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Hi, pod fam!! 

Did you know the way you breathe can help shape your thought patterns? Or that a music playlist can shape your day? These are the kind of healthy changes possible through techniques related to psychoneurology.

This week’s podcast guest is my very own therapist, who I’ve been seeing for almost 3 years: Dr. Sylva Dvorak. Dr. Sylva has a PhD in Psychoneurology, is a best-selling author, and serves as the Chief Inspiration Officer and Executive Director of I AM Foundation.

This convo is juicy, raw, personal, and truly comes straight from my heart. I can’t wait to share this with you! And with that being said, let’s get juicy!

Okay, so what is psychoneurology? 

Psychoneurology is a fairly new discipline of study (30–40 years vs. psychotherapy’s 150+ year history). It’s different from psychotherapy or psychiatry in that you’re not looking for a diagnosis or label; instead, you’re “looking for how we can bring that person back into the state of calm and peace and harmony or balance in their life,” says Dr. Sylva. Another way of looking at it is that you’re not searching for a problem or a disease; you’re “looking to help someone come into balance without a label attached to it.” How powerful is that? 

So, how does it work? Dr. Sylva—and other practitioners of psychoneurology—works with the mind and nervous system to help clients create new neural pathways in the direction they want to go. 

And what are neural pathways? Our brains are filled with neurons, which are essentially messenger cells, and these help our brain communicate with itself and the rest of our body. There are three basic types: 

  • Muscle neurons – help us physically move 
  • Sensory neurons – take sensory input from the external 
  • Interneurons – create connections from one part of the brain to another 

A neural pathway is formed when neurons link up and send a message, and this is how we form habits and coping mechanisms (conscious or subconscious). And these can be either healthy or unhealthy. A healthy neural pathway/habit could be turning to exercise, music, or mindfulness when faced with stress. On the other hand, an unhealthy neural pathway/habit could be turning to junk food or alcohol when stressed. Or, in my case, holding my breath when I’m stressed out or in pain—as if to brace for something anxiety-inducing.

The power of routine and ritual

One of the most helpful things Dr. Sylva has taught me is to create healthy rituals in the morning and throughout the day. So, a ritual isn’t the same thing as a habit, which is simply something that we do. A ritual IS doing something, but it’s adding a level of consciousness or awareness to something you do.

Rituals and routines can help us set the course for our day. If you’re someone who turns on social media or the news first thing in the morning, you might be creating stress in yourself right away and setting the tone for the day in this go-go-go mindset. 

On the other hand, if you add awareness and consciousness to your morning routine, you can take a breath, slow down, and set the course for how you want to feel for the rest of the day. If you want to feel more relaxed, at peace, or happier throughout the day, try to start your date with that in mind. 

Music as a morning ritual

You can do this by creating a ritual that has meaning for you first thing in the mornings. Dr. Sylva has helped me do this through music. She recommended that I listen to the same three songs every morning while I’m getting ready or on a daily walk. These songs help me connect to their energy and embrace the feeling that I want to carry throughout the day. 

The reason this works is because music is able to imprint on both the right and left hemispheres of our brain, allowing us to respond to songs with feeling very quickly. So we’re sort of forcing ourselves into the feeling we want to have by choosing specific songs we love. And we’re training ourselves to connect through those pieces of music. You can even create a playlist with those pieces of music to listen to throughout the day—especially when you’re feeling stressed—to help you reconnect to that ideal state. 

Retraining neural pathways through reverse breathing

Another helpful technique Dr. Sylva recommends for establishing healthy neural pathways is to practice the reverse breathing technique. It’s a simple breathing method that can be done anywhere, and it’s simple (as long as you start correctly). The gist is to only use your nose (keep your mouth closed) and not to inhale before you exhale.

How does this work? Our thoughts are very patterned, Dr. Sylva tells us, and so is our breathing. So, when you reverse the pattern by starting with exhaling, you can kind of reverse your patterns and thoughts—as our breath is patterned with our thinking. When you put the focus on your breathing, your thoughts don’t really have a place to attach and everything slows down. It’s also sometimes called the “mind-stopping technique.”

One more way to retrain neural pathways: keeping the world vague 

As Dr. Sylva tells us, we have a tendency to keep our worlds small and safe. We have a hard time making shifts or changes in our lives because we are wired for survival. Anything uncomfortable is essentially a threat to our safety. And as we get older and established in our ways, we form fewer neural pathways, which can shrink our worlds even more. 

So, in order to keep our neural pathways active and healthy, it’s important to add some fluidity and flexibility to our lives. Some ways to do this:

  • Take a different route to the grocery store
  • Travel
  • Try new things 

Of course, since change can be hard, we can support our nervous system by making new places or activities more comfortable. This might be playing your comfort music, lighting a candle you love, bringing essential oils with you—anything to engage your senses and mind and ease that transition.

Dr. Sylva’s tips for finding a therapist

Therapy has been such a HUGE part of my life in recent years. The work I’ve done with Dr. Sylva has truly changed my life. If you’re looking to start therapy or in search of a new therapist, here are some questions Dr. Sylva recommends asking. Remember: You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you to find the right fit! 

  • Do you have a passive way of working with the mind or more of an active way?
  • Do you give tools and resources to help me move my life forward?
  • Is it talk therapy?
  • Do you offer any tools or resources to help me achieve my goals?
  • Can you describe a typical session for me? 
  • I have some patterns that aren’t supporting me. How do you work with those patterns so that I can change those patterns in my life? 

As always, tune into the episode for allll the juicy goodness in this ep! And be sure to share your thoughts with me on our NEW IG, @shoporganicolivia

xoxo,

Olivia

Connect with Dr. Sylva:

Visit her website

Visit the I AM Foundation website

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