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Why we should listen more to our bodies and less to our minds

When Catriona works with people, whether that’s face-to-face or through Skype or Zoom, the way she works stays the same. With some people, she is teaching those who are completely new to any aspect of body work how to tune in and be aware of what’s happening inside them. With other people, she’s tracking along with them, all the sensations they are currently feeling and then noticing if anything changes when they do something that either helps them or doesn’t help them.

No matter where people are on their journey the same things come up, just in different ways. The thing that Catriona does with everyone is teach them to listen and to not interpret with just their heads and thoughts. The reason for this is, for example, when we notice a tightness in our chest, most people will name it ‘anxiety’, ‘panic’, ‘fear’ etc, that then automatically sets off a narrative about what’s wrong, or what might happen, which in turn increases the anxiety or panic. It then goes round in an increasing cycle. When we label a feeling in our stomach ‘dread’, ‘disgust’, or ‘overwhelm’, then we believe it and will act accordingly, we’ll look for things going on in our lives that could be the reason, and might end up attributing blame to the wrong thing. If we can’t find anything however, we berate ourselves with a lot of negative thoughts, none of which is helpful or settling.

These sensations coming up in our body may well be a response to stress, or something that we are dreading, but it doesn’t help us to manage these responses if we totally believe what our head is telling us. If we can start to separate the two things and say things instead like, ‘there is a tightness in my chest, is it a gripping tightness, or a pulsing tightness? Is it like a weight on my chest, or constriction inside?’ We can then try to notice what effect it has on the way we breath, as we can get more information. Is it harder on the in-breath or on the out-breath? Does it make it hard to move the shoulders or the upper arms?

How Catriona does this with clients

Asking these kind of questions allows Catriona to then ask the person what they notice about their response to this body sensation, do they feel reluctant or fearful of the sensation? Are they scared they might make it worse? Are they dismissive of it? Sometimes the answer comes from the things she’s told, or sometimes from the things she observes. If our heads are nervous about the body being the focus, the person might suddenly remember something they wanted to tell Catriona and try to divert away from the body. Sometimes they just notice how much they don’t want to do the body work.

All of these responses tell us a lot about the relationship we have to any sensation we feel and the way we will automatically deal with it. This is also very revealing about the relationship we have with ourselves. Our heads will often put up quite a battle, saying things like, ‘I’m feeling worse’, ‘this is silly’, ‘I have lots to talk about, this isn’t real work’, ‘talking is the only way to figure things out’. Its Catriona’s job to gently allow the body to have a voice, to be able to tell its story, which will be very different to the story told by the head. She lets people know that their head will get some understanding and that things will make sense, but that can only happen when we let the body communicate. If the head could have figured this out, it probably would have done so by now.

How we can manage sensations with the body

Once we have this information we can begin to work with the sensation coming up and keep the head, and any interpretation of what is actually happening, out of the present-moment experience. We can try different resources to see what ones might help the sensation settle. For example, any tightness will soon let you know if applying pressure helps or doesn’t, because you will feel the result. The heads response to feeling tightness is to usually stretch it out, or to just rub it. If the head has labelled the tightness as ‘panic’, then when stretching or rubbing doesn’t help, we really do start to panic, thinking ‘nothing works’, ‘what am I going to do?’. Or even, ‘I’m going to die’, and the chest will be so tight that no breath can get in or out, resulting in all our blood rushing to our internal organs and our brain going offline. If however, we try to just feel the tightness, noticing the physical properties of it and how it’s affecting us, we can actually see what might help. Tightness can sometimes be relieved by applying pressure, or feeling strength by tensing our muscles. Sometimes it just needs you to hold it with your hand or arm, or to use heat on it. Sometimes working with a different part of the body helps, for example, the stomach or legs can be a good resource and may relieve any tightness. We only know what works by allowing the body to tell us and keep the head out of the naming process.

In Catriona’s first year and a half of training, for the whole trauma module they were taught to put all the thoughts to one side and only listen to the body. In the second training, developmental work, they were shocked at the first demonstration which included the question ‘what thoughts go with that sensation?’. The wise and wonderful trainers knew that if they allowed everyone to think at the beginning of the training, then they would solely rely on that. The only way that they could retrain everyone to listen and to understand the language of the body, was to listen only to the body, with nothing else getting in the way. This is the work Catriona continues to do with all of her clients, and this is the message that she wants to pass on to anyone who would like to hear it.

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