Category Archives: Healing

Beyond Words: Body-mind healing practices

How words help us

Body-mind healing practices don’t form part of conventional counselling and psychotheraphy. Western therapeutic approach to helping our turbulent minds and souls is traditionally based on talking. And, of course, the ability to comprehend and express ourselves in words is an integral part of our experience as human beings.

Through telling a story we give shape to our reality and also give it a meaning, which is extremely important. At difficult times when meanings escape us we find ourselves floundering and being plunged into chaos. Then talking to someone who is ready to listen empathetically, with interest and without judgment can be immensely helpful as little by little words streaming freely and seemingly randomly begin to weave the fabric of new meanings.

Words also help unburden our mind of what had been stored there, so we often feel lighter and freer after having talked of what had been troubling or upsetting us. We can then begin to see things differently and more clearly and come across new unexpected solutions.

The limits of the talking-based approach

There are many creative things one can do with words, including writing this blog post. However, what I found in my therapeutic work and in my life is that no one approach is enough. Every approach has its benefits and its limitations. So it’s good to have a number of them under your belt to be able to pick and choose as feels right for the moment.

The limitation of the talking-based approach is that it keeps us in the upper layers of our consciousness. We can come to understand a lot of things rationally, but on the deep emotional level we would still feel the same and continue to be triggered by the same situations. This is where diving into the deeper strata of psyche, which are rooted in the body, can be helpful.

Beyond the words: talking to the body

When we want to affect the shift at the root level we need to learn a new language: we need to learn how to talk to our body. It may sound as a fancy metaphor, but actually it’s almost literally true because we still use words but they come from a different place, as our active daily mind relaxes and ‘sinks’ deep into our body. In this state our consciousness begins to expand and the answers flow back and forth between the conscious and the unconscious mind. And thereby they become integrated by the nervous system effortlessly, one step at a time.

The relationship between the human mind and the human body continues to be a sphere of mystery, less studied by scientists even than the Moon or Mars. Indeed how do we explain the cases of sportsmen, for example, who fully recover after some terrible spine injury,  returning to their sport having been told they would never walk again? I believe that these people have incredible ability to connect with their bodies and sustain this connection, without allowing it to lapse. Thus they mobilize all the healing powers of the organism, turning the brain’s ‘controls’ on to the healing regime so that it pumps the body with all the hormones, enzymes and whatever is required for production of the regenerating tissue.

While I haven’t had any such dramatic occurrences in my own practice, I do have the joy and privilege of being both a witness to and a participant in some very uplifting, transformative experiences that happen on a regular basis. And I would like to share with you a couple of such stories (names have been changed). I work a lot with EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) tapping, but also use a number of other active visualization techniques (sometimes involving movement) to help bridge the gap between the mind and the body, the conscious and the unconscious.

Jill: Undiagnosed stomach pain

Have you ever given much thought to the bodily idioms that we use, such as: “carrying a burden on your shoulders,” or somebody being a “pain in the neck.”  They’re more than just metaphors – they often correctly identify the part of the body affected by the distress, and the sort of pain that comes from trying to contain that distress. Emotional pain when it finds no outlet translates itself into physical pain and lodges itself into our bodies, turning – as the time passes – into a chronic condition. It takes some skillful detective work together with with patience, courage and perseverance to release it from its ‘nest’.

Such pains are often resistant to medical treatments because of their emotional roots. Thus Jill came to me with persistent abdominal pain that was particularly sharp in the mornings. She had been through all kinds of medical checks and examinations, which revealed nothing. She had been given pain-killers and told that she would need to take them for the rest of her life. She also tried acupuncture and homeopathy, but with no success either. She came to me because she heard of EFT and found my website.

It took us only a couple of sessions to uncover that the origins of Jill’s abdominal pain seemed to be in her relationship with her mother. Growing up Jill used to be afraid of her mother’s volatile unpredictable moods. She remembered getting stomach cramps when hearing her mother’s steps on the staircase. This was not a healthy safe, loving, supportive environment for the child to grow and now, in her mid-40s, Jill still struggled to establish proper boundaries with her mother.

