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physiology not psychology

“It Ain’t Psychology; It’s Only Physiology!”

During my last semester of undergraduate studies in a graduate seminar on the mind-body connection, I found myself questioning the practical relevance of the topic. It seemed like an academic exercise without real-world implications. Yet, two years later, my perspective shifted dramatically after I was introduced to Rolfing in Boulder, Colorado by a roommate who had left a career in law to study this profound practice.

Developed by Ida Rolf, Ph.D., Rolfing is a soft tissue manipulation technique designed to realign the body with gravity by releasing chronic tension. Ida loved saying, “It ain’t psychology; it’s only physiology!”

After completing ten sessions, I not only lost twenty pounds of tension (not fat) and grew an inch taller, but I also experienced a significant emotional transformation, shedding layers of chronic emotional repression. This journey profoundly illustrated the direct impact our physiology has on our emotional health.

Fast forward to my years in Boulder studying Rolfing, somatic psychotherapy, and trauma work with pioneers in these fields. This period transformed me from a skeptic into an advocate for the body-mind interface. I was astonished daily by how chronic physical and emotional issues were resolved by addressing physical tension. Hans Selye, MD, the stress research pioneer, and the teachings of Ida Rolf, Ph.D. both called fascia — the connective tissue that holds us together  — the “organ of stress” and provided a scientific backbone to these observations.

The lesson was clear: experiences that are not fully processed emotionally can convert into physical tension, affecting our entire being. This aligns with the newer scientific understanding that our physiological responses shape our emotional experiences and cognitive perceptions, challenging the traditional view that our minds control our emotions independently of our bodies.

Stephen Porges’ Ph.D., Polyvagal Theory further expanded this understanding by introducing the concept of the freeze response — a survival mechanism beyond the typical fight or flight response — which involves disassociating from our body, emotions, and the present moment. When we do not have the opportunity to reset our nervous system as animals do in nature, this natural response can, unfortunately, lead to prolonged states akin to PTSD.

Over the past thirty years, through leading men’s groups and training programs, I have seen how applying this physiological model can re-teach us to use our innate body wisdom for transformational and sustainable change. Embracing our physiological responses as primary —  rather than secondary to our cognitive processes — allows us to genuinely connect with and release past incomplete experiences.

I encourage each of you to embrace experiences that safely reconnect you with your body. Whether through a yoga class, a massage, or a men’s training oriented around physiological perspectives, the potential for transformation is significant. We have even shared these methods with global corporations such as Google, highlighting their broad applicability and profound impact.

Invest in your emotional and physical health. Start by committing to a new physiology-based experience within the next week. Your journey could be profoundly life-changing, as many have found. As we have learned, sometimes, it isn’t just psychology; it’s all about our physiology.