Stephen Elliott                  COHERENCE           Stephen Michael Hawley   About The Six Bridges 

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Feb 25th , 2010:

The Six Bridges is the "progressive relaxation" method of Coherent Breathing. When we combine the practice of Coherent Breathing with the practice of the Six Bridges, muscles throughout the body gradually relax including those of the spine and the vascular system. Blood flow throughout the body increases, knots in the muscles gradually disappear, "granthis" in the nervous system are unraveled. The body moves more freely, the mind is relieved of hindrances. When Coherent Breathing and the Six Bridges are combined with the practice of yoga, yoga takes on a broad new dimension.

There are a number of therapeutic effects at work in the recording: a) Stephen Hawley's narration employing subtle NLP techniques, b) the music, which employs a certain disharmonic quality known to facilitate relaxation and relieve pain, c) conscious relaxation of "bridges", and of course, d) simultaneous Coherent Breathing. Many people find it very difficult to stay awake through the entire exercise, but with practice, staying awake is no longer difficult.

There are 11 anatomical zones of the body that possess the unique attribute of being explicitly controlled by both autonomic (subconscious) and somatic (conscious) nervous systems. We refer to these 10 points as "bridges". They are the eyes, the jaw, the lips, the tongue, the glottis, the hands, the diaphragm, the anal sphincter, the urethral sphincter, the vaginal sphincter, and the feet. They can be generalized into six: the face, the tongue and throat, the hands, the diaphrgam, the perineum, and the feet.

There are a few things that bridges share in common. First, they all exhibit explicit "dual control". Second, they all have a clearly defined open and closed state. Third, they play a predominant part in controlling the body's interaction with the external environment. Hence, their "wiring" is extremely ancient and primordial.

Breathing (primarily a function of diaphragm movement) is probably a best example of what we mean by "dual control". When we are not paying attention to our breathing, it continues anyway. However, when we wish, we have a very high degree of control over it, for example, we are able to hold our breath when we go under water, blow out the candles on a birthday cake, whistle a tune, or even more complex feats such as speaking or playing a musical instrument. And of course, if we are inclined, we are able to control our normal breathing to a very fine degree. This fine control of breath is a function of the somatic nervous system, a name given to the aspect of the central nervous system that affords conscious control of the body.

When we are not breathing consciously, breathing continues anyway - unconsciously. Unconscious breathing is a function of the autonomic or "automatic" nervous system. This is the name given to unconscious functioning of the central nervous system. The somatic and autonomic nervous systems are not separate physical systems but are simply names given to conscious vs. automatic control provided by the central nervous system (CNS).

The 11 "bridges" are those muscle groups of the body over which we have both very fine conscious and very fine unconscious control. The fine conscious control we have is primarily a function of use. At infancy, we have little conscious control over the body in general, but as we age and interact with the world, we develop a very fine degree of control, for example, the hands typing on a keyboard as I am doing now as I write this, or the breath playing a musical instrument. And as we know, the hands in particular can become very skilled at doing things. This skill is a function of the neural network that is built and strengthened via use.

Use of the hands results in a widening of the communication channel between the hands and the central nervous system - this is a concept. The same can be said for all of the "bridges", and probably for any body part to a degree, if we were to use it very consciously to do something exacting over a long period of time. As the neural network is reinforced, our awareness of the body aspect grows. Where the hands are concerned, our hands have more feeling. Where the breath is concerned, there is more sensation.

This "channel" is bi-directional, one direction of communication is from CNS to hands, and the other is from hands to CNS. This bidirectionality facilitates real time control of movement.

The Six Bridges takes advantage of this. Here is an example. Please follow along.

1) Place your hands in a comfortable position, perhaps relaxing them on your thighs.

2) Now, close your eyes and sense your hands. Feel them as completely as you can. Sense the outside and the inside. Feel the palms and the back, the skin and the fingernails.

3) Now, with this heightened sense of the hands, inhale and as you exhale, relax them as completely as possible. Inhale, then as you exhale, let them go, "letting all the muscles go from the bone". Try it a few more times. You may wish to employ the mantra "Sah" as you exhale as this heightens the sensation.

What we're really doing when we "let go" is quieting the nervous system associated with the hands, in effect reducing the ambient noise level in the central nervous system associated with the hands. We're using our heightened awareness of them to sense their state of excitation, then we are actively reducing their state of excitation. This is real biofeedback!

With continued practice, the ambient noise in the CNS is reduced. And its not just reduced in the hands, its reduced everywhere in the CNS. All bridges work in this same way, although with varying affect.

Its interesting to note that the hands cannot be relaxed without the arms being relaxed. The same is true of the feet and the legs. And the arms cannot be relaxed unless the face is relaxed. Likewise, the legs cannot be relaxed unless the perineum is relaxed. So, there is a pretty clear nervous system relationship between these points - as one would expect.

Finally, none of the points will relax if the diaphragm is not relaxed and operating within a viable range of motion, where the goal is 40-60% of its range. To understand why, please see this tutorial on Coherent Breathing.


A goal is to become familiar with all of the bridges, such that we are able to monitor and manage their status on an ongoing basis - as their status is an indicator of overall autonomic status. We like to say that "bridges act as knobs and levers that afford us conscious control over what is otherwise subconscious".



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