The preparatory set: a novel approach to understanding stress, trauma, and the bodymind therapies

Vol./ Issue: 
2015, Vol. 9,

A detailed review that elaborates a multi-dimensional concept of Preparatory Set [PS] that includes postural, cognitive, emotional etc aspects and hypotheses that issues associated with stress can best be viewed as chronic or traumatic conditions of the PS.  This would support a view of stress as, for example, involving a "chronic startle response" [not a phrase used in the article]. 

The article hypothesises that disciplines such as the Alexander Technique (mentioned in the article along with Feldenkrais, Rolfing and other practices) could address stress by addressing thesee preparatory sets. The arguments would probably find ready acceptance amongst most Alexander Technique teachers, who might be tempted to regard them as commonplace: but the extensive references and the attention to the finer grain of the concepts involved make this article a useful resource.

The scope of Preparatory Set is well summarised by the authors in the following paragraphs:

The initial orienting phase is unconscious, automatic and controlled by the brain stem reticular formation, especially the caudal areas which mediate generalized cortical and somatic arousal (Sokolov, 1963; Sarter et al., 2003). These rapid and automatic processes are not included in the preparatory response. Bull, in her attitude theory of emotion, also distinguishes between the preparatory response itself and the initial unconscious automatic reflex response (Bull, 1951).

Following this is the preparation for response. We suggest that this is a rapid, largely subcortical response; although it is not fully unconscious it is distinct from the conscious rational appraisal and voluntary decision-making process mediated by the cortical executive networks. It is an integrated readying of the whole organism to take action, and involves simultaneously posture, autonomic activity, affect, attention, and expectation. This phase is our principal focus.