March 8, 2023

Unlocking Trauma: A Somatic Approach to Calming Your Nervous System with Irene Lyon

In this episode, we explore the connection between trauma and our body's response. Irene Lyon, a nervous system specialist and somatic neuroplasticity expert... See show notes at:

In this episode, we explore the connection between trauma and our body's response. Irene Lyon, a nervous system specialist and somatic neuroplasticity expert, shares her journey of healing from trauma and how she helps others do the same. Trauma can leave us feeling disconnected from our bodies, stuck in fight or flight mode, and yearning for connection and healing. Irene's approach to healing is somatic, meaning she focuses on the body and the nervous system's role in regulating it. This episode is for anyone who feels trapped, stuck, or disconnected and is looking for practical ways to regain their health and live freely within their bodies.

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 Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Welcome to another episode of the Michael Unbroken Podcast, where I am here with my dear friend Irene Lyon. Irene, how are you today?

Irene: I'm good, Michael. I'm good. I was sleepier this morning, but I am getting a little more energized and the interaction is always good, so fair enough.

Michael: Yeah, totally. It's funny to me how often human connection kinda energizes us. Well, also at the same time it, I'm like, as an introverted extrovert, I'm like, get away from you people. I just need to be by myself right now.

Irene: Yeah. I like my hermit time too.

Michael: Yeah, totally. So, you're in a very interesting field and I think it's extremely relative to what I do as a coach for adult survivors of childhood trauma and for people who really need to have a baseline understanding of the fundamentals of what it is to be a human being. Myself, coming from public schools and growing up in the inner city, let me tell you, I did not receive this education until I chose to do so on my own very, very much later in life. And that is understanding the human body from this level of looking at it as its inner workings and its systems. You have a master's degree in biomedical, first and foremost, that's incredible, let's pretend here for a moment I have no idea what that means because I don't, and share this journey. How do you get to this place where you are studying and understanding the human connection with itself? Where does that come from?

Irene: Yeah, well it's funny, the title Bio Masters of research and biomedical and Health Science, it sounds really like fancy, but what that is, and I'll give you that, is my first love was exercise science. So, I studied exercise physiology, exercise, rehabilitation, all of the inner workings of the human system, you know, biochemistry, pathophysiology, I should have in some ways gone become a doctor, but I'm glad I didn't, ‘cuz that would've been an easier route in some strange way. But I didn't and I got really interested in human performance, health, wellness, and I actually was really interested in omega-3 fatty acids, which is a very random thing to get interested in. But I was in my early twenties and that led me to a University in Australia just south of Sydney called a town called Wollongong, which is a seaside town, it's a big university city and a steelwork city. And so, I got there to do what I thought was going to be omega-3 fatty acid research, looking at inflammation in the body and that project didn't work out. Long story short, the professor wasn't the nicest man. I didn't fit with them, him and his team and I dropped it and then luckily another professor picked, you know, scooped me up and he is like, well, you've flown all this way, you've paid your money to be here. I have this other study within the health sciences, would you like it?

And so, I kind of had to say, okay, I'm here. I do wanna get a master's degree. So, I did that and I did an intervention study with older adults, like 65 to 85 years old, putting them through very intensive strength training, like lifting and pushing really heavy weight over 12 weeks we fed them two different diets and so that study was within the biomedical health science nutrition wing of the university. And so, I like did the full-on intervention study with these humans, it was one of the hardest and best rewarding things I've ever done in my life working with these people and really just exploring what the academic world is. I didn't love the academic world, to be honest, Michael so I saw the behind the scenes that kind of make you, when you see it, not totally believe everything you see when it comes to science. And so that, chapter finished, I wrote my dissertation, I passed, funnily enough, the people reading my research said that it could have been a PhD except I was missing one study, which really sucked. So, you know, I kind of kicked myself for not knowing that and I just should've, you know, done another year and I would've been a PhD, but say Levy. So that was how I got into that world at the time I was recovering from a pretty nasty series of knee injuries and I was a ski racer growing up, a figure skater, very hardcore outdoor athlete and I had destroyed my knees just from being crazy and loving adrenaline, that was my trauma patterns playing out in the world. And I was in recovery in rehab, physical rehab, but everything I had learned in my first undergraduate degree wasn't helping my own body. And so, while I was doing my master's, I was also recovering from this injury so, these things were happening at the same time, and I was unsure of what to do. I was seeing a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a chiro proctor, I was stretching, doing all the right exercises, and I was still in a lot of physical pain. I looked good and I was put together, I had broken my kneecap, that was the big injury but something wasn't right. And that is what led me down the rabbit hole to where you and I are sitting here talking about this stuff of the nervous system and neuroplasticity.

