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Feel The Rhythm
Bodily Rhythms and the NLP Practitioner

There are many different rhythms in the body that affect neurological function and many manifestations of behaviour. Knowledge of these will assist the NLP Practitioner with many of their clients and help explain some of the phenomena witnessed with some clients.

Ernest Rossi and David Cheek have written about these extensively in "Mind-Body Therapy" and "The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing."


The rhythms are categorized as follows:

  1. Circadian Rhythms. These occur on a 24 hour cycle, such as the wake-sleep cycle.
  2. Infradian Rhythm. These last longer than a day, such as the menstruation cycle.
  3. Ultradian Rhythms. These are cycles that are shorter than a day, such as the REM cycle of sleep.
  4. Diurnal Rhythms. These occur during the waking day.
  5. Circannual Rhythms. These have a period of about a year, such as the hibernation/activity cycle seen in some animals.

Most people are familiar with their own "body clocks". Some people are able to (unwittingly) set their body clocks with remarkable precision, so that they are able to wake up just a few seconds before their alarm clock goes off in the morning.

Curiously, "In-time" people are less likely to be able to accurately guess the time than "through time" people. Many of us "through-timers" are veterans of being kept waiting for 20 minutes or so by the "in-timers", who waltz in without a care in the world that they are in fact 20 minutes late.

In DHEª Bandler teaches that using the ability to wake up at the appropriate time can be used to 'program in' other desirable responses. As a regular shift worker, on learning this I was pleased to be able to set my 'body clock' so that I could sleep more easily during the day during the periods of night shifts. By a series of negotiations with my unconscious, I learned to be able to sleep continuously through the daytime rather than my previous habit of waking up every hour or so.

I also learned to 'program in' unconscious activities whilst sleeping and my dreams became less chaotic and more informative and sensoramic.

The bodily rhythms demonstrate a cybernetic interaction between the neurology and the endocrine system. Learning to observe the rhythms in other people can assist the practitioner to elicit more successful outcomes for the client. If we learn which activities cause a rise in specific substances, we can match our activities to the specific 'learning type' that is taking place with our clients. John Grinder talks of observing therapists "winning by attrition" instead of getting their clients to actually do things. Anyone familiar with Bandler's style of teaching will have experienced his myriad of "pointless" stories/metaphors that precede any exercise that he gives the group. Unconscious installation can be a curious affair.

The way we work with our clients must extend beyond the ridiculous notion of "holistic care" taught by allopathic medical/nursing schools. The language we use and the contexts that we design can be tailored specifically to the ongoing neurology or even neuropathology of the client. Knowing how to do this is easy; Being able to do this is remarkable. This skill is, I believe, the facet that separates Bandler from many of the other trainers in NLP.

Rossi and Cheek list classical types of memory and learning that become state dependent when modulated by information substances (Mind-Body Therapy p 66-67):

A reversible decrease in the strength of a natural response upon repeatedly administering a stimulus that evokes it.

A temporary enhancement of a natural response by a strong or noxious stimulous that evokes it.
Morphine and endogenous opiates.

Sometimes called programmed learning because it is genetically predisposed to take place at a specific early life period.
ACTH and related peptides; corticosteroids; testosterone.

Classical Conditioning.
Also called Pavlovian or associative conditioning wherein an unconditioned stimulus (meat evokes salivation in dogs) is associated with a conditioned stimulus (bell sound) so that the bell soon evokes saliva.
Endogenous opiates and their analogues; epinephrine and analogues; SCPa, SCPb.

Instrumental Conditioning.
Also called operant or Skinnerian conditioning in which positive or negative reinforcement is used to change the frequency of a behaviour (passive avoidance learning is cited here).
Substance P; angiotensin 2.

Avoidance Learning.
A combination of classical and operant conditioning. A more cognitive type of learning wherein the animal avoids a punishing stimulus.
Vasopressin, oxytocin and related peptides, a-MSH, cholecystokinin (CCK).

Circadian Memory and Learning.
Memory and learning that take place at one time can be better recalled at a similar time of succeeding says.
ACTH and related peptides; endorphins; luteinizing hormone?

Social Learning.
"Avoidance of attack" and social submissiveness in mice in a standard passive avoidance paradigm.
ACTH and corticosterone, VIP, b-endorphin, substance P.

Circadian Rhythms

Bodily functions such as heart rate, metabolic rate, breathing rate and body temperature are affected by circadian rhythms. For example, during sleep these values will drop markedly and will reach maximum values in the late afternoon. Variations in these may account for some people being "owls" and others, "larks".

On arrival in a floatation tank center, I was amazed at how hot the float room was. After an hour in the tank, by body temperature had dropped sufficiently that I was positively frozen by the end of the floatation hour. Neither the room nor the water had dropped in temperature.