There was a whole mixture of emotions: fear, resentment, guilt, anger. As we worked through them, talking and tapping and locating them in the body her abdominal pain began to diminish and within a couple of months it was almost entirely gone. Then we did a round of tapping and asked her body whether it was ready to release the remnant of the pain. Surprisingly, the response came: “No.” And the reason was: “I need a reminder – to keep the boundaries with my Mum.”

And this is a very interesting phenomenon: pain that we experience doesn’t necessarily have to be our curse or punishment. Sometimes it can be our protector, our shield or guardian. It disappears fully only when we feel safe for it to do so and thus release it from its duty.

Ada: turning logs into snakes and aversion into confidence

Ada came to me in distress over a meeting she was supposed to have with a colleague, whom she found uptight and rather difficult. She had a few days left before the meeting and her mind was already preoccupied with it, consuming a lot of her nervous energy. So we decided without further ado to explore the nature of her distress and, if possible, neutralize it. We didn’t do tapping on this occasion, but instead, after preliminary guided breathing and relaxation I asked Ada (sitting with her eyes closed on my couch) to imagine her colleague in front of her and to become aware of the resonance it produced in her body.

Ada said she felt as if a log was stuck in her throat. A fairly big dry peeling log, with a rusty nail in it. It was impeding her speech, making it difficult to breathe and the nail was scratching her throat. She said it reminded her of some situations at school as a young girl when she felt highly awkward and uncomfortable. We spoke about these early experiences for a bit and then I asked her whether she would like to remove the log from her throat. She was eager to, so we thought of a possible way of removing it. Could it be transformed into something else perhaps? After a brief moment Ada said ‘yes, it could be turned into a snake.’ We sat for some minutes in silence as Ada was performing her shamanic transformational act and me waiting, holding the space. After a while I ventured to ask how it was going. Ada reported that the log had turned into a snake and the snake had crawled away, leaving her throat clear and free. She didn’t think much about the forthcoming meeting after that and when the day came she felt confident and grounded.

Beginners’ tips to body-mind awareness

These are just a couple of examples of how creative body-mind work can improve our physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Our inner healer – when we tap into it – can help to alleviate insomnia, polymyalgia and various chronic conditions as well as to overcome the fears of exams, anxiety, of our limiting beliefs, and much more. The more I witness it, the more I feel in awe of the wisdom of the body.

In order to become more in tune with your own body and learn to communicate with it better, try this simple practice. Choose a quiet place to sit and make sure nobody interrupts you for some 10-15 minutes (or more, if you want!). Relax your body, taking a few gentle slow breaths in and out, and then scan your body for various sensations/feelings in different parts. These can be either physical or emotional sensations. If some physical sensation clearly stands out (e.g. constriction in your chest) you may attempt to link it to what is going on for you emotionally at the moment. And vice versa: you may start from connecting with your emotions and then proceed to identifying them in your body.

This simple mindfulness exercise, if practiced regularly, is very effective in quieting the mind’s chatter, promoting self-awareness and helping us become more grounded and rooted in our bodies, as we become more connected throughout our being.

Reprogramming your brain: 9th World Tapping Summit

Spring greetings to my readers!

Sorry for not being in touch for a while. Things have been rather busy in my life and work lately and I fell behind with my monthly blogs. I promise to amend this in the near future, but in the meantime I want to draw your attention to one very good free online event: the 9th Annual Tapping World Summit:

http://www.thetappingsolution.com/2017tws/reg/afpd/new-access.php

As you may know EFT tapping is one of the very effective tools that help us ‘rewire’ our brain, get rid of unhelpful habits and thought patterns, heal our bodies and thus improve our lives. This is possible because our brain possesses the quality of neuroplasticity and if we find the way of communicating with it in the right manner all kinds of amazing things become possible. EFT tapping is one such ‘language.’