Michael: Yeah, that's fascinating to me. So, many levels because I, myself, find myself like very interested in understanding the precursor that, you know, omega fatty acids have, and vitamin D oils have, and things like this, especially on long term memory, the body, the nerve, the nervous systems, all of these things, recognizing my body being depleted of that for years and years and years through youth and then looking at the fact that I've had probably 7 to 10 concussions, growing up playing sports and recognizing like that is the key to longevity in some aspects and we could have a whole tangent on that ‘cause I've read white papers where I'm like, I don't know what this means, but I'm starting to get there. And like you said you go through the publications but more importantly, you know, you said something really interesting, like you were noticing your trauma patterns started being this thing of like pushing yourself. Ultimately, I understand that ‘cause I've been in that scenario myself, which led me down into this place where it was probably, I don't know if I wanna call it proxy or serendipity that led me into having to force myself how to learn to take care of my body with trauma and you mentioned that's kind of how our paths are here colliding. What was that experience for you? Like, how do you go and how do you step into that? And more importantly, how do you notice like, oh, there might be a correlation here between past experiences and what's happening within my body right now?

Irene: Yeah, it's interesting, you know, in that moment of my life, I was in my mid-twenties, I had no connection with my love, well I still love adrenaline in that I do like fast cars and that kind of excitement. But in my twenties and late teens, there wasn't, I didn't know how to temper it like I was very physically accomplished. So, I was skiing with all the boys, jumping off of cliffs. I was very well to do in my physique and physical, but it caught me going me like I didn't have that internal intuition that sort of says, Hey, hey, hey, it's like in the back of your gut saying, slow down, slow down. And it wasn't really, to be honest, until I started really studying the work of Peter Levine in 2008. So, this is like from 1997 is when these bad injuries were really happening, even like 93 to 97, it wasn't until I was fully in my training in the somatic healing arts that I went, wait a second, is that why I screwed myself over so much when I was in my twenties? I didn't make the connection because sometimes you don't make those connections until we passed.

Michael: What was the connection, like, if you were to name that, what would that be? Because I think often people so often are disassociated that idea of listen in your gut, like that is so far-fetched. It's not even on the table, so what's the connection that?

Irene: I'll give you one connection that really was interesting. I was with my first husband, so I've been with another husband now who I like and I'm gonna keep. But the first one, I still loved him and I still love him and you know, he's a good guy, there was no abuse or anything like that, but our paths were like going like this. I had met him in the ski world, we para glided together, which is a pretty intense sport. And I was ski touring on a hill or on mountain up in the Whistler area and it was one of those days where I kind of had this, I'm not so sure we should be here. Right. Something doesn't feel right. And it was either me stay at the base camp alone and be really cold all day ‘cause if you're not moving, you'll freeze or go up the hill and ski tour and skin up and all those things. And so even though I had said to him, something doesn't feel right, he didn't have that intuitive element at the time. He might now, but he didn't then. And so, I kind of acquiesced and I went and we toured and toured, it was super stormy and you couldn't see a damn thing. And we got to the top and something, and he's smart, he can see something wasn't right. And so, we couldn't fully ski down the chute, we had to go around and when we got to the bottom and we looked and it cleared there had been in the time we had skinneded up and come down, massive sizes of like refrigerator, boulders of snow had fully like avalanche. And I looked at these things, I was like, f***, this isn't good, we could have died. And so, we got out, we skied out. I got home. And what was so spooky that day, Michael, is that day there were avalanches all over, it wasn't predicted and someone who he worked with, my husband worked with, did die that day out in the same area we were in.

So, we got back to my house, my dad was there. He looked like he had seen a ghost because he had heard that a ski patroller had died skiing that day. And he just thought it was us ‘cause you know, we hadn't come home yet. And so, there was something that switched in me that day, and I remember thinking later that night or the next morning, I'm just really happy to be at home doing my laundry right now like, I will still ski and I will still do these things. So, there was a switch at that moment, and that was kind of something that led me to question this intuition, because this was before I started studying somatic experiencing and the other things that have trained into where I work with people. But there was an internal knowing that kind of woke up and it was shortly after that that I started to question whether or not this relationship was gonna work because I have to follow my gut and my intuition. And then as I started to learn the science and learn about the autonomic nervous system and something called neuroception, I don't know if you've come across that in your work but the work of Stephen Porges, I was like, wow, humans do have a spidey sense. We do have a sixth sense. We do have a telepathic sense that knows what to do, but when we are stuck in our fight, flight and freeze responses specifically in our freeze response, and we're numb and we're, as you mentioned, dissociated, we don't have access to that intelligence.

