Featured

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.

Featured

How to face your fears of being seen and being visible

Being seen or being visible is something that a lot of us struggle with, myself included. As some of you may be aware, at We are Vega, we recently launched our YouTube channel, talking about lots of issues to do with mental health and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Both my daughter and I had our own issues with being seen and we had many discussions around this. Being seen or visible is also something that comes up a lot in my therapy sessions with different clients.

To begin with I had to really confront my own issues, which often sounded like,’I look rubbish’,  ‘my hair is all wrong’, ‘I’m too old’, ‘people might not like this’, ‘I’m boring’. The list went on and on as I thought about it. I also realised that I could have replaced any of these with other concerns that I had twenty years ago, and they weren’t in fact the underlying reasons. I was afraid of being harshly judged, criticised, ridiculed, or shamed. When I looked at the likelihood of this actually happening, I realised the chances were minimal as most people I interact with are kind and respectful. I also considered how much I don’t judge people on these things, I admire people for stepping up and putting themselves out there, so why was I concerned that others would be doing the opposite to me? I admire people who can just be themselves and be comfortable in their own natural way, therefore, I concluded that I was probably typical of most people, and that my fears were unfounded.

Why do other people struggle with being visible or seen?

This process isn’t so simple for a lot of my clients however, who have been traumatised and left with deep wounds around being humiliated. For many of these people and their past experiences, the consequences of being noticed or seen was catastrophic and their best defence was to be as quiet and as invisible as possible. For anyone who was bullied at school, their experience of being seen was terrible, as they were often picked on and laughed at. Going unnoticed was usually the best defence in this case.

When people have had experiences like this, it’s not just simply an exercise of reassurance to change it. Being seen can be triggering and it sets off the fight, flight or freeze responses. The work to heal and repair these traumas has to be safe, gentle, and in no way a replication of the initial trauma. When we understand how these things play out and that they are just a part of our survival response, then we also know that it’s going to take some work to repair and change things. For some people, it can feel threatening or uncomfortable to try and notice themselves. Their head may tell them that it’s because they don’t like themselves, or that they can’t stand the way they look. This tells us that we need to begin repairing this relationship to ourselves.

How can we start learning to be okay with being seen?

We can start this process really simply. For example, using what I do in Sensorimotor work, we can try moving our feet in a pattern, and just observing them and feeling them as they move. We can then try creating a different narrative in our head. So, instead of criticism, we say something a little bit softer and more accepting like, ‘I can see my feet moving, and it’s ok’. I also get clients to try and notice how tight their shoulders are, making sure they are wary of any voice that might pop up to say that they are wrong. If it does pop up, then they can just let it pass, and try to just notice how tight their shoulders are and what might help to relieve some of the tension. Sometimes, they might like a supportive hand resting there, they might like to feel a bit of pressure from the hand, or feel like their shoulder is being held. Our shoulders will soon let you know what is working and what isn’t.

When we can start to observe ourselves and not criticise ourselves so much, it enables us to hear the information that we get from our body about what starts to happen when we are seen. Some people will feel themselves disconnect from their environment, their vision might become blurry, or they may start to shrink or go very still, which is the beginning of a freeze response. The key to finding resources which will help us get out of these responses, are going to be things that we do, but no one can see us doing them.

How our body can help us

When we start to disappear in our own unique way, we will have likely become disconnected from our body, therefore, the most effective thing we can do is to stay connected to our body and help it to function and move. We can get connected back to our body using small, simple resources, thing like tensing the muscles in your arms and releasing them can help. Another could be, keeping your toes moving inside your shoes, or tensing and releasing your stomach muscles. Another thing to try could be to gently rub your arms, to try to get the feeling back in them. If you can find something to lean on, you can try pushing yourself against it to help you feel more solid.

It’s just about finding an access point through your body and through your senses. Once you can change that initial response, your body will spontaneously move and work again. This way, instead of it being something that you have no control over, you can actually manage it and stay present. Being noticed isn’t then so terrifying, because you are managing it. It will automatically make you feel less vulnerable and more able to stand your ground. You don’t have to be locked into the shadows of your past, once we understand what’s happening and why, we can do something really positive about it.

