The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Listening to Your Body

 To listen to your body and respect how it feels is a powerful act of self-love.
-Sonia Choquette

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Your body is the vehicle for your soul’s expression, the map of your inner landscape and a guide for navigating your journey through life. Listening to your body is key to reading your map and hearing your guide.  By bringing awareness to your sensations and feelings the map of your inner landscape gets revealed. 
 
Like most of us, you probably have certain places in your body where you tend to tighten in response to stress. Identifying where these places are, is a simple way to read your map.

Habitually constricting these muscles or stiffening your joints can cause your body to ache. The aches and pains you feel are your body’s way of alerting you that attention and care are needed.

If your back hurts from constantly pushing and pressing onward, you may need to ease up and rest. If you clench your jaw to suppress verbal and emotional expression you may need to find ways to safely express yourself.  If you have become frozen in fear, physical and emotional warmth can help melt the frozen places.
                                                   
By listening to your body you can also locate your strengths and resiliencies.  You have navigated life thus far. You have resources; a strong backbone, clear vision, or a knowing gut are some likely possibilities.  Determining your resources will help you to draw upon them.
                                                             
As you turn your attention inward you can soften the blocks of tension, build upon your strengths and get more comfortable in your own skin.  Each listening experience becomes an exploration to discover something new about you. The discoveries are limitless. This is how the gift of listening keeps on giving.
 
To help you listen to your body, I have outlined an eight-step process. Read through the steps. Then find a quiet place to sit, locate the place in your body where you often feel stress and move through the steps.  Then locate a place in your body that you rely on and move through the steps again. Close your eyes as you listen.  Doing so will help you to focus. 

You can use this process for any area of your body. A regular practice of listening will help you to foster a better relationship with your body and your Self. Here are the eight steps:

  1. Be Curious-The word ‘curious’ comes from the same root word as ‘cure’ meaning to care for and pay attention to.  Being genuinely curious instead of judgmental (e.g., “What’s wrong with me?”) promotes a caring relationship with your body and your being.  As you listen to your body with care and curiosity (e.g., “What are you trying to tell me?”) you open the door to not only knowing your physical self, but also your emotional, mental and spiritual self.
  2. Notice-The body has a language of its own. Your body "speaks" through sensations and feelings that are both painful and pleasurable. It is important to notice both.  Pain, whether physical or emotional, is your body’s alarm to care for yourself. Discomfort may be a signal to leave a harmful situation. While pleasurable feelings, such as joy, comfort and ease indicate what to move toward.
  3. Touch-Gently contact the place in your body that is calling to you.  Touch focuses your attention and heightens your awareness. If you cannot reach the place that is calling to you, imagine placing your hand there. Touch is a form of communication.  Through touch you can communicate care, support, love, reassurance, etc.  As you contact a place in your body say, “I am listening to you.”
  4. Describe-Using your senses describe what you are experiencing.  Does this place feel heavy, tight, hard, soft, warm, compressed, etc.?  Expand on the sensation by using a simile. Here are two examples: “The heaviness across my chest feels like a steel plate pressing down on me.” or “The warmth in my hip feels like a ray of sunshine.”
  5. Give Your Body a Voice-Imagine that this place could speak.  What message does it have for you? Let this place speak in the first person.  In Step 4 the chest might say, “I can’t breathe.” or “Get off me.”
  6. Allow-Allow any feelings to emerge.  E-motion is energy in motion, like a river it needs to flow.  Use your breath to support the flow. When you continually suppress an emotion, it can show up as an ache, pain or tension in the body.  For example, someone suppressing tears may experience a "lump" in the throat.  If your emotions feel too intense, you may need to consider working with a Synergist, therapist or counselor.
  7. Ask-Your body know what it needs. Ask the place you are listening to what it needs. Visualization is a powerful technique. Imagine providing your body with what it needs. Using the example of the chest in Step 4 you could image a crane lifting off the steel plate and the feeling of relief it brings.
  8. Appreciate Your Body’s Wisdom-The body speaks the truth, it does not lie.  We can easily disregard, discount and/or diminish our experience. Appreciate your body for the wisdom it has given you. Be gentle and kind to yourself.

 
 


 

Healing Our Invisible Wounds

Last week I spoke with a friend who is struggling with an impending divorce. Several months ago, her husband moved out of their home. He was unhappy. He blamed her.

My friend, an emotionally intelligent woman, described the sense of helplessness she felt as she watched their marriage fall apart.  From her perspective, their relationship has the potential to be repaired.  She sees the pain her soon-to-be ex-husband is in and senses that old emotional wounds were activated in their relationship.  They tried couples counseling, but his focus was always on what she did or did not do. He was unwilling to look inside himself.  It was easier to put the onus on her and then walk away.

I do not know any of the specifics of their relationship. I have never met my friend’s husband. I have only heard her side of the story. For the purposes of my post, the details do not matter.  Listening to my friend, I sensed the emotional pain they were both grappling with. The kind of pain that all of us have experienced in some form. It is part of being human.  What matters is how we deal with our emotional pain.

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During our conversation my friend acknowledged that helplessness was a familiar childhood feeling. A “familiar”  feeling is generally indicative of a feeling we experienced or continue to experience in our families. Both words come from the same Latin origin, familia, meaning household and family. A painful familiar feeling is often an indicator of an invisible wound. 

We all have these wounds to a greater or lesser degree. Unlike physical wounds, which are taken care of soon after an injury, emotional wounds are often left unattended and can fester for years. When our “buttons are getting pushed”, we are feeling these wounds.

How we respond to these painful familiar feelings determines whether they can heal.  If we blame others, the person we blame becomes the focus of our pain and draws attention outside of ourselves rather than inside. Of course, if we repeatedly feel hurt by someone, the hurt may be a signal to leave the relationship. If we have learned to ignore or suppress the pain, the wound can become compounded with the totality of all our hurts. We may find our buttons get pushed more easily and frequently.

The way to heal any wound is to care for it. To so do, we first need to locate it. Physical wounds are more obvious. If we fall and scrap our knees, we can see the injury. We wash it, maybe coat it with antibacterial ointment and put a bandage on it.  If our child scraps his knee we might kiss it to make him feel better.

Although we cannot see a scrape or a cut when we feel emotionally wounded, there are physical sensations that accompany the hurt feeling. The hurt might feel like a punch in the gut, a stab in the back or heartbreak. When we listen to our bodies, we can locate these invisible wounds and give them the care they need.

Based on this knowing, I suggested to my friend to locate and tend to her familiar feeling of helplessness in her body. I further suggested that she image “the helpless child” there and have her adult Self talk to and care for her child Self. Upon hearing this suggestion, tears welled up in her eyes. She said, “I can do this.”  I sensed her relief and a greater sense of empowerment.

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Responding to our hurts is an area where we do have power.  Our ability to respond is an act of self-love. Love heals.  The ability to respond with kindness and curiosity is also a skill that requires practice, especially if our default is to lash out or dismiss our hurt.

When was the last time your buttons got pushed? As you remember this experience notice where "the button” is in your body. Gently place your hand on it. Give this place your attention. Stay with it and feel into it.  Sense what wound lives here. Ask this place what it needs to heal. Imagine and consider how you could give this place what it needs.

Sometimes the pain feels overwhelming, too much to manage alone. If this is the case, reach out to a trusted friend, a family member or a professional to seek the help you need.

 

Permission to Rest

I recently watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning that told the story of actress, Meg Ryan. Best known for her 1990s romantic comedy films, Ryan has returned to the big screen after a long hiatus.  Not only is she acting again, this year Ryan is making her directorial debut. 

In an interview with Jane Pauley, Ryan spoke about how she began to turn down film roles after her numerous box office successes. Instead of working, she traveled, adopted a little girl from China and spent the last ten years enjoying motherhood.

As she continued to talk about her time away from Hollywood she said, “And I think sometimes as an artist, for me anyway, I felt a real desire to do nothing, to lay sort of fallow, like a field, you know? And do other things and meet other people and have the terms of life be different than the terms of Hollywood life.

Ryan’s words struck a chord.  Listening to her, I realized that for some time I, too, have been lying fallow. I haven’t stopped working, but I curtailed the volunteer activities that I had been engaged in for many years.  I was burnt out, needed rest and wanted time to write a book. With less demands on my time and energy, I have shifted into a gentler, kinder way of life. I call it, “living in the rhythm of easy elegance.”

I discovered this expression years ago when I was creating a vision board.  In the process of gathering images and words for the board, the phrase jumped off the magazine page.  The words beautifully captured the feeling I wanted to embody. It’s taken me a while, along with some aches and pains caused by too much labor, but I have finally give birth to a life of  greater ease and flow.

For years I felt driven by an invisible taskmaster always pushing me to do more. The tension in my back and jaw is memorable. By listening to my body and doing less the tension has fallen away. I'm no longer rushing from one place to the next.  I am at peace, and content. 

