The Ebb and Flow of the HPA-Axis

“The Ebb and Flow of the HPA(hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal)-axis,” is a contemporary, long durational art piece I performed at the 2013 Toronto Nuit Blanche portraying two sides of the most prominent physiological responses of the human body in regards to mental unrest in Western culture. The HPA-axis is a communication system starting at the brain, circulating to the kidneys, to then elicit physiological responses which puts the body into a state of stress and vigilance. This response is key for survival when activated in short bouts when necessary, but is however the root of a plethora of illness when switched on chronically. These illnesses include anxiety, stress, epileptic, and depressive disorders.

The right side of my mat represented a hyperactive HPA-axis; as I danced over to that side, my poses would portray pain, suffering, noise, and inner turmoil. To further illustrate this point, I progressively wrote descriptive words with charcoal on the sidewalk. On the right, I wrote phrases such as, “AMYGDALA,” “GLUCOCORTICOIDS,” and “FEAR.” On the other hand, the left side of my mat represented a balanced HPA-axis; as I danced over to that side, my poses would be meditative and peaceful, representing safety processing enamored by yogic practices. Here, I’d write phrases such as; “GAMMA-AMINOBUTRYIC ACID,” “PEACE,” and “VAGUS NERVES.”

The cut up triangular papers in front are copies of a research article by Chris Streeter and colleagues titled “effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder”—the source of inspiration for this piece.