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.

Looking for Stress Management? Body-based "trauma therapies" can help!

We’ve discussed that trauma isn’t only defined by big, overwhelming events; it can also be the end product of cumulative stress (click here for more information). Even so, I have some clients who don’t feel “traumatized,” but they ARE stressed out and want to feel better! Not a problem! We can use many of the same techniques to help.

If we accept the standard definition of stress as “a state of physical, mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances,” we can see that any method which serves to release this strain or tension would be beneficial. Another important point is that if we choose to work with, for example, physical tension, we'll often register a reduction in our mental and emotional tension as well.

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I'm a massage therapist, and massage has long been used to relieve muscular tension. Most of us have had the experience of feeling completely and utterly relaxed after a good massage, and we therefore know first-hand the state of physical, mental, and emotional well-being that follows such a session. (If it’s been a while, please click here to make an appointment!)

Meditation is another helpful tool in our stress reduction arsenal. As with any tool, we obtain the most benefit from consistent, regular practice. Even just a few-minutes-a-day meditation schedule can offer a sense of being more grounded, more present, and more readily able to handle the highs and lows of life. I have a teacher from whom I receive instruction, and I often lead clients in short guided meditations, but simply selecting from among the plethora of meditation apps on your smartphone and downloading and following along will be helpful.

Somatic therapies are also effective methods for relieving stress because they too emphasize and utilize the mind/body connection. Somatic Experiencing (SE™) and Somatic Touch are sensation-focused, and are perfect for those who wish to learn more about how their body physically responds to and stores stress. A specially-trained therapist serves as a guide through this process, offering verbal and hands-on support and encouragement as the client accesses and discharges tension. For those who are experiencing stress as a form of emotion, Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) offers a method of physically connecting with and processing these feelings.

I'm happy to discuss any of these and other body-focused modalities, and how they may help you reduce the stress in your life! For clients in Japan, I'm also affiliated with a group practice (TTCR—Trauma Treatment Center and Resources) in the Saitama area. There, we have English- and Japanese-speaking therapists trained in mindfulness meditation, somatic therapies, and other body-based modalities to help with stress management.

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.