Have you ever discovered something especially embarrassing or annoying about yourself and then have you best friends tell you- “Oh yea, I’ve known that about you for a long time.”
What? You knew it but didn’t tell me? What kind of best friend is that?
Well, for most of us, that’s how we treat our bodies. Your body is trying to tell you that something’s out of whack, misplaced, broken or definitely needs adjusting in your life.
You know what I’m talking about. When you get the constricted feeling in your gut. A racing heart. The tension in your neck and shoulders. Difficulty breathing. Inability to sleep. Those painful feelings in your body that are associated with the stress or anxiety you feel.
But you just go on ignoring the signals your best friend gives you, because it’s too comfortable to keep doing it the way you’ve always done it.
You stay up late when you know you should be sleeping. You couch surf rather than head outdoors. You keep working when you should quit or take a break. You hang out with the guys at the bar, when you’d really rather be home with the kids.
You find yourself making choices in life based on habits, or social pressure to conform. All because it’s easier.
Familiarity Can Breed Discomfort
And sometimes the things you do that you’re comfortable doing, the ingrained habits, the choices you are expected to make, actually produce very uneasy sensations.
And you’re asking- how can something that’s comfortable also be uncomfortable?
Some familiar actions that you take, the “comfortable” ones that are too hard to let go, often produce discomforting, or stressful, feelings in your body.
And if the stress or anxiety in your life has gotten out of hand, you may have had a traumatic reaction to an event or experience, and not even recognized it. You might experience panic attacks, outbursts of rage, chronic pain, racing thoughts or a guardedness against people who seem threatening.
Or maybe you swing the opposite way and have trouble with energy levels, exhaustion, poor digestion, numbness or even apathy, disconnection, post-traumatic stress symptoms, or depression.
But we tend to ignore these kinds of discomfort as being unusual, because we are so ignorant of our bodies as a gauge of what’s working and what’s not.
David Levine, Ph.D., in An Unspoken Voice, noted that for people who have experienced trauma of any sort, that their “sensations can become signals not for effective action but, rather, for fearful paralysis, helplessness or misdirected rage.”
So the signals your body gives you- the ones you probably ignore- are telling you that you’re headed into the war zone. Disaster alert!
If you’ve learned to shut down your painful emotions and the distressing sensations that go with them, you won’t recognize the subtle physical shifts that symbolize comfort and satisfaction, or are warnings of clear and present danger.
I know this one too. There were a few years where the stress-induced war on my body created chronic pain and fatigue, heavy metal toxicity, and a near shut-down of my organs.
But I just kept dragging myself to work and through life obligations. Because it was comfortable. Yea, right, like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Dr. Levine noted that:
“having an intimate relationship with…your physical sensations is critical because they, in signaling action, guide you through the experiences and nuances of your life.”
You can’t have it both ways. If you learn to shut out the pain, you also shut down experiences of joy.
Listening to your body will help you be attuned to the parts of your life that signal freedom from your stories instead of confinement. Liberation versus imprisonment.
How well are you paying attention to your body, and its emotional pain, as you trudge through your day? Are you ignoring the signals that could eventually give you a break out of jail free pass?
Watch for Your Body’s Signals
An awareness of your body’s sensations can help to identify signals that either “all is well”, or that you are experiencing discomfort with life events that you might normally call familiar or comfortable.
The real-time feedback your body gives you can help you move past a place of “stuckness” that causes stress and anxiety, or mental and physical pain.
So how do you learn to pay attention to these sensations that either act as warning signals or signs of joy?
Here’s an exercise, adapted from Dr. Risa Kaparo’s book, Awakening Somatic Intelligence, that can help you learn to pay attention to your body and its attempts to communicate with you.
1. Begin in a comfortable seated position.
2. Tie a blindfold lightly around your head to help you resist the urge to open your eyes.
3. Begin to pay attention to your body as a whole, identifying where you have unique sensations or pain. You may experience some itchy feeling in one part, or a small throbbing in another. Make note of the different sensations. [You can learn to describe sensations with words like: open, closed, frozen, flushed, pulsing, raw, sharp, smooth, spacious, spasming, sweaty, tender, throbbing, tickly, clammy, warm, etc.]
4. Starting with your right foot, focus your awareness on your toes, then your foot, then your ankle. Do you have any sensations in any of these spots?
5. Move up your right leg to your shin, calf, knee, thigh, hip. Note any specific sensations.
6. If you begin to feel a sensation, sense it even deeper. If you spend time on that sensation, you may notice a shape, a color, or a temperature, until the sensation will either grow stronger or diminish. Pay attention to the sensation until it eventually shifts and dissipates.
7. Repeat the exercise for all other parts of your body- your left foot and leg, your hands and arms, your abdomen and chest, shoulders and neck, head. Stop and feel the sensations in each part of your body.
So what’s the point of paying attention to your body?
The tensing, contracting and other effort your body engages in to initially “protect” you (as during the “fight or flight” response to actual harm) will eventually cause the opposite effect if you hang onto it.
Holding onto the painful emotions, and the associated bodily sensations you experience, will shut down your body’s natural healing response.
Initially, as you do this exercise, you will notice that your attention to different sensations in your body will just increase your awareness of your body. Over time, your awareness of the different sensations in your body will actually cause them to diminish- yes, diminish- essentially healing your body of its discomfort and pain, creating aliveness and freedom.
Letting go of your painful emotions, and the body’s way of holding onto them, creates the opportunity to be liberated from your past.
If you’d like to let go of the stressful emotions or trauma that keeps you stuck, both in your body and in your life, click here to receive weekly guidance on how to let go of your past and find the life you were meant to have.
Holly Woods, Ph.D. uses Integral Coaching and Somatic Experiencing to help adults who are weighed down by stress or trauma, and who want to be free of the overwhelm so they can find a life full of joy and purpose. Sign up on the Right or Click Here to receive a Free Report and to receive my weekly newsletter. Please forward to a friend if you liked this post!