Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Neural Path Therapy (Part 2)

Before I write the second post on Neural Path Therapy, I'd like to share an exciting bit of news about one of our fellow bloggers. Marja's new book, A Firm Place to Stand, will be coming out soon. Although there's not yet a link to the book, it's being excerpted in As an author I know how important it is to have people post comments on an article. So, if you have a moment, it would be nice if you could read the excerpted article and post on it. I'm sure Marja would be thrilled!
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One of the things I like best about Neural Path Therapy by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and David Harp, M.A., is that they explain things very simply. The central thesis of the book is that "You can focus the power of your brain where you want it, when you want it."

"Unfortunately, most of us have never been taught how to focus--or not focus--on mental objects, like thoughts, emotions, or neural pathways," they write.

So, if a particular person triggers a particular emotion, we respond the way we always have. If that means we ultimately become depressed by the exchange, then most of us believe our doctors who say, "It's an automatic response and you can't change it." But, McKay and Harp believe we can change our neural pathways.

They believe all of our emotions are based on the "fight or flight" syndrome. That just means that our brains have not really evolved since we were cavemen or cavewomen. If something frightens us, we automatically people did thousands of years ago when they saw a lion or a tiger coming at them.

In our contemporary world, we (like the cavepeople who preceded us) don't have time to think when we see a car in an alley headed toward us, or we see our child running away in a busy department store. Instead, we instinctively respond by running away from the car, and running after our child before we lose him/her in the crowd.

McKay and Harp liken our thought processes to the automatic response patterns we use if we or our kids are in danger. If someone triggers an emotion like anger, fear, or jealousy, we automatically respond. But...and this is the key to their theory...if we anticipate our response to a common stressor or we stop the "fight or flight" syndrome by relaxing rather than stressing out, we can change our response.

The way we do this is by breathing. But, instead of making the breathing process difficult by suggesting we have to sit in a lotus position on the hard floor, or go to a mountain retreat and remain silent for eight hours, McKay and Harp believe that if we only have a few minutes a day to practice our breathing, it's enough.

Each time we anticipate an emotion, and breathe rather stress out, we're strengthening our "mental muscle," which they define as "our ability to keep the power of our brain focused on an object or move it to another object." Eventually the neural pattern we no longer use will disappear, and a new pattern will evolve.

I can't really explain their breathing exercises without quoting too much from their book. But they chart out different exercises. Basically what you're doing is just inhaling, holding the breathe, and exhaling. Or you're quickly inhaling and exhaling. Or you're taking shallow or deeper breaths.

What you're also doing is focusing on the breathing rather than focusing on the emotion. So, for example, if you notice your spouse/partner always makes you feel powerless when you're at a low energy level, by saying--"Are you sure you can't go out to dinner tonight? I was really looking forward to it"--rather than focusing on the words and feeling worse, the moment you anticipate what he/she is going to say, you start breathing, and begin releasing the tension rather than building it up.

The process they're recommending works with everything. If you get angry because someone writes a comment you don't like on your blog, rather than writing a quick and angry retort, start breathing and calm down. If you feel "angst" every time your best friend mentions that you're talking too fast or straying from one subject to another, rather than feeling hurt by her judgmental tone, start breathing.

And if you get depressed every time your doctor says, "It's not a good idea to remain off medication because you could experience another mania or depression," don't feel down about it, just start breathing.

So far, breathing is the most effective depression antidote I've ever tried. And Neural Path Therapy is one of the best wellness books I've read. I highly recommend it.

P.S. I just learned there's a Neural Path Therapy site, which provides a lot of additional information.


Mariposa said...

I'm reading that's nice to be back here!

I've read the part 1 of this post...and this...what can I say? Like you, I'm also thrilled on the idea. Honestly, I'm really into unconventional approaches...because the out of the box approaches seem to work best for me!

Have a nice week!

Jazz said...

I find this very interesting, because I've been doing breathing exercises, too. Just sitting quietly--not necessarily in a pretzel position--and being mindful of my breath. It's very soothing and very empowering to have those breathing techniques to fall back on when things get rocky.

Coco said...

