How Taking the Reins works

The scientific basis of the course

As humans, we are not born being stressed, anxious, guilty, fatigued, depressed etc.  At some point in our lives, things happened which triggered these reactions. The more we responded in these negative ways, the more we got used to responding that way, until it started to become so automatic that we didn't even have to think about it - it just became our "knee jerk reaction."

How did we get into these patterns?  Upbringing, life experiences, genetics all have their part to play.  Many of us were taught that the brain is hardwired, that we are a product of our genes, our characteristics and habits that we inherited from our parents. But research has shown that we have an enormous capacity for change. The brain changes in response to every experience we have, to every new thought and to every new thing that we learn. This is called neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to rewire itself, giving us the ability to transform the way we can think, feel and react.

The last 10 years have seen an explosion of research into the brain, and the development of fMRI scanners has meant that we can actually watch the brain in action when people are thinking, feeling and reacting to situations. This has transformed the study of psychology. It gives us windows into the workings of our minds, which means that we can increase our understanding of the way that our brains work and so develop tools to change them.

The impact of chronic stress on our health

We are a product of our evolution. We are all here because our ancestors have managed to survive. Our survival system is an essential tool and is known as our fight-or-flight response. It is that response that allowed us to survive. The moment we were aware of a threat – let’s say the growl of a sabre-toothed tiger close to our cave - our body was instantly mobilised to give us the power to respond instantly. In order to do so, it had to borrow from other systems in our body, to fuel the energy we needed to fight or escape. So it temporarily borrowed from our digestive system, our immune system, our healing system, because there was no point in our brain expending energy on those systems if we were about to be eaten! It was all about survival. It was designed to be our emergency response.

However the stresses that we face in the modern world do not include (for most of us ...!) fighting or escaping from marauding tigers, but rather anxieties about money,  relationships, work issues, exams, our appearance, perceived lack of achievement etc. These long-term stresses mean that we’re constantly facing multitudes of worries, which do not threaten our immediate survival but nevertheless activate the fight-or-flight response.

Animals nearly always face an acute form of stress with a quick onset and resolution – either they escape the predator, or they are killed. Either way, it’s over quickly. But as human beings, our threats aren’t usually that simple, they don’t have that quick end.  We humans tend to live in chronic stress situations. On a daily basis, we are constantly subjected to stressors. We can’t fight them, or run away from them.  In fact, they don’t even have to be happening. We can turn the stress response on even by just thinking about a past or future stressful situation: it  triggers the physiological stress response just as if we were confronting a real life circumstance.

Chronic long term stress weakens our bodies

The fight-or-flight response takes place in a flash. It produces an adrenal hit which results in a dramatic change to our body, altering our chemical make-up. The body shuts down or limits non-essential functions like digestion, and the blood is diverted from internal organs to the muscles to prepare them for action.

Chronic stress, the repeated process of keeping the stress response activated all the time, is what really does the damage. Our bodies are not designed for long-term stress.”1

We all have stresses in our lives. Acute stress - where something challenging happens, we deal with it, it passes - is much less harmful to the body. We deal with it, then we have time to recover from it. But chronic stress is constant – it allows our body no recovery time. This is when our body starts to steal energy from other vital processes:

How will the Taking the Reins training course help me?

An increasing body of research3 shows that we are able to change not only our minds, but also our brain. “By mental activity alone, itself a product of the brain, we can intentionally change our own brain4  We can do this throughout our life, and at will. The course helps you understand how your brain works – and how to change it
First we look at examples of the way that our brain responds to different situations, and how we can get stuck in patterns of behaviour that we don't want.
The course then teaches you how to recognise those negative patterns when you get stuck in them and how to interrupt the old, familiar programme and replace it with a new behaviour pattern that you choose. Practising these new behaviours trains your brain, weakens the old negative impulse and your brain gets more and more used to your new, chosen response.  

Will the changes last?

They will if you use the new methods consistently. It is like updating a program on a computer. Remember when you first used a mouse? The arrow went all over the place on the computer screen. Now it feels as if it is part of your body - you don't even have to think about it when you operate it. The same is true when you learned to ride a bike, or to drive a car: at first as a learner you had to think about what your feet and hands were doing, the movements you were making, the order you made them in. Then you learned and practised your new skill. Now you just get on your bike and ride, get in the car and drive - your body does the rest for you. It has become automatic.

It is all about choice. Our brains possesses elasticity, an ability to shut down old, negative pathways of thought and form new positive ones, at any age, at any time. Taking the Reins gives you a toolkit to re-structure the way your brain is controlling your thoughts and your body. Each time you make this new response, the new neural pathways strengthen, and at the same time the old ones weaken because you don't use them. Until the new pattern, the pattern that you have chosen, becomes the norm.

References and further reading

1,2 Evolve your Brain: The Science of Changing your Mind  Joe Dispenza

3  Decades of research have now shown that substantial changes occur in the lowest neocortical processing areas, and that these changes can profoundly alter the pattern of neuronal activation in response to experience. Neuroscientific research indicates that experience can actually change both the brain's physical structure (anatomy) and functional organization (physiology). Neuroscientists are currently engaged in a reconciliation of critical period studies demonstrating the immutability of the brain after development with the more recent research showing how the brain can, and does, change.

  The Emotional Life of Your Brain Richard Davidson & Sharon Begley

'Cure: A journey into the Science of Mind over Body' Jo Marchant

Why Zebras don't get Ulcers  Robert Sapolsky,  Professor of Neurology, Stanford University


Back to top