The phrase "lying fallow" is a farming term.  It is the process of leaving a plowed field unseeded, so that it can regain fertility for the next crop.  In the Book of Exodus God commands, “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused.” Also in Exodus is the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”

The word “sabbath” means to rest.  In our 24/7 culture, which emphasizes doing, producing and achieving, rest is not always valued and given its due.  We are overworked.  We pump our bodies with sugar and caffeine to keep going and are left wired and weary.

We are not designed to move under constant pressure at breakneck speeds. When we do our bodies ache. Our muscles tense.  These sensations are the body's way of signaling us to take care. These signals  tell us we need to restore; body, mind and soul. We know that to build a muscle we must alternate between working and resting it.  Meg Ryan took a break from acting and grew into a director. This is how growth occurs.

A few days before I heard Meg Ryan tell her story, Karen Parker, a teacher of Human Design, offered me some wise words that I want to share with you.  She said, “Trust that you are supported even when you are resting.”  Her words and Ryan’s have helped me appreciate the need for rest.

In the short time since I acknowledged that I’ve been lying fallow, I felt a surge of energy.  I was inspired to write this blog post. And I finally wrote the outline for my book. I realized that not only has it been okay to lie fallow, it's necessary for the creative process.

Sometimes we just need permission to rest.  So give yourself permission, if you can't, I will.  I invite you to check in with your body. Notice if  you are running on empty?  If so, ask your body what it needs to refuel?

Consider some quiet moments alone, take a load off your feet, breathe and reap the benefits.  In the spirit of Nike, be victorious and “Just do nothing!”

How Suffering Becomes a Thing of Beauty

My husband, Peter, and I recently returned from a two-week vacation in Spain to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I think we walked a hundred miles, saw a hundred churches and ate a thousand tapas. Luckily the walking we did each day, which Peter jokingly called, “the five-mile death march”, counteracted all the food we ate.  Surprisingly, we each lost two pounds!

One of the highlights of our trip was an “Origins of Flamenco” tour in the city of Madrid. Our tour guide, Tatiana was passionate, warm and funny as she explained how flamenco developed in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. “It’s like a delicious soup.” she said. “It is made from many rich cultural ingredients.” 

There are four elements that create flamenco: song, dance, guitar and the Jaleo, which means “hell raising” and involves handclapping, foot stomping, and shouts of encouragement. These elements were shaped over time by the Moors, the Jews and then the gypsies who came to Andalusia in 1425. The gypsies brought the Romany culture, which was also influenced by Indian song and dance.  These cultures lived together in harmony for many years, until they were persecuted by  the Spanish Inquisition.

The songs are stories that are both Andalusian and gypsy. The flamenco style of singing is believed to have Jewish roots and  is described in Spanish as quejío, which means complaining. This makes so much sense when we understand the intense persecution that each of these groups faced.

 

Emotional Expression Transforms Pain.

Listening to the flamenco sing I did not fully comprehend the Spanish words, but I felt the raw emotions of suffering and grief, which at times sounded like wailing. The dancers embodied an intensity and depth of feeling in movements that were both graceful and sharp. They were fully entranced, immersed in their expression. As I watched I suddenly realized that I was witnessing the  profound transformation of  emotional pain into something exquisitely beautiful.

Like the flamenco we, too, need to tell our stories. It is essential that we allow the emotions connected to our stories to move through our bodiesWhat was evident in watching the flamenco was the energy and power that I could see and feel through their emotional expression.  Their passion was visceral.

Reconnecting to Our Emotional Nature

Our emotions are a natural expression of who we are. They provide us with necessary information and guidance, but often we are told directly or indirectly that it is not okay to express them.  Or it is okay to express some and not others.  Inhibiting the flow of emotion requires a lot of energy. Over time this can make us feel  disconnected and numb. Blocked emotional energy can even cause physical pain. 

When we are disconnected from our emotions we are disconnected from a vital part of ourselves. By paying attention to our bodies’ sensations and feelings we can become aware of the emotional energy held in our bodies and begin the process of reconnecting to it.

Awareness Exercise

In your daily life begin to notice how your body constricts when certain emotions show up.   You may grit your teeth, hold your breath or clench your fists. These are just some of the ways that emotional energy can be blocked.  When you become aware  that  your body is tightening  sense where you feel the emotion being held.  It will feel like a sensation rather than a movement when it is being contained. Identify what emotion is held in your body. Mad, sad, glad and scared are the basic four. Imagine what this energy looks like in your body. How does it impact you ? Ask what it needs to move through you.