Susan, it really thrills me to think that there are ways of actually CHANGING our brains. It translates into one word for me: hope. Thanks for sharing this book with us.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
I'm glad you're excited about this. I've been trying to leave a comment on your blog, but I always seem to visit on a day when it's got a theme (Silent Wednesday or something else), and my comments would seem so unrelated to your posts.

But I just wanted to say hi, find out how you're doing, and let you know I've been thinking about you.

Thanks for visiting. Hope you've been feeling well!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
I agree. Also, If Harp and McKay's theory works, it would mean we're not stuck with our alleged biochemical reaction to events. And, that would confirm everything I believe in!


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Coco,
It is thrilling! What has led me in this direction is this: If people can use their brains to push their cancer into remission and to reverse high blood pressure, why can't we use our brains to control our moods?

It didn't make sense to me that we couldn't, but I haven't been able to find people who believe we can--until now.

And these authors believe that the more you use breathing to reduce stress, the more effective it will be. It's all a question of developing skills and utilizing them.

For me, this means we can finally be in charge of our own destiny, rather than having to depend on others.

Also, I don't mean to suggest that people can't use medication and use these techniques. For some, breathing will be an adjunctive treatment option, and for others it will be the primary treatment option.

Either way, it's a win-win situation!


P.J. said...

When I breathe, I pray. That's a win-win situation. It's a guarantee to feel better.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear PJ,
I used to breathe by blowing into my harmonica (and still do although not as part of these exercises). For me, music is a spiritual experience! So, I guess we all find our own ways to communicate with God.


discoverandrecover said...


Very nice post.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Thanks Duane!

marja said...

Hi Susan: Once more, thank you very much for mentioning my book excerpt at the top of this post. So thoughtful of you.

I tend to be like PJ. I use prayer, which will also help quieten our emotions.

Another example of how we can change the way our brain works is in some of the therapy given for anxiety, like post-traumatic stress disorder. I've had situations that trigger anxiety for me, which then can lead to depression. I'm learning how to shift focus and so far it has been working well.

I think that must be a way of changing my neural pathway as well.What do you think? Is that similar?

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
You're welcome in terms of your book. I'm not sure what techniques you use to shift focus, but I would imagine that your goal is the same.


Nancie said...

Hi Susan,

It is interesting that breathing can be so helpful in managing our emotions. Besides praying, I am learning to use breathing exercises too and other relaxation techniques. I find that sometimes though I am no longer anxious or stressed up or upset, the physical symptoms are still there. So breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques are really helpful to me.

Take care.


bart said...

at first sight, what you've been telling here on the neural path therapy is more or less the same as the techniques learned to overcome an addiction, overcoming the conditioned responses one has learned by substituting one or more parts of the stimulus with something else so that a trigger won't occur...

the hard work is to learn what the stimuli and the responses are and break the cycle before a relapse or a "setback" occurs... i think i need to read a little further on this subject... thanks so much for bringing it up :-))

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
That's interesting. What do you mean by the "physical symptoms" remain? Does breathing help eliminate them?


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bart,
I don't know anything about addiction, so I didn't realize it's a similar philosophy.

However, for me, understanding the "stimuli," which I've always referred to as triggers was a big breakthrough, which I learned about independently of this book.

The problem was that I because increasingly aware of what was triggering my emotions--but still couldn't figure out what to do with my newfound knowledge.

For me, breathing is providing a skill-set for dealing with the triggers.


Nancie said...

Dear Susan,

The physical symptoms I experienced sometimes when I am too stressed up or anxious are pounding heart or racing heart rate and even giddiness. After I prayed, I am no longer anxious or troubled by whatever causes them. I may have a solution to the difficulties or problem at hand.

But I found that sometimes the physical symptoms of pounding heart, for example, is still there. I find that breathing exercise and other relaxation techniques helped greatly at such time. Sometimes I visualise that I am walking along the beach and that really helps me to relax too.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
Thanks for clarifying your physical symptoms. From everything I've read, breathing should help reduce or eliminate those symptoms as well. As we all practice this technique and get better at it, it will be interesting to see how it works!