I still feel nervous when a video is going out on We are Vega, but also excited. The more we do and the more we put out, the easier it feels and the more confident I feel about doing different things.

The kinder we can be too ourselves and others around us, the easier this process of being seen and being visible will be for everyone.

Featured

How past experiences can still affect us today

It’s been an established fact by a lot of therapeutic modalities that our past experiences can have a profound effect on the way that we behave, react and relate to others, in relationships. A lot of talking therapies require clients to dig deep into their past to try and explain their present day symptoms or behaviours. This can be helpful for a lot of people and can also assist with making sense of things happening to them right now. However, it’s not always that simple, and it isn’t a good option for people who have no memory of their experiences. A lot of Catriona’s clients have little to no memory of their childhood, their recall can be sketchy or even non-existent. All they are aware of is their repeating patterns of behaviour, or that their reactions to things or people seem to make no sense. They usually find that these behaviours are really hard to change. They aren’t aware of how their past experiences are affecting their lives today.

When Catriona is working with clients, whatever behaviours they are exploring, whether it’s eating patterns, obsessive traits, anxiety about certain things, she always views them with an acceptance. Accepting that at some point in the clients lives, this behaviour was a solution to a problem and it made sense back then. Therefore, if that was a solution, we can then be curious about what it was a solution for. If you have grown up in an environment which was unpredictable or volatile, then a good solution will have been to shrink yourself and be as quiet, still, and invisible as possible. It may have even been the best solution to freeze and be completely still, or to dissociate. These responses don’t then simply disappear when you change your environment or when you grow up, as our coping mechanisms can follow us and play out wherever we go. If it feels like these coping mechanisms or behaviours are no longer needed but still keep happening, they change from being a solution, to something that actually gets in the way or causes problems.

The freeze response might show up again in the present day at any sign of potential conflict, or in a situation that you would have perceived as threatening when you were much younger. Clients will notice that their breathing gets tight and shallow, or they may be unable to move or think about what to do, or even speak to ask for help. They may be completely oblivious to the trigger that’s just come up and just come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with them. These responses can then very easily get misdiagnosed, or treated with the wrong medication, resulting in no understanding about what’s happening to them and no improvement in their condition.

It’s very hard to just stop behaviours if they are hard-wired into our survival system, even if we can have some success, it usually takes a huge amount of effort. It feels like an ongoing, never-ending battle, which can be exhausting and demoralising.

However, sometimes when we grow up, go to uni, get a job, meet new friends, or get into relationships, these behaviours and coping mechanisms can start to fade and sometimes even stop. But if we then have a new traumatic experience or something happens in our life that reduces our resilience, or triggers any past events, then these behaviours can suddenly reappear. When this happens to us, we always blame it on what’s going in the present and we often don’t recognise that something from our past might have been triggered, as there isn’t always an obvious connection between the two.

A light bulb in hands representing energy levels

The great thing about working with the body, is that your body will tell your story. When you can learn to notice and track what your body is doing, you can then question why a certain behaviour might have been a really good response in the past. You can then begin to make links to the present and try to make sense of what’s happening to you. Once you can do that, you can explore different resources to find a new solution which allows the body to have a new present-moment experience. If you are in a freeze response, then you can find something that will help you to unfreeze, in a new, safe way. That way, when the past triggers you again, you will recognise the early signs of the trigger, as they will be consistent, and you can then resource yourself so you don’t freeze or shut down. This allows you to be in control and not let past events take over what is happening right now.

Just because you don’t know why you might react in certain ways, we can always assume that there was once a good reason for this, and it was a solution at the time. If you tend to get overly anxious, or you have panic attacks, then you can find some resources to help your breathing and then use them before the anxiety gets a chance to build. This way you can heal from the past without having to go over all the details of what happened to you.

Our past will always be there but the influence it has over us can be massively reduced and we can heal from the past experiences that have happened to us.

Our Body Work Course is a really way to start understanding your body and connections to your past experiences, we put it together to help you learn to understand the different behaviours and messages from your body, to help put you back in control of yourself. You can check out the course here, or send us any questions you may have here.

