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What is an Altered State of Consciousness?

If you know a little bit about physiology, you know that the sympathetic nervous system has become our norm in the modern world, which means we function most of the time in “fight or flight”. The parasympathetic nervous system is our calm, sleep and digest mode. For many years this was the only logical explanation I had for what often happened in the physiology of the body during a massage therapy session. However, this did not explain the “altered state of consciousness” feeling that some clients experienced. And, although people came for a massage to relax, they were sometimes a little uneasy afterwards when they felt too “out of it”. What was happening? 

One day a few years ago I came across a TedTalk by Jill Bolte-Taylor, the author of My Stroke of Insight. She describes her experience one morning when she realized she was hemorrhaging on the left side of her brain. She was 34 years old, a neuroanatomist at Harvard, and she miraculously lived to tell her story. 

For me, this was finally “the answer”. I realized that in modern society we spend the majority of our time on the left side of the brain, and our whole culture supports this. The left side of our brain is what we consider our “thinking brain”. It processes linearly, uses words, numbers, logic. The right side of the brain has no words or numbers, no past or future. It is our “feeling brain”, where we feel sensation, emotions, colors, music. It is where we just “be”.

For me, the answer to the question “What is an altered state of consciousness?” is simply being more in the right side of the brain. There we are fully immersed in the present, feeling what we feel,  completely in our bodies, not thinking about the past or future, free from responsibility, remembering child-like joy, curiosity, contentment, peace. 

It is half of who we are, and so many of us have so few opportunities to visit that part of ourselves. I am so honored, so grateful, to be able to help people visit that place of just being, a place that we so seldom visit that we give it a name like “altered state of consciousness”.

Check out the TEDTalk My Stroke of Insight below: