We share our fight, flight and freeze survival reflexes with the animal kingdom.

All living creatures, from reptiles through to mammals, have these reflexes that help them assess and respond to threats. This is why the part of our brain that produces these reflexes is often called the ‘reptilian brain.’

This reflex called the fight, flight and freeze response. As the name suggests, it has a three stage cycle. Picture this: A gazelle is grazing peacefully on the sunny African grass plains, suddenly it raises its’ head, startles and in a flash is in full flight, chased by a hungry cheetah. Once caught, the frightened animal lies dead still, neck bared, frozen.

These vital life supporting reflexes are already developing in our nervous system shortly after we have been conceived. Only six weeks after conception a tiny embryo can already respond with the fear paralysis reflex and withdraw to protect itself.

The survival reflexes are also absolutely vital for our first breath after birth and later propel us into learning to move and run. It is also the driving force behind our human emotions of anger, fear and apathy. The next time you lash out at someone, or you feel nervous and lack confidence, remember your primal animal reflexes are driving you to behave this way.

Our judgment of the level of a threat to our welfare and our capabilities will determine whether we put up a fight, or retreat, or freeze.

Each of our reflexes serves a very specific valuable function. The fight response unleashes high energy and primes us and to be more aggressive and confronting; the flight response drives our level of fear from mild tension to panic and terror; and the freeze response prepares us for death by immobilizing and shutting down our consciousness and energy, causing us to feel apathy and lethargy.

The reflex nature of our survival instincts explains why we may feel at times we have no control over our reactions and emotions at times. Recently I saw a client who said she had felt she was going crazy, because she was driven by fear and saw threats everywhere. It emerged that she had violently lost her grandparents as a small child, and later lost a promising ballerina career due to injury. These losses had locked her brain permanently into the flight reflex.

The human brain has evolved beyond its’ reptilian level to be more sophisticated at finding intelligent solutions to threats. We have improved our chances of survival: we have large brains and can use our practical common sense, creativity, logical reasoning and self control to find novel solutions to threats.

However we are learning that the higher areas of the brain are not effective at releasing trauma that is stored in the primitive levels of the mind. In order to stimulate the process of release: physical movements are required that counteract stress reactions in the body itself. This process of releasing stress first physically in the body permits the consciousness to move from the more primitive reptilian brain into our more highly developed and capable human brain areas.

Have you ever had regrets over anything? There are many occasions when acting on impulse is a GOOD thing: like buying your girlfriend flowers on the way home from work. However for those ruled by impulse something as simple as shopping can be a dangerous activity: the shopping basket is overflowing and the credit card is empty.

Impulsiveness can create difficulty making long term plans even for pleasure. It can become challenging to control the emotions, either good or bad. In this mode thinking logically and carefully about decisions is nearly impossible.

We have two major brain pathways to cope with stress. We have the reflex impulse pathway operated by the amygdala and the higher brain pathway managed by the hippocampus.


The Amygdala

The reflex pathway is the one that can save our own, or someone else’s life. This is for a situation where our survival instincts must take over, so we can act fast, much faster than conscious thought. Think of the father jumping into a foaming river to rescue his son from drowning. Or on the more flippant side, do you have the wherewithal to snap up a good buy? It also comes in pretty handy if you are goalkeeper for your soccer team.


The Hippocampus

When the urgency is not that great and we have the luxury of time, we use our higher brain pathway called the hippocampus to make decisions about our welfare. This type of intelligence is for careful planning: when we want to think things over in a logical and sequential way, because if we get it wrong, the price is going to be very, very high: Am I marrying the right person, buying the right house, taking the right 200,000 dollar course at university?


Exercising the Power of Choice 

This higher brain pathway has another job. Using its’ better judgment, it must at times take control of our impulses and instincts. Our instinct pathway is very powerful and always on the ready, but can be prone to misjudgment and overreaction. You are heavily invested in stocks that are plummeting and your instinct is to get out, sell your stocks in a hurry. But your broker says, ‘No, wait, don’t panic, the market will correct itself, hang in there. Go for the long haul.’

If you listen to your broker, you are using your higher brain pathway, also called your hippocampus, to override and calm down your instinct pathway, operated by the amygdala. Only time will tell whether you should have listened to your gut instincts, or to your broker!

Be that as it may, what is important here is that we have two brain pathways for coping with stress. Every time we get stressed it’s a judgment call as to which one we will be using. The ideal state of being for everyday living is that our higher brain pathway is in charge, controlling the instinct pathway. If this is the state of play, we have good coping skills, we feel resilient, our emotions are under control and our confidence rides high.

Burnout, the stresses and strains of life, traumatic experiences, aging and ill health can all upset this delicate neurological balance between our two stress pathways, tipping the balance in favor of impulsive overreaction. This can cause us to feel stuck in an agitated, anxious, on edge and overwhelmed state of mind

The answer lies in a brain body technique that quickly re-establishes order and balance in our brain pathways and return us to the more desirable and pleasant thriving state of natural resilience.

60 year old male executive came to me with severe anxiety. Very successful. Top of his profession.

He had been married once in his 20s for several years and thereafter had a number of brief & unsatisfactory romantic involvements.

He tells me that he gets angry easily and is triggered when others express opinions that differ from his own.

He believes the partner in his current relationship is the “love of his life.” However he finds her to be very critical of him. He traces their disconnect to her difficult childhood.

However on speaking with him I discovered that he himself never effectively bonded with his own mother and father. He was one of seven children and felt like an outsider from the family system at key developmental stages. His parents seemed too busy with his siblings to take much notice of him.

At a deeper level he was like an overgrown orphan, wandering through the world in search of an identity.

