Adam Baruh 1:06
Welcome to the change where we share stories and inspiration from business leaders and people making positive work life changes. I’m your host, Adam Baruh. Our focus today is on the nervous system, how we process information and events, and how we store trauma and stress in our bodies. We’ve all dealt with so much over the past two years, and the change we’ve had to undergo in our personal and professional lives is very clearly a traumatic event. For people that have either had COVID, or witnessed a friend or loved one deal with COVID, the trauma is even further amplified. Adults have the system to manage and process these events. But for children, this experience and all they’ve had to go through with remote learning, and the inability to simply just play with friends in a carefree way will certainly have lasting effects. Aside from the pandemic, the pressures we are faced with in the 21st century are more than our bodies and minds were designed to deal with. Our nervous system is shaped by the events of our childhood and for some, the ability to regulate emotions is manageable, and we process events and move on in a normal and healthy way. But for a large population of people, stressful nervous system responses are not able to flow through the nervous system. And we maintain a state of stuckness where the nervous system is unable to let go of these powerful emotions, and we remain in an activated state. Research has shown that what we have traditionally defined as trauma can be even more subtle than we’ve realized, for example, working for several years in a highly activated stressful environment can store as trauma within the nervous system. And when left unchecked, the buildup of these stress responses can ultimately lead to nervous system disorders, auto immune issues, disease, and more. Here to tell us more about our nervous system, and how it processes trauma for people, both in their personal and professional lives. Is Seth Lyon, a nervous system specialist and trauma expert based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Seth, welcome to the change.
Seth Lyon 3:09
Hey, Adam, thanks so much. So happy to be here. Yeah.
Adam Baruh 3:12
And so I’d like to start with your background, if I may, um, you’ve described yourself as having experienced a significant level of trauma in your childhood. Would you mind telling us first where you grew up? And will you describe your childhood for us and the events that you went through in your early years?
Seth Lyon 3:29
You betcha. Yeah. So, you know, in giving this account, it’ll be interesting, because some of the things that I went through, would be commonly recognized as traumatic. And other things have been so normalized, that they’re not recognized as traumatic. But they still are. So you know, I grew up in the Bay Area, I was born six weeks premature, and was put pretty rapidly into incubator. Okay, so you know, cut off from my mom and the family system and isolated, you know, again, pretty normal, but that’s highly traumatic, that, you know, an infant needs secure attachment from the moment they emerge into the world with the primary caregiver. So just that alone sets up the system to default to a survival response, which primarily the freeze response, and we can get more into why that happens. So that’s just one example. Okay, no, circumcision. Another thing that’s been very normalized, highly traumatic, highly stressful for the system, you know, so I went through that, you know, these are just the formative, you know, very early experiences that seem kind of normal, right? But then, you know, my parents split up when I was two. So there was that rupture in the family system, which added more to the levels of insecurity and you know, sense of things just not being safe. When mom and dad aren’t liking each other. And, you know, that can get tricky because you don’t really want it Parents who can’t stand each other to stay together and rarely either, but either way, it’s a no win for the kid, right? So I grew up flip flopping between households, you know, two weeks here, two weeks there, each with their own kind of survival stress environment in my dad’s house was much more tense, lots of anxiety, anger, you know, sort of walking on eggshells, never knowing when this sort of rage would erupt. Some, you know, not too much. But you know, spankings, which again, normalized, traumatic, you know, you are, I have this ebook on my website, that’s like a free download. And then there, there’s a description that shows the process of how being spanked is perceived by a mammal, not by necessarily, you know, a person who understands it. So at the nervous system level, even that can be very traumatic, especially if there’s not repair. So all of that. And then at my mom’s house, the other house, it was more of a depressive environment, it was about sort of collapsing into this freeze and numbness, soothing. But there was all sorts of weird kind of emotional, manipulative, guilty kind of things going on there. And that was sort of my existence until I was 18 was kind of flipping between this highly stressful, agitated, tense and collapse guilt Freezy kind of thing. Okay. And then my brother passed when I was 13 have cancer. So that was another wrench thrown in the system. My sister left the house when she was 18. And in a big, dramatic fight. So all sorts of family ruptures, death, and you know, those types of things, which are more commonly recognized as traumatic. So no, and I just grew up in, you know, suburbia, it wasn’t a war torn country, you know, but I emerged with very complex PTSD as I went into college, and that’s not something I would come to recognize, for, you know, about 15 years later. Yeah. Because when I found the trauma work, so, yeah, it was, it was all the upbringing that primed me to end up dealing the way I did, which was to basically leave the world when I was about 21. And I got really into meditation and essentially took off into the woods for about 15 years. Yeah,
Adam Baruh 7:19
interesting. Yeah, we’re gonna get into that here in a bit. I want to ask on going back to your parents and growing up in a split family like that. And I did as well. And I’m curious. Were your parents? Did they get along? Did they not allow parents? Yeah, cuz that itself can be very traumatic.
Seth Lyon 7:40
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, your parents are like, these fundamental archetypes for your psyche, among other things, and you know, when they hate each other, and don’t communicate, that sets up a conflict within the self. Yeah, you know, so yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There were there was very little communication at all, and what communication, what communication there was, it was all, you know, logistics and that kind of stuff. So, yeah, no, no closeness.
Adam Baruh 8:06
Yeah. And, you know, for, for me, I remember having a feeling of guilt, like, if I spent too much time with one parent, or showed, you know, a certain sense of, you know, being more at ease with one parent over the other, it’s like, you know, they would kind of play each other against each other through myself and my two brothers that I grew up with, so total Harry, yeah, it’s, it’s really, you know, those those experiences, they last a long time for children, and it’s hard to really recognize, you know, how deep those layers exist.
Seth Lyon 8:40
Absolutely. I mean, they, they create very deep insecurities. And often have a very intense need for approval, and recognition, which can be really destructive and toxic. And, and that’s sort of the psyche, the stuff that happens in the psyche, the stuff and the stuff that’s happening in the nervous system is even more profound, which is being in these different survival states, whether it be highly activated, and kind of fight flight mode and anxious and nervous and your tummy hurts, or collapsed and kind of depressed, and numb, mourn freeze. And you know, what, what often happens is what I learned to do, which is kind of flip between these and you know that the human is incredibly adaptive, we’re very resilient. So we learn how to manage the stress responses. I mean, we don’t know what’s happening because we’re not educated about this stuff, right? But we sort of instinctively adapt and learn how to keep it kind of boxed up and managed. And that’s where often addictions come in and different weird behavioral things need to isolate or be alone. These are all ways to manage what’s happening inside of us physiologically. Very well. I had my own because of the cocktail of that. Yeah, yeah.
