September 23, 2022
“I’ve done therapy. I know all these dynamics, but something is stuck in my body.” Another client said, “Therapy has made a huge difference for me in the last 2 years, but now my body doesn’t seem to fit.” These individuals understood family patterns, emotions, needs, boundaries, and how to express themselves better, yet still sensed that their bodies were somehow preventing them from feeling whole. Things like pounding pillows, yelling by the ocean, learning yoga, hiking, going to the gym, special diets, massage, and soaks in hot tubs all contributed to their well-being, but didn’t help their bodies “come along.” Their bodies were left behind during the talk therapy process.
Whereas psychotherapy’s focus is on mental understanding of emotional patterns, “somatic” therapy draws your attention to your body’s sensations and holding patterns that are often related to emotional patterns. A practitioner’s gentle touch and guided awareness facilitate your experience of your body as the living organism you are–in contrast to our US culture’s idea of the body as an object separate from yourself that you get to control, manipulate, abuse, or ignore. Somatic processes lead us to holistic understanding and integration of body-mind-spirit.
Consider Gail, who had open-heart surgery. A year later, she came to see me, referred by her psychotherapist who knew of my work and thought I could help her for ongoing chest constrictions and soreness from the surgery. With my hands, I addressed the tensions along her breastbone. I suggested she pay attention to the quality of her breath and any changes she noticed in breathing or in her chest. Throughout the session she commented on her chest becoming softer, breathing fuller, and heart having “more room.” She’d also felt a range of emotions as her chest softened.
At her next appointment a week later, she reported that she’d had a breakthrough in therapy that had to do with how closed her heart had been for many years. Greater ease and movement in her chest permitted Gail a greater range and depth of emotion. Additionally, her attention to this process– including to the sensations that accompanied her emotions–had opened Gail to a broader understanding of her “heart,” and in turn, enabled her to feel more alive physically and emotionally.
Gail had come in to feel better physically—which she did, with a bonus. As the tension patterns from both the surgery and her personal history released, a new world of emotional feelings became available to her, along with freer breath.
But what of those two clients at the beginning of this blog who didn’t mention pain or tensions, only that there was a disconnect of some sort between their sense of self and their bodies?
We start in present time, here and now. What are you aware of in your body right now? The ease and fullness of your breathing, the weight of your bottom on the chair, any tensions or discomforts? Places of ease? Numbness? Cold or heat? Symmetry or asymmetry?
Many clients reference their patterns totally unconsciously: “This is usually tight right here.” I interject, “Usually it’s tight. And right now, is it tight? How does it feel right now?” I’m continually bringing clients to the present moment. Why? When we refer to a pattern, a “usual” or “generally,” it’s happy to resurface and limit us yet again, which makes releasing the pattern that much more difficult.
As your present-time body comes into focus, together we pick an area to address hands-on, perhaps it’s a place of tension so chronic that we don’t notice it much anymore, an inefficient postural pattern like head-forward, or a body part that tenses thinking about so and so.
As an Ortho-Bionomist, I’m looking to create physical comfort. Is there a way to move this part or that part to create softer tissue, increased ease? As I do that, I invite the client’s awareness, “What does this area feel like now? Please be specific, beyond ‘better,’ which is not a sensation.” When conscious awareness of sensations accompanies the physical shifts, the physical releases become somatic releases that tend to last and may even lead to new options in the body.
As often as not, a client will report that an emotion or an event from the past just surfaced. The body had wrapped itself around that past memory/feeling in one way or another, protecting that client from overwhelm, waiting for the perfect time to process it all. When Gail could feel physical/somatic openness in her chest, rather than soreness, she was literally more open to emotional history and feelings as well.
When we connect releasing a body’s protective tension patterns–long-held, but now outdated–with a client’s sensory awareness, we can indeed “bring the body along” with the emotional/mental growth from their psychotherapy. Being present to your body’s sensations, especially as the body releases tension, increases your body’s internal referencing. In other words, your attention to sensations generates a positive spiral of self-corrective information. Being present to your body’s sensations links subconscious with conscious, links emotions with body. Attending to your body’s subtleties may also provide you the ground necessary for you to be fully who you are.
“What if we were to imagine for a moment that the body informs the soul, helps it adapt to mundane life, parses, translates, gives the blank page, the ink, and the pen with which the soul can write upon our lives? Suppose, as in fairy tales of the shape-changers, the body is a God in its own right, a teacher, a mentor, a certified guide?” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD, Women Who Run With the Wolves.
What I described above hypothetically was an abbreviated process (yet accurate in Gail’s case of it being her initial session). Yes, a first session can include a whole lot of new information! But we need to respect your particular pacing, your ability to process and integrate changes and shifts. Timing reveals itself as we go along. If you’re curious to learn more or discuss your situation, please do be in touch. I look forward to supporting you to bring your body along!
Copyright 2005, rev. 2022, Sara Sunstein, M.A.