The Tapping Summit runs from 27 February to 10 March, with two presentations every day (that also contain tap-along sessions). Replays are available for 24 hours. To register and catch up on the first day (including science behind EFT: interview with Dr. Dawson Church) go here:

http://www.thetappingsolution.com/2017tws/reg/afpd/new-access.php

With warmest wishes,

Ludmila

Anger management? Befriending the Genii in the Bottle

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A ‘bad’ emotion

Of all the emotions branded as ‘negative’ in our society, anger probably occupies the position of chief villain. It should be banished, silenced, banned, locked behind the bars. Being angry is equal to being ‘bad.’ If your child shouts in anger in a public place, you freeze in fear that people may think you are a bad parent because your child cannot behave. Then, to shift that sense of blame and shame, you tell your child that he or she is a ‘bad boy’ or ‘bad girl.’ And thus the vicious circle goes on.

From early on we are taught to ‘behave,’ to be ‘proper’ in order to be socially acceptable and to fit into society – at all levels (family, school, work place, etc). As children we are usually reprimanded for expressing anger by being told off or punished in some way. Our parents’ facial expression changes and they speak in a harsh tone of voice. The message we take in is that our parents will withdraw their love when we are angry. So we learn to associate being angry with being bad or unlovable.

The fear of anger

Intense anger if unleashed can be very destructive, and we have an instinctive fear of its annihilating potential. Young children feel threatened on a visceral level when they are shouted at or hear their parents having a loud, angry argument. People who grew up with violent parents often develop deep-seated fear of anger, not only when coming from others, but also from within themselves. They suppress their feelings of anger and do everything to avoid provoking angry responses. As a result they run the risk of becoming ‘people-pleasers’ and subject to abusive relationships.

The problem with anger though is that it is a highly charged emotion that cannot be easily subdued. When we bottle it up, it continues seeking its way out, disrupting our life and wellbeing. It may seep out in small doses in the form of constant nagging, complaining, or  being grumpy and unhappy about everything. Or, if denied this outlet, it will sooner or later explode (turning against others) or implode (turning against one’s self) causing great harm and grief.

Fear is the attitude that governs our relationship with anger. Fear, however, is not a wise advisor as it prevents us from attempting to understand the thing or person we fear. And it is through understanding, I believe, that we can transform our relationships from destructive into constructive and productive.

So today I would like to invite you to suspend your judgment and together, from a safe distance, take a fresh look at anger and the ways of engaging with it.

Anger is a secondary emotion

What I discovered from working with anger in myself and in other people is that anger is a secondary emotion. Secondary in the sense that it always arises in response to some other emotion, usually some kind of hurt or distress. I had a long conversation about it with one of my clients and, as she told me later, she went home after the session determined to find an example of anger not arising from a hurt. I always appreciate when my clients challenge me and test my propositions against their own experiences. If a hypothesis survives this scrutiny we may consider it as a valid working hypothesis until proved otherwise. In this case my client turned over in her head a whole throng of instances when she felt angry and found behind each of them an underlying sense of hurt or distress.

What is useful about this realization and how it can help you deal with your anger without lashing out at others or at yourself?

As you probably know from your own experience, anger is quite a troublesome emotion. It throbs, burns and pokes us from inside. Now, instead of trying to suppress it, listen to what it is trying to tell you. Consider it as a herald clamoring for attention and demanding justice. We have been wronged! And our hurt needs to be acknowledged. You may be surprised, but as soon as the hurt is acknowledged the herald of anger lowers its blazing trumpet as it knows that we are dealing with the wrong.

Don’t believe it? Try it for yourself! Take a mundane example and think about what may be the underlying distress causing your anger. Let’s say your teenage son keeps throwing his dirty clothes on the floor instead of putting them in the laundry basket. In what way does it upset you? Is it your sense of order that is being offended? Or perhaps you are feeling helpless and out of control? Think about it and you will notice that your anger arises in response to these feelings.

Acknowledging the hurt is the first step in dealing with anger and this will usually help lower its intensity. When we start addressing the hurt on a deeper level and healing the old wounds, our anger subsides even further and eventually transforms – into compassion, a desire to change, and a desire to help others. It becomes a motivational force rather than a disturbing and destructive force.

Anger is a power

Contrary to the commonly-held perception of anger as negative, I believe that anger is neither good nor bad. It is a power, a super-charged energy. Similar to nuclear energy. Can we say that nuclear energy is bad? No, it all depends on how we use it and to what end.