Adam Baruh 9:51
Okay, so eventually went on to college at Eastern Washington University, graduating I believe in 1996 with a BA in music composition and percussion. So, can you tell us what your college experience was like?
Seth Lyon 10:04
Well, it was pretty great, actually. I mean, I was still innocent, really, you know, I smoked a lot of pot. I stayed pretty stoned through most college. And also, you know, I had my various coping strategies, but I was doing what I loved, you know, I, I went into music composition, I had really no desire to try to get any kind of practical degree or anything, I just wanted to do what my passion was. And I went to a college that was very different than my upbringing in the Bay Area, I went to this tiny little town in eastern Washington, cine little farm town, you know, had four seasons, it was just I kind of created an environment for myself, that was opposite of what I had grown up in. And that was really, really helpful. As far as I knew, I was relatively happy. Okay, throughout college, you know, I had a good group of friends, doing what I loved. So so it was it was a good time.
Adam Baruh 10:58
And what did that I mean, what was that experience like for you, I mean, kind of coming out of this, you know, growing up with parents that didn’t, you know, at least create a harmonious environment for you and your sister on both that, like when you were first on your own out there and like, Oh, my God,
Seth Lyon 11:13
well, it was like, freedom. I remember driving away from the Bay Area drove and I drive him to Washington and just the elation. It was like a euphoria of just escape. You know, like, I got out, I’m finally out. Yeah, was the feeling. And I think that lasted, you know, throughout. I didn’t go home. hardly at all. I went home the first summer. But after that, I never went back. I’m really and yeah, it was, it was great.
Adam Baruh 11:40
Yeah, I feel like I experienced the same thing. I, I coming out of high school, I went to school in Santa Barbara, and I rarely ever went home. I kind of built this life in Santa Barbara. Whereas, you know, most of my friends went home every summer, I always tried to make it work. And it just, I had my own life. Like, you know, as soon as I was out on my own, I was on my own, you know? Totally. Yep. Same. Yeah. So what were your plans? After college? I read that you had envisioned a career in film composition, I believe.
Seth Lyon 12:08
That’s right. Yeah. Yeah, that was my thought I was, of course naive, and not really understanding what that would involve. So I thought, yeah, maybe after college, I’ll I’ll figure out a way to compose for film. But, you know, what I really quickly realized was, well, that would mean moving to LA, or New York. And which was terrifying. To me, that’s not where I wanted to go at all, I wanted to go in the opposite direction. And, and that’s what I did. Instead of pursuing any sort of career, I just moved to Bozeman, Montana, which is where my best friend and moved, and he was finishing his college there. And I had another buddy who shortly moved out after and had a great year of just post college hanging out in Montana, just having a great time, you know, got a job at a restaurant just to work in, you know, and, and I stayed in the restaurant industry, basically, then for the next 20 years, when I did work at it, you know, at all. And I, you know, in terms of the career in music, I never nice or realized, well, that’s not going to happen, you know, I don’t want to move to these places where I would have to be. So I just started recording music for myself and started writing songs. Before too long started getting interested in instrumental music and music for sound healing. That was a little bit later. But yeah, I eventually, you know, I basically turned my creative process into my own outlet, my own thing instead of, you know, creating big musical scores.
Adam Baruh 13:41
Yeah, I see you have a drum kit behind you. So you’re, you’re still actively
Seth Lyon 13:44
creating that. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Still making music? Oh, yeah. All the time.
Adam Baruh 13:48
Yeah. We’re also going to discuss that on here in a bit. But I want to shift gears a little bit. So you had a transformative experience while on a 10 day meditation retreat? Can you share with us when this occurred? And what led you to participate in this retreat in the first place?
Seth Lyon 14:03
Yeah. So I, I had found this place called Breitenbush, hot springs. My sister was working there when I was 18. And I, on my way to college, I stopped by and visited her. I was like, wow, this is all right, you know, and it was my first experience with the counterculture. You know, clothing, optional bathing areas, okay. You know, being comfortable just getting naked in hot water with other people like that was a new experience. And that was when I was 18. So it’s sort of planted this seed, I think of like, oh, there’s this whole other kind of lifestyle out there. And after I’d been to Montana for a year, I said to my buddy, like, hey, you know, why don’t we go work at the hot springs the summer. So we both drove there and interviewed and ended up getting jobs. And it was there that I started to, you know, meet people who did things like meditation and yoga and all these different practices, and I got intrigued. There’s this one woman in particular who talked about Vipassana and How amazing it had been for her. So it was about a year later, when it was actually at a really low point in my life. I was at Brighton Bush again. And I had gone through this really painful breakup, just really feeling depressed. And I realized, you know what, I maybe I should do this, this Vipassana thing and just, you know, sit with myself and see what this is all about. And so I entered it really kind of out of suffering. And yeah, did the 10 days. And yeah, it was incredibly transformative. You know, people talk about having spiritual awakenings. And that’s what happened for me. I mean, I had memories of past lives just come wasn’t something I’d ever considered before or even thought about, like, I wasn’t really a spiritual person. Yeah, too much at that point. I just had these memories flooding me of being in these big halls sitting doing this practice with all these monks around me. And I was like, Oh, wow, I’ve done this before. And it came very easily to me the practice. So I that’s that’s what really shifted my life in a big way where I was like, You know what, I’m just gonna pursue this, I’m going to drop out of society, I’m no bought a one way ticket to Hawaii shortly after that. And with the goal of just meditating, I’m just going to meditate, I’m going to sit in nature, I’m going to not worry about money, I’m just going to see where spirit guides me is sort of the classic spiritual quest, letting go of all material goods, had no money, homeless, just cruised around cannon here. And there. It was the very much the sort of nomadic monk kind of lifestyle.
Adam Baruh 16:37
Yeah. And so you shared with me that after this revelation, you kind of lost interest in the mainstream world and kind of opted to essentially drop out of society, to better study the mind, body world, the old, in your words, the old fashioned way through self immersion. So tell us about this next chapter of your life.