A light bulb in hands representing energy levels Featured

Different ways to change our energy levels

We all have days where we feel depleted, where we can’t be bothered to do anything or we’re a bit fed up. For some of us that feeling can go deeper and we can get really down, wanting to shut ourselves away, cancel plans and want to just hibernate. The longer we are in this state, the harder it can be to get out of it. Our head will join in often with negative thoughts to match why we are feeling low, looking for reasons, things or people to blame. We might get very critical of ourselves for not being productive and list all the things we should be doing. All of these things make us feel worse. Some of us will force ourselves to do things and hope it helps. Sometimes it really does help and we feel more energised and awake, other times it can feel like wading through sludge.

External factors play a huge role in how we feel, we get affected by things happening around us all the time. Think about when we wake up in the morning and look out of the window, if it’s cold, dull and rainy we usually sigh and won’t feel like getting up. If it’s bright and sunny, we feel much more inclined to get up and get out into the sunshine, or even just enjoy looking at it through the window. Our mood and energy levels are very affected by the environment around us.

We can’t change the weather or the world around us, but we can have a say in how it affects us. There are so many things we can try, we are all different so it’s important to find the things that work for us. The way we can tell what works is by taking note of the signs that our mood is low and our energy is flat.

Some signs you can use as a measure

  • Notice what your posture is like, is it slumped?
  • When you move your shoulders are they heavy?
  • How are you breathing?
  • If you think about walking outside, what response do you get?
  • What are you doing right now, how have you been behaving today?

Just get some things to act as a guide or measure so you can really tell if there is an improvement.

Now we can try a few things to change our energy levels:

You can sit or stand for this one. 

  1. Starting at you toes, with both hands begin to make circular movements in one direction, moving up your legs at what ever speed feels right, making circles all the way up to the top of your leg. Then do the same with the other one. If you’re uncomfortable touching your legs, then hover above them, making the same circular motion.
  2. Next, do the same circles with your hands but this time do it on your arms, begin at your hands and just travel up in spiralling circles all the way up to your shoulder. Make sure you do each side. Now just take a measure of how you feel.
  3. Next we’re going to reverse it, going back down to your legs, this time starting at the top and repeating the circular spirals all the way down to your toes. Do the same on the other leg.
  4. Then you’re going to reverse the arms by starting at your shoulders, making circular movements with your hands all the way down to your hand.
  5. Now just take a moment to notice if you prefer the upwards motion, or the downwards motion. If you have a preference, repeat that one.
  6. Next we can do something with our core energy. Sitting or standing, begin by imagining an invisible line from your belly button up to the top of your head. Using your awareness, follow the line starting at your belly button, follow it up to the top of your head and then move it out of your head. Speed this up and do this a few times.
  7. Now you’re going to reverse it. Imagine the line coming in from the top of your head and travelling down to your belly button, do this a few times.
  8. Notice what you feel, do you prefer going up or going down? Whichever one you prefer, go back to your starting point and this time instead of going straight, let your awareness make little spirals as it moves either up or down. Do it a couple of times and see if you prefer going straight or adding the swirls in.
  9. You can also trace these movements with your hands, allowing the hand to trace the line your awareness was following to see if there is a difference.
  10. We can move this out a little and do the same again, by imagining a line where your waist is, a few feet in front of you. Let your eyes and awareness follow this line from waist-height up and above your head. Do this a few times, speeding it up. Now reverse it and start at the top, trace it downwards, do this a few times.
  11. What is the difference, which one do you prefer?
  12. Now we can move it about a bit, going in the preferred direction instead of imagining a straight line in front of you. Let it go either up or down, making spirals as it moves. What works best?

If you notice that the upward-motion works best for you, then you are probably at the bottom of your window of tolerance and need to raise your energy or activation in your body. If the downward-motion is the best, then you may be near the top of your window and need to come down or ground a bit.

We can sweep our energy up or down with not much effort. We’re not the same every day, so try each one to see which one works best each time.

What’s important, is to actually have things that you can do to help you counteract the impact of what’s going on around you. The more you can work with your body to make changes, the less you have to be fearful of what’s going to happen next. The brilliant thing about body work is your body will tell you what works and what doesn’t, you don’t need to work it out, just try things. This will really help you listen to your body.

If you liked doing these, you can purchase our first body work course, where you will find so many different techniques to try so you can really get to know yourself and build a good relationship with your body.