Slavery wouldn’t have been abolished if people who fought against it hadn’t felt angry, because their sense of justice and fairness had been deeply disturbed. So they used this fuelling energy to address the wounds of the society and change what they felt was wrong.

I also like comparing anger to a genii that for hundreds of years was trapped in a bottle, seething there and vowing to destroy his captors and the whole world together with them if he ever got a chance. Imagine that you now open the bottle and liberate this raging spirit. He has a potential to devastate the world, but if you know how to talk to him it will make your wishes come true!

Learning how to harness the power of anger can transform your life and the lives of others.

And in order to do this we need to remember the following steps:

  • Release your fear of anger;
  • Acknowledge your anger;
  • Acknowledge the underlying hurt behind your anger;
  • Address the hurt and heal the wound.

The protective function of anger

Sometimes when I work with people on anger they come to a point when their anger is greatly diminished yet they are not ready to let go of it completely. When we enquire into the reasons for retaining their anger they often say: “I need it as a reminder, to protect me from falling again into the same trap/making the same mistake/getting hurt in a similar way.”

This is perfectly fine. It is not our aim to get rid of anger entirely. What we want to do is to establish a trusting, cooperative relationship with it. If you feel that you need to keep some of your anger to protect you – follow your gut feeling. And when you feel strong and confident enough to go on without his protection, you can thank the genii and release him from his service.

 

 

Helping a friend in a dark place: Empathy and Sympathy

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One day, not too long ago I had a challenging but helpful conversation with a good friend of mine about empathy. It started from my phone call. I had been feeling a bit sad that evening, listening to the rain and to an old wound that came throbbing again, and so I rang her. We had a little chat, made sure that both of us were cozy with a nice cup of tea and had space to catch up properly. She told me about some highlights of her week and asked how I was. Encouraged by her invitation I reached out from my sad place and attempted to tell her about what was on my mind. Before I’d even finished my first sentence she interrupted me with a big sigh:

– Ok, we’ve been there before… I thought you’ve moved on.
– I thought you wanted to know how I felt…
– Sure, I am here, do talk…
– I am trying to talk but then it sounds like you are judging me and you don’t really want to listen.
– I am not judging you. I love you and I want you to be happy.

Have you ever had a similar dialogue with a friend? I am sure we all have at some point, and have experienced both sides of it. We are probably also in agreement that one of the most valuable things one can offer a friend is what we call ‘moral support’ in a time of emotional turbulence. Yet being there for a friend in need, in the way that is actually helpful, often proves rather tricky. When a friend starts talking to us about something painful for him or her, our immediate responses are usually of two kinds:

  • They contain evaluation/judgment (i.e. a statement that suggests that we know exactly where our friend is and – moreover – where they should be);
  • They contain advice (i.e. a ‘roadmap’ or rather a ‘shortcut’ for getting out of the place where he or she is and to the place where we think they should be).

These responses are not in the least helpful – we all know it from our own experience. Yet we keep offering them and, if challenged, say that they come from a place of love.

Now… are we being hypocritical? Do we only pretend that we care for our friends? And if not, then where indeed are our responses coming from?

More often than not they originate from our own discomfort. We don’t want to be dragged into and re-experience a dark place of helplessness, confusion, pain or uncertainty. So our system sends us a warning: ‘Don’t go there!’ And, responding to this warning, we try to pull or push our friends out of that place so that we wouldn’t need to stay there. The result is that our friends feel judged, misunderstood and left alone in their struggle.

What then can we do to help a friend in a dark place? Below I share a few pointers, which I hope you may find useful.

Trust

Our mind/psyche as well as our body has natural ability to heal. However, in order to heal they require environment conducive to healing. Thus if you are down with a flu you need to stay in bed for some time. If a bone is broken it is put in a cast that holds it, while still allowing the broken parts to re-grow. The same is with emotional malaise: a safe holding space creates an environment where the fragmented pieces of meaning can gradually begin to come together and rearrange themselves in a way that makes sense.

Understanding these processes helps to relieve our urgent panicky impulse to find a ‘solution’ here and now. It is a matter of trust. We need to trust a person’s ability to heal, which is their natural capacity. We also need to understand that healing process may take a while and that what makes sense to another person may be different from our own meanings.