Seth Lyon 16:55
So it was a lot of exploration, different learnings, like, you know, I would meet someone, they’d be practicing some kind of energy work or breath work or something, I’d say, Oh, what’s that all about? And I would learn from them. And I would, I would learn about I was getting into the Hawaiian traditions and mythology. We’re learning about, you know, the energies of the land. You know, the the nature spirits, the energy of mama Pele, it was all about zoning into different ways of exploring consciousness and energy. And during that time, I also met my first wife, and we had my our son, who is now a young adult. And, you know, here’s what I didn’t know. And this is really significant is that all the trauma was still sitting in me basically untouched. Because this is a very important point, there’s many practices that can be very helpful with dealing with trauma. But if you don’t know that you have trauma, and if you don’t understand where it fundamentally lives, and how to work with it, and how it moves and hides in the system, yeah. What happens with spiritual practices is very often they end up reinforcing the ability to bypass the trauma, what we call spiritual bypass, okay? All although it’s really a somatic bypass, you’re bypassing your body. And that’s what happened for me, and I didn’t know it, it’s like you don’t, you know, you don’t know what you don’t know. So I thought that I was becoming enlightened, you know, and having these huge, expansive experiences and connecting to God, and all of which was valid, but I was doing it at the expense of missing a whole lot of myself, then I didn’t know that I was doing that. So it was a very interesting time, sort of the next 13 years, and that I developed all sorts of really helpful tools and sort of spiritual abilities and ways to work with energy, but also kind of reinforced my freeze, and the way that I was avoiding what was really happening deeper in the system. Yeah.
Adam Baruh 19:02
So ultimately, you’ve described for me that through your own healing journey, you came to a deep understanding of how trauma expresses itself through disease and other illnesses. So I What was this discovery like for you and in relation to your own trauma?
Seth Lyon 19:17
It started with it started with really getting into emotional movement, I started to develop like, like, okay, I can feel this thing in my body, right and I can feel the sensation I can track it. But what happens if instead of just observing it like in the Vipassana way, I go in there and I, I feel into it and I sort of vibrate it, what happens if I let it express through sound or on my face through effect, or or through bodily movement? And I started to discover that, yeah, the body holds these emotions and They can be uncovered. This was, you know, maybe a little bit later on. Okay, when I started to get more into this kind of aspect of it sort of starting to hone in on the trauma, you know, I didn’t fully understand it until I met my, my current wife, Irene Lyon, who had just finished training and somatic experiencing, which is the, one of the forms of trauma work we do when I met her. So she’s the one that really like, ah, that’s what I’ve been doing. Yeah, you know, and this is what I’ve been missing. You know, meeting her was was incredibly important. So, you know, it started with my own instinctual, kind of noodling around within my own system. But I didn’t really get it until I discovered the trauma work and somatic experiencing and did the training for myself.
Adam Baruh 20:53
Yeah, I think you’ve kind of described it a little bit. But can you tell us a little bit more specifically what somatic experiencing is on and sure, talk about the work that you and Irene do today?
Seth Lyon 21:03
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So somatic experiencing is a form of work, developed by Peter Levine. He developed it in the mostly in the 70s, early 80s was when he started training people. And then it got further refined over the next couple decades. But essentially, he asked the question, he was a biologist, and I’m interested in all sorts of other things about human physiology psychology. I mean, he’s a very curious man, you know, very into consciousness also, right. He asked the question, How come animals in the wild don’t become traumatized? You know, they’re faced on, you know, especially many species are faced daily with threat, no mortal threat? Yeah. You know, being chased, hunted, getting away, you know, and but they don’t get PTSD. Like, they seem to have resiliency, you know, what, what’s up with that? And he started realize, like, well, they’re, they’re completing their survival responses, like in the wild, you get chased by, you know, a predator. Either you get away and you’re successful, or you get eaten, right there, there really is no middle ground. It’s very clear. And so he realized that, well, you know, we share the same autonomic nervous system, as all those animals, what’s happening with us that our survival energy isn’t completing, because that’s what he realized, no, the very, he started to realize that the various things that we classify as mental or emotional or emotional problems are essentially manifestations of an incomplete survival response, where our system is still trying to fight or run away, or still trying to hide and shut down and freeze and numb. And he realized that by creating the right conditions, that the human being has an innate capacity to heal these things to naturally release these survival charges. But that, and they saw that that’s a sort of a simple way of saying it, but then the nuances and how do we create those conditions for each unique individual? Because everybody needs something slightly different in terms of how do they get to that place where that natural healing can occur? Yeah. And, and that’s really the intricacy and the beauty of the work. So yeah, I started the training shortly after I met my wife, I moved to Canada. And it’s a three year training. And I started my practice about maybe in the second year of my training, okay. And I was also doing sound healing at that point. I had been doing sound healing for probably a dozen years, using different kinds of, you know, Tibetan bowls, Crystal bowls, gongs and drums and shakers, all that sort of shamanic tradition stuff. Yep. So when I started my practice, it was sound healing with an understanding of trauma and the nervous system. And then as I completed the somatic experiencing training, and did more trainings with other modalities, my practice slowly shifted to just doing trauma work, though I still use sound as part of the my practice, it’s the it’s the, it’s a tiny part of it. It’s almost pretty much exclusively nervous system based trauma work now, which is what my wife also does, but we we do it in different ways. Yeah.
Adam Baruh 24:15
So in preparing for this episode, you directed me to Irene website, and specifically her three part Healing Trauma video series, which absolutely resonated with me, and I was very affected by the information I learned in this series. It was very well done. I’ve had anxiety issues since as long as I can remember, but specifically since I was 16, I’ve had this facial nervous tic kind of comes and goes, but it’s, I mean, since it’s perpetually been around since I was 16. It is a chronic condition and it seems to morph and change over time. I remember it kind of manifested when I was 16, like more like a nasal thing and then became like an eye thing and it kind of became like a breath mouth in and my grandfather had a similar thing condition. He had it ticket wasn’t manifesting in that particular way, like for me, but, and I also understand other people in my family have have had this happen. So, for the longest time, I thought there was some genetic cause for this, I’ve never been able to, I’ve never been able to will it away, like as much as I kind of try to get, you know, just go away, like don’t do this, like it doesn’t work. But the closest I’ve been able to control it, is by doing this nervous system work that you and Irene have described. I’ve noticed it in particular, when I am balanced, the tick just kind of naturally fades away. That’s why it’ll it resurfaces when life just gets hectic again. So, the big takeaway from watching Iran’s video series is how years of trauma have built up in my nervous system such that I always feel like I kind of live in a dysregulated nervous system state. So can you describe for us the processes in the nervous system, the fight or flight and freeze processes? And how stored up activation manifests in texts or otherwise?
