My body loves acknowledgment …
… and I know your body does, too.
I know this because the body responds when we pay attention, listen, and acknowledge. In my many years of being a bodywork practitioner I have not only seen the body physically change its condition — from tightness to softness, from constriction to release — but I have felt these changes with my hands. I have felt tension release its grip without my massaging anything. When my clients paid compassionate attention to the parts that hurt, their bodies accepted these acknowledgments as peace offerings and then decided to let go. It’s as if the body says, “You mean, you noticed me? You mean, it’s okay to let down my guard now?”
It sounds so simple, but it works.
Once one of my college writing students approached me after class in distress. She asked me, “Can you help me with fear?” I was moved that my student felt safe enough to come to me with such a question. I must say I was expecting an inquiry about how to revise her essay, and I felt strangely relieved when her issue was so intensely important and universal.
We sat down together and I knew that no ordinary “pep talk” would do. How can you release fear in five minutes by merely talking through it? You can’t. But what you can do is listen to the body. And that’s what we did.
“Where do you feel the fear in your body?” I asked.
“In my chest,” she said and placed her hand there, rubbing her sternum like she was polishing a stone.
“Good. Just acknowledge that you feel the fear in your chest. Breathe that knowing in and let it be,” I said. “What does that feeling in your chest want to tell you?”
She seemed a little uncertain of my question, but after closing her eyes and focusing inward, she answered, “My body says I am safe,” and she took a full breath and then sighed. Her jaw unclenched. She looked at the clock, aware that we both needed to get going. “How can I feel better this quickly?” she asked.
“Because you were brave and you listened to your body,” I told her.
Our five minutes were up and my student moved forward with a lightness only the body can manifest in such situations. The body is always ahead of the mind when it comes to physical and emotional pain. The body knows how be our best advocate.
The art piece I created above is called “She Asks Her Hand Why it Hurts.” In the scene, the whispering birds represent the kind of dialog we can have with ourselves regarding our own discomfort. Sometimes I imagine a little voice in my mind which asks a little voice in a part of my body (such as my hand), “Why do you hurt?” or “What do you need?” When I listen carefully, I can usually hear a response.
The hand might say, “I worked too hard today” or “I gave too much to others this week” or “You forget all about me when you work on the computer.” When I can quiet the clatter in my mind for a few long breaths, I usually receive some insight. What do you hear when you ask a part of your body how it feels?
Find a quiet place where you can focus inward. Locate an area that you are curious about. Perhaps this area causes you pain or maybe this area is just confusing to you for some reason. Whatever the case may be, ask this place some questions as if it were a close friend or loved one. Ask your questions with curiosity and compassion and be open to hearing whatever it is your body has to tell you.
You can follow up this exercise by writing down the dialog as if you were writing a short story or play. Feel free to give this body part a personality, too! Is your elbow crabby? Is your stomach an excited teenager? Is your neck shy and reserved? Make this body part come to life and give its voice a chance to speak!