When I introduced the concept of the Reptilian Brain to the martial arts community many years ago, many were enthralled, many were sceptical. Once upon a time, the mention of the 'reptilian brain' would bring tumultuous laughter from most of the scientific community. Nowadays however, it is a different matter with this area of the brain now being recognized by the wider scientific community. It even has an area of the whole brain allocated to it. The reptilian brain is actually the 'brain stem' that area of the base of the skull that holds so much significance to we in the internal martial arts.
To break it down into its individual components we also see that they are widely used in sensory stuff.
The pons is located in the brainstem, vertically between the midbrain and the medulla oblongata, and sagittally between the cerebellum and the pituitary gland. It is responsible for serving as a bridge ("pons" means "bridge") between the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the medulla oblongata. By serving as this liaison between the different parts of the brain, the pons is able to facilitate coordination between the functions of the two sides of the body as well as those of the face and jaw. The origins of the fifth through eighth cervical nerves are associated with the pons.
The medulla oblongata is the lowest part of the brainstem and serves as the site of connection between the brain and the spinal cord. Located just above the foramen magnum in the skull and in front of the cerebellum, the medulla oblongata contains a number of nerve centres, which are responsible for controlling involuntary processes such as the heartbeat, breathing, and body temperature regulation. It is only about an inch (2 1/2 centimetres) wide and comprises less than one percent of the weight of the central nervous system. In spite of its small size, though, it is integral in the transmission of nerve impulses between the spinal cord and the higher brain. Many of the nerve fibres that pass through the medulla oblongata cross over, so that many impulses from the right side of the brain control functions on the left side of the body and vice-versa. Thus, any injury or disease in this area is often fatal.
The Mesencephalon is one of the three parts of the brain stem. It is mostly made up of white matter with some grey matter. A red nucleus is in the mesencephalon. It contains the ends of nerve fibres from the other parts of the brain. Deep inside the mesencephalon are nuclei of several skull nerves. The mesencephalon also contains nerve nuclei for certain hearing and seeing reflexes. Also called midbrain.
The function of the pineal body, or gland, within the midbrain is not fully understood. It is generally believed to be a vestigial (no longer used) sensory organ, which is incompletely developed, in the modern anatomy. The term "pineal" means "pine cone shaped."
A note one the above. It is this humble dabbler in medical science that we are able to get back the original function of the Pineal gland, like communication at a much higher level than just speech and communicating with the earth such as dolphins, whales and seal are able to do. We can do this by practicing Qigong and the internal martial arts. Back when science didn't help at all, the ancient Chinese would simply say that when we do Qigong, we get back to normal, or what we should have been had we not been so reliant upon speech, travel, radio waves and television in modern times. Obviously, when a part of the body is not used, it becomes useless, like a leg muscle that has to be re-trained after a long illness of inactivity. We use our Pineal gland very rarely and on the odd occasion that it does work, we are amazed and call it coincidence or E.S.P. etc. These things should happen all the time but we have little use for real communication skills because it's so easy to pick up a phone or to watch the news on the TV. Qigong helps our Pineal to work again by getting in touch with the 'ground' and 'ground Qi'. This is the reason that in all internal martial arts, we are told to do nothing! This does not mean that we do not move or look or hear, but it means that our conscious brain rests while we practice thus giving our so-called extra-sensory organs a chance to re-establish themselves within our framework. However, it is not that easy of course as it takes much training before we are able to perform movements that are alien to us at a sub-conscious level. Hence the saying that it takes years before one advances in his or her Taijiquan training. It only takes a short time to learn the basic movements of Taijiquan. However, they are only that, movement! We must take these movements to a much higher level, a sub-conscious level so that they become like everyday things, like breathing or our heartbeat, they must the THAT automatic.