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And that's so fascinating to me because one of the things that I always think about is in my youth, while I did have so much trauma to deal with, I actually developed the sixth sense probably as a survival mechanism. Right? To be able to put myself in a position to measure environments. Right. Am I safe? Am I protecting? Am I gonna be able to be in that position? One of the big things that I noticed with many, many, many adult survivors of childhood trauma is they don't have that because listening to yourself is terrifying because we have this baseline of experience that says, when you try or do this thing and move in that direction, there is a ramification. Right. We understand that whenever we followed our gut, there was a backside to that that was negative, generally speaking, that comes because you had poor parenting, you were in the wrong environments, it's not that your gut was wrong, it's that you were in the wrong place, or unfortunately subjected to the wrong people. So, I'm so fascinated by this concept because to me, I go, oh, I've learned this at four years old. I can read a person like that. How do you step into that, and especially with like your scenario, how much of that lead up in getting to that place of acknowledging that was, oh, I've been researching and I've been studying this, it was education versus it just naturally started to accumulate?

Irene: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. So your story, and I did have a chance to listen to your story before we chatted, so it was great to get into that energy and that field and what you said about if there is a person growing up in an environment that is unsafe with their parental structures, their caregivers, you know, even if it's war torn country where the environment is not safe, the person, it's really the nervous system will become hypervigilant to everything around and that usually it's the child will become really good at reading, even just the sound of the footsteps being different when whoever comes home, how the car door slams or the screech of the tires, how the keys are, set on the table slowly and gently versus slammed. And what happens is that hyper vigilance gets built as you've mentioned, for me, it was kind of a different scenario because I actually had good upbringing parents, they were not abusive, they were not in any ways shameful or any of that. No neglect. And yet what really landed with me when I was doing my studies was that even if we had that good childhood, and I put that with air quotes, our conditions and our cultural engineering and religion, nothing wrong with faith, but like some of the deeper things that really indoctrinate us into not listening to our bodies not being able to express anger, sadness, being expected to show up in a certain way I mean, we could spend two hours just talking about all those instances of cultural conditioning and societal conditioning, that kind of was embedded in me just from a heavy work ethic growing up. So, I was immersed in my parents' business, which I'm grateful for ‘cuz now I know how to make my own money and all that kind of stuff but it was a push that was very, very harsh and very hard, and not to blame mom or dad by any means ‘cuz they were both people that grew up on a farm. If you've ever known people who've grown up on a farm like you work hard no matter how old you are from the crack of dawn to the stars, you know, coming out at night.

And so, I was just engulfed in that, but also, kind of soldiered on and I was never the kid to say, piss off, I don't wanna do this. I never put up a I don't want to do this. I did that in different ways that was where the sport and the adrenaline got me out of that shutdown, if that makes sense. Right. And so, even though, because a lot of people will say, well, I didn't have that kind of trauma I had something else and yet I'm very numbed out, it doesn't make sense people get confused. And so, when we really start to look at the macro, we realize all of us have had some version of shutting down, some version of not knowing, not being allowed to express the way, say an animal in the wild would if they were hurt, you know, be quiet, don't cry, all these sorts of things. So, I dunno if that answers your question went on a little bit of a tangent there.

Michael: Yeah, no, no. I think that's a really valid point because often, you know, there are people who are dissociated that never had like actual physical trauma, right? You grew up indoctrinated in church or indoctrinated in certain communities or certain, even sports, right? I mean, I think about growing up and playing sports and often hearing like, dust yourself off, don't cry, whatever that thing is. And you especially as a man, you've learned to turn that off and that now you see happening in women's sports as well.

And you know what I'm really curious about, especially though is, in the understanding that this can come from anywhere. Dissociation does not always have to be this. I have to have an experience that I can actually like, make it as tangible impact me, how then as an adult, if you're in this place where you're like, listening right now, Irene, I'm listening to you, and I go, okay, I have no idea what this gut instinct is, what are you talking about? Like, how do you even begin to tap into that? Like, what is that process?

Irene: Well, the first thing is the curiosity. So, someone is sitting here listening or watching and they're like, that's interesting, you know, I'm curious about that, I'm like, it kind of perks up a little bit of a radar, that's sort of the first thing is just that interest that, “Hu? Hmm? Question mark?” The next thing, as simple as this might sound, and this is what I teach when I work with my students is to start listening to the internal impulses in the body that we know are there. And one of the simplest ones to do is to listen to when you have to go to the bathroom, whether it's having a pee or having a poop, you know, as odd as that is, those are biological systems are connected to the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system governs how we produce our urine and our bowel movements and it moves digestion through and all of that. And part of the disconnection and the dissociation is not being able to not only feel our emotions and our gut sense, but our actual bio, like our physiology inside. And so often when I say that, it's as simple as it sounds, people will say, man, you're right. I do hold in my bladder way past when I feel the need to pee, for example, and I just know how to hold it. And women are usually a bit better than that ‘cuz we have more space in that part of our body. But I worked with someone recently who said, oh yeah, I like my assistant would have to schedule in my bathroom breaks ‘cuz I would just work for six hours straight and I will not go to the bathroom.

