Aug. 2, 2021

E93 Functional Neurology for well-being after Trauma with Elisabeth Kristof

In this episode, I talk about Brain-Based Wellness with Elisabeth Kristof. Understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) is everything in the trauma healing and CPTSD recovery journey because it is the autonomic system that governs our body and our behaviors. Trauma often forces our body and mind to create survival mechanisms to both cope and facilitate trauma experiences in a way that serve us during times of uncertainty, but what happens when those mechanisms no longer work and we find ourselves in a constant state of Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn?
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In this episode, I talk about Brain-Based Wellness with Elisabeth Kristof. Understanding the Central Nervous System (CNS) is everything in the trauma healing and CPTSD recovery journey because it is the autonomic system that governs our body and our behaviors. Trauma often forces our body and mind to create survival mechanisms to both cope and facilitate trauma experiences in a way that serve us during times of uncertainty, but what happens when those mechanisms no longer work and we find ourselves in a constant state of Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn?

We have the ability to “re-wire” our brain and our body to step deeper into our healing journey and move away from the impact of our child abuse and traumatic experiences. 

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What's up! Unbroken Nation! Thank you so much for being with me today and my super special guest, Elisabeth Kristof, the brain-based wellness foundation, is the foundation the way I should say that maybe not brain-based wellness. Elizabeth, thank you so much for hanging out with The Unbroken Nation today. How are you, my friend?

Elisabeth: I am great. I'm really excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me on it. I love your work; I love what you're doing.

Michael: Oh! Thank you. That means so much to me, you know, it's it's so wild when I reflect on the journey of my life and being in the place that I am right now and understanding that this wasn't a part of the plan, that makes it so fascinating and so, powerful and potent. And to be honest, I'm very blessed and honored to be able to be in the position I am and you're very fascinating in your own right. I think looking at an understanding, what you do when your mission and your goals were very much aligned for people who don't know, you tell us a little bit about this journey and how you got to where you are and what you do.

Elisabeth: Yeah. So I am an applied neurology practitioner, and I have the online platform brain-based wellness where I teach people how to train their nervous system to be more resilient. Just the same way you would train your muscles in the gym to make them stronger, you train your nervous system so that it can handle more stress and so that it can be more resilient to the challenges of life but also to move some of the stress through your body and to resolve old trauma patterns so that behavior change is more possible. And I came to this place where I use applied neurology for this, through facing some of my own trauma, my own childhood trauma, some very high-stress times in my life and I have used applied neurology for a long time, in athletic performance, and in pain management and in going through that high-stress time in my life and coming up against some of my own unwanted behaviors in my own trauma patterns that came up, when I went through that time, I started to learn that dysregulated nervous system is a very dangerous thing. And I started to really dive into a deep rabbit hole abusing applied neurology to heal the nervous system for behavior change, for stress management and to be able to change your life and to move forward in ways that you want without being held back by the nervous system that's under constant threat.

Michael: Yeah, I mean that's powerful and potent medicine, right? And I've definitely wanted to dive a little bit deeper into this with you. You know, I think about the nervous system often and frequently, you know, I talk about it, I wrote about it in my book and it's obviously a part of our life, and here's what's very strange to me about human biology, at least in America is that we have to go and discover it on our own. There's no real platform in our youth, in our formal education, even for the most part unless you seek, it to get an understanding of the literal thing that like, moves us throughout the world, the brain and body connection. I think it's so fascinating to be in this position of being willing to step in to learn about it, but where does that come from? Right? Because I think that part of healing trauma, specifically is an education and for many of us, it's education by force of our own will. What's that journey been like for you to step into that?

Elisabeth: Yeah, well, I think you're so right. Not only do we not learn about it but I think so much of our culture dissociates us from our body so that we completely lose the ability to read the signals that our body is sending to us and to cultivate that relationship, that is so very important to healing, and then to processing stress when we get so disconnected from it and push through it and push through it, and then incur all these negative effects in our behavior and in our health because we've lost that connection, so I think you're absolutely right with that.