The "body clock" is probably located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei, located in the hypothalamus. This area receives information directly from the eyes in response to sunlight/darkness. Damage to this area result in eating, drinking and sleeping to become randomized and without pattern. Hamsters that were given transplants of mutant cells into their suprachiasmatic nuclei adopted the same activity patterns of the mutants.

However, people living above the arctic circle continue their usual sleep/wake cycle during the summer days/nights, suggesting that sleep/wake cycles are not primarily dictated by external cues.

If we reverse our activity patterns, such as during night shift rotation, these values continue on their usual patterns for several days before adjusting. This effect is easily experienced with "jet lag" where all the circadian rhythms will resynchronise at the same rate to the external cues demonstrating time shift.

Hormone release and function also follows a circadian pattern. In women, prolactin levels peak in the middle of the night which might explain why most women appear to give birth during the night.

It is well known that the timing of certain medications will influence their effect, depending on which variable they interact with. So it is not unreasonable to assume that the timing of the activation of response to specific hypnotic suggestions should also be timed appropriately.


Infradian Rhythms

Menstruation, a function of the endocrine system, lasts 28 days. Anecdotal evidence suggests that groups of women living together will synchronise their menstrual cycles. As the lucky guy who lived three years in a nurses accommodation block, I heard this discussed many times, but never heard a report of it being true.

Premenstrual Syndrome, causing irritability, pain, depression, headaches and other symptoms is believed to occur as a result of hormonal changes in the body. The NLP Practitioner might see this as a response to "internal hormonal anchoring". I have had good success with three women reporting severe PMS, each of whom had traumatic/painful/embarrassing experiences around their first menstruation. I hypothesized that these women had anchored this experienced to the hormonal changes that occurred with menstruation. Re-anchoring and future pacing proved totally successful in all three and continued to be successful during the one year follow up.

Various hypothesis exist for PMS and I consider it unlikely that "hormonal anchoring" is an encompassing theory.

The pineal gland, affected by daylight, influences menstruation and the preparation of the ovum. Some studies suggest that daylight levels influence menstruation and ability for conception. This might demonstrate whilst a greater number of children are born in the springtime.

Blind girls generally start menstruation earlier than sighted girls.

Ultradian Rhythms

"Most experienced hypnotherapists intuitively recognize when hypnotic induction is appropriate. Typically, patients enter the therapy hour with a busy thrust of telling their story of "what's going on." After pouring out their problems, there comes a moment of pause when they may turn either inward in self reflection or outward to the therapist in an appeal for an answer. This is the creative moment for an ultradian trance induction."

Rossi and Cheek, "Mind-Body Therapy" p 317.

Ultradian rhythms have been demonstrated in many physiological activities such as eating and drinking, urine excretion and heart rate. Anti-diuretic hormone, the hormone that reduces urine output, increases during the night, thus reducing the frequency of micturition. Some drugs such as Prozacª will interfere with this hormones cycle and some Prozacª users will find for the first time that they regularly need to visit the bathroom during the night.

Another ultradian rhythm, and noted by Rossi, is that of nasal chamber dilation. Like many bodily functions, nasal chamber dilation corresponds to contralateral activity in the brain. When the left nasal chamber is most dilated (the right chamber partially blocked) then the right hemisphere is most active, and vice versa. During my yoga training in India, an advanced yoga practice is the control of nasal breathing and chamber dilation. This is said to bring about great psychological and physiological control. There are several variations of the exercise using the hands to alternate manually blocking of the nasal airways. Adepts appear able to do this at will without using their hands.

Whilst studying Erickson, Rossi noticed that "readiness for trance" coincided with the "rest-phase behaviours of the 90 to 120-minute psychophysiological rhythms of normal everyday life." Rossi's investigation into mind-body healing and the "ultradian healing response" suggests that most "psychobiological rhythms that have been studied experimentally in ultradian researchare modifiable by hypnosis." The difficulty with statements like this comes from the quantification of what is actually meant by "hypnosis".

Diurnal Rhythms

Diurnal rhythms are best demonstrated in the difference between "larks and "owls". From experience other sharing accommodation, some people just don't "do" mornings, whilst others will happily sleep late and be awake late into the evening. As a "morning" person, I learned to adapt - I bought ear plugs!

Horne and Osterburg described two 'diurnal types' - those who go to bed early and awake in the morning feeling alert and those who are most awake in the evening and feel tired in the morning. These differences may be due to differences in the circadian systems and in the differences that psychosocial factors exert between introvert and extrovert personality types. From experience, I share best with introverts and tend to live close to extroverted friends so that I can go to their parties.

Learning is best performed at the person's most active phase of their diurnal rhythm. The timing of client's appointments might be adjusted to suit this. Diurnal rhythms can be overridden by external factors. As a nurse working in the twilight shift of the accident and emergency department, an unexpected and exciting emergency would produce an immediate alertness that would last longer than the time accounted for by adrenaline release.