Today, we will talk about memory, namely the memory you need to practise the respiratory self-relaxation that many of you know about. For those who don’t, all you need to do is visit my website, ‘www.selfarmonia.com’, under the eponymous chapter. To study this complex subject, I have chosen the remarkable, accessible book, ‘All about Memory’ by Bernard Croisille, the neurologist, published by Odile Jacob.
In his preface, Bernard Croisille defines ‘memory’ the following way: “Schematically, one can say memory represents the whole of the brain processes that enable one to learn new information, keep it as long as possible and find it again at the appropriate moment. This information can come both from the inside and the outside. The outside world floods us with sensorial information, whereas our inside world brings us fundamental signals on the variations of our inner sphere, instincts or feelings. Whether they come from the outside or the inside, all these signals are kept in the form of memory traces, that are more or less elaborate, more or less solid, more or less easy to find and more or less faithful to the original information.(...) It is not unitary on the functional level. To put in another way, MEMORY ITSELF does not exist: in reality, there are different processes and different memory systems, depending on the way the information is perceived, the chronology of the learning process, the kind of information stocked away or on the recuperation process used.”
This being said, let us begin from the beginning: How does our body memory function, when we are born?
“A baby remembers things from the day it is born (...) how can one prove this? By studying the newborn baby’s sucking or the positioning of its eyes.” But, contrary to what one might think, “(...) A newborn baby’s memory is not just sensorial, it is also motory. A baby masters sophisticated gestures, gradually and definitely, such as subtle prehension , the balance of its body, then walking, articulating sounds with its tongue, and even more importantly, the handling of objects that not only allow the baby to play, but also to discover the world around it. The repeated, almost ritualistic use of a toy allows children to master a gesture, reassure themselves with the success of the accomplishment and adapt to their surroundings.”
What exactly is the point of this repetition? According to Bernard Croisille:
“To be consolidated, what one learns has to be repeated and learning something again must be spaced out. Thus, for a three month old baby, reactivation a week after the first time prolongs memory retention for as long as six weeks. As with an adult, a reasonable interval of time should be left between the newborn baby’s various learning processes.”
In fact, to get the most out of the benefits of respiratory self relaxation, the sessions aimed at integrating the method should be weekly and last for at least six weeks.
After that, most of the body memorisation has been accomplished. It still has to be kept up of course, with weekly practice, or even more frequently if necessary, in case of important stress.
Furthermore, according to Bernard Croisille, the kind of mainspring know-how used in respiratory self-relaxation is said to be: “in a closed circuit for each element of the action reveals enough clues for it to be able to continue. It all connects, quite naturally, almost like a reflex. Even if the motor skills are initially hard to master, they resist particularly well to the passing of time: swimming, cycling, skating or roller skating”
What happens on the anatomic level? According to Bernard Croisille: “Our memory retains three kinds of information: gestures, sensorial information and emotional information. It seems therefore logical to imagine the existence of three anatomic learning systems. First of all, you find the cerebellum and the deep areas of the brain (basic ganglions, the striatum and the thalamus). They intervene in the control and automation of movements, whereas the frontal and lateral lobes are vital for keeping and initiating the programmes for gestures.” This form of memory, called the ‘procedural’ form is found in respiratory self relaxation, when you concentrate on choosing which part of the body needs to relax, as well of the linking order with what precedes or follows it.
“The second form of memory, which concerns the outside world, is linked to the two Papez circuits, one in each hemisphere; the left one preferentially memorises the information conveyed by language, it is called the ‘verbal memory’”
This is therefore the circuit used to memorise the rhythm and the tone of my voice during a session or course, then, afterwards, the inner voice of the person who is practising self-relaxation.
“The right hemisphere is better at memorising visuospatial information, such as abstract drawings or itineraries; it is called ‘visual memory’. Both circuits interrelate of course, thanks to inter-hemispheric connections.”
So this is the memory that is used during the visualisation of the different parts of one’s body or organs (the digestive, arterial or venous itinerary for example) Each person sees them in his or her mind very specifically, thanks to their personal symbolism.
“Finally, the emotional memory is placed in the amygdala, a little organ near the hippocampus that receives sensorial information from the brain. (...): it is linked to the regions of the cerebral trunk where the autonomous nervous system is, whose job it is to control the functioning of the heart and lungs.”
It is very clear here that there is a real link between one’s emotions and breathing: pleasant emotions that are felt (‘gratitude’ for example), during respiratory self-relaxation are always linked to breathing in and breathing out. Thus, once this emotional memory of well-being has been regularly kept up with practice, all one needs is just to reactivate it, with a little deep breathing, before an appointment or an important deadline for example.
Memory is a fascinating companion, don’t you agree? We might as well keep it alive!