Seth Lyon 26:02
Yeah, you bet. So you know, we all have this nervous system that has the your central nervous system, you know, your brain, your spinal cord, you have your peripheral nervous system, which is the autonomic nervous system, and also the sensory motor cortex, the the, the, when you make basic movements to pick stuff up, that kind of thing. The autonomic nervous system is really where the trauma happens, fundamentally, because the autonomic nervous system is what governs the fight flight and freeze responses, okay. And those are what we call our survival responses. So they’re only supposed to kick in, like fight flight is the first thing that kicks in. And that’s only supposed to happen when you’re under mortal threat. Like when there’s something that’s really dangerous
Adam Baruh 26:50
or not, if you’re late on on a report, and you’re not because you’re late
Seth Lyon 26:53
to work, or because you have a stressful deadline, or right, because you had a fight with your, you know, spouse, or whatever, you know, because of traffic, and that’s the thing, in our industrialized world, there are so many things that the system can perceive as a survival threat, and it will bounce this mount this response. Yeah. Especially because we’re predisposed to that, from our upbringing. And we’ll have to get into that later about how, you know, industrialized society predisposes the system to mount these survival responses. So, you know, as we go through our day, encountering stressors, not really understanding what’s happening inside of us, these survival responses get activated. And because we don’t know what’s happening inside of us, and how to work with it, for the most part, they just keep happening. Yeah, they just stay stuck in the system. So for a really clear way to describe this, if you think of again, we go to the wild. So a gazelle, you know, she’s in the meadow, she’s grazing, here’s a twig snap. So the first thing that happens is a defensive orienting response, where the head will lift and move towards the source of the possible threat. And then there’s an assessment. Okay, I did my defensive, orienting. What is over there, oh, it’s just the wind. Okay, I go back to grazing. And there’s this natural rise and fall a little peek, then it falls, right. But oh, no, there’s a tiger over there. So then, okay, then that mounts into a full fight flight response we run, and then they, you know, they get away, and they get to a safe place. And what happens is that that animal will then tremble and shake, and the survival energy of that fight flight response will naturally dissipate out of the nervous system, and then they just go back to their day. It’s all good. So that’s not what happens with us, for the most part. For one, even if we knew that we needed to allow ourselves to kind of shake and tremble, or maybe have some emotions come out, because we’re human beings, and we have emotions that are part of these survival responses. There’s all these societal conditions, like that’s not okay. You know, how many people are told at a young age like, oh, you know, you’re, you’re a big boy, don’t cry, you’re not hurt. You’re okay. All of these messages that we get growing up and through, you know, our family, through society, through teachers, to you know, manage yourself, you’re okay, don’t feel that, you know, don’t cry, don’t show emotion, don’t show vulnerability, right? All of that keeps the survival responses and the associated emotions locked up in the system. And that’s an important thing to recognize. It’s in your intro, you were talking about how your emotions get stuck. That’s just part of it. The it’s it’s the survival energy that gets stuck and the emotions are a component of that, right? Although not always, sometimes there are no emotions and it’s just energy. So that’s, that’s a simple kind of fight flight scenario. What can happen though, let’s go back to the wild. Say that Gazelle gets taken tackled by the lion, what’s going to happen then is it’s going to go into freeze. Because if fight and flight are not successful, that’s what the mammalian system defaults to is freeze, we’re okay, we’re going to numb the body, I’m going to bring all the blood to the core to protect the Oregon’s, we’re going to reduce circulation, breathing is going to get very shallow, and we’re going to prepare for death. That’s what the freeze response is for. So if that animal say that lion gets distracted by a pack of hyenas or something come in to steal, it’s gazelle. The Gazelle will leap up out of that freeze response back into fight flight, and escape. And again, go through the discharge. However, coming back again, okay, say we’re that I’m that kid growing up, you know, in my dad’s house, yeah, we’re, I’m
Seth Lyon 30:50
feeling on edge, I’m in the fight flight kind of mode, I can’t get away, right, I need the attachment, I need the shelter, I need the food, I need the clothing. You know, say I’m getting spanked, I can’t get away, I can’t win. So what does my system do, it’s going to do the same thing, it’s going to start to default to freeze, it’s going to start to numb out to the environment. And this is what happens in the majority of people who grow up in industrialized society, in small ways or large, is because of the inherent stressors in our society, we learn very often to numb out and recruit the freeze response in this very clever way that it was not intended for. Yeah. And so that’s, that tends to be what happens as we go through our life in this world. And we are encountered with these stressors big and small as they kind of stack up. And we have this charge in us very often, which is the anxiety or the tension, the fear, the worry, yeah, muscle tension, chronic pain, where we have this numbness, or this collapse, this lethargy, this depression. You know, if you think about the thoughts associated with depression, it’s hopeless. There’s no point well, yeah, that’s the thought of a system that’s essentially preparing for death at a physiological level. So, you know, all of that can get wrapped up. And there can be both there can be you know, if we look at bipolar, or what is that there’s a system flipping between extreme activation and extreme shutdown, that’s fight flight, and freeze back and forth. Or they can be wrapped up together in various complex manifestations, which is where you get autoimmune disorders. Because the autonomic system that’s governing this, these survival responses also governs our heart rate, our breath, our digestion, our immune response, endocrine function, all of that stuff gets thrown out of whack when we’ve got these survival energies running under the surface.
Adam Baruh 32:42
Yeah. How does that relate to vasovagal syncope, which is something that my wife and other members of her family deal with, um, to the extent where when they do pass out, they they also seizure? So, you know, I feel like it’s also the same manifestation of these, like, probably the freeze response was just like taking over.
Seth Lyon 33:01
Yeah, that’s a classic example. vasovagal syncope is when basically, it often happens when you stand up suddenly, Mm hmm. You know, and where you get a sudden spike of of like sympathetic activation, essentially. And then that frees lead bam, comes on so hard that you pass out, right. And that is a system that’s learned to default to freeze under stress. And it’s a very extreme manifestation of it. And then there’s the collapse, and the passing out. And then if there’s a seizure, we’ll Okay, so that could be viewed as yeah, there’s that sympathetic activation underneath now the system is unconscious and not defended. Move, there’s that energy moving through?