The reptilian brain is that brain, part of the 'Triune Brain' that we use for survival; it is our oldest brain with the 'Paleomammalian Brain' (known as the "Limbic System" since 1952) being next and the youngest brain is called the 'Neomammalian Brain'. All reptiles have the Reptilian Brain, all mammals have the Paleomammalian Brain plus the Reptilian Brain but it is only the higher Mammals such as humans that have all three brains.
Paul D Maclean in his exemplary work on the "Triune Brain" says of the Reptilian Brain: "The remaining brainstem and spinal cord constitute a neural chassis that provides most of the neural machinery required for self-preservation and the preservation of the species".
The reptilian brain is where all of our ancient memory is stored, things like past lives, who we were and who we are, what we did and what happened to us, it's all there for us to tap into if we wish to. Why would we want to do this? It is many people's belief that stuff that happened to us in previous lives shows up on out current physical body. Like a birthmark that could possibly be linked back to when a previous incarnation was flogged for stealing a loaf of bread? So if we can get in touch with that memory that is causing the birthmark, then this is the first step in releasing the anguish caused by that ancient memory. The birthmark will not go away of course (many however believe that even this will disappear), however, the pain caused to our sub-conscious mind will be taken away from our knowing why. And any modern physical or emotional damage is usually easily fixed by allowing the patient to see why they are in such a mental state.
When a child is born it has to rely solely upon instinct and sensory stuff and reflexes. The child has no way of learning what is right or wrong. So it is little help to slap a child or chastise it in any way until it's next brain comes into play so that is able to learn. When a child is slapped while still in the reptilian brain mode, its only recourse is to go into survival mode (reptile brain mode) and as it cannot fight back, only cries! So how stupid is it to slap a child or to shake it to teach it a lesson when it has no way of learning!
Science now tells us that the reptilian brain is that part that is in charge of these things. A child for instance knows nothing about the fact that if it fell off a table it would hurt itself, but if this happens, it will make an attempt to grab or in many cases it will not venture past the edge of the table. Why, because the reptilian brain is looking after it.
Normally, there is no need to access the reptilian brain in normal life. However, in order to learn properly the internal martial arts we must have access to the reptilian brain. It causes us to stand out from the so-called hard styles, as there is no mention of the reptilian brain in any hard style that I know of. Hard styles are 'hard', they cause someone to be continually on the lookout for danger, and this is because hard styles are purely physical with little or no internal aspect. In the internal arts, we are taught that we are normal people, artists, writers, poets, schoolteachers, mechanics, mild mannered reporters etc. And we do not have to be tense and aware of an attack at any time! If an attack does happen our reptilian brain kicks in and we are into survival mode becoming a raging animal fighting for our lives, with our physical conscious brain totally unaware of what is happening. We have of course done the training to cause our body to react with the correct movements but these have been done so much that they are now reflex actions that work independently from the conscious brain.
So an internal stylist does not LOOK like a martial artist because he or she does not have to! We can be totally happy in knowing that that instinctive survival mode will kick in at the right time taking care of business and not allowing our artistic brain to be affected by this confrontation. To this end, the internal martial arts of Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xing-I Ch'uan have all been developed to cause the body to move in a self-defence manner automatically and reflexively.
Western science now accepts that we have a reptilian brain, so much so that the rule in judging whether or not someone is clinically dead is to find out if the reptile brain is still functioning by sending out electrical waves. If it is not, then the person is dead!
