One of my favorite phrases is “Tat Tvam Asi”, or Thus thou art. A more common English way of saying this is “There but by the grace of god, go I”. I love this phrase so much, because it reminds me that I could be anyone. I could have been born into any circumstance, with different parents, in a different part of the world, with a different skin color, or a different economic place. This phrase has helped me to be less judgmental, and aided me when I completely and utterly cannot for the life of me figure out a viewpoint that I don’t agree with. “That could be me”, I say to myself. And at the very least, it helps me not be so shut off from hearing another point of view.
As a Somatics practitioner, I was trained to try to see things from the perspective of my students, not just from the outside. It helps to be able work with someone as a whole soma (body/mind/beyond) and consider what it’s like to walk in their shoes, rather than see them in one dimension. It’s a helpful practice, not just in my work, but in my daily life. These days, there are plenty of people to disagree with and polarize. Repeating “Tat Tvam Asi” could help bring more compassion and understanding to this current divisiveness we are experiencing right now.
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
We’ve all had a lot of challenges and difficulties in the last few months – whether they are personal to our own lives, or the world surrounding us, I don’t think there is anyone who has not been somehow affected by some aspect of current global events. It’s easy (for me, at least!) to contract against it, curl up in a little ball, stick my head in the sand, search for more comfort & escape. It’s sometimes hard for me to even take a deep breath – a breath that I know would be so nourishing & restorative – seems unsafe to expand even that little bit into the world sometimes. But I know, from all the body & feeling explorations that I’ve done over the years, we need to expand in order to contract, and we need to contract in order to expand. That can be applied to a lot of things – as simple as the breath, muscle patterns, even emotions and feelings. If we can become aware of this flow, from one edge of discomfort to the other edge of relief, then we’re able to find a constant comfort in that process so these daily challenges become more of a flow. When we practice noticing both sides of this expansion/contraction, discomfort/comfort, we gain more range to experience more, and recover more quickly when something does overwhelm us. This is always an important tool, but especially important (even essential) right now. Slow down, step back, be gentle – when that overwhelming feeling of the state of the world or the state of your own life starts to creep in, see if you can look at it with curiosity. Curiosity helps that resiliency to recover and handle the dips down when we realize it’s just one side of our own personal ebbs & flows. Continue to move, breathe, and look outward & inward with curiosity.
Most people stumble upon Somatic practices because they are searching for some sort of pain relief. As a field, Somatic Education encompasses a lot of methods, but the one thing they all have in common is that it encourages everyone to be aware of all aspects of YOU (body, mind, feelings, beyond), and this awareness helps to lead to important changes and growth – including pain relief. As somatic educators, we help guide people to learn more about themselves – how to relieve pain and improve quality of life. The different methods (Hanna Somatic Education, Feldenkrais, Somatic Experiencing, to name just three) may have different approaches to help open doors for their students, but the goal is the same – self-awareness, self-regulation, self-correction, and self-empowerment.
The movements I choose each week in class focus on a couple of things –
1) Helping you recognize the natural patterns that can keep muscles “stuck” that may be causing you pain & imbalance in the body. This is in the gentle movement we use, playing with the “edges” of your own movement patterns, and how to recognize your neutral, starting point.
2) Relaxing your nervous system in order to bring you back to sense of safety in your body, so that you have the freedom to respond to (and recover from) all the different challenges in your day.
Being able to recognize that “safety zone”, or neutral place, helps you to recover from any demands on your nervous system when faced with a sudden challenge – whether that’s a physical challenge (tripping on the sidewalk, recovering from injury), or an emotional one (listening to current events, a disagreement with a loved one).
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“While we see anger & violence in the streets of our country, the real battlefield is inside our bodies. If we are to survive as a country, it is inside our bodies where this conflict needs to be resolved.”
~ Clinical therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem
It can be uncomfortable to cross your comfort zones. I talk a lot in class about “going up to your edge”. What do I mean by “the edge”? Muscularly, I’m suggesting that you recognize where a movement starts to cause discomfort. Go up to the discomfort, say “hello”, and then back away. Resist the urge to push past or force through that pain or discomfort. The nervous system likes to feel safe, to be in balance (homeostasis), so when we force muscles to move past a comfort zone, we actually end up losing ground to move forward. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if we can gently become aware of that edge – the edges of our comfort zones – the nervous system gains trust that we won’t push through, possibly causing injury, and that trust leads us to expansion and length in the muscle. We can think of this in relation to emotions and habitual programming of all sorts. Sidle up to your comfort zone, say “hello”, own it, then the next time you come up to that comfort zone, you may find you get a little bit farther.
This Thursday, we’ll explore the “edge” of breath, and how that can start to open up not only muscles in the center of the body, but also open perception to the external world around us. Click here for information on my weekly class, and feel free to email me with any questions.
Sometimes, in order to make sense of things, I use analogies and replace the thing I cannot understand with something I can. The civil unrest that’s going on in many cities (and in many hearts) is hard to unravel. Our country has been going through this for centuries, and we are piling up more social dissonance in this very moment in time. It’s hard for many of us to see others’ perspectives – it’s a kind of “blind spot” in our consciousness, a cultural “sensory/motor amnesia”.
Here’s the connection: Often when we experience muscle pain, it’s because our brains have put us on a cruise control, and we are no longer voluntarily in charge of those muscles. We can try to force ourselves to relax, to stretch, to push out of the pain, but what really works is becoming aware of that “amnesia”, and then trying something different; becoming conscious of other possibilities for ourselves so that we have the power to change. I believe that’s what happening to us as a culture. We are collectively becoming aware of some places in ourselves that we previously couldn’t see, didn’t deal with, and now we are collectively experiencing pain. Some of us resist, some try to be compassionate, some of us put our heads in the sand. Probably most of us do a little of everything, and then some. Because much of society is shut down due to COVID-19, we have an opportunity to slow down our own thinking, examine our own patterns, and choose something different – changing our narratives. I’m in this with you – unraveling bias, programming, and all of my own sensory/motor amnesia.