And how I personally found my way back into my body and found way into rediscovering the nervous system, it started for me with being a movement practitioner my whole life movement has been what has carried me through the ups and downs of my life. I've always had really big emotions; I didn't understand at the time that a lot of that was a trauma reaction, I just knew that I felt things very intensely. And the only way for me, to stop self-harming and to stop reacting was to move was to forward move. So I started running at an early age, I was always athletic and that was the only thing that kind of kept me calibrated. So as I went on, in my life, I became a movement practitioner a Pilates teacher, I had a studio for 12 years and I taught people how to connect to their body and their breath through movement. And during that time, I was sober, I got sober at a young age at the age of 24 because also alcohol and drugs were not positive for me with all of the things that were happening in my nervous system certainly did not help. And so I got sober, I started pouring myself into this business, this movement business and that saved me in many ways but there were still a lot of really negative outputs of my nervous system that continued to run through my life, veggie eating was a huge part of my life going into workaholism and just driving myself into the ground, tying up so much of my identity with my business and then completely shutting down where I would have to like sleep and bed for two days with the covers pulled over my head. And I really didn't understand at that point that there was another way to be that just felt like normal life, just cycling from hypo to hyper-vigilance push, push, push and shut down and I was in a lot of chronic pain even though I was teaching people how to connect to their bodies and be mindful movers. I was still pretty disconnected from my own body and there came a time a couple of years ago, where the studio got in a lot of financial trouble, I had to leave that partnership, and I lost the business that I had put so much of my identity into I was a very stressful time for me financially, but I was also losing my community and then I was in a relationship with someone who also struggled from childhood trauma and had pretty severe complex PTSD and the same week that I left my business, he was diagnosed with a very rare cancer and that grew around his heart, and I became the caretaker for him as we went through that year-long journey of cancer treatment and it was during that time that the amount of stress that I was under became. So great that I started to really, really feel the effects of my nervous system. I was constantly ingrained; the pain was very severe. Sometimes I would just blackout, I was binge eating very intensely as a way to dissociate from my body and to kind of just put a warm blanket over my nervous system. And I was pushing through from really intense stress periods to complete shutdown, and during that time, I started to look at my partner's behavior, I started to look at the medical system, and cancer treatment I started to look at my own behavior. And start to question, what is happening here? What is happening to our bodies, why are we being driven in these patterns? And I began a long journey of diving down a rabbit hole of reading Peter Walker, you know, Waking the Tiger, and The Body Keeps the Score and Complex PTSD. And I saw a lot of what was happening to my partner, but I also saw a lot of what was happening to myself in those books and begin to really understand how our body and our nervous system are such a huge part of healing our past. And I began to remember a lot of the things of my own past, I'll be really open with your audience, I have sexual abuse, and physical abuse, and abandonment in my past, and all of that started to come back to me in ways, I had not remembered before, something about being in that intense, stress that replicated, it brought it back to me. And so, it pushed me down on a long healing journey of working with my own applied neuro coach, my own somatic therapist and really starting to heal, heal the trauma, heal the stress, my own body, and that's when I really began to learn, how important it is to try to regulate our nervous system to learn about it and learn how to heal it and that that is possible. It's possible to do that.

Michael: Yeah. And it's fascinating to me how often these stories of dramatic change in our life occur from this moment of rock bottom, for lack of a better term, right? It's not necessarily one thing, but the compounding interest of a lot of things, not going the right way where suddenly we are often, and this was my case scenario, faced with change or die, like I literally felt like, if I would not have made the adjustments that I made, as I was 25, 26 years old. I would very likely be dead right now. And part of that also comes from this idea of forced education, whereas, you have got to step into understanding what it is that's happening within you right? And thinking about, you know, I think about this podcast, especially as a resource and, you know, I cite books like The Body Keeps the Score in like radical acceptance and you know, the list goes on and on and on but so much of it is like great, you have this information, you have this knowledge now what do you do with. What I'm so curious about is, you know, as you reflect, and you have this understanding of really this parlay of these experiences in childhood versus these experiences and adulthood. How do you step into creating a pathway to move forward as opposed to the ultimate worst-case situation being like death, right?