Michael: Yeah, I'm so curious. I wanna interrupt you real quick cause I have to ask this question. How much of this is tied to the sympathetic nervous system response? Because what I'm thinking here is, as a child who was a bed wetter and like always being in danger and recognizing now, like of course I was always in the sympathetic nervous system and then heading into my teens, where that began to dissipate, unfortunately later for me than I think most but as it began to dissipate, one of the things I noticed was I was becoming more self-aware just as a whole. If any, correlation between the nervous system and that, and noticing, right, ‘coming back just to this idea of noticing and control and like being present.

Irene: Yeah. Well, it's interesting, like, I mean, there's a whole diatribe of situations here. If we think about an infant who's an infant, newborn baby, depending on how that infant was treated with their expiratory needs. In other words, were they in diapers way too long? Were they not changed when they were wet or had a really soiled diaper when they were changed was the person changing them, touching them and talking to them softly with ease and joy? Or was mom or dad or the caregiver or the babysitter making terrible faces ‘cuz it stunk so bad and oh, this is disgusting, how could you be such a dirty little, you know? And sadly, that is how a lot of children are talked to, infants are talked to by a caregiver, you know, like, oh, this is so stinky and while the child, the infants, I should say, can't cognitively understand that there is an energetic that's being displayed across that with the touch. And so depending on how our earlier biological needs were met or not met, that does set the tone for that infant being afraid, fearful, tense, disconnecting the moment we go and get changed, those sorts of things. So, that's one little drop in the bucket that can influence how we connect to our biology specifically things like urinating, bowel movements, even how we pass gas when we were little, you know, a thing that's happened you see this a child will have a bloated belly and the parent will hit them, it's like this thing, oh look, we gotta burp them. We gotta shake them to get it out. And I mean, when I have gas in my stomach, if someone were to come up to me and start hitting me and shaking me to get it out, I would say, piss off, you know, get off of me. And so, there's this oddness that this disconnection with infant's needs that sets us up. Then like you mentioned with yourself, there's an unsafe environment. If you are in sympathetic fight flight, coupled with that freeze in most of your living waking hours, when you go to sleep, you will usually, I'm gonna make a generalization here, when we go to sleep in that state, we will go into a very deep shutdown state. So, if we think of the vagus nerve, the polyvagal theory, we will sleep in a very high tone dorsal state, which is verging on being in kind of like a shock state. And so, we're actually almost anesthetized it's like that person that can sleep through a car wreck, you know, like what, there was a fire that came through the house last night. I didn't hear a damn thing. Or you know, horses can run through and the person's just out cold, that isn't good ‘cuz that shows that the part of the body that needs to assess for danger is so shut down. But it's shut down because the danger is there all the time, if that makes sense. So, there's this mismatching in when to be alert and when to rest. And so, if we think about bedwetting, often when there is an urge coming down, the bladder is full, the system should wake you up, it nudges you up, the dreams start to change. You know, you're going into the bathroom, you're feeling your feet by the toilet, whatever it might be, and then something kind of wakes like, hello Michael, hello Irene, you gotta go pee, you gotta go. But if we're so shut down, that little nudge that memo, if we wanna call it, that it doesn't get through and we stay asleep, and then that's when we have that event occur. Does that make sense?

Michael: Yeah, of course. And it's so fascinating to me because as you recognize the things that the parasympathetic nervous system impacts, while also combating the sympathetic nervous system and trying to get to this place of rest and digest and recovery and health and healing and growth and all these things, most people don't recognize that they are probably still being impacted by the sympathetic nervous system. And one of the reasons why they can't focus and they can't pay attention, they can't complete task and they can't do the things that they say they're going to do, is so much tied into the fact that they have unresolved issues. Whether they may not be exactly trauma, but there are things that you need to work through that has your sympathetic system activated. So, how do you begin to kind of merge, I guess is the word that I want to use here into the parasympathetic lane, because I guess it's two parts, on one hand I recognize that there are people who have no idea what the hell we're talking about and the idea of stepping into the parasympathetic nervous system is so far-fetched to them that they will, they can't recognize it. Right. So, the first part is, can you break down those systems for us a little bit more in depth? And the other part of it is if you are a person who is listening and disassociated and not sure where to begin to step into who you are and your systems and your body and recognizing and all these things, where do you start there?