Adam Baruh 33:37
Interesting. So what happens when we let the stress go untreated? How does traumatic stress get trapped in our bodies and affect our healing systems?
Seth Lyon 33:47
Mm hmm. So fundamentally, it’s in the nervous system. And if we think about, you know, we don’t really have a, quote, unquote, scientific way to describe life energy. And cultures for Millennium have had different names for life, energy, Qi prana, the stuff of life, the electricity that is within us, because we are fundamentally electrical beings. And you can take away some various limbs and muscles and bones and even some organs, and you’ll still be living. You take the electricity out of the human, there’s nothing there. Yeah, so we know we are fundamentally electrical. That’s what’s running our nervous system. And we only have so much, right. So when we have a portion of our life force or electricity, whatever you want to call it, devoted to maintaining these survival responses, there’s less energy for the rest of the stuff that it’s supposed to be doing. So you have direct manifestations like anxiety. Anxiety is just a fight flight response, a sympathetic response that’s buzzing away in the system underneath and it creates the sense of unease like something’s wrong, like yeah, my nervous system is sensing a life threat. Something is wrong. That’s anxiety. Yeah. So there are direct representations like that or depression, like the system is being dominated by freeze that’s preparing to die. So life feels hopeless and I’m collapsed. And there’s I’m numb, I’m, you know, I have poor circulation. All of these things are about an embedded freeze response. Those are direct manifestations. And then there’s the indirect manifestations that happen more because of the stuff that’s not getting done. So you know, when you don’t have the energy for the proper barrier, keeping in the gut, you don’t have access to what we call the low tone dorsal vagal state, which is the Rest Digest state, because your system is being dominated by freeze, which is a high tone dorsal vagal. State, well, then you don’t have access to repairing sleep and proper immune function and barrier keeping in the gut. And then you start getting things like Crohn’s right and IBS, you start getting an autoimmune disorders, when you have contrary instructions being fired under the surface like, you know, runaway freeze, runaway freeze, that creates this cross wiring that shows up in all these more complex ways as the system goes on carrying these things. And then there’s things like chronic tension. You know, one of the things that we see a lot in this work is what’s called incomplete survival response or incomplete self protective response, which is literally like a way that the body wanted to move to protect itself, but couldn’t. So this is where we get into tics. Very often what tics are, is it’s a stock shock, like, we saw something that was really horrific, or, you know, say there was a we got hit in the head by a baseball that we saw coming in at the last minute. But we didn’t have time to turn and block it or get out of the way. There can be these instructions in the system still, that are saying turn get out of the way. And so like, right, yeah, it can look like this sort of jerky, movement or tick. This can also manifest as chronic tension. So for example, you know, frozen shoulder, and my wife had a client once who had really severe frozen shoulder, and no one can figure it out. You know, they’re looking at the mechanics of it all. And like, well, everything seems to be okay. It wasn’t because of anything really, in terms of structure anatomy, it was because she had been horrifically abused and tied up as a child and couldn’t escape. And her body was still trying to escape these bonds. Yeah. And so there was this tension pattern in the shoulder where it’s like, I can’t get away. So we see all sorts of manifestations like that. Also, chronic fascial tension. Fascia is something that is meant to be very slippery and sliding and fluid. It’s this connective tissue and allows things to be protected and move, but it can also become very rigid, when it senses threat. And so there can be a lot of very deep tension patterns in the body that are rooted in the fascia. So that’s like fibromyalgia things that chronic pain, okay, things like that mysterious pains that move around the body that’s often connected to tension in the fascia. And so all of these are representations of these stuck survival responses.
Adam Baruh 37:59
Yeah, I mean, something I’ve talked about on this podcast and other podcasts is some anxiety, panic attacks that I was having last year that fortunately, you know, are really few and far between now, now that I kind of made the connection. I don’t know why it took me so long to make the connection. But back, you know, my trauma when I was about, you know, six years old is, you know, we had a babysitter as my parents were split up, my mom would go out, she’d have a babysitter come over, it was this teenage kid, and he would immediately you know, lock myself in, my brother’s in my mom’s closet, shut out the light. And you lock the door. And I remember just the state of terror. And so then I was getting now as a 48 year old, these claustrophobic panic attacks, where I go have a meeting with a client in a very large conference room where it was just myself and him. But there were no windows and I sweat. And I’d be like, I gotta turn on Eric. And I gotta get out of here. You know, just yeah, a terrible feeling. And it just, it reminds me of a saying that I’ve heard repeated, which is our issues are in our tissues. Yes. And I think there’s a lot of science behind this. I mean, you know, I practice yoga often. And, you know, for example, when we do hip openers, I’ve had yoga instructors say, you know, just, you know, you may feel a large sense of emotion after doing these hip openers. So, you know, be aware of that. And I remember one time in particular, I wasn’t doing yoga, I went and had a massage done. But the the massage therapist was like, pinning my leg back almost, you know, to my ear, really opening up my hips. And about an hour later, my wife and I had done this massage. And so an hour later we went and we’re just sitting in a restaurant having lunch, and I remember having a conversation with her and I just started crying. It was like, everything was just You know, all that emotion that was built up in my tissues, you know, just seems to have been released into emotion.
Seth Lyon 40:07
Mm hmm. Yeah, we view various containers of the body as various places or we view various places in the body as containers. So what we call them diaphragms, this is the same and osteopathic work. Where Yeah, the the hips are a die. The the pelvic bowl is a diaphragm, the actual breathing diaphragm itself, the tops of the lungs kind of form another chamber. These are all areas where the body holds emotion. Okay, I’m not sure if we have the technology at this point to point to that like in a scientific way, but we certainly know that it happens. Yeah, you know, I’m not sure exactly how, but it’s very clear. At this point through all that
Adam Baruh 40:49
Something like where when you feel like you can’t get a deep breath sometimes and you’re in like an anxious state.
Seth Lyon 40:55
Yeah, well in that and that’s directly physiological because you know, the fight flight response, it wants you to be breathing fast, right? It’s set up your setup to run or fight, right? Or shock, right in shock. The diaphragm can be quite stuck like, right, this sort of gasp if there’s shock stuck in the system. So that can actually be directly physiological. The respiratory diaphragm isn’t moving properly. Yeah. And that’s directly related. Absolutely.