His severe anxiety and depressive mood indicated that he was in hyper arousal and chronic states of elevated fight, flight and freeze. These states were propelled by his inability to attach possibly from infancy already. This meant that in his adult life he was missing out on the wonderful security afforded to us by love.

When John started his sessions his wish was for his relationship with his partner to be a safe haven, where he can express himself openly, completely, playfully and creatively. This was a new relationship and he was uncertain as to how to please his partner, his opinions and advice were not always appreciated and he was often met with impatience, ‘Your help is not help.’

Growing up in a large family with six siblings had left him feeling that his family bonds with his parents were weak. His mother was more engaged with her daughters than her sons, and his father was stern, angry and silent. His childhood felt like a perpetual winter where the need for love and belonging went unmet. In adult life he had few long term meaningful friendships. He was prone to anxiety and depression and feeling that he had never quite matured in some respects.

John suffered from all the signs and symptoms of a lack of bonding with his mother and father. He struggled to maintain lasting love relationships, he didn’t keep in touch much with his siblings, or his old friends. He was always moving on, rather than putting down roots. On top of that the biggest problem was his primitive survival reflex brain, called the Amygdala was dominating his behavior, and for this reason he could not experience any pleasant emotions at all.

John’s Amygdala had been activated by the stress of emotional isolation in childhood. As a result he was in a permanent state of unhappiness, anxiety and tension, irritability and he was overreacting to small upsets in his relationship. Though he realized intellectually what was happening to him, he simply could not change his reactions, even though sheer willpower.

The “Darth Vader” of the Brain: What is the Amygdala?

Traumatic and stressful experiences activate and lock in the Amygdala, a small part of our brain that produces our primal defenses of fight, flight and freeze. Once we feel we have our back to the wall and have to defend ourselves: pleasure and happiness go out the door, as do common sense and logic.

The Amygdala is also important for bonding to our mother, which is why it is so vital to balance this part of the brain.

Focusing on Stress States

John had never bonded with his mother when he was developing and was permanently stuck in the trauma of separation. Before he could even begin to feel whole and complete: we had to take a deeper look at his stress states of fight, flight and freeze.

Overcoming anger about emotional neglect was also a necessary part of his recovery. To achieve this he was given a custom prescription of activities that included contemplating emotions like anger and resentment, along with doing specially designed physical exercises for vision, balance and movement.

This particular combination of activities allowed him to integrate his conscious recollections with his feelings and bodily reactions. He was able to move his consciousness out of being stuck in the survival oriented Amygdala part of the brain and into the more highly developed social areas of his brain.

To make John’s wish come true and help him find lasting true love as an adult, his Amygdala had to be brought out of the high alert, defensive state. Instead of feeling threatened and afraid, he needed to feel secure. This was achieved with a series of exercises that automatically trigger a release of the stress memories. Once these stresses were released, his brain automatically re-wired itself for bonding and connection, giving John a second chance at both feeling loved and being loving.

For several weeks John was given a series of exercises that helped him to feel more bonded and attached to his partner.

The disappointment and sadness of feeling cut off from others which stemmed from his childhood years had to be processed. And special child development movement exercises triggered his brain to grow new nerve connections to balance these emotions and develop the maturities he had missed out on.


After several sessions he could report more happy interactions with his partner. Although short lived, this showed that his emotional bonding was improving. He found he could keep calm and not overreact to his partner’s differences of opinion and it was quite effortless. He was surprised by pleasant memories of playing ‘house’ with his younger brother as a child, and feelings of profound peace, an unusual experience for him. These pleasure states showed that his nervous system was moving towards a better balance. And he was planning a new creative business venture. Instead of thinking of throwing in the towel on the’ love of his life.’ He was settling into the comfort of a life lived together.

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Geoff had always had a short fuse. When he got frustrated everyone knew about it.

His family was used to carrying the blame for minor mishaps, but when it escalated into physical assault, they reeled with shock.

His daughter was particularly affected. She became teary and depressed complaining of headaches after she saw her father strike her mother. She wanted her parents to sort out their problems and she wanted peace in the home, and loving relationships. Geoff doted on his daughter and for the sake of his marriage and his children, he agreed to get help.

Geoff was already well into his retirement when his kids entered high school. He had had a long career in pharmaceuticals and he was proud of his achievements. Now in his senior years, no longer encumbered by operating a large business, he was enjoying his freedom to pursue a number of his entrepreneurial business interests.

When I first saw Geoff, his desire was to become a better father and husband and to build stronger family relationships. He wanted to learn to listen to his family, give them a chance to speak, respect their opinions, be less reactive and not jump to conclusions. He wanted to have patience and take the time to engage with his family. He loved his family, but struggled with irritability, emotional over-reactions and self control.

His physical reactions in his treatment sessions confirmed that he was suffering from trauma. For example his eyes became reddish and his eyelids became heavy during his vision exercises. These are usually signs of severe stress and of the freeze stress response, only evoked when we feel like we are having a life threatening experience.

Geoff was helped to process his fight, flight and freeze stress reactions during his sessions. The release of the typical fight, flight and freeze stress emotions, such as anger, fear, guilt, grief and apathy was vital to his recovery and improving his self control. The impact of releasing these stress emotions was immediately evident in the changes in Geoff’s behaviors at home.

His wife was delighted that he suddenly did many handyman house repairing tasks that she had not been able to get him to do for many years. He became much more productive, he was helping with housekeeping tasks, packing kids’ lunches when necessary. He was treating her with more respect and consideration. They could discuss more sensitive topics without blowups. He was surprised himself at how effortless it now was to be a good listener.

These rapid transformations were made possible by a body and mind treatment method that works directly on nervous system balance with physical exercises and contemplation of stress emotions and positive outcomes.