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.