Irene: So, I'll do a tiered science lesson of the nervous systems ‘cuz that will explain parasympathetic cause parasympathetic often gets thought of as just rest and digest. So, our autonomic nervous system is basically the governing of the fight, flight, and freeze. So, fight flight is that sympathetic that like, I wanna fight you or I wanna flee ‘cuz this isn't safe. And then the freeze is a portion of the parasympathetic, a portion of the autonomic that numbs us out when we sense we can't fight and we can't flee, we will go into a free state. Kiddos, infants, children, people in abusive relationship situations, even if it's like a surgical trauma or we're trying to fight, but we're being held down, our system will go into this freeze response. Now if we go back up to the whole autonomic nervous system, we've got the sympathetic fight flight, the parasympathetic I like to call the parasympathetic and how I've been taught the slowing down nervous system. And there's two types of slowing down. One is that shock freeze, numb out, disconnect, go into kind of death prep mode, it's like the blood pressure's going down, the heart rate goes down, the oxygen exchange goes down. I'm getting ready to die basically is what that is, that's what we would go into if we were to say shock. Like I often use the example if I was to break my leg and my big artery and my leg is spurting out blood, I want my system to go into that freeze shock to preserve blood, lower blood pressure so, that's one part of the parasympathetic.

The other part of the parasympathetic is what's called the ventral vagal. And the ventral, it just basically means front of the vagus nerve. I'm being very kind of basic here, but the vagus nerve is also the shutdown but another portion of the vagus nerve is the social engagement. So, remember when we got on the talk a little while ago, I said, oh, having a bit of a conversation, it PEPs me up a little bit, I was a little tired. I'm way more awake now because we're engaging, I'm using my higher brain, there's a little bit of sympathetic going on cause I'm having to use my hands and all that. But the ventral vagal aspect of the parasympathetic, that is something that when we are born, it isn't fully working, right? It's why an infant can't talk yet; it can't communicate with us so that, I'm gonna park that for a second. And then we have something called the dorsal vagal branch, and that is part of the freeze. But there's one part of the dorsal vagus nerve, which comes out of our brain, part of our cause is all parasympathetic, it slows us down into fashions. So, I've kind of jumped a bit. One part of the dorsal is that shut down freeze, we call it high tone dorsal. It's very quick. It puts us into shock. Danger, danger, danger. The other part of the dorsal is called low tone dorsal. Low tone dorsal, that's the rest digest often when you hear people talk about the parasympathetic, they say that's the rest digest, it's actually accurately the low tone dorsal of that vagus. Are you following me there? Got these branches.

So, when we have had a lot of stress, chronic stress, trauma, injuries, we've been shut down, we haven't been able to express typically the human system is living in a mix of high tone dorsal shut downy energy that numby, freeze associated along with the sympathetic fight flight. But the interesting thing with that is you can have them both on at the same time. So, what'll happen, and this is what often gets missed, is someone will be living, numbed out and not feeling very much. And under that is a whole bunch of sympathetic adrenalized fight flight energy that is being trapped, it's literally being depressed. This is what we know of as depression, chronic illness, this is where the ACE study comes in that you mentioned at the beginning, right? The ACE Study and its findings that is it like those kids that are grown up in adversity, there is this sympathetic gas on with this high dorsal tone break on. So, paint that picture. Go back to the other one.

Ventral Vagal is social engagement. So, a common thing that people will say when they have had lots of trauma and adversity, they are terrified with connecting with people. It social anxiety, I don't wanna go out. A person will blush, you know, they might even faint if they feel too intense interacting with someone. So, if we have been brought up in a lot of that high tone dorsal and sympathetic, our ventral ability to engage and be empathetic and calm down is going to be less on our wires, aren't gonna be strong in that domain yet the good thing is with neuroplasticity, we can build that back up, as you know. And so, the ventral is a very important part to bring in to play when we start to heal this.

The other part is that low tone dorsal, the rest digests. This is why we know when someone is recovering from trauma, we need to eat well, we need to rest, we need to slow things down, we need lots of time for self-care and nurture because we have been trapped in that high tone, dorsal sympathetic for so long. And so, what often happens, Michael is especially people who are overachievers and are just going like they know they have a trauma history and, oh, I've kicked that. I'm fine. I'm fine. I can do lots like high achievers, we'll see this. If you ask them to slow down and like take a bath or read a book or go on a vacation, they'll go stir crazy because their system is wired to be in fight flight, which can be seen as workaholism like excessive exercise, shopping, sex, whatever it is. But then they have a shutdown situation where their system also knows how to totally dissociate, disconnect and numb out, that kind of thing. So, when we start to heal this system that has been in that situation of high stress, we need to start bringing back the ventral, that social engagement portion along with the low tone, rest, digest, but in a way that is, do you know the word titrated? Have you come across that word?

