever. And, but it's sometimes not defined. As restless legs. It's like I'm jittery. I have a hard time falling asleep or maybe people just don't know that's what it is, but I'm asking you this because I finally saw a doctor about it and the doctor said, well, I have a medication that I can give you that will help with it.
[00:18:14] And my first reaction, I think you'll like this knowing who you are a little bit,
[00:18:18] Irene: I don't really want to take a
[00:18:20] Natalie: medication. I want to know why I have. Okay, what am I doing wrong? And I've looked it up many times. I've done research on museum and iron and all kinds of things that I now take supplements for.
[00:18:32] And it's better, but I want to use myself as an example with this, because is that a nervous system?
[00:18:41] Irene: how might you address that? Yeah, so I, I, there's definitely situations with those things where there might be a deficiency. I know magnesium is a big one, but as you said, it's helped a bit, but it's still there.
[00:18:53] Right? So it's righted, but it's still. So I'm just going to speak more general. So restless leg, at least in my work of working with this nervous system and the somatic body and understanding trapped survival stress, it is that fight, flee energy and flea is a running energy. Like I'm fleeing the scene trapped in the system for whatever reason.
[00:19:17] You mentioned after birth. So of course my curiosity is, was there anything traumatic about that birth? Did you have to go under where you ha did someone try to hold you down at any point in time? Were you wanting to do something in that moment and you weren't allowed to, and again, there's so many instances, but from what I've seen, this, this restless.
[00:19:42] Is the body trying to get out that fight flee energy. And it doesn't necessarily have to be like, oh my God, someone's coming at me with a knife. I have to run, but I couldn't. And I got stabbed. I mean, that's kind of a gruesome example, but just to be very simple, it could be, I'm sitting here and I want to scream and kick someone because I don't like what they're saying to me.
[00:20:08] And I can't. So I'm going to hold this energy and this SFU energy and all this stuff, and I'm, I'm going to hold it in and be a good little person. But then what's happening. Like if I got this glass of water, my handy prop, you know, let's just say that all that fight flight energy is in here. And, we're like, okay, we're not going to, we're just not going to let it out.
[00:20:32] If we heat this up and we live through life with this full cup, it's going to want to spill out the pressure is going to want to release. that restless sea leg thing can be something about not being able to complete a running response because you actually couldn't run away from something, or it could be a mental construct, an emotional thing, something where you were not able to express what you needed to express.
[00:20:58] And it got trapped in that peripheral, nervous system that I mentioned the muscles wanting to complete. So, I don't know if that rings a bell with anything that happens.
[00:21:07] Natalie: It does. And at 20 years, my daughter's going to be 21. I still deal with it at different times. It's interesting because definitely different times when I'm tired.
[00:21:17] You know, when I'm stressed, just, it comes out, but I want to ask you what people can do. So say people are listening and they're relating to. And then, like, I know I have some trauma to deal with, or I know that they, this, all of this rings a bell to them. Where do you start?
[00:21:35] Irene: Yeah, it's varied and it's not at the same time.
[00:21:39] So one of the primary steps, isn't so much a practice, but you could consider it a practice, but it's education. So learning to a much deeper degree. Than what I've just said here in our little time together, what the nervous system is, the different branches of the autonomic nervous system, how they're formed, how they might not be formed.
[00:22:02] Were you a kiddo that was born premature? It was the birth trauma where your parents alcoholic,
[00:22:09] Did you have to have a surgery as an infant?
[00:22:12] For example, that's actually a real big one, oddly, that a lot of people don't realize if you think a little baby. Comes out and they have to say, have a procedure. Like lots of kids have procedures when they're young and their little arms have to be strapped down. Their little legs have to be strapped down to be put under.
[00:22:30] Cause you can't say to them, please lie still. Right? You can't. And so they're, they're sensing fear and they want to run. Uh, but they can't cause they're little. So those little things, cause a lot of times that'll leave. People are like, well, I wasn't raped. I wasn't in a war. I didn't have my parents didn't hit me.
[00:22:50] I wasn't abused, like all these basic things that we consider traumatic, but we forget, or we haven't really known until now that surgeries, dental, trauma, like that's a big one actually accidents, seeing something that we didn't want to see not being able to express ourselves. So this education piece is really important so that we You know, often I'll say this, my, my students will say, wow, I wish I knew this information when I was 20.
