How often have we been told, “You should just slow down and breathe,” or, “to feel better, just tune in to your body and then do what it is telling you,” or, “Being mindful will help you feel less stressed.” (And by the way, the word, “mindful,” meaning focusing on getting back into your body, is confusing and misdirecting. Why are you telling me to be mindful when you actually want me to get into my body? Is bodyful a word?)
Essentially, these well-intentioned directives tell us that if we just listen to our body, it will tell us what to do and we can do it. If it tells us it is tired and needs to stop doing so much, then we will just magically slow down. Or if our neck and shoulders are sore from trying to carry too much responsibility, then we must manage our lives better and delegate. Or, simply, that we just need to get back into our body!
Well-meaning friends may tell us what helped them, workshop facilitators try to teach us techniques in two four-hour sessions over the weekend, gurus write books and train others to pass on to us a wisdom we are desperate to hear, employers integrate inspirational posters into the workspace. And on the surface, the suggestion to listen to our bodies is a good idea, but there is actually more to it than that.
The body communicates in pains, sickness, and injuries. If all we hear is “be mindful,” “meditate,” “breathe more,” or, “slow down,” we’re not going to be able to really respond to the more nuanced, deeper communication the body might be trying to convey. There might be more going on than just a need to breathe more or be in our bodies; we might need to look at why we aren’t breathing and don’t want to be in our bodies.
We are somatic people, storing information and experiences in our tissues. If we have suffered a traumatic experience – an accident, an illness, a surgery, a physical attack – our bodies may have physically healed, but the echoes of the experience remain in our body and psyche. Relaxing, breathing, or “being mindful” might be deeply uncomfortable or even physically impossible without professional help in understanding the event and its effects. (This is where SPRe really helps!)
In addition, if we don’t know how to stop and listen, then translate that information and how it relates to who we understand ourselves to be, we have a conflict. Who we understand ourselves to be is formed by our family of origin. The roles we held and the expectations we managed while growing up remain encoded within us. We are all influenced by emotional experiences and deeply held family belief systems that permeate down to our cells, that dictate what we believe and what we do, and are not easy to just erase or go against. Believing that we can just listen to our body and then do what it says can cause a real conflict of identity.
If we come from a family that believed in the paramount importance of hard work and dedication over everything else, we won’t be able to just slow down. If our shoulders are telling us to give up and release the weight of the world, but our role in the family was the one who got things done, how do we go against that? If our body keeps getting sick and not functioning despite our busy lives, but we were the one in the family who held it together, what do we do?
Trying to take action according to casual messages can be difficult. The conflict becomes, either our body is wrong, we are wrong, or our family is wrong. Holding these complex and opposing thoughts and feelings in order to come to a resolution and act on behalf of our bodies sounds easy but it isn’t. Personally, I am the (codependent) caretaker of the family and I couldn’t stop managing people, their feelings, and everything else until my body told me it couldn’t anymore: I wouldn’t have stopped just because someone told me I should.
I’m not saying that the people giving you these messages are bad or even that the messages themselves are bad – after all, we could all benefit by breathing more and focusing on ourselves. People just want to help and pass on what has worked for them or made them feel better. Just consider that there may be more that your body is asking you to do, and there may be more effective ways to respond.
The next time you hear, “just relax, let go,” or “go to the gym,” or, “meditate and be mindful,” please consider that while endorphins are temporarily soothing, and breathing isn’t optional, and slowing down helps briefly, this doesn’t resolve the complexity of your inner conflict. Working with professional help, whatever kind you choose, to assist you in discerning the information from your body and how to take effective action on your own behalf is a gift of wellness to yourself.
I’ve found going deeper and really finding out what my body is saying to be an incredible investment in myself, not to mention successful in clearing up some pretty chronic aches, pains, and harmful patterns. I still have my issues, but learning how to be quiet and explore the deeper things my body might be telling me, so that I can take some sort of helpful action, has been so helpful. Once again, I’m introducing my body to my mind; I have to say, I’m feeling pretty “bodyful” these days!