5 Keys to Working with Your Body Problems

1. Pay attention when your body is bothering you. Think of symptoms like they are your body’s way of trying to say something to you. Pain is like a signal to your brain from part of your body that something needs to change. For example, if you touch something hot you may get burned, so the signal is strong and painful so that you can respond immediately. The stronger the signal the higher the priority. Welcome the signal behind the pain. Now that you know that there could be a message for you, even though something is painful it may not be the best thing to simply eliminate the signal — you could get much more badly burned by doing that. Let me use the metaphor of the highway and those little bumps on the shoulder that warn you if you start to wander off the road. When you feel the bumps your best response is to change direction, not to wish they were not there. The bumpy experience is uncomfortable but is there to warn you of a potentially life-threatening situation.

2. Study your body’s language. Your body does not speak English. If your body is trying to say something what language is it using? As it turns out, we all speak it’s language and it is not as foreign as you might think (sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees). The body uses body-language. It’s like your body is playing charades with you. Now the best way to learn any language is by total immersion, you have to jump in and play along, make mistakes, make a fool of yourself, and if you can stay with it long enough, you will have those moments of insight and understanding that will happen more and more frequently until one day you may find yourself dreaming in your new language. So, what is it like to speak body-language fluently?Being fluent in body-language has a lot to do with your feelings and your instincts. It’s like when you catch the subtle nuance of poetry or when you are able to express your feelings just right. Think of it like this, if your thoughts are rational and sometimes logical, your feelings are emotional and often irrational. Your instincts are mostly automatic, like reflexes and fight-and-flight responses. Instincts are usually unconscious when triggered. Now think about processes happening in the body that are even deeper than instincts, like  digestion, breathing, or the heart beating — the body functions of the vital organs. Imagine the story they would tell if they could write a book. What is the story of your heart? …Of your lungs? If your thoughts are rational, your feelings emotional, and your instincts like reflexes, what are your physiological processes like? They are part of your deepest, most unconscious self. They are like dreams. To study your body’s language is to study your dreams.

3. Compare your own personality to your body’s message. The relationship between  you and your body is like the relationship between your thoughts and your dreams. Modern psychology has taught us how to interpret dreams and understand them. This is part of the contribution of Jung and post-Jungian, process-oriented psychology. Jung charted the progress of the self through the stages of life towards what he called Individuation, and found an underlying tendency towards wholeness throughout the lifecycle. This is like the process of managing the flow of our impulses as they occur — without suppressing them or letting them overwhelm you. He studied dreams to understand these deeper aspects of life. Today, process-oriented psychology and somatic psychology are showing us how the body speaks in the language of dreams, and how we can use this new-found knowledge to develop new approaches in medicine. This awareness-based medicine is finding a reflection of itself in age-old wisdom like the that found in philosophical Taoism of ancient China. The Tao is like a current of the deepest and most universal of impulses and tendencies. Asian medicine studied this flow of impulses and physiological processes in the body and mapped them as the acupuncture channels. The channels connect all parts of the body and describe the complete circulation of “Qi”, now maybe better understood as the flow of impulses and experiences. Disease is described as a result of blockage or excessive flow. Jung is quoted as saying that you can never really fix anything psychologically, you can only grow out of a problem. Growing is like becoming whole. So. dis-ease — or things that bother us — are like parts of us we are not familiar with, or prejudiced about, impulses and experiences that we are not identified with or that we reject. We can become whole by learning how to allow the flow of impulses and experiences to happen without suppressing them or letting them overwhelm us.

4. Move in the direction that your body language suggests. Go with the flow, but don’t get carried away.For example, let’s look at the story a young woman that came to see me in my clinic. She was suffering from chronic headaches and neck and shoulder tension. As we worked with her pain and tension, she described them to me and I began to palpate her tense muscles, locating knots and trigger-points. I asked her to imagine what her hands would be doing if she were to express with them the same kind of thing she was experiencing in her neck and shoulders. As we played with the impulses in her neck and shoulders and encouraged them to be expressed in her hands she began to clench her fists and imagined pounding a table and then punching a punching-bag. As I gave her an acupuncture treatment for her neck and shoulder tension, she began to get in touch with the pleasure of letting go and being assertive, something her upbringing, education and culture had never encouraged her to do. She had a lot of pent up anger and only began to relax as she was able to get in touch with it. So, I didn’t suggest that she start punching people, but I did suggest that she follow the direction indicated by her body-language — that she explore being more assertive. As she began to test this process in her everyday life she indeed found it meaningful and said that it felt right. She was able to grow in this new direction, felt more like herself, and recovered quickly from her neck and shoulder tension and her headaches. This learning opened a new chapter in her life and allowed her to move forward in a way that she had not guessed was possible. She was stuck and now she was freed up.

5. Check for Feedback. After you pay attention to the body, play charades with it, start to learn its language, even jump into its dreaming world and begin to change and grow in new directions, it is always wise to check for feedback. If you are going in the right direction things should start to even out, you should start to feel more like your self, more natural and at ease. The disturbance of the signal should be reduced as you integrate its message into your everyday life. If not, you may not have understood the message correctly, or there may be more to understand. Your skill in working with your body can save you time, energy, and money, and help you live a more meaningful life in the process. Skill takes time an practice to develop, but the rewards of this kind of bodywork can be tremendous.

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