The other day in my JoyRide group, we started talking about the difference between conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and I thought it would be an interesting discussion to have here also. It’s an interesting one because it’s helps to clarify how your experiences live in your body- and how past experience can cycle through to the present. Please note these are the definitions that I use in relation to my work and I appreciate there will be others out there who operate with different ideas in mind.
Unconscious refers to the autonomic nervous system, that is under our unconscious control. It’s the process of my brain deciding, should we send out a parasympathetic or sympathetic (survival nervous system) response in this moment? Depending on which system it chooses, the entire structure of our body, from the invisible layer of hormones to the outer tube structure, changes.
Subconscious refers to thoughts and patterns that were once conscious but are no longer. This may be due to trauma, an inability to cope or surrounding circumstances. The original choice of the body was unable to be expressed in its truth and so it’s now stored as part of a sympathetic reflex pattern. We use subconscious here because although it is now unconscious, it was once conscious.
Conscious is a little more self-explanatory in that it refers to all of that we have conscious awareness of.
So, here’s where things get more fun. In my work, I’m interested in motor patterns. The motor patterns of the body- how the body expresses in movement- and understanding more about it is what allows us to shift out of stuck patterns of behavior, to move beyond limiting patterns in the body that relate to posture, health and wellbeing, and to create the circumstances to be truly present.
Let’s say that we notice that we are cycling through the same pattern, day in, day out when we step into the arena. This could manifest emotionally- anxiety, frustration, constant thoughts of not being good enough; or it could manifest physically; you can’t stop yourself leaning forward, you grab with your hands, or your left leg doesn’t ever seem to do what you want it to.
All of these- anxiety, frustration, constant thoughts of not being good enough- have physically expressions. They all have their own motor pattern that get activated and live along with the thought. The two are so closely linked that it can be difficult to decide what came first, and it’s possible to be one or the other; you are stuck on a story that liberates the physical pattern, or a physical pattern is expressing that is tied to those thoughts. In the case of the physical example, the same is true.
In order to change any pattern in the body, we must first be aware of what that pattern is; the subconscious needs to once more become conscious. As we work through the movement work, the first thing to occur is an awareness of the current, existing pattern. We observe this pattern without consciously trying to change it.
As the brain consciously observes the pattern, it begins to change things at an unconscious level. The unconscious brain receives more information which allows it to decide if the dominant pattern it has chosen is still relevant.
From here, in order for the pattern to leave, the unconscious brain reveals all that is subconscious to the conscious brain and once that has expressed, a new pattern can be established. This is not something that can be forced; it’s something that the brain and body chooses.
It also (hopefully) demonstrates how intimate the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and physical expressions are.