Qigong & The Reptilian Brain
The region of the reptilian brain (brainstem) is one of the most important areas for Qigong and Dim-mak. In Qigong it is used to help us to go into the reptilian brain where we are in survival or reflex mode allowing the body heal itself or to help us to heal others. There is a good ruler as to whether or not you are doing your Qigong correctly and it has to do with the Reptilian Brain. When we are taught the basic standing Qigong, we usually begin by getting used to all of the new physical things that we are faced with and are feeling. Like the shakes that accompany the stances. Once over this area and we are faced with a mild vibration which is quite pleasant, we feel the Qi 'lifting up' the back and being activated at the points known as GB 20 (gallbladder points No. 20) just below the base of the skull. We feel something lifting up and ending at these points, like a sensation. Everyone's sensation is different so it is difficult for me to tell you what to feel, better for you to feel it yourself. But be warned, you MUST do Qigong correctly and that means that every tiny peripheral is in its correct place, the weight is placed exactly in the correct place, the head is held exactly correctly, the breathing is being performed exactly and so on. I recently heard from a chap who had been doing so-called Qigong with some 'master'. He complained that he felt ill after every session and his mind was scattered afterwards. So I sent him my Basic Qigong tape so that he could see exactly what he was doing wrong. He discovered that just about everything he was doing was wrong and thus having a detrimental effect rather than a healing effect! The worst thing that most people do when learning Qigong is to place the weight over the balls of their feet right onto Kidney One point. This is the most damaging thing that one can do as it causes 'adverse cyclic Qi' to be generated which can damage the reptile brain! Not many 'masters' realize that KD 1 point is NOT the activation point for KD 1 but rather that it is the area of the heels that activates KD 1 point on the foot, the energy input point for ground Qi. So when we place weight onto KD 1 point, it actually stops the Qi from entering into the body. However, if the ground Qi did not enter the body we would die so it must come is some how. So, it builds up to such a degree that it comes through in violent bursts, which reach right up, into the reptilian brain damaging it! This is the reason that many people experience violent shakes and body movement while standing in a basic Qigong stance. Many 'masters' say that this is powerful, but they are wrong. The weight must be placed upon the heels thus leaving KD 1 point free of all tension and allowing a moderate and balanced flow of Qi to enter the body gradually, thus enhancing the reptile brain.
We are always told to 'sink the Qi'. But why? The reason is that only in this way does the Qi turn into 'jing', a more purified and evaporated type of Qi which is then able to flow to all parts of the body, condenses and settles into the marrow as fat enabling our body to produce more 'T' cells for our immune system. In 'sinking' we allow the 'activation points' for the Reptile Brain to work, activating the reptilian Brain. The very instant that you begin to discover 'sinking' or as the Chinese call it, 'Sung', you will feel the reptile brain come into play. For a short time, you feel invincible but do not worry that will go away, leaving you with a feeling of well-being because in this condition, your body is free to do what it has to without external tension and the Reptilian Brain is free to help you to survive. Survival does not only mean survival against physical attack, but also against disease and pathogenic attack. Tension is one of the greatest things that affects the well being of the Reptile Brain so Qigong is able to help the Reptile Brain do its subconscious work unhindered by tension. All of your glands will be able to do their allotted work. Your Thymus gland, which is in charge of balancing the Qi, will not shrivel up as it does in most people at age around 15. The Thymus gland is more susceptible to stress than any other gland. When we are younger and have not much adult stresses placed upon us, this gland is large and healthy, a tuber shape reaching down from CV 22. So when we begin to get rid of stress, this gland comes back again to control our flow of Qi again. By becoming aware of the Reptile Brain we also activate and assist the Pineal gland, which is also responsible for our perception of nature and the things around us and our place on the planet. So it is not unusual for this gland to increase in size. There are some animals whose size of this gland is half the size of their total brain at birth enabling them to be totally aware of their environment from day one and be in total survival mode.
So while many people do Qigong simply to become more relaxed, they do not know that this 'simple' exercise is one of the most beneficial that anyone can do to enhance the Reptilian Brain, hence enhancing the workings of the whole body. See (Photo No. 1) for the basic 3 circle standing Qigong stance.
Dim-Mak & The Reptilian Brain
In the Dim-Mak area we strike more to the brainstem than to any other area other than to the front of the neck and the front of the neck is simply another way of getting to the reptilian brain area. Deadly points such as GB 20, GB 12, GV 15 and 16 are all in the area of the reptile brain. When the reptile brain is kinked by either jerking the head forward violently (Photo No. 2) or by striking it, the person's conscious brain shuts down causing knock out as the other two brains cannot function if the reptile brain is not working properly.