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Somatic Wisdom Technique

cpuusage

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By Jon Keyes

Somatic Wisdom Technique Part 1

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.

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.
 
C

cherbear

Guest
Thanks cpusage ! This really caught my interest the one that really caught my attention is the pinching between the eyes I do this and my nose scrunches up I always do this when I am distressed in a situation it's not always arguments but situations that have the most profound effect on me . I seem to have been in a mediative state over the last couple of days and in tune with myself . My other half said I have turned into a fortune cookie lol .
 
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cpuusage

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The soft animal of the body -

The soft animal of the body

Bessel van der Kolk’s 2014 book, The Body Keeps the Score, reminds me of how strongly both my physical and mental condition have been shaped by trauma. Spinal arthritis, abdominal pain, chronic muscle aches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and many other problems combine to form an inner ledger of the abuse, bereavement, and neglect of my childhood and the uproar, frustration, and terror of my adult experience.

Why should this be? Why should trauma have such profound effects on body and mind?

It’s useful to remember what it means to live as a human organism. There are many ways to explore this, but let’s try an outside-in approach.

Skin: Our bodies are covered with a protective surface that is highly sensitive and easily injured. The skin registers both loving caress and brutal blows. It is multilayered, with a relatively dry outer layer and a most inner layer, rich with blood vessels and nerves. It’s an exquisite interface, but also the one that suffers much under the hardship of life. And every message the skin receives travels throughout the human form, like ripples on a pond. Affectionate touch can build confidence, while violation instills shame.

Sense organs: Eyes, ears, nose, and tongue provide animals with vital information about the environment. The eyes register facial expression; they narrow slightly when we laugh among amusing friends, and they broaden in terror when a fist swings toward the face, or a car spins on a freeway, or a loved one suffers a bad fall, or an abuser stares at us with sadistic contempt. The ears are sensitive to volume, pitch, and cadence. The coo of a lover’s voice softens the heart, while the threats and insults of a cruel caregiver freeze us in states of lonely shame. Many animals can smell rage and fear, and perhaps we can too. The nostrils flare when we feel unsafe. What’s more, the scents associated with a terrible history remain imprinted forever. Long after we’re adults, the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath might transport us instantly back to the awful past.

Muscles: Think of how much tension gets stored in the muscles of the face, jaw, neck, upper back, lumbar region, and pelvis. Wilhelm Reich called the layer of tight musculature “armor,” and the word fits. In a vain attempt to protect itself, the body builds a wall. The safety the armor promises is an illusion, but the way it cuts us off from feeling spontaneous and affectionate is all-too-real.

Bone: The bone is our innermost strength. It stores some of the deepest physical scars as thickened areas where fractures have healed. It gradually thins with age, as hormonal shifts change the balance of buildup and breakdown. It also holds the imprint of our habitual posture. How many of us develop chronic slumps in the shoulders and upper backs, the stamp of chronic defensiveness and lack of confidence? How many of us feel ready to stand tall every moment of our lives? In this age of epidemic trauma, it doesn’t help that our lifestyles encourage collapse, as we hunch over LED screens. Our skeletons become maps of withdrawal and insecurity.

Lungs: In Chinese Medicine, the lungs are viewed as the reservoirs of sorrow. Depression and grief are reflected in breathing patterns, which become shallow and choppy. The lungs connect us most intimately, and also most vulnerably, with our environment. They open a vast surface to the atmosphere (about the size of a basketball court in every person), so that each breath is as intimate as lovemaking. How sad that our atmosphere is so often polluted, or that we feel so stressed we find comfort in inhaling the toxic fumes of cigarettes and vaporizers.

Digestive Organs: We are what we eat. We know this, and yet in the aftermath of a harrowing upbringing, or after a stressful day in a difficult job, we find ourselves swallowing oily, salty, sugary, and ugly junk food. Our stomach and intestines dutifully break down whatever we ingest, but potato chips and candy bars send shock waves through the blood stream, so that many of us suffer with high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. How much healthier to fill the inner channel with what it craves: good, wholesome food that isn’t laced with pesticides, preservatives, and empty calories. Yet how difficult that can be!

Nervous System: The brain sits at the top of the spinal cord, like a king surveying his realm. Nerves come in from every inch of the skin, from the matrix of bone, the airway linings, the digestive organs, and everything else. It registers and remembers the sensations and–most importantly–their associations. Does a touch on the arm evoke the caress of a gentle mother or the groping of a drunk molester? Does the scent of detergent remind us of laundry drying in the sun or institutional cruelties? The nervous system can remain on high alert for decades, storms ever gathering on the mental horizon. Or, it can slowly settle down, it can find ease and safety despite the uncertainty of life. The nervous system elaborates our consciousness in all of its complexity, and it can create either a hell or a heaven, depending on our experiences and our responses.

Reproductive Organs: How confused our feelings become around these structures we all possess! Pathways of passion and ecstasy can so easily become coils of confusion. Does sex feel safe or threatening? Do others desire our bodies or ignore them? Does desire come with affection or is it nothing but narcissistic lust? Do our memories of early sexual awareness feel pleasantly nostalgic or sickeningly shameful? These sweet systems that carry life through time have become such hotbeds of unhappiness, it is truly sad. But we can imagine a better way, we can work to build a culture that celebrates sexuality without obsessing about it. One that views sex and reproduction with curious awe, rather than prurience and contempt.

The Heart: She is the queen of the body, sitting in her palace in the body’s core. The first organ to become functional, and the one that pulses with vitality from a few weeks after conception until the moment of death. She is hopeful but can become discouraged, radiant with affection at baseline but cold with terror or indifference when overwhelmed. The heart truly keeps the score, but in a way that remains optimistic. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for us to reawaken the heart to its natural state of wonder. We just need to let the soft animal of our bodies love what they love. Of course, to do that we have to learn what our bodies feel, to quit turning away from the discomfort within. This is a key task of trauma recovery, and in The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk points out that yoga, for instance, is a great way of moving through resistance to meet the body where it stands.

We tend to look at the body as a dumb beast or worse, as a machine. Modern medicine has convinced us it’s a mere mechanism. True, we can now replace hip bones with metal contraptions, and this is a boon to many. But that doesn’t mean the body is no different from the artifacts with which we repair it. The body is alive in every one of its cells. Each is a life form in its own right, just as every honeybee is an individual even as the hive is the unit that reproduces. The body is a society, with its cells, tissues, and organs each playing important roles in the drama of human life.

Trauma disrupts the body by obstructing the smooth communication and subtle rhythms that characterize life. We become disconnected and irregular, robbed of our birthright of intimacy and resonance.

And yet, the body’s reactions are its best effort to keep life moving. Armor is designed to shield us. Flashbacks are meant to keep us vigilant. Disconnection is meant to isolate us from danger. The intelligence of the body is doing its best, moment-by-moment. Trauma recovery depends on reeducating the organism, so it can respond to our situation as it is now and not as it was then. With slow and careful work, we can grow more accepting of our bodies. We can become more vibrant: appropriately protective when necessary and beautifully permeable when appropriate.
 
SomersetScorpio

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There's some great information here - thanks for sharing.
I definitely believe in bodily manifestations of trauma and looking for emotional/other reasons when something is physically not right.. some things are obvious, others less so.

Previously I bought a book and have visited sites that suggest what certain body parts might signify, and that's ok to a certain extent, but I found myself disagreeing on a few things which is why doing your own 'body scan' for yourself is the best bet.
 

cpuusage

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Somatic Wisdom Technique Part 2

For example, a sense of tightness, dullness and emptiness near our chest may translate into an emotion of grief and sadness. Investigated further, this may have to do with a long history of not receiving enough love in our relationships. Perhaps there was a dynamic of having a mother who was too busy, or aloof to give enough attention to her children. That history continued in relationships with women who were distant, or cool, somehow detached. The discomfort in the body is a way of sending a message about this complex dynamic that has stayed stuck in the chest area of the body.

In this second part of using the Somatic Wisdom Technique, I’ll ask you to return to that place of discomfort to find out how to transform that area of distress. Start with picking an area of the body that you found to be the most “charged” or in need of greater attention and care. Then begin by sitting comfortable in an upright posture. For some that may mean sitting in a meditative posture

with legs crossed. For others that may mean simply sitting in a comfortable chair. It is important that the upper body and chest stay upright so that the breath can travel freely. Allow both feet to touch the ground without crossing your legs.

At this point begin the process of deep breathing. It is helpful if you can begin to inhale from 6-8 seconds and exhale from 8-12 seconds. As you settle in, allow yourself about ten full breaths to help ground and settle your mind. If you begin to have thoughts about the day or more disturbing thoughts, allow them to pass. Simply notice and observe without judgement.

Once you have settled in completely, begin by returning your awareness to the area of discomfort. You may notice the familiar feeling of distress coupled with pain, tension, tightness, excessive fulllness or emptiness. Allow any thoughts and images to come up in connection with this area. At this point you may begin to feel emotions connected to this area…frustration, sadness, grief, anger, hatred. Allow your examination to go ever inward, listening to the messages as they come to you. You may have insight into some of the deeper reasons for this distress; old family patterns, destructive grooves and habits you have allowed to persist, old belief systems, etc.

In this state, simple notice these insights and this deeper level of awareness. Simply having a deeply felt insight like this can be tremendously healing as it allows you to integrate the true meaning of your distress at a core level. It allows you to be fully aware and present to your whole being. Allow yourself to simply sit in this dynamic without trying to change or make it different. The act of observing and sitting with this distress is a process of integration. Instead of trying to run from this discomfort, or ignore it, fight it or feel frightened by it, you have taken the courageous step of sitting with it, being present to the message it sends.

In this part of the process, it is now time to do the process of moving the energy, or shifting it towards completion. At this point it has become stuck and needs your help to move it towards flowing again. Start with simply asking this area of the body how you can transform this distress for better health and well being. “How can I transform this distress for better health and well being?”

Then allow yourself to sit and listen. Again, messages will likely come to you in the form of images, thoughts, emotions, actions and even body movements. The thoughts may feel cryptic and hard to understand such as “Stop watching the clock”, or may ring clear as a bell such as “Devote yourself to daily meditative practice” or “Send a letter too your Mom telling her how you feel.” The process of release and transformation may not be a quick one. It may require regularly checking in with the discomfort and acting on multiple messages over a period of time. Through the practice of the Somatic Wisdom Technique, you will begin to be able to release some of the stored and stuck suffering that has become “embodied”.

Finally, as you finish integrating the messages from the stuck and distressed part of your body, it is now time to finish the process by slowly returning your attention to your breath. Again, deeply inhale and exhale for about ten breaths as you begin to open your eyes and return to an alert state of mind. As a side note, it is often helpful to write down these insights in a journal or to discuss them with a good therapist who can help you stay clear and focused on your journey to greater health and well being.
 
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