Elisabeth: Yeah, so I think for me what really saved me was, I've always been a very curious person and my curiosity, what allowed me to look at things from altitude, and I also believe that I was already educated and applied neurology, I use that in my studio since 2014 for athletic performance and pain reduction, and so I had an understanding that our brain and our nervous system governs everything, right? I knew at that point like I don't have a tight hip flexor, I have a brain that is telling my hip flexor to stay tight because it feels threatened by movement in that area for some reason, so I'm not going to change that in my body, by stretching our foam rolling, I have to change it in my brain, I have to train my brain to feel safer to give my muscles more range of motion. And so I had this perspective of viewing everything from a brain-based neurological lens and I started to see in myself and in my partner some of the cues that I would look for physically and people when I was training them to move out of pain, I would see people's shoulders elevate, their posture becomes hypnotic, you get a lot of tension in between your eyes. It's what's called startle reflex, and it's an indication that you're pushing your body and to threat that the stress level is too high and you're going into a threat posture and a threat response. I knew that was controlled by the old brain, the cerebellum and the brain stem, mostly the brain stem, but I started to see it in myself with these emotional stresses, with these trauma responses, and I began to recognize, ‘Oh! my God, my nervous system is doing this to me’ and I could draw the parallels between training, your nervous system to move your body out of pain, which is also just an interpretation of your brain, that your body is under too much threat to the behaviors, also serving as a protective output of my nervous system, ultimately designed to keep me safe.

And our brains are wired for survival, their primary job is to make predictions to keep us alive, and they're always deciding safe and unsafe, and if your nervous system feels too threatened, not like your frontal lobe, not your higher-order thinking systems, but your nervous system feels to threaten. It's going to produce an output to try to get you to change your behavior to keep your world smaller and to keep you safe. So that can be a pain, that can be muscle weakness, it can be tightness in your muscles to reduce your range of motion, but it could also look like bingeing to shut me down. It could look like depression, it could look like anxiety, anything that's going to get me to reduce my interaction with the world. And so, I really believe that during that time it was absolutely a matter of this is going to kill me soon if I just keep pushing through but I feel really lucky in that I had that base of knowledge and I also just am a curious person and I begin to think about how to use my own experience to expand my ability to heal, not only myself but to help others find their way back to their body, in their nervous system.

Michael: Yeah, it's powerful. I often think about it, like we are given these tools and understandings by the universe, call it Universe, God, Spirit, whatever, I don't care, but it's there. It's late in front of you, and sometimes, the hardest thing you have to do is just shut the hell up, and listen. It's like right their step into it, like, acknowledge it, be willing to be curious about the idea that it's unknown, and obviously, a little bit scary. I want to take a little bit of a step back though because we're going to lose people, right? Because you, and I having this conversation, I understand what you're talking about, there are people who are like, what? What if the baseline is you talking about? And the most, layman's of terms, how can you explain this to me?

Elisabeth: So if you think of your nervous system as a bucket, right? All of the stress of your life goes into that bucket. Your financial stress, your relationship stress, your work stress, all of the old trauma pattern stress from your past goes into that bucket too but would also go into the bucket as stress is deficits in your nervous system. So say, you have a deficit with your visual system or you have a balance issue or you have a body mapping issue, can't tell where your body is in space. All of that is threatening to your nervous system on a second-by-second basis. so you have a respiration problem that's threatening to your nervous system every single breath that you take. So all of that stress is going into the bucket. Well, our brains are smart, our bodies are smart and they understand that too much stress leads to a dysregulated nervous system for too long and ultimately that leads to disease. Ultimately that is very harmful that high-stress state of our body becomes toxic for our body and so your brain will eventually, is that threat level in the bucket, rises up to the top, your brains going to try to get you to change your behavior to reduce the amount of stress coming in. And so, if I present you with pain, if your brain stem and I present you with pain on near, on the well-worn pain pathways, you're going to take fewer steps, you're going to interact less, you're going to lift less heavy things, you're going to get out and about less and so it suddenly reduces the amount of stimulus coming in. It reduces your interaction with the world and from your old brain's perspective that is safer and the same thing with producing depression and anxiety, anything that gets you to quiet yourself, the way that I would shut down and I would draw the covers over my head. I was literally reducing the stimulus coming in, I was taking away visual stimulus, I was keeping the room really dark and my nervous system needed that because the world felt so threatening, it didn't want more stimulus coming in, more visual stimulus, more movement stimulus in my joints, nothing at wanted me to just be quiet and recalibrate for a little bit.