Adam Baruh 41:22
So you’ve shared with me that trauma is the most misunderstood, ignored and most powerful cause of human suffering, and that it’s far more widespread than most people know. And your wife in her video series described how we are in a healing revolution, actually, right now. And it’s a unique time in history where people are starting to recognize that trauma is more widely experienced that and most of us deal with it. So why do you think it’s taken so long to get here? And what do you think it is about this time in history that is really enabling this healing revolution?
Seth Lyon 41:55
Well, in terms of what’s taking so long to get here, I think a lot of it has to do with just evolution of understanding of the human system in general. But there’s a lot of resistance as well to really understanding this. And that can come in many forms. You know, when someone does this trauma work, and they really unpack what’s in their system, it’s not a little deal, it is a complete reshaping of the entire person. Because what we view as our personality, almost always was formed in response to trauma. When we take trauma out of the picture, we often don’t know who we are, there is a loss of identity in a certain way, because all the ways in which we may be used to cope or understand ourselves, have the grounds been pulled out from underneath that. Yeah. And that is instinctively scary. So a lot of people, when you start talking about this stuff, they will just talking about it, they will get uncomfortable, will start to feel physiologically uncomfortable, because their unconscious knows, this is pertinent to me. And if I go down this path, I’m not maybe not gonna know who I am anymore. I’m gonna I have no idea what’s happening inside me. And that’s, there’s a reason we block this stuff away in the first place. Because it’s freakin scary. Yeah. And it’s not easy work. When you when you do this work, it means coming into contact with all the stuff that was too scary in the first place to deal with. Now, the way that we do the work, we build it in such a way that a person can do this, we give them the education first, which is incredibly important. And that way a person can understand like, Oh, I’m not crazy, this is happening. Because of this, it makes sense. And that provides a certain level of safety. And we, you know, help people get into the body gradually. And the foundation of the work is safety, it has to be this sort of context of safe, attunement and connection, which someone can also provide for themselves. But even given all that it’s tough, you have to come in contact with these intense survival energies, the only way to let them out of the building is to feel them on the way out. And that means feeling all those emotions, too. So I think, you know, in terms of why it’s taken so long, well, one Yeah, just evolution and understanding, but also, because of the intensity and the amount of transformation that healing this stuff requires of the individual and not just the individual. And I’d go as far as to say that our entire society is dependent on people being in survival mode. You know, if everyone was taking care of themselves and doing the work to regulate their nervous system, there’d be no more society, like people you know, running on the on the treadmill of the work in the marketplace. Go go go go go. Our current society basically depends on that. Yeah. So you know, that might have something to do with it kind of taken a while for the word to get out as well. Interesting.
Adam Baruh 45:01
So I want to share a quote also from Irene in the video series, I think it was really profound when I really kind of honed in on it, which is, trauma is not in the event, trauma is in the inability of the nervous system to function optimally and heal. So, on the surface, it’s kind of like a simple statement, but I think it conveys why we get stuck and are unable to fully heal. You know, when we’ve experienced a specific traumatic event, we become focused on the event itself. And, and that is something we can’t change, you cannot go back in time and change that event. And so when we, when I hear when I hear that quote, and I you separate now that the actual trauma, that it is not the event, it’s just how our nervous system is kind of holding on to that. It does give us a path to healing. That’s right. Yeah. So that’s right.
Seth Lyon 45:54
Yeah, we say it’s in the it’s in the biology, not the biography. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s one, you know, reason also why lots of, you know, there’s all sorts of therapies, and many can be useful for many things, but talk therapy will never resolve trauma. Because you’re trying to understand yourself, and maybe, you know, you understand your mind, and you understand the events and the relationships, and they can bring a certain level of healing. But if you don’t include the nervous system, and the physiology all that it’s connected to, then you’re not going to get to the trauma. Yeah. Because that’s just that’s fundamentally where it is. It’s in what’s happening now. Not what happened then, right? What’s happening now in your body,
Adam Baruh 46:37
and it gives us now we actually have control, we are in control of the healing process. We are not That’s right, do not continue to be tied to the event.
Seth Lyon 46:47
That’s right. And we encourage people actually, like, we kind of steer in sessions, I’ll, you know, I’ll listen to a person’s story. And that’s part of building connection and safety. But we’re not going to hang out there, you know, I will redirect the person like, oh, yeah, I want to hear your story. I want to hear what happened to you. Okay, and now can you notice, like, notice what’s happening with your breathing right now? Like, you know, it’s kind of you know, so we will always redirect back to the body and what’s happening there now is that is where the trauma is Yeah. When we come back.
Adam Baruh 47:38
Seth will share how we can continue our nervous system Healing Within our work and professional lives. Stay with us. I’m Adam Baruh. And you’re listening to the change from ei Q media.
Check out our newest podcast how I made it through now available from EIQ Media and hosted by Kristen Taylor.
Kristin Taylor 48:20
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Adam Baruh 49:50
Welcome back to the change. I’m Adam Baruh. We were discussing how trauma is not in the event itself, but rather in our inability of the nervous system to function optimal And he’ll often carrying this healing into our professional lives can be a considerable challenge. So I want to switch gears entirely here for a bit and focus on how all of what we’ve discussed impacts us in the workplace. I talked quite a bit on the show about my other career, which is leading a consulting agency and how the consulting industry in general such a prime environment for burnout, anxiety and stress, and I read this video series, she says how trauma is sometimes not based on a singular event, but the repeated and chronic activation of the nervous system. And when I when I heard her say that I immediately recognized how true this I mean, while I experienced traumatic events in my childhood, I think my issues with chronic stress and anxiety have more profoundly been the result of living every day, in a heightened dysregulated state. So what’s at play within the nervous system here?
