In our Tai Chi principles and Sensing Hands, we explore the idea of “Sensing Life”
This blog is about sensing the emotions, learning the 3 F’s and practicing the 3 R’s
Patrice Wooldridge and Sherry Kent, September 2017
For a few years now, we have been exploring how the instinctual 3 F’s – Fight, Flight and Freeze – are triggered during Sensing Hands play. It’s fascinating to see how quickly feelings and emotions come up. And, recent neuropsychology research has shown that human beings habitually react to a threatening stimulus before we are conscious of the threat.
So what’s a martial artist to do!? Science has also fortunately provided ways to work with what is hard-wired in our brain. At the 2017 winter teacher training in Amsterdam, Sherry and Patrice introduced the 3 R’s – Recognize, Reset and Reframe.
It shouldn’t be surprising that one must first Recognize one’s own feelings and emotions in order to have a choice in one’s reactions. The goal is to recognize the trigger and reflex as soon as they arise (or as soon as possible). This takes both intention and practice.
Once one recognizes the reaction, there are a variety of ways to “Reset” back to a calm, more relaxed state. The easiest way is to consciously relax, integrating our nervous and endocrine systems by taking a deep breath in and a slow breath out. This pattern of inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly has been shown to lower both blood pressure and heart rate. One can think of this breathing pattern as science-based intentional relaxation.
While continuing the work of recognizing, there is also the option to Reframe situations. It’s been shown that the hormones released while riding a roller coaster are interpreted differently by different people; even though the exact same hormones are in play, some experience the ride as threatening and scary while others experience it as exciting and fun. Our reactions to different situations are dependent on our past experience and anticipation. This means we can reframe how we look at a situation and, in that way, change our reaction.
Reframing example: I was on a crowded bus not long ago and found my stop was coming up fairly quickly. My first reaction was to tense up and feel trapped. But then it came to me that this was the perfect place to play “Slither” (one of our kid’s games that encourages participants to slide through crowds with the objective of not disturbing anyone while moving through). All of a sudden I felt happy and intrigued, and getting off the bus became fun instead of fearful.
Building on the 3 F’s and the 3 R’s, this summer in Ireland we went a step further by introducing the science of the 7 basic emotions (joy, surprise, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and contempt) and their universal facial expressions (in all cultures, these expressions are practically the same). This idea was brought into our Sensing Hands play and all were encouraged to recognize these emotions when they came up.
Another reset for triggered emotions is laughter – so randomly in our Sensing Hands play we stopped and someone told a joke. Then we started our play again. While there isn’t any way to easily quantify how much that affected our ability to be more aware of our partners and ourselves, certainly the energy in the room was very upbeat and people left with smiles on their faces.
Principal takeaway: while our reactive emotions may be deeply ingrained, with conscious intention and a safe practice environment we can Recognize, Reset and Reframe.