Self-Aware­ness: Flip the Switch to Beast Mode

Mountain Bike for Her - - Contents - Words by Joh Rath­bun

I strug­gle up the ver­ti­cal ramp, push­ing my bike with my left hand while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pulling my­self up on the rail­ing with my right hand. The ramp is so steep that a kid reaches down to take my bike from me so that I can climb up to the plat­form with both hands. I’m re­united with my bike quickly. I then gulp and quiver in my Tevas, in front of me un­furls an­other ver­ti­cal ramp to­wards the Camp of Cham­pi­ons airbag. Over 6 feet tall, the ramp looms im­pos­ingly in front of the bag, and doubts as­sail me end­lessly.

Tak­ing a deep breath, I try to con­trol my rapid heart rate, the near-pal­pi­ta­tions of my 40year old heart beat­ing against my ribcage.

“Come on, Old Lady, you’re hold­ing up the line!” I look around, and re­al­ize that the ragamuffin is talk­ing to me. I step aside, still ne­go­ti­at­ing the hy­per­ven­ti­la­tion brought on by my dar­ing. Choos­ing against jump­ing I stand to the side, and an­other com­ment is di­rected at me, “What are you afraid of?”

“What am I afraid of? Um, death, taxes, get­ting cheated on, so much…!” I gasp out the words, but talk­ing calms me down.

My young buddy ad­vises me, “Don’t think. Just do it!” On that note, I’m back on the bike, com­mit­ted, and I’m flow­ing down the ramp di­rectly be­low me, hurtling to­wards that im­pos­ing ver­ti­cal ramp.

Over­rid­ing my in­stinct to brake, I ride up the ramp, and I’m launched into the air. My body and bike are lean­ing for­ward, and I lawn-dart into the bag. I sur­vive, al­beit with a sore neck. The great thing about an out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence (OBE) is see­ing how one op­er­ates un­der duress. And while I was hav­ing that OBE, this one asked her­self, “what the heck is go­ing on be­tween the mind and body when con­fronted with a new, yet danger­ous task? And why did my young buddy’s ad­vice work?”

The ad­vice is gold be­cause think­ing is done by our mam­malian brain, but do­ing is the domain of the rep­til­ian brain. Flip­ping the switch from mam­malian to rep­til­ian brain, one is re­ly­ing on the brain stem to dic­tate phys­i­cal be­hav­iour, like the flight or fight mode. There­fore, one can con­sciously tog­gle be­tween think­ing and do­ing. Over-think­ing in an adventure may have hor­ri­ble con­se­quences, and by learn­ing to flip the switch from think­ing to do­ing -- aka from mam­malian to rep­til­ian brain -- one will sur­vive the adventure, and ac­quire a new skill in the process.

So what is the rep­til­ian brain? The basal

gan­glia, the up­per spinal cord, cor­pus stria­tum, globus pal­lidus and peri­pal­l­ida make up the rep­til­ian brain. Re­gard­less of what struc­tures com­prise the rep­til­ian brain, it’s what th­ese struc­tures are re­spon­si­ble for that is so in­ter­est­ing. It’s re­spon­si­ble for con­trol­ling the au­tono­mus ner­vous sys­tem. The au­tono­mus ner­vous sys­tem is com­prised of both the sym­pa­thetic and parasym­pa­thetic sys­tems. The for­mer is re­spon­si­ble for the flight-or-fight re­sponse, while the lat­ter is an in­hibitory sys­tem, like low­er­ing one’s heart rate.

The Cen­ter for Non­ver­bal Stud­ies states that the rep­til­ian brain is “the fore­brain which evolved to en­able rep­til­ian body move­ments, mat­ing rit­u­als, and sig­na­ture dis­plays... Size dis­plays as en­coded, e.g., in boots, busi­ness suits, and hands-on-hips pos­tures, have deep, neu­ral roots in the rep­til­ian fore­brain, specif­i­cally, in” the basal gan­glia.1 This means that it con­trols in­vol­un­tary and in­stinc­tual move­ments, like both re­flex arcs--think of your doc­tor knock­ing on your knee and your in­vol­un­tary kick at her-and vis­ceral func­tions which main­tain func­tion of or­gans. This part of the brain also con­trols ag­gres­sion, which can be en­coded in cul­tural cues like the afore­men­tioned busi­ness suites, or the hands-on-hips pose. The func­tion of this por­tion of the brain is sur­vival.

Through evo­lu­tion, the mam­malian brain grew from the fore­brain and in­cludes the rest of the brain. The neo­cor­tex and sub­cor­ti­cal neu­ronal groups--ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing around the rep­til­ian brain--com­prise this por­tion of the brain. This por­tion of the brain is re­spon­si­ble for con­scious­ness, and what we con­sider the civ­i­lized, or think­ing por­tion of the hu­man mind. Part of the func­tion of this por­tion of the brain is ra­tio­nal thought and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

I con­sciously rely on my rep­til­ian brain any time I am ac­tive. While I was hor­ri­fied of jump­ing, I’ve learned how to do it safely, and cor­rectly so well now that I can just “do it.” Con­sciously flip­ping the switch to beast mode may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but by si­lenc­ing those voices in your head, aka the civ­i­lized mind, one is free to al­low the body to learn a new move­ment. And this is how flip­ping the switch to beast mode may just make you a bet­ter moun­tain biker.

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