[00:23:20] And these are people that are in their sixties, seventies, because if I did, I would've done this differently, I wouldn't have gone down that path. And so just by having the knowledge, you start to see things differently. The next part would be trying to figure out. And of course, this is what I teach, but trying to figure it out.
[00:23:39] What am I not feeling? do you have emotional health? And that isn't just being able to cry. It's also being able to feel anger and joy. And feels fear, but not have it shut you down because all of these emotions, human emotions are very important for our full health, but we just kind of like, oh, you're a girl.
[00:24:01] You should be sad. You're a boy. You should be angry. I mean, they even get taught to us really young, right. Girls don't fight that kind of thing. And so. Understanding trying to understand. Oh yeah. I'm what do you mean anger? Irene that's bad. Like, why would I want to be angry? It's like, well, we have a animal physiology in us that, that needs to express some of these emotions.
[00:24:25] So really starting to investigate where you might shut down, where you might not be able to speak up. Boundaries are a big one. So a lot of us. Not everyone, but you know, some people will just let people walk all over them. They won't say no, they won't say I don't like that. Or they won't know how to ask for help because they've done it all themselves because no one was there for them when they were little.
[00:24:53] And so there's stoic. But in that stoicism, they're like in stress mode, 24 7, because it was just not safe to let the guard down when we were young. So. That's another piece. And then interestingly enough, one of the more powerful things for people to do that seems really basic is starting to listen to your biology.
[00:25:16] And by that, I mean, do you hold your bladder in when you have to go to the bathroom? Right? I've met so many people, women usually cause men, their bladders are a little different. They can hold their pen for a long, like for a whole week. I've known people who have not, who have had to have their assistants, tell them when to go to the bathroom because they're just so busy and it's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. And these are also the people that I'm hearing these stories because they're really sick, Natalie. Cause I'll ask questions.
[00:25:50] Do you listen to your body? Well, I am now cause I'm sick, but I hadn't for like 40. Hmm. Right. And so, again, as simple as it might sound listening to, when do you have to go to the bathroom? When do you have to, when do you have to eat? Like, are you needing food? Are you eating, but you're not hungry, which is a huge one in our society.
[00:26:12] Are you tired at, are you just hitting yourself with more sugar and coffee? And I, you know, I'm nothing against having a little bit of that every now and again, but if. Being given to us to push us and drive us past our limit. Something's not right, but we've become almost addicted to that. Go, go, go. And because of this higher brain of ours, that is so powerful, we can push past severe discomfort.
[00:26:43] I know that I'm sure you would know that from your past job, but what happens is as we start to not listen to these cues Our body starts to not give us the information it needs. So we stop. We don't then notice when we might have a pain in our gut because we're eating something that we shouldn't. Or we might, and I'm going to make a stretch.
[00:27:07] We might be Diso disconnected from our body, Natalie and our gut is like a first brain. It can, it can tell us when something's not right in the environment. That's how babies know when a dangerous person is alive around. They feel it in their gut goes directly to the brain. There's more nerves that go from the gut to the brain and from the brain.
[00:27:29] You know, someone says, I just cut this gut sense. Right. I've got this gut instinct. Right. And so if you are disconnected from that, you are, you will, again, a big general, you will walk down that dark alley and get into trial. there is a, there is an instinctual quality to our organs and our viscera and this nervous system that provides information for us staying safe or getting out of danger.
[00:27:57] And one of the hallmarks of folks whom have a lot of stored trauma is they get into the same toxic environment, abusive relationship over and over again. The family system wasn't safe. All they knew was unsafety and being on guard. They never saw what it was like to have a nurturing environment.
[00:28:18] And so by default, they find someone that's going to replicate how they were brought. Yeah, because while it's not safe, it actually it's comfortable. It's all they know, all they know. And what's so interesting is when you work with folks who let's just say again, had that upbringing and they actually do do the work and they learn, and they learn how to listen to their guts and their heart and their bodies and they take care of them.
[00:28:46] And then they'll meet someone who's really good for them. Like really good for them. Often there'll be this feeling of discussing. Like they'll feel gross. And that doesn't mean that that person is wrong, but it's such a different polar opposite. Does that make sense? Yeah, they're like, like, and they'll actually have a visceral fee