(And why this can help you heal your pain)
May 22, 2018
What if you could have a conversation with your body? What if you could learn to talk to it, and it, to you? As if your body had its own language, and its own way of telling you what was important to pay attention too, and how to decrease your pain? Well, this language does exist, and is centered around your awareness and your body sensations…though it can be a little bit of a learning curve to get in touch with your body’s voice.
What do you think of when you read the words “body sensations?” Something scandalous and sexy? Or something boring? Or esoteric? I can assure you, it isn’t really any of those. Body sensation is the foundation of the growing field of Somatic Therapy (from the latin soma, which means “of the body.”) It simply means becoming more self-aware of what you feel physicaly, emotionally, and energetically through a very real and documented process called interoception.
Ever heard of proprioception? Yup, this is in the same family. Basically our nervous systems are designed to send a heck of a lot of information UP to the brain….we just are really good at not listening to a lot of it. More on interoception in a future post, you’ll see why (it’s a bit of a big topic haha). So why is it important to take the time, energy, and effort to learn how to listen to your body and track the changes in sensations? Well…basically because it lays the groundwork for your healing, and to your personal growth. Big statement I know, but stick with me here.
And why can I say all this anyway? Well. Because I’ve been in a deep, dark hole of depression after struggling with mystery “psycho-somatic” pain. The kind the doctor’s scratch their heads over. Or the kind they say is all in MY head. I’ve had to learn how to navigate the minefields of anxiety while moving through chronic knee and foot pain. I’ve tried an absolute ton of therapies out there. From the straight forward, meat and potatoes type chiropractor straight through to the out in the stars, birth chart reading astrologer.
And I can say, without a doubt, that one of the key aspects of my healing was learning to be in touch with and to work with my body sensations…to learn to reconnect and have a dialogue with my body. I was already what some would call an empathic person, so I thought I was relatively in tune with my body. HA was there some learning to come for me.
It’s one thing to feel your body and another be in tune with it…I had to learn that I was previously just drowning out the majority of my body sensations by overwhelming my senses with TV, (overloaded) work and study schedule, alcohol, overdoing intense exercise, getting lost in click holes on the interwebs, you get the idea…I was unconsciouly doing whatever I could to keep myself out of my body, because it just wasn’t a comfortable place to live in, so I’d overwhelm my senses in some way and all was right with the world (or not). I was suddenly forced to learn to interact with sensations in a a new and healthy way when I landed in hospital with these mystery pain and weakness. SO, I can highly recommend learning to get in touch with your body as a valuable tool, heck it’s not a tool it’s about deepening a relatuiosnhip with the earth suit we all wear. You can learn this, and it can even be fun to figure out what your body is trying to tell you.
On a very practical level, learning to be more in touch with what you feel, think, and experience allows you to pick up on your stress signals sooner. This gives you a choice about what to do in that situation. Instead of being in a meeting and missing that your body is saying, “aakkk this is too much!!! I’m stressed and overloaded and need to escape.” And later maybe wondering why you have such a wicked migraine. An alternative option could’ve been to head for a bathroom break (to escape…literally) and calm your nervous system using specific practices and tools you’ve already learned…then to create a space and opportunity that evening to dive in and process what went on and what sent your body into haywire mode.
Learning to be more in tune with your body also helps you learn what areas to focus on for healing. To help you learn to release tension and relax deeply after a busy day. To help you reduce your pain. The list goes on and on.
On a more energetic level, connecting and being with your body sensations helps to increase your intuitive abilities, your energetic sense of boundaries and empathic abilities, the sensations of expansion and stillness, and different states of consciousness, such as relaxed and meditative through to being active and “in the zone.” Listening to your body becomes a direct window to listening to your emotions, and on a deeper level, to your soul.
One thing your body likely tells you (reasonably often) is to slow down. To take pauses. To take a rest. Our nervous systems loooooove to take breaks. There is only so much our brains can process in a given moment before we just plain get overloaded. And this overload creates stress and tension in our systems.
Anyone remember that “I Love Lucy” clip where she’s at a chocolate factory? She has to wrap each chocolate as it comes on a conveyor belt. Our brain has to do the same thing with information, it has to process it in some way. At first it’s slow and easy, one chocolate at a time to wrap, no worries. And then the speed of the conveyor belt increases bit by bit, until Lucy is madly stuffing the chocolates in her mouth and her dress and wherever she can to keep things contained!!
Again, we often do this as well…when things get busy we tend to keep stuffing it in, until one day, something cracks…(been there).
Basically, we need some time to process and integrate what we’ve seen, heard, or experienced in some way. Everyday. The constant barrage on our senses really is a bit too much at times, and we just need a little reset to take the edge off.
Let’s practice! Here’s a body-based centering tool to calm your nervous system and activate your vagus nerve
So, you got 60 seconds, and want to learn a little way to calm your mind and body? This is easy, quick, and short. And you can do it anytime. (Full credit to the wonderful Peter Levine for this exercise that I’ve adapted.)
1) Sitting or lying down, gently notice the contact you have with the ground (whether that’s your butt in the chair, your feet on the floor, or where your back and legs contact your bed if you’re lying down). Notice how your are feeling in this moment in general. Just a quick snapshot. Tired, stressed, relaxed, happy, sad…whatever first pops into your mind.
2) Place one had gently on your chest. Pause and breathe naturally.
3) Place your other hand over your belly. Pause and breathe naturally.
4) Just be curious and notice. How do you feel? What is changing right now? Bring in the idea of slowing down. Hang out here for half a minute or so.
How do you feel? Here’s some ideas of what to watch for: Has your breathing changed since you started this? Any spontaneous deep inhales or exhales, or did your breathing slow down? Did your shoulder’s drop? Do you feel a sense of connection or energy flow between your hands? What about tingling, warmth, heat, coolness? What about if you’re thinking, “I have no idea, I don’t feel any different?” Huge key word here is to be gentle, if you haven’t noticed anything, that’s ok. This is kind’ve like exercising a muscle, it’ll get stronger with practice!
Or on the flipside, did you feel more anxious or muscle tension increasing? Sometimes it can be a little challenging to sit for just a few moments without anything else going on, and that’s ok for it to be a bit hard at the start. It does get easier. We are literally evolved/designed (pick what works for ya there) to be deeply in touch with our bodies, though it can be a little tricky renegotiate this relationship if we haven’t done this for awhile.
It can be like developing a whole different radar system, so not to worry at all if you didn’t pick anything up, or if you didn’t think it was very “important.” Your nervous system still thanks you for taking a few moments to pause. And center. Give this a try a few times a day this week and notice what you feel. Just hold that feeling of curiousity for what you notice and wonder and you’ll be on your way to reconnecting more deeply with your body.
Much love and gratitude to you for trying something new,