Seth Lyon 50:51
Mm hmm. To really explain that we got to rewind a bit, to to early life because here’s the thing, a human being who has good regulation and solid attachment early on proper attunement with their parents, real security and safety, they will have a lot more resiliency to deal with day to day stressors, deadlines, that kind of stuff. Often, also, they will end up in a job that is more in alignment with their actual purpose and true sort of self interesting. So it may not even be as stressful, but I mean, we’re not going to get out of experiencing stress, like that is part of life. So if you’re set up for it, if you’re set up to succeed, you can very often handle that without trauma. But what the thing is, is most of us are not set up to succeed. And that is because of the reality of the existing society very often. So even if you know a baby has parents that love them. And they’re not abusive, you know that it’s not a mean household, the parents like each other. But they’re always busy, you can always go go go, yeah, baby gets put into daycare at three months. Boom, there it is, you got early developmental trauma, because and that’s because of what the nervous system requires. We don’t come in fully cooked, so to speak. Yeah, we have this system called the ventral vagal system, the ventral vagal system is what enables us to find safety and connection with humans. And that is something that is not myelinated. At birth, this is from the work of Steven Porges. And the polyvagal theory. When we come in this ventral vagal system, it gets myelinated and tuned through the process of connection with a primary caregiver. And that takes about three years to really set it up solidly, okay, where mom is not stressed. Or if it’s Dad, dad is not stressed, there needs to be at least one, one parent can be working like crazy, but there needs to be one that is not. And their primary job is connection. And building that security and that safety. Like if you think about a mom with a baby nursing, and the way they’re looking at each other, and how the baby will make a facial expression. And the Mama will sort of copy it and oh, and yeah, and that’s how a human being learns to find safety and connection with another human being to read facial cues to get regulation. And dat like having the system calm and soothe through social connection. Most of us didn’t really get that enough, most of us had parents that were really stressed and go, go go. So what happens is a tendency for that little human system to again, start to use that freeze response. In a clever way it kind of senses physiologically I’m not getting what I need to develop properly. And that is interpreted as a survival threat. You know, and it’s subtle, but it’s still there. And that ends up with what we call functional freeze. And this is probably the most common representation of unresolved trauma that we see where there isn’t any obvious big symptoms, there isn’t a lot of anxiety or depression necessarily no big problems. We’re just a little numbed out, we’re maybe a little checked out. Or maybe we have the ability actually to perform at a really high level as an athlete, as a CEO, as a businessman, because we’re not fully feeling ourselves because we’re not fully feeling our emotions and the impact that our environment and workplaces having on us. So that is the kind of wiring that sets us up to enter into these workplaces where we’re go, go, go, go go, you know, and we’re and then we start to see problems emerge. Because you have this this early wiring that set up the person to be disconnected from their own experience. And then it just piles on and piles on and we’re never coming out of it. So what’s happening there. In terms of you ask what’s happening in the nervous system? Well, there’s a functional freeze that enables a person to manage and then on top of that, or underneath it. There is This slow accumulation of chronic stress where the human system is not coming down, you know, like, we learn to have a drink at the end of the day or, you know, maybe even a yoga class can be a form of management for this kind of activation, even things that are good for us can be a way of managing it, like we learn how to manage it, but we don’t learn how to come out of it. Right? So that’s what’s going on. Is this kind of freeze functional freeze? And then chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is this Go Go Go stay adrenalized achieve, you know, get the coffee throughout the day, all that stuff. Yeah. And then the crash at the end of the day,
Adam Baruh 55:40
I heard you speaking on this very subject on Jessa. Reed’s podcast. And by the way, shout out to Jessa read hope you do well in your recovery. And anyway, you know, you made this statement about the functional phrase, and you were describing CEOs, high functioning CEOs, athletes that kind of live in this functional free state, and I resonate with that 100% I think that’s the world I’ve been kind of living in i I’ve noticed, I’ve had the ability to take a lot more on than most people I’ve just seen around me, are they they’re not able to take that on? Right. And I don’t think it’s a good thing.
Seth Lyon 56:19
It’s ultimately not because what happens eventually. I mean, there’s some people who will stay in that until they get old and die. And that just, you know, they’ll have health problems, they’ll have maybe autoimmune conditions, but they’ll manage it with medication, you know, and, and they’ll sort of get through, you know, but very often what we see happen is that someone who’s been operating in this mode, achieving at a very high level, will have some event, a breakup, a car accident. Damage, if Akin, yeah, pandemic, a global pandemic, maybe that’s what some kind of big event that just, it’s the last straw, the system can’t take it anymore. And there’s a big blow up. And, and it what happens is a collapse, some sort of massive illness, you know, some kind of thing where they just stopped functioning at the same level, physiologically, an illness takes over a nervous breakdown, all of a sudden, there’s debilitating anxiety, or social anxiety, stuff that was never a problem, all of a sudden, is overwhelming the system. Right? And that’s what we see a lot.
Adam Baruh 57:26
Yeah, definitely, I think most of us can share experiences, kind of switching gears a little bit about being in kind of like a crappy job or working for a difficult boss. When we take care of our own healing, we have the choice to leave that situation. Or we can, we could let the worry and the anxiety take over or we can become numb to it. Right? I’d like to quote from one of the articles I read on your your blog site, that maybe reflect on how perhaps these challenging situations are actually opportunities for growth and healing the invitations for growth in healing. By keeping up our practice, in such non ideal situations, we can expand our capacity and enable even deeper healing. So describe for us, if you will, how a simple change in perspective can show us that difficult situations can be an invitation for healing.
Seth Lyon 58:18
Absolutely. So once a person steps into this work, and they start to learn about what’s happening in their physiology, and they start to get a little bit of a handle on it, they start to learn like Oh, I’m in total sympathetic activation, right now I need to go away for a moment and orient to my surroundings and let my parasympathetic come more online. And they once they start to understand how to work with their nervous system, then stressors can become what they’re supposed to be, which are opportunities for growth. You know, that’s, that’s really what we call positive stress, where, you know, it’s, it’s something that pushes the system, but we have the ability, the ability to genuinely meet it, not sort of manage ourselves in the situation, such that we kind of pack it up and muscle through with willpower, we actually, we feel the activation, but we are aware of what’s happening, we stay present, we stay embodied. And that every time we do that, that actually increases the capacity for future stress. But it does take a while to get there. There can also there can often be a collapse and a deconstruction of the self that comes before that’s possible. Right? And that’s important to understand.
Adam Baruh 59:34
Yeah. I have an episode focused on leading with compassion. Can you describe why it’s more important than ever? Given everything that we’ve spoken about today? Why why more managers that practice empathetic leadership, um, you know, is really going to be the key for allowing people to grow and build that capacity.