Michael: Yeah, that's and that's powerful because so many in my case scenario especially dissociation being a huge player or my life looking back at growing up and toxic stress and being bathed in cortisol, through my adolescence in my developmental years and for a while that works, right? We become hyper-vigilant, we understand how to navigate the world, and then slowly it actually starts to turn on itself, right? That old saying it works, until it doesn't, and then that started to manifest in the pain and into illness and in sickness and depression and anxiety, and then ultimately headed off that five panic attacks a day, right? And then putting myself in this position of okay, what is it that I have to adjust. And recognizing, it wasn't just only that system but it was all of my systems. It was everything was out of whack top to bottom up to down and I think so often as trauma survivors, we don't recognize that were in it. So if you are in this place where it would be a benefit to stepping into a modality, like this, how do you even notice it? How do you even put yourself in a position of being curious enough to step into the idea that this could be beneficial?

Elisabeth: Well, I think the best thing to do is to sometimes see if you recognize the feeling of being driven by something other than the thoughts that you are aware of. I remember always feeling in my life like I was being pushed by something out of my control. There was just this frantic sense of running from life and I don't know how to describe it other than I was thrashing around, I would harm myself, I would be destructive and relationships, I would binge eat, I would do these things that it felt like some kind of autopilot that I didn't have control over was taking hold of my body and what I know now is it was on autopilot. It was my nervous system and it was my fight and flight response, or it was my frees, my shutdown response, and those are ancient survival mechanisms that are hardwired into our body but we don't understand that. Yes, I want to make different decisions, I want to react differently, but at a very baseline level, we can't until we do the work of healing. Our nervous system as simple as may be practicing breathwork or finding a few drills that work for you or just taking some time, trying to read the internal signals that your body is giving you, even just those little small steps, will help your nervous system start to move more into a parasympathetic state, a common response state and then you can take different actions. But if you have that feeling that you are being driven by something beyond your control, it is likely your nervous system is stuck in a state that no longer is serving you.

Michael: Yeah. Exactly. Fight or flight is so real and so informative of where we are in our life. And you know, it's really fascinating as even now after doing all this work for over a decade and reading all the books and going all the seminars and doing all the things it's still there, right? And it will still for most of us, I would assume always be there, but you build these tools, you build these systems to be able to notice a coat, but navigate through it right? Because there are days in yesterday's, a perfect example. I remember, I literally settle down, like I don't feel present in my body, right? And so that led me to this moment was like, oh okay, what I need to do is I need to go to my journal, I need to meditate, I need to get back into my body because the one, we live in a very toxic and stressful time. So you parlay these two things on top of COVID, on top of, you know, elections, on top of all these things and It's no wonder we are all out of sorts at this moment, right? And I think about this journey in this place of being willing to step into healing right? Often, and look, I recognize, this isn't always the case scenario, but it is way more comfortable to be within the context of the chaos of what I called The Vortex that place where you're not showing up, where you're hurting yourself, where you're binging, where my scenario being overweight and smoking two packs of cigarettes a day is Is way easier than pushing yourself into being better. So how do you do that, right? You come from this place of understanding the abuse has laid down the tracks that put you in this position of depression and self-harm and all these other things. How do you push yourself into healing? Because I do think that there is a little bit of centrifugal force that is necessary to get you there.

Elisabeth: Yes, so couple of things I've listened to your podcast and I know you're a big boy fever in the morning routine. And I am the same, I feel like it is something that I have to commit to. So that, I so that my life doesn't kill me, kind of like you said, like the stakes are high, right? So I need to do that and then I make that morning routine, something that focuses not just on my cognitive thoughts but something that focuses on bringing me back to my body and so it includes a little bit of healing movement, it includes what I call neuro somatic meditation, which basically just means taking at least one minute to sit still and think about what do I feel in the bottom of my belly? What do I feel in the center of my chest? What do I feel in my throat? Can I feel the sensations on my hands? Can I feel the big bottom of my foot? Can I feel like the foot the space that my foot takes up in space and just spending a minute coming into my body so that I'm starting to develop a skill of interception which is just your brain's ability to read the signals that your body is sending you and that those signals are given to you by one of your most important nerves which is your vagus nerve, which is a really important nerve in self-regulation and getting you out of high, reactive, emotional state? It sets all of the autonomic functions of your body like your heart rate, your breathing, your digestion, and so just taking a minute to try to feel as many sensations as you can on the inside of your body, is actually training for your vagus nerve. You're actually making that nerve stronger and upregulating it, and then that is going to overtime have huge benefits because that nerve is so important in controlling our automatic responses.

So for me, I think a minimum effective dose is really important, like, how much will I set up in my morning routine that I will actually do and so finding that sweet spot of the right amount of work in the morning to not be so overwhelming that it only lasts for a week or two but something that's really sustainable and then gradually building on that over time. You know, maybe I start with 1 minute and then I take it to two minutes and then three months later, I take it to 5 minutes so that I'm starting to see some of the benefits from the work as well as I'm gradually increasing that amount of time of training my nervous system but it keeps me wanting to do it.

Michael: Yeah. And I think that is a really important key point because so often we are measuring ourselves against, do the yoga, do the meditation, do the journaling, do the visualization, do the no coffee, only the tea, and then don't do anything, and then blah, blah and you're like, okay, hold the fuck up. Let me just do what I need to do to take care of myself at this moment, but there's lead up to that, right? So, what's the lead-up for you, Elisabeth? Because I think that it's really easy to when you be it for a while. Kind of go, yes, this is my routine, this is what I do, I have an understanding of it, but in the infancy for lack of a better term of your healing journey and getting to this place that you are now, what was that like because my reflection on it was being very difficult and tedious at times and really needing to double down on the idea that I knew there was a light at the end of this tunnel of some sorts?

Elisabeth: Yeah, I think that is a really great question and some of the things that I did to help get me here are; One, I invested in myself and I got some help with other coaches or therapists or you know joining a group that is working on healing together. I think that it's important to get help and support where you need it until you can make these things more baked in because I don't think I could have done it alone. I don't think I could have done it just relying on my community is really important to me and so was one of the ways that I began to cultivate this routine was doing it with others and then I also think that it's really important to assess and reassess everything that you do because everybody's nervous system is very different and everybody responds differently to different things, and we have different trauma in our past.

So as I was embarking on this journey and trying to see what would work for me. I did, I worked with a bunch of different people. I took a bunch of different applied neurotic, neurotic oasis, and applied different things to myself, and I will always have tested. Do I feel better or do I feel worse after doing this? And I kept notes about it? And I started to really see what are my most high payoff activities, is it these certain drills? Is it a respiration activity? Is it taking a bath?  Is it going for a walk? Like, what really helps me because sometimes sitting in meditation with your eyes closed, when you're in a state of hyper-vigilance just pushes you into more panicked, not everybody responds, the same to everything. And so if you feel all of this internal resistance to doing something. Maybe listen to that and maybe that's not the thing that you're supposed to do, maybe your body's telling you, it wants something else entirely, and so beginning to trust my body a little bit and trust my instincts and ask it, what do you need a body? Like, sometimes I will really sit there and put my hand on my chest and close my eyes and asked my body. How do you want me to be with you right now? And look for the answers there, because nobody knows better than you do.

Michael: Yeah yeah. That's a really valid point and I think about doing that often in my journey even sitting here and being like you know be nice to take a bath right now even though there's no bathtubs that hold me ‘cause I'm fucking six five but my point being is like listening to my body and trying to make that correlation between once needs interest and then moving towards them, right? And so often I think what's perplexing about this and especially in the beginning is getting to this place that you're comfortable and acknowledging what you want, what you need, or what you're interested in, and often that being the very bridge that you have to cross to step into, what's next. And what I'm curious about is, you know, from your perspective and spending so much time and I could be wrong here, but I'm going to assume that I'm not in this position where your ones need interest are denied understanding that everything that happens in your life, for the most part, is out of your control, especially within your youth, and abuse and then stepping into these chaotic situations as an adult and recognizing, okay, I'm doing some things right, doing something's wrong, but all of a sudden or all the while being very much in a dissociative state. I believe I'm leading somewhere with this; I believe that one of the most important things that we can do is learn to re-establish trust within our own body because that is such a key cornerstone in baseline to this entire healing journey. How do you do that?

Elisabeth: I think I agree with you 100%. That is the root of where all my healing has come from is really establishing a connection to my own body and trust in its internal wisdom. And honestly, I have to say, I was able to get there because of quarantine because I was able to have all this space and time to be by myself and to spend time with myself and that was forced in the beginning, and I was so used to working myself into the ground, and to stay in constantly busy, and to caring for other people, and I lost the relationship, I lost the job, and then quarantine happened, and it was very still, and it was very quiet. And I spent so much time taking really long pads in the middle of the day, going for long walks and realizing, how much more space I needed for myself? To get to know myself again and in that space and in that time is where I really found my path to healing. And I don't know if I would have found it otherwise, but I do think that it is something that is necessary time and space with yourself to build that relationship. How do you build a relationship of trust, if you don't ever spend time with yourself?

Michael: Yeah, yeah, hundred percent and I, you know, for me, I spent four years, single, and dated here and there and spent, I mean an innumerable amount of time by myself and go to therapy and come home and just journal about it and not have anyone to talk to and carrying that through and two years and years and years of that of just trying to re-establish an understanding of who I was.

And, you know, when I reflect on that from years ago and sit in these moments of being on the bus riding home alone after like crying in a therapist office and being able to like establish this idea of discovering who I am. For the first time really, leveraging that to continue to move forward, was powerful. Even with my clients I often say, like if you are in a bad relationship, if you're in a bad job, if you are in something that doesn't bring you to value, move away, walk away, be alone, step into the uncomfortableness of what it is like to be within your own self. You know go for a walk with no headphones on, I dare you to see what happens right? And so as you're in this and as you're approaching helping other people for now, because I believe one of the things that's really beautiful about being a coach, or practitioner, or a therapist, or a psychologist in this space is taking what we know and we understand about the world that has helped us in delivering not to the world. Now I think it's bits and pieces depending on who you are and for other people, it's large chunks, but if I'm going to take one thing away from what it is that you do or you understand about the world Elisabeth when it comes to healing and growing and changing and whatever else we want to call these things, what would it be? What is the one thing that you would want to give me?

Elisabeth: I would say the one thing I would want people to understand is that healing is possible and that there is a somatic and nervous system component to it. So if you feel like you're stuck in loops that you cannot get out of it's because maybe there's a component of your healing that is missing and while this wouldn't be a replacement to therapy. Any of the cognitive work, all of that becomes so much more possible when you bring your body into the equation, and so, it's so easy to be hard on ourselves for not being able to achieve the change we want, and to not being able to transform our lives, in these ways that we understand cognitively, we want to do. And so, I would say to have some compassion for yourself, and some curiosity about what else might be going on.

And then look for there are so many tools available, I offer them on my site but I also know that they exist with plenty of other somatic practitioners or applied neuro coaches, there are lots of people out there who can teach you how to make your insular cortex function better or your vagus nerve function better or help you with your respiration. So that you're under less threat on a second-by-second basis that the baseline level of threat of your nervous system starts to reduce and then all of a sudden it's possible. It's possible to change, it's possible to change the way you are in relationship to others, it's possible to change the way you handle high-stress situations, it's possible to stand and make that time for yourself, and it all starts by just coming back into your own body a little bit.

Michael: Yeah, totally, yeah. I mean, I completely agree with all that. Now, I think about this often, right? We live in a time, where money is the ultimate concern, right? It is always about everything that exists in our life, right? Money this, money that, I can't, I can whatever that may be and we can talk about the mindset of money all day long, whatever doesn't matter. My point being is now particularly, we are in this space where people are being impacted in this way, where they can't afford food this government speaking exclusively in America, is not being supportive in the way that it should, and the time like this, and people reaching this place of fathom. And what I think about when I say this is, how do we deliver tools to people that are effective that cost nothing and what I'm getting to is if I'm sitting at home and I am listening to this right now and I'm thinking about being in this place. What can you give me that as practical that I can take, that I can do that causes zero dollars that will impact my life for the better in this moment?

Elisabeth: So I would love to teach you and your listeners, just a few quick drills that you can do when you're feeling really stressed out. These are some of the most effective drills that I have that are the simplest to do anytime, anywhere.

So, one of the most effective things you can do is train, your Peripheral Vision, which means what you see out of the corner of your eye, the reason that this is effective is that when we're under threat, our vision becomes very hyper-focused. So if I can start to train my peripheral vision and turn that on, I'm actually sending a signal from my body up to my brain, that I am not under threat. That now I'm my vision is not hyper-focused, so it's a biological cue to reduce your threat. So if you just sit up nice and tall, and again, you might want to do an assessment, before and after that's always really important.

So that, you know, you're moving your nervous system in the right direction and it's not too much stimulus. So maybe just turn your head side to side, and just feel how much tension is in your neck, if there's any tension in your jaw, maybe go internally. Notice if you have any pain in your body, anywhere in your body, and rate that on a scale of 1 to 10, and you're just going to take your thumbs out right in front of your face, and hold them out at about arm's length, you're going to keep your head facing forward, you're just going to track your thumbs out to the side, but your eyes and your head, stay facing forward and see how far your thumbs can go out to the side while still seeing them in your peripheral vision and then slowly bring them back and do it maybe two more times and see if you can just go a little bit further. So keep a focal point that you're looking straight ahead at with your eyes and your face, but just see how far you can take your thumb and still see it in the corner of your eye and then maybe do that one more time, so you can go just a tiny bit further, keep lengthening your spine, keep breathing, relax the space between your eyes, and then come back. Take a big full deep breath in, take a nice long slow exhale and then just to let that settle into your body and then reassess, turn your head side to side. I noticed if it feels any different for you, if you have less tension in your neck and your throat, if your pain is a little bit less, that's a quick drill to just signal your body that you're not under threat.

And then another really great and easy tool to use is your breath. So you can think about turning on your parasympathetic system which is your common response network just by paying attention to your breath for as little as six breaths. So what you would do is breathe in twice through your nose on a double inhale and then breathe out through your mouth, like you're breathing out through a straw and you're going to start to make your exhalation twice, as long as your inhalation, and that is a signal to your body that you're moving out of your sympathetic system, out of your fight and flight into your common respond network. And its studies have shown in MRIs that it takes as few as six of these breaths to make the switch to the other system.

So you would just breathe in, pause, and then breathe out through your mouth, like you're breathing out through a straw for 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 double inhale, pause, and then breathe out, six, five, four, three, two, one. And you do that six times, and then reassess after that, and notice if your attention is better or worse, and if it's better, that's a positive nervous system response change at the level of the nervous system is instantaneous, it's lightning quick. So you can always tell if you're moving in the right direction, if you got a negative response that means for whatever reason, it was threatening to your body, it was too much stimulus.

So you then scrap that drill or try to reduce the intensity, do less repetitions, sit down, but if you got positive, that's something you could do in the morning to bring your nervous system threat level down, it's something you could do before you have to do something stressful or have a stressful conversation and it's just a quick way to regulate your nervous system.

Michael: Yeah, that's those are great tools. I actually have used both of those in my life and for me, by the way, that I step into breathing is very much changed, have a change ingrown and adapted, and I think that there's no right or wrong way to do this. And so, you know, I think it's really important that if you're listening, you don't go all this didn't work, that means it's not right or wrong, it just means it doesn't work at this moment, right? Because I go back and I think about like being in yoga studios and being like, I hate this, like, legit hate for yoga and, like, recognizing now, it is an intricate part of my daily life, right? But to go back to the breathing point, it's that exercise is available for you and on all exercises are at the drop of a hat, right? When we are stepping into stressful situations that are in our body's normal mechanism to go into a survival mode, right? And the thing is, there are not lions chasing us but there are board meetings, and there are doctor's office visits and dates with people and all of the whole spectrum of humanity, and, you know, I think people would be shocked to find out, like, I frequently will like, excuse myself from a room to go and breathe for 30 seconds just so I can like, set order.

Elisabeth: Yeah, important. And I want people to be able to understand how the nervous system works in to have these drills. So I also have a free set of drills if you go to my site, there's it's like a short applied for maroko course and it has like five or six of the most beneficial drills that I found working with a lot of people and it's completely free for people to use because I just, I think it's really important and people should have access to this information.

Michael: Yeah, I totally agree and before I ask you, my last question, trust me, I could sit here and talk to you all night long. This stuff is fascinating, we're just now touching the surface of it, where can people find you?

Elisabeth: So is my website and that's where you can get the free applied neurology course in the morning practice.

So the morning practice has five neuro drills and a short five-minute meditation that's meant to bring you back into your body, to train your vagus nerve, and just start to build that relationship with your body so you can do it there, you can do that in kind of community. It's pretty interactive and that is the best place to find me at

Michael: Amazing! Elizabeth what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Elisabeth: Wow, that's a great question. I think for me, it is having faith in my own resilience like my recovery has not been a straight-up upward trajectory but a spiral that goes upright. So I hit those same spots all the time, I hit the same fears and the same patterns and it's not that they don't happen anymore. It's just that every time I go through it, and I get up to the next rung of the ladder, when I hit it again, I have more faith in myself and in my tools and I own resilience to believe more firmly that there is another side, that it won't last forever, and that I have the capability to make it to the other side. And to me being unbroken means recognizing that capability Within Myself.

Michael: Yeah, that's beautiful.  I resonate with that in such an intense and real way, because I often recognize that in this journey, I faced the same battle again and again and again. And it's about showing up and going for it no matter what and resiliency is something that I think you build, there's not inherent, it is something that you have to do and so I totally agree with you on that Elizabeth.

Thank you so much for spending time with me Unbroken Nation!

I hope that you will go and check out brain-based wellness.

And until next time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

-I'll see you.







Elisabeth KristofProfile Photo

Elisabeth Kristof


Elisabeth Kristof is an expert in using applied neurology to move people out of pain, unwanted behavior and stress response. She is the founder of Brain-Based Wellness, a revolutionary online platform that trains the nervous system and body to resolve old patterns, improve performance and increase well-being. Elisabeth is a certified applied neurology practitioner who has been in the wellness industry since 2007. She works with entrepreneurs, athletes, leaders and creatives to improve resilience, manage stress and regulate emotions through intentional, science-based brain training. Her research and work with hundreds of clients taught her that healing and change must occur in both the body and the mind, that each body, mind, and nervous system is unique, and most importantly, that with the right tools, we are all capable of healing.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.