Broken record

We often get frustrated hearing a friend going over the same thing again and again, which seems like a broken record. But more often than not it only seems so. What is really happening is that through repetition our mind is trying to come to grips with something that is difficult to grasp. It tries and slips and tries again. Eventually it will succeed, but this may take multiple attempts over a long period of time. When we understand that we can be more patient with our friends. We can relax and, by relaxing and letting go of our own anxiety, provide a firm hold for them in the midst of their raging storm.

A dark place is not a bad place

To a great extent, our difficulty with helping ourselves or helping a friend in a dark place stems from us associating difficult emotions with ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ emotions. And so we try to get away from them as quickly as possible by pushing them down, rationalizing them or finding a distraction. This is the most common and most gross misconception. A dark place is not necessarily a bad place. In fact, it may be well a ‘good’ place, if we think in terms of our personal growth. Yes, it may be difficult and uncomfortable, painful and scary. But there are hidden treasures to be found there, however improbable it may sometimes sound. And if a person seems to linger in that dark place it means they have a sense that there is something to find there. And we need to trust them. What they need from us is our reliable presence and our reassurance that they are not alone. Then they can feel safer and bolder in their exploration and find what they need more quickly.

Building up your resilience

You may agree intellectually with all that I have said above, but this knowledge is not enough if it is not substantiated by our own experience of navigating through the dark caverns and tunnels of our psyche. Indeed, how can we help a drowning person if we don’t know how to swim? And so, learning to be comfortable with our own discomfort, learning to stay with our difficult feelings and having an experience of receiving a right kind of support makes us more prepared for helping a friend.

If you feel that you cannot be there for your friend in the right way you may gently suggest that they seek help from a professional therapist. Not because something is wrong with them and they need to be fixed, but because a therapist may be better equipped to provide them with the safe holding space that they need.

Sympathy and Empathy

These two notions may seem very close and indeed they overlap to the extent that both presuppose an ability to feel for another person. Yet sympathy often entails over-identification, when we get swamped by the other person’s emotion and begin to feel as helpless and as desperate to get out as they are. Even as a therapist, it sometimes happens to me. I then find myself slipping into a ‘fix-it’ mode, trying to ‘rescue’ a person from what I perceive as a place of danger. Such a response from my side is usually felt as unhelpful.

Empathy has two main ingredients to it: an ability to imagine what it may be like for another person and an ability to keep a certain distance from what is going on for them. This detachment doesn’t mean coldness or indifference. What it means is that we can hold a wider perspective and can trust in our friend’s ability to find their own way. Empathy allows us to step into our friend’s dark place without being overwhelmed by it.

I started this blog post by telling you about an interaction I had with a friend of mine. Following our conversation she sent me a link to this video. It is a very good illustration to the things I spoke about. Hope you enjoy it and find it helpful!

Dealing with anxiety

DSCF1098aOne of the most common complaints that bring people to therapy is anxiety. Anxiety is something familiar to all of us. Part and parcel of our human condition it peppers our existence and we develop strategies and learn how cope with anxiety on the daily basis. However, sometimes anxiety can become so intense or so frequent that it severely undermines one’s life.

In order to learn how to deal with anxiety it is important to understand its nature and the role it plays in our life. In this blog article I am going to look at the various facets of anxiety and discuss its underlying neurological and emotional mechanisms, root causes as well as possible treatments.

Anxiety symptoms

What are the signs that you may be suffering from anxiety? There are a number of symptoms, emotional as well as physical, that can help you gain a better understanding of what is happening.

Emotional symptoms include feeling fearful or panicky in certain situations. You may be constantly worrying that something may go wrong. You may be nervous and uneasy about social situations. Sometimes people have difficulty in concentrating or struggle to express themselves in an articulate way. Mood changes, sudden irritability, feeling overwhelmed or feeling that you are out of control are also common.

Physical symptoms may include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, stomach ache, nausea and sickness, headaches and migraines, dizziness, cold sweat, sleep disturbances with difficulty in falling or staying asleep as well as blushing, stammering or nervous coughing.

Anxiety… is your friend!

