My excitement about working with Sean continues to grow! It’s like his lab’s invention, EmotiBit was something I never knew that I always wanted. I can’t wait for us to dive deeper into all the possibilities for our collaboration as residency partners. In anticipation, I spent a lot of time this week simply thinking about how my body communicates with me. I thought about how feelings are tools for navigation. I thought about the rituals I perform that inform both my arts practice and the way that I live my life day-to-day. I thought about the involuntary act of breathing and how important it is. I thought about how my breathing patterns change when I perform different movements.
I began to ask myself questions like: How often do I pause to simply breathe deeply? This reminds me of how important the act of deliberate breathing is when I swim.
Swimming is one of the ways I get back into my body. Water is soothing for me and connects me to something much bigger than myself. Despite being very active in the water; I feel completely supported, peaceful, and relaxed. I can swim for hours and leave the pool feeling fully rested just like after a long nap.
In August, I began experimenting with underwater video and photography equipment. I am excited about how to translate the movements and elements of my performance art into underwater dance. The footage captured has become early studies in my creative investigation. I am looking forward to continuing to experiment and see where it all leads creatively.
Electrical, chemical, and mechanical messages carry highly amplified messages about our physical, emotional and psychological state from our brains to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems of the body. Evolutionarily these “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” systems have been critical to avoid getting eaten by tigers, find food, and conserve energy, but in the 21st century with the help of carefully engineered sensors like EmotiBit, it’s possible to derive a moment-by-moment portrait of our emotional state. How this information about internal context might help you become a faster learner, share deeper empathy, enjoy lower stress, or be present in live performance are all topics that may be explored in this SciArt Bridge Residency, but I thought it might be interesting to start by discussing what signals from the body can tell us about our emotions and physiological reactions to the world around us. Let’s start with some examples.
For you to perceive a snake camouflaged in the jungle, the visual system in your brain has to work over-time detecting lines and colors and patterns, etc. But once your brains detect “SNAKE!”, the fear alarm bells ring and your brain cranks up your body’s sympathetic “fight or flight” dial to 11! Your heart starts racing and your respiration rate and depth increase. Your body temperature increases and sweat glands activate. Evolutionarily, all these changes in the body’s physiology are getting you ready to run away, and by sensing these biometric signals you can detect that fear response even without any verbal communication or physical movement.
Quite the opposite of a fear response is a feeling of calm and relaxation that’s accompanied by activation of the body’s parasympathetic “rest and digest” system. To save energy, the body lowers the heart rate and beat strength, and the breathing becomes more regular. The increase in parasympathetic neurotransmitters released onto your heart muscle creates measurable changes in heart rate variability (HRV) indicative of lower stress. Sweat responses and local body temperature decrease, and your constellation of biometric signals softly whisper “I’m calm.”
Anxiety and stress are part of modern life. That stress can be measured in a number of ways, but scientific research has shown that when we’re stressed we hold our breath… a LOT. The technical term is called “apnea” and it’s been shown that people regularly hold their breath while writing emails and using social media. Measuring drops in respiration rate and depth, drops in blood oxygen levels, changes in electro-dermal activity and heart rate variability together can help identify which daily activities are particularly stressful for you and perhaps even help break the cycle.
These are but a few stops along the emotional journey that the SciArt Bridge Residency will surely take us... and I can’t wait for the roller coaster to begin!