By Jon Keyes
Part 2 here
I believe that the human body is not only a physical entity but also carries emotional and spiritual energy as well. Our joys, fears, sadness, humor and love are not just intellectual concepts or part of a chemical soup located in the brain. They are indeed matrices of energy that can be found in different parts of the body. When we feel tension in our neck, we may be literally carrying the fears and frustrations of our job in that area. When we feel depleted and hollow in our chest area, we may be carrying the sadness about the end of an intimate relationship in that area.
Throughout time, traditional societies have often talked about emotional states as related to parts of the body. In India, emotions are often related to chakras, or energetic vortices located in 7 areas from the head down to the perineum. In Chinese medicine, the heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys are not only organs susceptible to imbalance and illness. They are also related to emotional states such as mania, grief, worry anger and fear. All these emotions and any other are normal to have as part of the human experience.
But when these emotions become dominant and chronic they can settle in and lead to a deeper ingrained negative emotional pattern that is difficult to overcome.
Over time, we at Hearthside have developed a way of gaining better awareness of these physically held emotional states as well as looking at ways to transform them and loosen their hold on us. The main way we use to help people is to use something we cal the Somatic Wisdom Technique.
The Somatic Wisdom Technique (SWT) is a way of accessing our body’s innate wisdom, to become aware of any deep set negative emotional state and then to develop the tools to loosen and release that emotional state. The first step in utilizing the SWT is to sit or lie down in a comfortable place. Allow yourself to breathe deeply and slowly for 10 long breaths. Allow your body and mind to settle down. If anything is bothering you from the day, allow your mind to see your thoughts and then gently move back to following your breath. Sometimes it is helpful to count between 6- 8 seconds on an in breath and between 8-12 seconds on an outbreath.
Once you are settled in, you can now begin the “scanning” portion of the SWT. IN this step, simply picture the top of your head and allow yourself to slowly move the focus of your attention down the body slowly. With each breath drop your focus a little more moving from the top of your head to your forehead to your eyes and then your nose. Continue to slowly scan down on both sides
of your body moving steadily downward. With each breath, allow yourself to see your body and notice any place of tension, tightness, and any emotional state you may be carrying there. At this point, simply scan without judgment or questioning. Simply allow yourself to “see” the full picture in each area of the body. Thoughts, images and ideas might present themselves in each area.
For example, you may feel a pinching feeling in between your eyes. This may feel sharp and strained. From that perception you might notice some images floating around such as tense conversation with your spouse. You may be arguing over money or childrearing, or how you are seeing things differently. Again, simply notice and observe. At this point don’t try and discover why or figure out how to solve it. Simply be with the sensation.
As you continue this process, allow your focus to continue down through your face to your neck and shoulders, then down through your upper back, heart and lungs. Allow yourself to spread your attention over both shoulders, arms and forearms down to your hands and fingers. When you have finished with your fingers, return to your chest and then scan downwards to your stomach and then lower intestines. Continue on through to your perineum and then down through both legs to your knees. Finish by scanning down through your calves/shins to your ankles and then your feet and toes. Again, go slowly and methodically. If there is an area of tension, take the time to methodically investigate it before moving on. This may take 3-5 or even 10 breaths to fully get a deep understanding of why an area of your body is in distress.
Once you have finished the entire scanning process, open your eyes and take a moment to return to normal awareness. I do this process in a therapy session so at this point I would discuss the sensations with my client but if you are trying this at home, please take the time to write down your observations in a journal devoted specially for this. You may have multiple areas of distress and you may need to work on these multiple areas. One of the ways I use for discussing each are is to do a four step process for describing any area of tension.
1- Physical sensation. Describe what it feels like physically is it sharp, dull, hot, cold, burning, tight, wound up, etc?
2- Emotional sensation. Does it feel sad, angry, frozen, fearful, frustrated, impotent, overly happy, etc.?
3- Images. Any images connected with the sensation. Is there a demanding boss there? A worried spouse? Sometimes the images are even bizarre.. . You may see a giraffe, or a skeleton playing poker, or a dragon smoking cigarettes. These images have meanings and give clues to the underlying work that needs to be done.
4- Naming. One of the most powerful thing we can do is to give a name to this distress and physical suffering. We may start to realize the tension has to do with being frustrated at work and that has to do with feeling too shy and timid to ever stand up for oneself. So we may call neck tension and associated emotional suffering “Shy guy” or Small Sal”, or any number of monikers that can sum up some of the underlying feelings and distress. This can be helpful when we move to the step of transforming that distress.
As you can see, the Somatic Wisdom Technique is a way of accessing our body’s innate wisdom to give us information about where we are suffering and the underlying physical, emotional and spiritual reasons for it. Even though it can feel very challenging, physical distress is a way of our body communicating with us and trying to help us to learn powerful lessons. A plump and distended belly might be telling us something about love, personal power or about mindfulness around eating. A sunken tight chest might tell us something about our need to reach out to others, become less self-involved and to express our inner creativity.
The longer we ignore the sensations in our body, the louder the messages often become until our body begins to cry in pain or frustration. The Somatic Wisdom Technique is a way of relearning an intimate conversation with our deepest self. In the next post, I will discuss how to transform this distress by deepening the process of developing somatic wisdom.
Part 2 here
Jon Keyes is a licensed professional counselor working in private practice at Hearthside Healing in Portland Oregon. Jon also has worked part-time in an inpatient psychiatric setting. Jon is interested in exploring alternative and holistic ways of helping people in emotional distress and crisis.
More by Jon Keyes on Beyond Meds here
Other body oriented methods of meditation or therapeutic technique discussed on Beyond Meds:
- Body-Centered Inquiry
- Inhabiting our bodies in meditation
- “I wrote a new story for my nervous system” — neurosculpting, neuroplasticity
- Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma
- Yoga for trauma: reclaiming your body
- The body keeps score — scroll down for many posts on this important book
- Healing somatic meditation