You may need outside support to aid in this process. If the emotion  has been restricted for a long time, it may not be easy to let it flow.  Be gentle with yourself. If you need help contact a Synergist or other professional who uses a body-centered approach.

As you listen to your body you open the door to connecting to the full range of emotions that you are designed to have.  Emotions are messages.  At times your emotions may make you to feel like a mess, yet they bring forth the sage, the wise one. They show up to let you know that some aspect of your life needs attention.  If you are feeling sorrow you may need to grieve a loss. If it is anger you may need to set some boundaries or acknowledge that you have been misunderstood.  If joy is showing up you will know what gives you pleasure.

Get to know your emotions. Notice how each one feels in your body. Give them breathing space.  

And let them inform and transform your life into something more beautiful.

The Healing Power of Touch

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Touch is one of the core foundations of my work. Through gentle touch, talk, movement and imagery I assist my clients in entering into an intimate relationships with their bodies.  The forming of this relationship involves tuning in and listening to the body’s sensations and feelings with curiosity, kindness and respect. Touch is essential for fostering this relationship.

Why touch? Touch heightens our awareness of sensation and feeling. With awareness we can describe our sensory experience.   This process gives us a picture, or more accurately a map, of our body’s landscape.  The map informs us  about the conditions of our ground, the depressions and peaks, the places of flow and where we have been dammed.  It provides the route for finding our way home to our true selves.

Through touch we can sense and understand how the environment has impacted us.  If our environment has been unsafe, or stressful our bodies may likely be constricted, hard  or numb.  Like an icy cold wind freezing a pond we can identify the cause of the freeze instead of blaming ourselves.  With touch we can melt the frozen places.

The exploration of our physical terrain through touch provides a gateway to our innermost landscape of emotions, beliefs and connection to the soul.  It helps us to recognize, access and shore up internal resources.  Listening to our bodies can help us  identify and heal wounds caused by the harsher elements in our environment.  Like a soothing balm compassionate touch can comfort these injuries and aid in the restoration of our wholeness.

In the listening process our bodies tell the stories of our lives. I call these stories, “Bodyographies”. These stories help us to make sense of who we are.  By writing bodyographies I hope to convey the profound truth that lives in our bodies, how we can access this truth and how we can heal by knowing it.

Bodyography: A New Kind of Hip

From my second story window I watched my new client limp as she approached my door.  After welcoming her we sat and discussed why she had come to see me.  She talked about the pain in her hip.  After further discussion I invited her to lay down on my padded table.  I gave her time to settle and sense her body making contact with it.

My first touch was at her feet. I gently invited a side-to-side motion to see how much movement there was in her hips. There was  little movement. I sensed how tightly held her hips were.  I moved towards the painful one.  I slid one hand under her buttock, supported her hip and placed my other hand on top gently sandwiching  it.

I was amazed how my contact evoked such an immediate response.  I noticed that the color in her face had changed and sensed emotion rising to the surface.  She said she was wanted to disconnect from me and avoid the feeling she was having.  By articulating her experience she was able to stay connected. “It feels like love.” She began sobbing and continued saying, “I haven’t felt this before.”  Her grief was palpable.

When her tears subsided she talked about her mother. Although she didn’t say it, I sensed the lack of love she felt was connected to her. She shared that her mother cannot walk.  Then added, “I’m afraid I’m like my mother.” 

This phrase echoed inside of me.  In her tone I heard that not only had she feared losing her ability to walk, but that she also feared being like her mother in other ways. Ways she did not like.

I realized she needed to differentiate from her mother.  With my hands still on her hip, I directed her to say, “I’m not my mother”.   I had her repeat this three times as I slid my hands down her leg and out through her foot. Her hip easily opened to the point that her calf freely hung over the edge of the table.   Relieved she said, “I’ve been living with this fear for 60 years.”

She marveled as she came to standing and said, “I feel like I have a new hip.  I FEEL NEW.”

Walking around the table she reflected upon what she had experienced.  Her hip  brought her to a new undertanding about her relationship with her mother.  With clarity she said, "I feel a connection  with my mother when I am sad, but I can't be happy and feel loved." 

Our primary relationships shape how we relate to ourselves and others.  Through touch the dynamics of my client's relationship with her mother became clear.  Through touch the pairing of  love  and connection  had begun.  Through touch my client became aware of the cost she has to pay to for this relationship.  Through touch my client awakened to the possibility of  being happy.

What place in your body needs love, attention and care?   Gently place your hand there.  Describe what you sense and feel.  Imagine that this place could speak.  What would it say to you?  With intention visualize sending this place love. Notice what changes.