The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the center of the brain. It has direct links to the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the cortex, and is the key to our vital survival mechanisms. It has the ability to observe any situations we are confronted with, assess them as either potentially dangerous or harmless by scanning its memory banks for previous similar experiences, then make an immediate decision as to whether we are in danger. If the decision is that we are in a threatened state, it sends signals to the appropriate areas of the brain to take action to avoid the danger. This constitutes an early warning system that is very sensitive. This sensitivity is important because it is so essential to our survival. Problems start occurring when the amygdala becomes oversensitive.
The memory banks of the amygdala constitute a storehouse of our emotional memories and the source of our feelings and reactions to life. This function has been scientifically demonstrated by observing people who have had the connections severed between the brain and the amygdala (the infamous prefrontal lobotomy). These people become devoid of feelings or memory of feelings. They do not feel emotions such as anger, fear or rage or recognize friends or family.
The Amygdala originally developed from our most primitive sense--the sense of smell. The olfactory lobes contain cells that analyze odors. As the brain grew more complex, additional layers formed to enable these cells to be more sophisticated in differentiating the various types of smells. Deep sexual urges also developed in association with this olfactory function. This leads to more specific knowledge for the brain to react with in any given situation.
Mammalian evolution bought about the development of further layers to include the capacity to experience a whole new range of inputs. These included love, hate, anger, fear, panic, anxiety, and even altruism. These functions are strongly linked to the hormonal system via the hypothalamus which then secretes corticotrophin-releasing hormones (CRH) that stimulate adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine to give far-reaching effects throughout the body and more deeply imprint the emotional memories and feelings into the long-term memory banks of the fascia of the body. This sets up a library file that is cross-indexed to many associated experiences with the event.
This is where the memory of a distressing event goes beyond smell. The body also remembers all the associated factors from each of the sense organs. You may be having a strong allergic reaction to a chemical in contact with your skin--such as a bee string. The smell associated with the chemical will be remembered, as well as any other smells around at the time. You will also imprint a memory from the other sense organs. The color of the bee, the sounds related to the experience--the sound of the buzzing or even the song playing on the radio at that particular time--the touch feeling of the bee, or even the presence of a particular person near you at the time. You may also have an association to the theme of the book you might have been reading at the time. All these things are computed into the memory banks to be dynamically associated with the allergic reaction to the bee sting. In the future, any of these factors could set off the beginning of an allergic bee sting reaction by the amygdala unless it is overridden by the logical thinking of the cortex.
Next came the powerful tools of learning and memory. The storage of these memories and learned experiences enabled life-saving decisions to be made based on recognizing smells from the past that were good or bad. (It is interesting to note the strong relationship implied here between feelings of love and hate for someone and our olfactory memory banks. We fall in love with a person or hate them instinctively because of their smell and the associations we have stored with that smell.)
The thinking brain covers this primitive reptilian brain structure. Now we could think and plan, comprehend what is sensed, coordinate appropriate action, and discriminate between events. The cortex has the ability to dampen down the primitive emotional reaction and bring about ‘civilized’ behavior. The cortex, when functioning properly, gives us the choice to act on our feelings or to control them. (It will also stop us from having an allergic bee sting reaction to the song that was playing.)
The Amygdala would have us hit the person who is annoying us or whose smell, looks, or mannerism elicit painful associated memories from past ‘fight/flight’ reactions. The cortex rationalizes the negative connotations of hitting the person such as the social implications or other complicating factors, and stops our emotional impulse.
The amygdala has many complex linkages to the brain that are of immense importance to the BodyTalk practitioner.
One loop goes to the hypothalamus to cause the release of CRH, which constitutes the body’s primary emergency response mechanisms. (The fight/flight reaction stimulated by adrenaline, etc.)
Another loop is to the locus ceruleus in the reptilian brain stem, which manufactures norepinephrine and disperses it throughout the brain. This causes a marked heightening of brain reactivity--particularly in the sensory areas. This leads to deeper memory imprinting, louder warning signals, faster reactions, and more emotionally directed brain function. A third loop goes to the cortex. This is to enable us to utilize the thinking brain to logically evaluate any situation, decide what to do, and override the ‘inappropriate’ limbic reactions.
The most important thing here is that the first two loops were the first developed and are closely associated with primitive survival. This was the most important function for 98% of our evolution time. For the last 2% of our evolution, the reptilian primitive survival mechanism is less necessary and it is more beneficial for us to have the cortex in greater control. The fact remains, however, that the first two loops to the hypothalamus (fight/flight) and the reptilian/limbic brain are much shorter, and more highly developed than our links to the cortex.
This has created many problems for ‘civilized’ society because the higher centers of the brain do not govern all our emotional, reactive (allergy), and sensory functions. Whenever the sensitive Amygdala considers a stimuli to be crucial (which is a value judgment not necessarily suitable for an organ schooled in the jungle), the cortex defers to the limbic and reptilian systems because of the faster loop that bypasses the thinking center of the brain. This gives the emotional centers enormous power to influence the functioning of the entire bodymind complex beyond the rationalization of the logical thinking mind.
This can easily be seen in times of our life when we were strongly involved with an emotion and behaved in an irrational manner. In these cases the Amygdala has ‘hijacked’ the brain. The degree to which this happens can be termed our ‘emotional intelligence’.
If the signal is associated with a previous very strong situation in our life, then the new reaction will imprint deeper memory patterns into the bodymind complex. This will make the situation worse the next time as well as set up long term stress reactions within the body. This leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where these deeper imprints make the nervous circuits hyperreactive to stimuli associated with a certain memory. This can lead to an amygdala-induced reaction even when the trigger may not be the original problem rather a metaphor associated with it, such as another event that is merely similar.
There are cases of people with bad cat allergies who have been triggered into a severe allergy reaction when they heard a cat meow in the room. They later found out that there was no cat in the room. What they heard was a cat on a television ad.
The individual whose system has become oversensitive can be triggered by anything that associates with past memory and brings them into a reaction. This relates to many disease patterns. Once the whole limbic/reptilian system has been placed into reaction mode the end symptoms can vary enormously according to nature of the person involved.
The BodyTalk approach is multifaceted. The standard protocol taught in modules 1 and 2 should first be observed. Then the following concepts will give you a greater variety of questions to ask and clues on where to start asking.
When treating the body chemistry:
The patient was a 45-year-old woman who had spent many years in India. During that time she had suffered many severe parasite infestations and been treated with antiparasitic drugs to the point that she was now intolerant of them. In a recent trip to South America she was infested again and treated with BodyTalk by her traveling companion. She improved at first and the BodyTalk said that the parasites were gone.
She then became very sick again with all the parasite symptoms--cyclic diarrhea, constipation, severe pain, weakness, headaches, etc. Despite the presence of her symptoms, the BodyTalk said there were no parasites. I met her at this stage and gave her a BodyTalk balancing. Beyond the normal procedures the following parts of the treatment are relevant to this article.
The above-mentioned treatment and protocols are just to give you ideas. The important thing to remember is the principles outlined in this article. By understanding the physiological and psychological functions at play in so many disease pattern, you will better be able to use your knowledge and intuition to focus on the specific links that will give greater benefit to the patient.
Much of the scientific basis of this article was sourced through an article--Mind-Body aspects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Part 1: The Amygdala, written by Robert S. Mayer, Ph.D. and published in the Fall 1999 edition of THE HUMAN ECOLOGIST.