The Five Gifts of the Spine: SENSE OF SELF

It is said by Donny Epstein, the developer of Network Spinal Analysis, that there are five gifts available through your spine. As the spine and nervous system becomes free from NeuroSpinal Dysfunction (or vertebral subluxation) and develops new wellness promoting strategies through Network Chiropractic Care, these gifts become more available to us. They are: Function, Emotion, Sense of Self, Behavior, and Consciousness.

This week we focus on Sense of Self!

Have you ever gone looking for yourself, or needed to redefine yourself? We go through phases of our life where knowing and redefining who we think we are becomes REALLY important! Anyone remember graduating college and thinking “Now what?”, reaching mid-life and wondering “What have I done?”, or having the kids move out of the house (or retiring) and wondering “Who am I NOW?”

WHY do we do this, WHAT do we do about this, and HOW does this connect with the spine?

The neurological patterns that sustain our body and emotional tendencies create an identity, or sense of self. These patterns reflect what we do and don’t do, what we feel and don’t feel, what we accept and don’t accept. In other words, they define the rules and stories of our life. According to Donald Epstein, developer of Network Spinal Analysis and more, these patterns are anchored in through the reflexive circuits of the spine and organize our POSTURE.

Our spinal posture reflects how we’ve adapted, consciously or unconsciously, to “fit in” to our family, culture, or world and the rules we’ve learned to live by. Distorting the natural shape and position of our spine distorts our perceptions and the ability to express our self – enhancing certain qualities and muting or minimizing other qualities. As you stretch a nerve, you change the signal it sends, so different postures stretch and relax different nerves, allowing or inhibiting different parts of ourselves.

This is why “body language” can tell us A LOT about a person in a glance.

Look at the posture of these three figures:

  • Which one appears to have a relaxed self-confidence?
  • Which one looks like someone who might doubt himself or herself, like a person that sees only the negative?
  • Which one appears rigid, like the person behind the spine might have to prove that they’re right and be in control?

In addition to the influence spinal posture has on our health, it is suggested that dysfunction in our spinal posture represent dysfunctions in how we can express the real “us” – like a suit of armor or a “mask”.

A person’s personality habits can be perceived through how their spine holds their posture. In the picture, the person on the right has a healthy spine free of defense physiology, so that person is flexible to express the full RANGE of their identity. The people on the left demonstrate two extremes of how the fight or flight reflex can influence posture. As such, they are limited in the ranges of expression available. One will tend to find what’s wrong, what’s missing, and struggle with DO-ing. The other will tend to try to control, to dominate, and overdo things – they’ll struggle with BE-ing.

This is not who they are, but it’s who their spine lets them be – it’s how their nervous system wears its armor.

This armoring or “masking” is a physical process. It’s sub-conscious. We don’t walk around thinking “Gosh, how can I disconnect from my true self and make myself sick at the same time?” With that said, once we’re aware of the process, we are then accountable to doing something about it.

It starts in the womb. Your developing spine “entrains”, or resonates in a way that changes your shape and function, with your mother’s stress and health level. This prepares us for the world we’ll be born into. This process continues as life happens – physically, emotionally, chemically, and socially. Trauma, stress, and other life-shaping events happen, and we change. Sometimes we change for the better – we grow. Sometimes we change to survive, to protect, to stay safe – we put on armor.

This armor creates stability.

This armored identity or spinal “sense of self” stabilizes our health by sustaining certain energy levels, certain tension levels in the muscles and ligaments, and certain emotional biochemistry. It’s all about creating certainty. This makes sure that we don’t fall back too far from the level we’re at. It stabilizes the bones, tissues, organs, and nerves at a certain level… even if it’s not in a great place, it’s better than the WORST place. We know who we are and what to expect.

This is a useful short-term strategy and a painful long-term strategy.

In creating this stable, certain spinal sense of self using the protective branch of our nervous system, it also prevents us from moving forward to actually heal.  Our nerve system can either protect against pain (sympathetic nervous system aka fight/flight) OR heal and grow (parasympathetic nervous system aka rest, digest, and reproduce). They are two different directions with two different outcomes.

As such, when this spinal sense of self is challenged, the protection nerves send fight (anger) or flight (fear) signals and create symptoms as we start doing something contrary to who our spine says we CAN be. “Stay within the lines. The lines are our friends. There be dragons outside of the lines.”

This is not “bad”.

Each spinal sense of self serves us for a period of time. If we get “stuck” in one, or if that part of us doesn’t function properly, it causes problems. When this happens, it starts to hurt as we outgrow an old suit of spinal armor that no longer fits.

This shows up as physical pain, anxiety, emotional reactivity, digestive challenges, or any of the other Secondary Conditions to an underlying NeuroSpinal Dysfunction… and usually when we’re not doing anything different than usual.

At this stage of healing, I often hear people say, “I don’t get it doc, I was just doing what I always do!”

What we’ve always done is EXACTLY why we’re hurting. We’ve outgrown the old and MUST make room for the true.  As Donny Epstein says, “If you’re living someone else’s life, it’s supposed to hurt.”

Like a crab sheds its shell when it grows too big, we too must we shed our spinal attachment to an outdated or dysfunctional sense of self, or we risk becoming crushed by it as we continue to grow.

To do this, you must update your spine to make room.

As you progress through the process of NeuroSpinal Optimization (or Network Spinal Analysis care), there is a point where – in order to actually heal and resolve the underlying process behind our problems – we break through those hardwired neurospinal masks, the spinal identities that no longer fit and, ultimately, were never really us in the first place.

We call this part of the process Level 2B, when a powerful “wave” of movement and energy moves through the stuck or “subluxated” regions of the spine that are anchored in to these old patterns. Stages 3, 4, and 5 in SRI support this transformation when you’re at home, helping you tap into the energy that supports the changes in “headspace” that best accompany the spinal changes.

These processes invite periods of instability, when we are “off center” and thus more open to radical changes… because stepping past the illusion of our hardwired defensive identity don’t happen with a slow and gradual process. That gives it too much time to strategize and entrench itself. Rather, transformation is a thunderbolt, a radical shift, a seismic event that happens in an instant. Rather than muting the instability, we dare to dive into the waves of uncertainty.

Like a baby bird, we’re pushed from the branch… and we realize that we can fly.

In order to heal – not just manage a painful or stuck situation – we MUST break our addiction to stability and certainty, to an outdated suit of armor.

The counterintuitive part of it all is that, as we shift our function and focus from who we were, we naturally and healthily become who we are. This is one of the classic outcomes of Level 2 in Network Spinal Analysis – liberation of the Undefended Self.

A healthy spine and nervous system that have been optimized to be who you TRULY ARE, even in stressful situations, to be present, loving, and real when life turns up the volume, is a magical thing.


A healthy spinal sense of self supports knowing who you are, why you’re here, and what you’re made of. To joyfully lose yourself in service, you must have a healthy self to deliver that service.

Find your spine, find yourself.

Change your spine, change yourself.

Free your spine, free your self.

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