Recognizing (and Listening to) the Voice of Our Body

Many therapies focus on working with, and listening to, our thinking mind. It is, after all, our control center, our “analyzer,” that part of us that keeps us on schedule and on track. We need it, and in Western cultures especially, we value and reward it. As a result….

Our body often gets left out. We routinely override our physical sensations (as examples, hunger, exhaustion, pain, etc.) because we have a mental agenda. “If I stop to eat, I’ll miss this deadline!” or “I know I’m tired, but I don’t have time to rest!” or “I can feel that pain, but I’ll just keep going!” How is our body registering this override?

How does your body feel just reading those examples??

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It can be helpful to imagine our physical body and our thinking mind as two different people engaged in negotiation. Two different sets of information (“I’m tired!” vs. “We’re going to keep going!”) are simultaneously present. Both inputs are valuable for long-term health and success. But, we often allow the Analyzer to “win.” And as many of us have experienced, a one-sided relationship is inevitably doomed to fail.

If we look at the mind/body relationship as two friends, how long will the “losing” friend (the body) keep acquiescing before it reacts in protest? Depending on individual factors such as personal resiliency or cultural conditioning, this unbalance may continue for a length of time, but it will eventually be addressed. The response to this conflict might range from subconscious objection (ignoring calls or messages from this friend, avoiding places where they may be encountered, refusing to talk about them with other people, etc.,) to an actual out-and-out battle that results in an overt severing of the relationship.

But, obviously, we can’t exist without our body. So at first the body friend might offer a small murmur, a tiny complaint, an “Um, I’m a bit overloaded” sort of message to the mind. Perhaps, for example, this manifests as a inability to sleep. We may not, and probably do not, connect the two—that our body is responding to and actively protesting the constant override. We keep pushing. So, our body may sense the need to use a larger microphone.

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Perhaps we now manifest abdominal pain and cramping, again with seemingly no actual “cause.” As we continue to focus on our mental to-do list, and continue to ignore our physiology, perhaps we develop constant bloating, or chronic constipation, or a stomach ulcer, until we finally are feeling lousy enough that we go to see a health care practitioner. While medical treatment may or not be effective, at least we are now recognizing that our body has a voice, no matter how inconvenient!

In supportive somatic therapy, the body is our focus. We ask the questions, “How may I, right here and right now, support my body? What information is it giving to me, and how might I best offer support to that voice?” As we would with a good friend who is suffering, we pause, and direct our gentle, undivided attention to our physical form, noting the sensation signals being emitted. Supportive exercises can provide sensory feedback that further convey our mind’s desire to be helpful.

We are not hell-bent on changing anything. In fact, we are not focused on change. We do not impose an agenda, or note deficiencies, or judge, or “fix.” We merely tune in and offer unconditional support. We create and hold space for our body and its sensations. We make available the quiet comfort of No Expectations.

Rather than feeling ignored, our body now senses the mind’s interest and cooperation. It takes in the information that it is now Heard. Important. Cherished. Valued. As we signal our body that we are listening to and are respecting its information, we create the potential for a relinquishing of the microphone and a more cooperative, equitable state of mind/body health.

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And what friend wouldn’t appreciate this sort of responsive, caring, balanced connection?


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of stress reduction and trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in English, Japanese, and Korean.

The Four Immeasurables and Trauma

There is a classic prayer in Buddhism called the Four Immeasurables. It is often used as a practice to help practitioners open our hearts, to cultivate the awareness which helps us to understand and treasure our common connection to all beings. The lines are as follows:

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  1. May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

  2. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  3. May all beings never be separated from the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow

  4. May all beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion

I recently received a teaching on these passages from Buddhist scholar and teacher, Choying Khandro, of Dakini’s Whisper, in which she offered a fresh perspective. Instead of merely reciting the lines as a supplication, as though someone else or something else is responsible for creating such conditions, Khandro-la suggests we read each of the lines in three ways:

a) As a prayer

b) As a fact

c) As though I am personally determined to make such a thing happen

For example, let's take the first line: “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” I first read the words as is, sensing them as a plea from my heart to the universe. I feel these words go out, encompassing all beings and all realities, and sit briefly as that energy flows.

