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  • Ashley Brown

Top Down or Bottom Up

Being a human is awesome and terrifying all at the same time. We get to witness this amazing life of standing upright, using our hands to do simple to complex tasks, all the way to re-growing cells while we sleep! All the while we are able to observe, with consciousness, that these thing autonomous, regulatory functions like breathing, happen and we have the ability to drop in and experience them.

How miraculous is that?!

Another amazing thing is the human brain and how we are automatically wired to do certain things in certain times to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. Have you ever heard about moms who have lifted a car off their child? Or how the body will produce a hormone that releases an opioid-like chemical to relieve pain during a time of trauma? Of course there is a limit to how long these extremes can last, including super strength, but there is the reality that it is ALL there, hidden in our brains and bodies. Waiting.

When does the body know when to do all of these amazing things? It all has to do with our nervous systems and glands. There is more to this. Our brain has three general parts of development and one can take over in a stressful or traumatic situation.

To keep this blog concise and interesting (I hope) some information will NOT be shared. This is a complex topic and can be extended in so many ways (maybe future blogs? Workshops? TRE session?).

Let's dive in shall we?


Nervous Systems:

The Nervous system that helps us breathe, digest, and keep the heart beating is our Autonomic Nervous System. We do not need to think "Ok I am going to breath in now and then out." If this were the case, your day would be filled with worrying about breathing. When would we get food and when would we get any rest? Never! So our brains have it hard wired to do this "natural" automatic work for us. Thanks brain!

The other part(s) that is very vital to this topic is the Central Nervous System (CNS). This is comprised of other Nervous Systems within this ONE. WOW. Confused? No worries I've got you.

If you were making tea on the stove and instead of touching the handle you accidentally touched the metal, you might shriek and pull your hand away due to the heat. That is your Peripheral Nervous System. From there we have the two that is talked about a lot in the work I do.

So within the grand CNS you have the Peripheral NS and within that you have our next two guests. There won't be a test after this blog so no need to memorize anything. Understanding the nervous systems in relation to the brain is important to know when and how they correlate with each other.


Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is the nervous system that is active when we are meditating or sleeping. Also called Rest and Digest. Our bodies will regrow cells and restore the equilibrium between the two sides of the body, all while, your body is simply resting and digesting.

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is apart of the central nervous system that is in charge of the Fight Flight or Freeze response. In situations of great stress the body will automatically respond with either fighting or fleeing or sometimes the body gets so stimulated that it will freeze and possible collapse.


The Triune Brain is the term used to describe the evolutionary-like process of the brain. Coined by Neuroscientist and Physician, Dr. Paul D. Mclean in the 1960's.

Starting at the Brain stem (number 1 in picture) it is most commonly referred to as the Reptilian brain. This is where your autonomic nervous system resides. You do not have to think about breathing, digesting or making the heartbeat. The body does this automatically.

Going into the middle part this is your Mammalian brain (number 2 in picture). This is where your emotions and memories are stored in the Hippocampus and the Amygdala.

Finally what makes us human is our Prefrontal Cortex. This is our BOSS Brain this is what allows us to think about what experience is happening and process our decision for the next time.


So to heal from our stress or trauma do we work top down or bottom up?


The brain is amazing in what it can accomplish in keeping us safe and all the information it can hold. The brain is not separate though. It is deeply connected to the body and the body to the brain. The body is conditioned to hold onto our patterns from the stress or traumatic episodes in our lives, and when we hold onto those contractions instead of moving through them, those patterns can cause distress into dis-ease and disease.

Our bodies were made to move and by using all parts of our brain we can use it in an expressive form. So to answer the question top down or bottom up? It truly depends on the individual.

So what is top down?

Top down means the practitioner uses the awareness of the consciousness to observe and name the experience. Starting at the prefrontal cortex (the Boss Brain) and scanning the experience, whether it is memory or emotions (Mammalian Brain), into the physical, bodily sensations of tension or the movement of breath. Say you are walking into the bookstore and you smell a certain perfume/cologne this might trigger a memory or emotional response and may show up in the physical body with tension in the shoulders/chest, shortness of breath.

Some might call this top down approach Mindfulness or any meditation practice really. Where you are a witness to your sensations and bring your consciousness into the present moment and seeing it all without any judgement. Without this practice the situation of the bookstore could be a flooding experience with an overwhelming emotional response. Or if you have a Mindfulness practice you can notice, acknowledge and move with the emotion or memory that might show up.

So what is bottom up?

This isn't a reference to finishing the last of your drink. This is in reference to reversing the order we just described above. Using physical sensations or movement to help move express and feel our emotions and memories (at a comfortable capacity).

By diving into movement first, this may help release the stored contractions or energies from a certain memory, injury, or current emotion without having to explain (and in turn possibly getting retriggered). Bottom up modalities can include Yoga, Walking, Dancing, TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises), Running, Hiking, and many other modalities.

In the same scenario as above, smelling the perfume, you may need to shake it out or walk outside for a moment to put that memory or emotion into motion and then after the energy is dispersed can you then explain in words (talking/journaling) what might have happened.


Which one do I choose?

Whichever feels most natural. I tend to lean towards movement as I have been using it the longest as a tool for self-expression and self-regulation. When you have experienced long-term stress, trauma, or life changes and need to find a way to navigate I implore you to dive deep into these modalities to find what works for you.

We came into this Earth school to learn and grow as Spiritual beings, so we need to find ways to self-regulate and to stay in a place of open mind and open heart. This is not a one pill fix, this is a lifetime of finding what works and what doesn't.

What do you naturally lean towards for self-regulation?

If you are interested in more bottom up approaches I will be hosting a TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) this Saturday 6/30/18. You can RSVP for the small group event by emailing me at

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