Anxiety is an uncomfortable psycho-physical state and our instinctual desire is to get rid of it. However, surprising as this may sound, anxiety is not your enemy. Quite on the contrary, the ‘function’ of anxiety is to protect us, to help us keep safe. The feelings of anxiety arise as a result of neurological processes in our brain that responds to perceived danger and issues warning signals. These signals, which we experience as anxiety, make us alert to the possible risks and indicate that we need to be prepared to meet them.

How then does it happen that the same situation may trigger only mild or no anxiety in some people and be absolutely overwhelming for others?

The answer to this question once again belongs to the field of neurology. It turns out that our brain, sophisticated as it is, cannot distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’ danger. Neither can it always estimate correctly the scope of the perceived danger. It bases its evaluation on our previous experiences.

Notice what situations trigger anxiety in you and ask yourself what you are afraid of. Are you afraid of being laughed at or criticized? Are you afraid of being physically hurt? Or perhaps you are afraid of failure and the ensuing feelings of shame and worthlessness? Whatever feelings come up, the chances are that you have already experienced them sometime in the past in a situation that bears certain resemblance to the current one. In that case, anxiety draws your attention to some emotional wounds that you may be carrying within you and that need healing.

Fear of not being able to cope

Anxiety is usually defined as the ‘fear of the unknown.’ This is true insofar as the ‘unknown’ triggers the feelings of anxiety, suggesting that there might be potential risks if we go in that direction. Very often though what we are really afraid of are not the challenges as such, but that we won’t be able to cope with them or the possible ‘negative’ outcome.

For example, if you are afraid of failing an exam or a job interview, your anxiety is not about the actual failure, but about emotions that this failure may evoke in you. Similarly, if you worry about losing your job, a great deal of your worry is about not being able to deal with the possible situation of financial hardship and the stress of finding another job.

Feelings of anxiety about doing routine things or things that are slightly out of your comfort zone may indicate that you are simply too tired and need to take a break to re-charge your batteries.

As I wrote above, it is very often the case that anxiety is rooted deep in our past experiences, which underlie our current experiences and intensify our emotional response to them. How can you tell whether this is so? If your anxiety appears to be disproportionate in relation to a particular situation chances are that there is something more to it, and in order to alleviate it you need to look at the root cause.

Helping your inner child

Psychological resilience, and trust in your ability to deal with whatever challenges life may throw at you, is the basis for coping effectively with anxiety. We develop this resilience throughout our life, but a foundation for it is created during our childhood. If your needs as a child haven’t been adequately met, if you didn’t feel safe or had to carry too heavy emotional burdens it is likely that you may be more affected by anxiety as an adult.

One of my clients used to suffer from acute anxiety when going more than 10 minutes away from home. When we explored the sensations she was having in her body they led us back to her early childhood. When she was growing up her parents were very busy at work and often left her as young as the age of 6 alone at home to take care of her younger siblings, including a baby. She remembered sitting petrified near telephone anxious whether she would be able to reach her parents and get help quick enough if something happened. A part of her, overburdened early on with too much responsibility, never properly matured, and faced with the challenges of adult life would fly into panic.

It is important to be compassionate and patient with these child-like parts deep within us and help them grow and gain confidence. For this task we need to engage our adult parts that are equipped with knowledge and life experiences. When we perceive our inner children panicking we can gently talk to them, reassuring him or her that they are not alone and will be given the right support and care.

How to deal with anxiety

The first step in dealing with anxiety is becoming more aware of what is going on for you in your mind and in your body, learning to recognize the triggers and pre-conditions (e.g. tiredness). If anxiety is persistent and intense, and stops you from enjoying your life and doing things that you want to do, I would encourage you to seek professional help.

Counselling and psychotherapy in combination with some form of body-mind therapy will help you to understand the root causes of your anxiety and release it from your system. In my practice I work a lot with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) and find it very effective for healing past traumas and ‘rewiring’ your brain. EFT is also a great self-help tool for coping with anxiety as you can apply it ‘on the go’ to bring the anxiety levels down immediately.

I see people face to face at my practice in Cambridge and also work online via Skype. You are very welcome to book a session if you would like to try my approach and see whether it can help you become free from your anxieties.