Next, I slightly change the wording in order to read it as though it is fact: “All beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” Here, I pause, and really visualize our universe as a place where this is so. What is it like to live in such a world? What energy is present? What details can I see/hear/touch/taste/smell? How do other beings react to experiencing such conditions? I take some time to flesh out as many details as possible, to really make the statement tangible.

Finally, I read the line as a mission statement: “I am determined to ensure that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” With this statement, the abstract becomes concrete. I am now choosing involvement. This simple alteration not only changes the tone of our meditation practice (click here for a great article on the dangers of 'McMindfulness'), but it transforms our mere prayer and visualization into Power. It provides us with a means through which we may resolutely and actively engage with our world.

Those of us who have experienced trauma often feel powerless. Weak. Hopeless. Helpless. We're so accustomed to being ignored, beaten down, dismissed, and/or trodden upon, that we’ve often given up. But this simple shift from prayer statement to personal power statement alters the lens through which we view our circumstances. Armed with our vision created in Step b), our factual statement, we are consciously choosing to reframe our experience of our world. My circumstances, beginning right now, are not something negative being done to me. Instead, I am the fuel of positive change.

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Of course, this is a mental exercise. But it's not so difficult to come up with even one small thing I might be determined to do today to ensure that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. This might mean that I resolve to offer a smile to everyone I encounter that day. Perhaps I take a bag along and pick up trash as I take my daily walk (plogging, anyone?) Maybe I ______________, well, how about you take a shot at filling in the blank?

In the big picture, these seemingly small actions probably won't erase our traumas nor those of the people we have chosen to help that day. But as we heal, as we move from our current “normal” toward our healthier “new normal,” this simple meditation tool can help us transition from passive bystander to active participant, from victim to survivor.

It may not feel easy, vowing to move forward from your heart. But as my Buddhist teachers have often said, “That's why we call it practice!”


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of stress reduction and trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in English, Japanese, and Korean.

A body-based deep relaxation practice


Relaxing the mind through relaxing the body.

This article from Lion’s Roar, an online Buddhist magazine, leads you through a simple three-step meditation process. The practice given is based on Buddha's teaching to not only become aware of our mind, but also the body, “...visiting each part with awareness, acceptance, care, and without judgment.”

This gentle, supportive, exploratory approach to the body is also an integral part of Somatic Experiencing (SE™) and Somatic Touch trauma resolution therapy. Through contacting and simply noticing what is present in our physiology, we begin to heal:

At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of stress reduction and trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.

Transforming the Experience-Based Brain (TEB) -- Healing through Support

It's my month for learning! I just completed my second time through the beginnings of Dr. Steve Terrell's Transforming the Experience-Based Brain (TEB) training, and I'm excited.

With Dr. Steve Terrell, developer of Transforming the Experience-Based Brain (TEB)

With Dr. Steve Terrell, developer of Transforming the Experience-Based Brain (TEB)

TEB is post-advanced training for therapists who work in the field of developmental trauma; that is, trauma which occurred so early in life that we may not have languaging to describe it. Moving beyond “talk therapy,” TEB incorporates touch skills, attachment theory, polyvagal theory, and work with primitive reflexes into a protocol which supports clients as they make their way from their current “normal” to a “new (healthier) normal.”

I've been a client myself and have been using the TEB skills (I use the general term “Somatic Touch”) in my office and on-line practice for the past year. I've been amazed at how quickly I and my clients report feeling less fearful/angry/depressed, and more present, more alive, and more able to easily and freely engage with others. All without much discussion, and often without knowing the original source of the problems!

Developmental trauma, regardless of the source(s), causes ruptures within our natural stages of growth, leading to physical, mental, and emotional illness. With TEB, we learn that these states are understandable and natural, and the gentle, hands-on work creates a stable base from which clients organically repair these disconnects themselves.

If you'd like to learn more about TEB/Somatic Touch and how it may help you thrive, please give me a call at (919) 636-9439, or email me at “anna@bodhisattvabodywork.com.” If you feel ready to make an appointment, please click here.


