Internal and External Resources
We can refuse to listen to the wisdom of our body. It can call loudly to us, and we may not be willing to engage with it, learn from its teachings and integrate its wisdom. Some of us are disconnected from our body, look to others to heal our discomfort and don’t believe we can be centred and grounded in our body. Others of us give up our body to others, e.g. to social-community expectations or to comparison and learn to conform or shape our body in a particular way. It can be rare for us to see our bodies as a resource, as something that supports and nurtures us, and different for us to stand in the assumption that our body is an ally. Rediscovering the ‘me that is my body’ can be part of our journey, of coming home to remembering who we are. Focusing on the body, this article invites you to explore resources, recovering some of your own and even discovering new ones.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
by Maya Angelou
Resources can be anything or anyone that supports a sense of emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. We can be aware of them, or they can be hidden. We may actively be using them or have forgotten them. They can be external, e.g. a friend, a family member, nature, an expressive art or internal, e.g. a stillness practice, intuition, courage, a talent or a combination of internal and external. What or who are your external and internal resources? Not sure? Then here is a practice to support you, from a book by Peter Levine, who has studied stress and trauma for 35 years, ‘Healing Trauma: A pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body’
Take a piece of paper. Divide it in to two halves. In one column begin a list of external resources; in the other column begin a list of internal resources. Over time you can add to each list.
External Resources Internal Resources
e.g. My best friend e.g. Meditation Practice
What did you discover?
What resources are missing?
How can you begin to be more conscious of these resources into your life?
Symptoms Give Us Messages
When we receive a diagnosis for some physical symptoms we are experiencing we have choices about how we respond to that diagnosis. We can chose to take the perspective that the diagnosis is useful information and that the symptoms are a wake-up call, that healing is necessary; we can chose to ignore the info or we can be upset, telling our self that our body is letting her down.
Peter Levine describes symptoms as ‘internal wake-up calls’. They tell us that something doesn’t feel ok, and it needs our attention. When we learn to listen to these calls, and respond to the messages our bodies are giving us, we can begin to heal ourselves and/or ask for help or support from an external resource.
What lens do you view symptoms from?
Would a reframe serve you better?
Body posture changes to reflect our inherent beliefs, expectations and perspectives. When we become aware of and explore how we are in our bodies, we can see what impact this is having in our lives. This awareness gives us the opportunity to change habitual patterns that may be depleting us, and explore new ways of being to affirm our lives. Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist who speaks on the psychology of power, influence, nonverbal communication, and prejudice. In the TED talk Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
she invites us to think about how body language affects how others see us, and that body language may also change how we see ourselves.
What beliefs and perspectives about yourself, others and life does your body posture express?
Fight, Flight, Freeze
When in situations that we perceive to be life-threatening, we mobilise huge amounts of energy, in preparation to fight or escape. In the ‘fight or flight’ this energy is released, and we return to a balanced state within. If it’s not possible for us to fight or escape what we perceive as the life-threatening situation, the excess energy does not get discharged, and our bodies keep responding as if under threat. We often use another response in such situations, the ‘freezing or immobility’ response, where we freeze or numb the energy that gets mobilised. Animals in the wild discharge this energy when they are safe by ‘shaking’, completing their escape by actively finishing the movements of fight or escape and releasing the frozen energy and returning to full-bodied breaths. In this short video, Polar bear shaking after trauma
, from the National Geographic video “Polar Bear Alert” you can see how a frightened polar bear, chased and shot with a tranquillizer dart, surrounded and tagged ‘‘blows off stress” that has built up during the chase and capture.
Whilst we do possess the same built-in ability to shake off the effects of threat as animals, we do not find it so easy to return to a state of balance. Our rational mind can step in; we get frightened of our own energy and brace ourselves against our sensations, thereby preventing release of the energy and our return to a state of equilibrium. Peter Levine has developed a gentle, twelve phases approach to healing trauma. His approach comes from the perspective that our body is a resource. He writes, “Everybody has resources. It can also be said that every body has resources.”
You can find out more about his approach at www.traumahealing.com
What is it to complete your process?
Felt-Sense: Body Awareness
Eugene Gendlin, the author of the book Focusing
, coined the term felt sense (2003). A felt sense is a physical experience of the sensations we experience in our body. Our felt sense moves, shifts and transforms constantly. The senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste contribute to the felt sense, as do emotions. Our bodies’ tensions, movements, temperature and positions also contribute to our felt sense. A sensation usually has a shape and size, a specific quality such as tightness, heat, cold or vibration. Sometimes it has a colour, and it can be described through a metaphor, e.g. like a rubber band round my chest.
When we put our attention on our felt sense the sensations may initially get stronger, because we are allowing ourselves to experience it directly. As we stay with the sensation however it changes. Growing our awareness of our felt sense supports us to be in the here and now, find our true feelings and responses, heal old wounds, and make choices based on the present and not on habits formed in the past. I invite you to take a breath, tune into your body and notice your sensations.
What is your experience in this moment?
The Embodied Self
In his book Body Process
, James Kepner (2003) explains that we normally consider ‘body’ to be something outside of us. We want to get rid of uncomfortable body experience such as constant headaches. Perceiving our body as ugly or associated with pain, we may avoid engaging our bodily experience at all. Yet when we do this, we deny our experience, our self and the possibility of learning about ourselves. What happens then when we shift to the use of ‘I’ in reference to our body experience? How does that impact on our sense of life? If you are experiencing tension in your body what happens when you say ‘I am tensing myself’? And what happens if you also say, ‘I am tensing myself, and this is my existence.’ If you have a headache, ‘I am aching’ and ‘I am aching, and this is my existence’.
What is your relationship with your body?
Expressing the Bodies Passion
- The song I Sing the Body Electric is from the film Fame. Its title is borrowed from a Walt Whitman poem in which he delights in the qualities of the human body. The song begins, 'I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come…’
- Irene Cara, one of the singers on I Sing the Body Electric also sings the title song from the film Flashdance - Final Dance.
- In Phenomenal Woman you can hear Maya Angelou, author, poet and activist describe how her power lies in the way her body expresses her self-belief as a woman. And for those of you who want to read the poem see the inset box above …
How do you, your body, want to express your passion?
Maya Angelou. Phenomenal Woman.
Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.
Eugene T. Gendlin (2003). Focusing
James I. Kepner (2003). Body Process
Peter A. Levine (2008). Healing Trauma: A pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.
National Geographic. Polar bear shaking after trauma.
Fame, I Sing the Body Electric.
Flashdance, Final Dance.
Article posted 21 September 2014
is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Life Coach and Speaking Circles Facilitator with a private practice in Wellington find out more