Seth Lyon 59:55
Absolutely. I mean, I think that it is possible to transform our society. I think that is what’s happening. There is this, like you said earlier, we’re in a time of transformation now where we’re learning more and more about the human system and what it really needs. I think it is possible to create a workplace where those needs are met. But it requires that the CEOs, the bosses, they understand this stuff. They understand, like, my employee isn’t weak willed, you know, this isn’t a, this isn’t a personality defect. This is survival stress in the physiology showing up in this way, this is unresolved trauma, and that, you know, what is more compassionate than that, to understand the suffering of our fellow human beings is the fundamental basis of compassion. So, but we, you know, it’s not just enough to say, Oh, I understand everyone suffers, you really have to understand what’s really happening in the system. And then when you understand that you can respond more appropriately, create more safety in the workplace, you know, maybe create more opportunities for rest, little breaks in the day, you know, it’s okay to take 15 minutes to just go for a walk, you know, create environments that have more plants in them, things that human systems need, you know, that create a better oxygen, more natural light, more fresh air, right, you know, all of these things could, could be transformed. But it does require the, you know, the so called bosses to, to get on board with this stuff. And for also for the employees to understand that it’s something they need. Know, fundamentally,
Adam Baruh 1:01:37
yeah. So finally, finally, one last question for you. On the topic of trauma, there’s a couple more questions I’m going to ask, but on the topic of, well, just everything we’ve spoken about today, um, you know, one of the motivations for this podcast, is this great resignation trend that we’re seeing in the workforce. So what do you think some of the main drivers of this trend are?
Seth Lyon 1:02:00
Well, you know, I was saying earlier how there can be Yeah, like a big thing that sort of spikes the system, and they can’t do it anymore, while in the eye and look at the last two years. So I think what’s happening is that’s happened for a lot of people, and they’re recognizing, you know, what, I can’t keep doing this, I can’t keep living this way. And I think that is part of a large kind of awakening that is going on, right now, here, where people are just starting to recognize, you know, maybe I don’t want to always feel awful. moving more towards authenticity. That’s a tremendous part of healing. You know, when, like I was saying before, our personalities are largely shaped around unresolved trauma. As we heal our trauma, or come to face it, we start to recognize maybe more about what we authentically want. But our authentic desires are, who we authentically are. And I, it sounds like what’s happening is more and more people are starting to wake up to that and realize, well, you know, what, maybe I don’t really want this Yeah, you know, maybe I don’t really need to achieve at this level, and I need all these things. Maybe it’s more important that I have more time with my family and connection with my fellow humans. And that is a trend that I think will and pray will increase because it is exactly what’s needed. I think if we’re going to make it as a species, you know, it’s it’s time to recognize that the way we’ve been living is not sustainable. Yeah. On every level for the planet, and for our own physiology.
Adam Baruh 1:03:35
Absolutely. I’m really encouraged by this trend. I think, I think most of it is coming with this younger generation, which I I love I love that. They’re they’re calling it out finally that, you know, there’s been this way of life, this dedication to career that it comes first. And I feel super encouraged by their, hey, you know, this isn’t going to work out for us anymore. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna change the game now. That’s right. All right. So for people that want to follow you or your wife Irene work, where can they find out more about you both? And also, I’d love to give you the opportunity to talk about the smart body smart mind program.
Seth Lyon 1:04:17
Absolutely. Yeah. So for myself, unfortunately, I can’t I don’t have room to work with anybody. My practice is totally full, and my waitlist is so long that it’s closed. So what people can do, and this is what I recommend, anybody who’s listening to this, and they they’re feeling a little perked up, right, you’re like, oh, this maybe applies to be you know, is to get into Marines online program. So I my wife Irene was in private practice as well. And she realized after a couple of years, there’s no way to meet the demand. There are not enough of us skilled practitioners to meet the demand. And she felt like she couldn’t help enough people. doing one on one work. And so she’s also a visionary and an entrepreneur. And, you know, a high power businesswoman in her own right. Thankfully, you know, she’s she had her own functional fee she had to work through in her own trauma work, you know, in creating this kind of online world of trauma healing resources. So, yeah, smart body smart mind is our 12 week intensive program that we run once a year. Okay, it registration opens up in spring. So it’ll start in March, okay. And registration, I believe opens up like around mid February. And this is, you know, if someone really wants to get into this work and and really change their life, then I would say that is the best way to go. It’s not always going to be enough all on its own. Many people start with the online program, and then maybe find a practitioner to work with one on one. But for many people, it is enough, okay. And there’s also a shorter program called the 21 Day Nervous System tune up. That is something someone could do before starting smart body smart mind if they want to, you know, get a taste for the work and the education and the understandings. Without such a, you know, investment, it’s a much lower cost program, and it runs all the time. 20 You know, it’s evergreen, okay, so all that’s on my wife’s website, Irene Lyon calm. Also, definitely check out her YouTube channel, which is a huge resource for hundreds and hundreds of videos of education. And also, there’s some practical neurosensory exercises, we call them ways of working with the physiology. It’s all there, it’s all available. And what I encourage people to understand going into this, it kind of requires a mindset shift from what we’ve been told and taught about how healing works, this isn’t about do this exercise for this symptom, and then everything will be okay, don’t you it’s not about take pill a for problem B. This is about learning about yourself, and fundamentally changing the entire way that you relate to yourself the entire way, and that you relate to others and understand yourself and others, and how you work with your own human system. And like I said, this can lead to a total transformation of the self. If it works, that’s what happens. The person changes on very deep levels. And they experience great healing. And they experience lots of symptom relief. But on the way, you know, there’s a lot of confronting hard stuff, and a person has to understand that it’s not, you know, just mindfulness work, or repeat this mantra, or retrain your brain, it’s get into the get into the basement, you know, get into the stuff that your system has been holding often for decades. So if someone wants to get into that, that’s the best way go to her site. You know, check out the 21 day tune up. If you resonate with this, join us for smart body smart mind in the spring. And please, yeah, just start, start in some way. Also, you can go to my website, if you just want to read my articles, I’ve got a bunch of articles there. I’ve got you know, like I said, I also do sound healing. So I’ve got a sound healing album that you can link to from my website, if you want to use some of those kinds of resources. But yeah, the really the meat and potatoes of this work is to get into one of Iran’s online programs.
Adam Baruh 1:08:27
Incredible. Well, Seth, it’s been such a pleasure to speak to you today. Thank you for doing the work that you do to help people in their own healing. And thank you so much for being a guest today on the show,
Seth Lyon 1:08:36
Very happy to Adam, really it’s been a pleasure to speak with you.