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.

An additional healing modality--Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP™)

The entire staff of the Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR) in Saitama, Japan with Dr. Raja Selvam

The entire staff of the Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR) in Saitama, Japan with Dr. Raja Selvam

Okay. This will be a little graphic. Vomiting. Diarrhea. Inability to eat and a greenish complexion for a couple of days. And it (thankfully) wasn't the flu. What in the world?!

I just returned from Dr. Raja Selvam's first ever Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP™) training in Japan, and to say I learned a lot is an understatement. But not only that, I also experienced the power of this work.

Dr. Selvam combines his decades as student, psychotherapist, and teacher into his four step method of fully embodying our emotions in order to more quickly and effectively move through trauma into health.

As I worked with my own deeply-held sense of worthlessness, familiar bodily sensations began to morph into unbelievable emotions. With the guidance and support of my therapist, I was able, for perhaps the first time, to access some of the rage I'd been suppressing and to give it a voice.

So, yes, I then experienced the above “healing crisis.” But it passed. And I'm left with a renewed vigor and the beginnings of a new self-definition. (I'm also very grateful not to have all of that suppressed negative energy still housed within my body!)

My extreme reaction was not replicated among the other 60 or so students attending. All, however, were able to locate and expand an emotion, and through that process remove and even transform some of the “charge” surrounding past trauma. These practical experiences clearly illustrated that accessing and embodying the emotions which underlie our sensations can be an extremely effective method of healing.

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At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.


A new definition of "trauma" for the new year--why it's a lot more common than you'd think!

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you in 2019.

At Bodhisattva Bodywork, a large part of my job is educating clients about how normal it actually is to have trauma, and about how we can work together to resolve trauma symptoms and causes within their bodies.

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Most of us think of trauma as something caused by large, overwhelming experiences, such as natural disasters, war, traffic accidents, near-death experiences, sexual assault, near-drowning, child abuse, etc. If we have been fortunate enough to avoid such events, we don’t feel we’ve ever been traumatized.

But trauma doesn’t lie in any event itself. In fact, trauma is the result of anything that causes our body to become stuck in survival mode. Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat (as with the events listed above) or it may be the end product of cumulative stress. Trauma may therefore also result from such events as medical or dental procedures, emotional abuse, neglect, loss, falls, birth trauma, or ongoing physical/mental/emotional conflict. In short, even ordinary events can cause trauma.

How does this happen? Like animals, we are hard-wired to respond to traumatic incidents as though we are in mortal danger—our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems automatically engage to take us into the most effective physical response (fight, flight, freeze, or collapse) that will ensure our survival.

Although animals naturally discharge excess adrenaline energy once they’ve made their escape, because of shame or other pervasive thoughts, judgments, or fears, we often override this healing physical release. The residual survival energy remains bound in our system, leading us to feel “stuck.” With each successive stressor, our innate ability to function with resilience and ease is overwhelmed, and we see-saw back and forth between hyperaroused “on” and collapsed “off,” exhausting ourselves in the process, as seen in the diagram below:

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At this point, we are said to be “dysregulated.” Our nervous system is overwhelmed, and must now borrow energy from other body systems to function. Those systems, in turn, become overwhelmed, and we find ourselves experiencing a whole host of potential problems, illustrated as “Stuck on On” and “Stuck on Off” in the diagram.

The good news is that we can change this pattern! Anything that allows us to feel completely safe, contained, and supported will help. The longer we can spend in these healing states, bit by bit, the artificial scaffolding our body created to manage our symptoms will start to let go and our innate ability to naturally regulate stress will return and grow.

I’ve spent the last few years learning Dr. Levine’s SE™ work and additional, post-advanced modalities, and am happy to help. Please feel free to contact me with any questions at anna@bodhisattvabodywork.com, or at (919) 636-9439.


At Bodhisattva Bodywork, I offer a variety of trauma resolution therapeutic services in my Chapel Hill office and online via a secure video link. I’m also affiliated with a trauma-focused group psychotherapy practice in Japan: Trauma Treatment Center and Resources (TTCR), which offers body-based therapy sessions and educational seminars in both English and Japanese.