Michael: Yeah.  So, here's a really interesting question there as a follow up to this and I feel you kind of pressing into that, how do you get to that place? Day one, moment one, you're starting to move into titration and having this relationship with self and understanding and healing and this thing? Like day one, lesson 1: 101, where do you start here?

Irene: The first thing that always is the starting block is education. And the reason why is because one of the first exercises that I would teach is something called orienting. So, learning how to spark back up the social engagement nervous system by actively looking and seeing the environment around us in an exploratory way. And as simple as it sounds, our orienting response, we need it for danger, but we also need it for pleasure and seeing beautiful things in the world. But if we were brought up with a lot of stress and torment and an environment that was unsafe, our orienting response is going to be hypervigilant, this is what ADHD would be. This like looking quickly, quickly, quickly for the next thing that's gonna come in and hurt us, scream at us, tell us whatever it might be, etcetera. So, orienting is an interesting one. So, let's just say a person's done some base level education, which is important. And the reason why is because we will put someone into an orienting exercise, it is very basic, it's like 10 minutes looking, seeing, feeling the neck move, feeling the eyes move. Very basic. One of two things happens with someone who has been brought up with early trauma.

One, it might feel beautiful, and I've done this enough with thousands of people, they'll be like, oh my God, you mean I can actually look and see the wall and look out at the trees and slowly move my head? And people will start to do this exploratory orienting, and their whole system starts to just come down and it feels great, the breath comes back in and they realize, wow, I have not actually ever looked at the plant that's sitting next to me. I've never actually looked at the clouds outside and everything starts to calm down because the ventral, remember how I said that ventral vagal aspect or the parasympathetic, it governs the neck, the head, the face, the eyes, all these things.

So, let's just call that person A, person B, who's had, let's just say maybe the exact same history, you put them into the orienting, let's call it exercise, it's an exploration. And the moment they even hear my words that says, what would it be like to just let your eyes see again, depending on their history, but they will often have this instant panic, this instant what? No, I can't look out there ‘cuz that's, that's dangerous, right? That's unsafe. So, if someone goes into that expression, which is very common, you have to then work with that beginning instruction of what would it be like to imagine looking out, don't do it, but just feel it and then you feel that edge. We'll go down that path let's just say someone has that expression of, I can't, I feel more anxiety, more panic. I wanna shut down, or I wanna scream, I wanna run. Then you have to say, okay, it's kinda like a member of those books shoot here an adventure I don't know if you're old enough to remember those books. For everyone listening, this work isn't like a 12-step process because you have to kinda learn the ABC’s and the one two threes separately, but then you bring 'em together. So, let's just say a person is terrified to look there, but they realize it's actually safe to look down and see the floor. Okay. So, then I would say, well then do that, feel what it's like to look at the floor and see I've got a red carpet down here. Look at the color red, for example or, oh my goodness, it's actually, I feel safe looking at my hands. Great. Then look at your hands, feel your hands, touch your hands, see them and that starts to spark up the curiosity. As soon as we can start to spark up even just a smidgen of curiosity, we're taking a person out of the trauma response. And as tiny as that is, it's these little drops of curiosity and feeling that wonder that over time builds up. So, I’m gonna give you another example. Let's just say someone is like, I can't look over there. I don't know why, but it feels like terror. And so, we might actually explore well, what is over there? Right? Like what is over there? And one of the most telling stories I ever had was from a teacher of mine who's working with a woman who's her. She had all these neck problems, right? Really stiff neck, which is very common when we've had a lot of trauma and stress, whether it's concussions or whatever. But she couldn't look to that side. And I don't remember what side it was, it's not important, but slowly my teacher and her, they started to open up the possibility of looking to that side with safety and slowness and not pushing her, like not well just look and see what you see, waiting for the system to be safe enough to look. And as she started to look and as she started to go and see, even though it was just blank space, the memory came back of when she was a child sitting at the kitchen table and that was the side where she saw her baby brother being beaten every day by a parent. And so, she stopped looking to that side ‘cuz it was too terrifying and she didn't wanna see it. And so, I say that to show or to pose the concept that trauma is not just in the brain and in the mind, but it's in the somatic system, it's in our movement patterns. And when we realize with something as basic as learning how to orient in all the quadrants, like 360-degree sphere, we can actually start to unpack places and spaces that we froze and shut down and where the stress is trapped.

Michael: Yeah, it's so phenomenal to me that as you sit and say this, I've recited my own mind, these experiences that I've had. And you know what, I harken into this idea that this process is certainly not 12 steps, there's indeed nothing linear about it. Right? And I measure these really amazing breakthrough moments that I've had in my own journey and even with my clients and so much of it is about getting that place of presence and noticing, right? Noticing. And I love that you mentioned as education being kind of the jump off point and I agree with that wholeheartedly. And one of the things I think people have to recognize is this process of education, it doesn't necessarily have to be, you know, through a PhD or a Master's, it’s the internet, it's conversations like this, it's about the willingness to step in.

Here's one of the things that I'm so curious about, and part of me wants to challenge you on it because I feel like even in that place of just stepping into observance, there is this huge hesitancy for so many people. What do you think is the threshold that gets people from, call it pre-contemplation and contemplation and action, especially around noticing and becoming present because I have found within, not only myself, but my work is that tends to be that biggest gap, right? There's been education, there's been contemplation, but there is this window right here between, okay, I'm thinking about doing this and I'm actually gonna do it and explore the fear or the possibility or whatever we want to name it on the other side. How do you gap that? How do you put people in a position to be able to step into that?

Irene: They have to want it and by that I don't mean that it won't be scary and they're not gonna feel some really intense stuff. But I'll speak from my own experience with hearing the stories through my private practice and programs. They'll be this point in time where someone, and it doesn't matter how old they're, it could be an 80-year-old, 50-year-old, 20-year-old, even I've worked with some teenagers who they know something's not right. And it's kind of like if their soul knows there's still something more, like, I've tried all these things, I've tried all these therapies, all these practices, and I'm still afraid to socialize. I'm still getting gut problems. I still have panic when I drive my car and all the things that will tell us that there's stored survival, stress stored trauma in the body. There's almost just this desire to figure it out and it's like this indefinite, I want to figure this out. Not everyone is going to cross over that chasm, as you said and some people won't dive into the pool and sign up for feeling all the survival stressors that they've stored in their bodies since even past generations, right? Because we also have to understand that this trauma stuff that we're working with isn't just ours. It's ancestry. It's our parents. It could even be past life trauma, which is something that I've worked with a lot with people in myself. And so, it's kind of like the contemplation, pre-contemplation and the practice are always kind of swirling a little bit. So, whenever I'm talking and teaching to people, I'm trying to engage my body in my somatic system with them, even though I'm not directing them in a practice. So, as I talk, I'm connected to my butt on this chair, I can feel the coolness in my hands. I can sense that it's dark in my room. I can see you moving in your chair a tiny bit left and right. Right. So, the intention of the teacher and the presence and the skill of the teacher will inevitably ooze, I love that word it's like it's oozing out it's like a saying or a word or a sentence that's like, it's okay, we can do this like this is what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to heal at this level because if we don’t, we know what occurs. I mean, the ACE study says it all. So, I think not everyone is going to want to go to that level and I kind of give people the benefit of the doubt, and I'm just like, well, I think most people do at the core, they want to, what often stops people is their psyche.

Michael: Yeah, I was literally about to say this morning, you know, I try to write every day. I try to blog every day, put something out into the world of meaning. And this morning I was just writing about the power that words hold over us and the way that we self-define and thinking about for so long in this journey of mine, especially in the beginning when I got serious about it, you know, I had parameters and I said, this is what it might mean. This is what it might look like to heal, to step into this journey. While understanding, I had no idea, but the innate desire within me lay within this idea that somewhere deep inside of me, in my soul, I was like, f*** this because it was like, there has to be something more, right? And that's the thing that I often encourage people to be willing to explore the idea of the potential that on the backside of your action, you could actually get the thing that you want and that's terrifying, right? And for most people, and I challenge folks to step into that because I think that, you know, I almost parlay education with mindset as step one, because I think you can't have one without the other and vice versa. I could talk to you all day, like I feel like we're not even getting into this yet. I'm gonna ask you two more questions, my first question is…

Irene: No, hold those thoughts ‘cuz you said something really important when you were just mentioning that kind of f*** that I wanna go forward and get it, that piece is healthy aggression. So, the need for this healthy life force energy. If a person still has it and they know it's hidden somewhere in the depths of their cells, but they can feel it, it's that element that pushes people even when they're in pain and despair. So, that's actually a really important point because depending on a person's circumstance, even when it's like the worst possible circumstance ever, we still have that healthy life force energy in us, we just have to get enough energy going so that a little like spark can pop out of the concrete, if that makes sense.

Michael: So, let me challenge you on that then, ‘cuz that was actually leading into this question. Part of me and I have not done the research and I think it would be a really intensive, long study to find out the answer to this question. But the question I'm seeking is at what point do we create the systems that mitigate the risk of what I will call rock bottom before change takes place? Because here's what I hear in the words that you're sharing right now is like, yes, you have to build this up, you have to fuel it, there has to be these parts of you that once it, but to be honest with you, and I've interviewed so many people and so many clients and myself included, that moment of change to mitigate the risk of it being implemented via rock bottom doesn't seem to exist. What are your thoughts just as a general wait, what are your thoughts? How do you create change before rock bottom? How do you mitigate the risk of my life as a f****^ disaster, something has to happen?

Irene: I wish there was a clear-cut answer, it seems like everyone is a little different. You know, I've worked with people who have their rock bottom have has been, you're gonna die in a month, like terminal illness kind of stuff. For some, it's just I don't feel good like there's this sense something's not right, I'm always getting headaches, for example, that's not what I had, but it might be I can't talk to this partner that I'm with and for whatever reason I can't get out of this situation. So, you know, it's interesting, it would be great if it didn't have to go to that rock bottom. I like to think macro and I think one of the things that might help facilitate that in the future as we grow and understand more about this, because let's face it, our parents weren't doing this when they were Rh, they weren't talking about trauma and helping teach the world about these things, it just wasn't happening, wasn't even happening 20 years ago, 10 years ago. So, my sense, Michael, is that as time rolls forward, there's just gonna be more of a universal field, if you will its very quantum physics like this field is going to start to say to people, you have permission to start taking care of yourself even before you are sick. ‘Cuz in our culture, our systems are basically created around the sick model of health. It's all about what can we do to avoid death. Right. What can we do to avoid this? Or when we do get sick, okay, what can we do to get rid of the sickness in the fastest way possible? And it's scary when someone comes up with a chronic illness, a terminal illness, and they want it gone quickly. And to say, you know, well, what would it be like to just really take care of yourself? Like, there's no script for that, right? So, I think the field is growing and when I mean that it's like the energetic field more people who are young, I've been meaning more people who are young, maybe you would say this too, who are not wanting to live the way our parents lived, even maybe we lived in our thirties and twenties where we were pushing, pushing, pushing, and ignoring our bodies. I think we've been talking about prevention and self-care for so long, like eighties, nineties, like the whole health, you know, world. But I think what's happening, because the research science and the practice are all kind of colliding right now into a really good space. There's something I think happening where we might not need to always hit rock bottom. I think there will always be exceptions, but my sense, my gut sense, and maybe this is my optimism playing out, is that with more of these conversations and more of this information just being thrown out there, people are gonna feel it. I dunno if that answer your question?

Michael: I mean, you talk about coming full circle, finishing out with the gut. I agree a hundred percent. I think that's the direction that we're heading. Before I ask you my last question here, Irene, thank you so much for being a part of this today, where can everybody find you?

Irene: Just my name, my site it's You go there and you can get lost for many days with many, many videos and resources and courses and programs and my bios there, you can learn more about me and the people who work with me, so that is the best way.

Michael: Beautiful. Irene, my last question for you today is, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Irene: Okay. It's more than a sentence. So, what I've been really tuning into recently is that we're either healing or we're not. So, this does not mean perfection or imperfection, but are we in our moment, in our lives even just the tiniest little thing to further our goodness, to further our aliveness, even if it's just like, I'm gonna drink more water today, you know, I'm gonna breathe fresh air today, but in a conscious way those little things from my experience, when they are done repeatedly, you know, a lot of people are like, I've gotta do this big healing cleanse. I have to blow it out of the park with fireworks and go to these intensive meditation retreats and all that to really get unbroken or heal. And I think those are fine and good and we need those intense things sometimes but as I age and as I see more and more people in this world, it's the little things. It's the little tiny element. So, to really realize what would it be like to just be in your system with this question of let's do something that's healing that's towards health all the time without it having to be perfect, if that makes sense.

Michael: Yeah. That's beautiful. Irene, thank you so much. I really appreciate this. I love this conversation. I could literally talk to you for like three or four hours today. We're just now getting in there. We'll absolutely have you back on again. Unbroken Nation, thank you so much for spending some time with me and with Irene.

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Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


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

Irene LyonProfile Photo

Irene Lyon

Nervous System Specialist

Irene Lyon, MSC. and nervous system expert, 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 have reached thousands of people in over 60 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. She has extensively studied and practices the works of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, Peter Levine (founder of Somatic Experiencing) and Kathy Kain (founder of Somatic Practice). Irene spends her free time eating delicious food, hiking in the mountains or walking along the Pacific Ocean in her hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia.