Sara works from home. She just finished a delicious breakfast and is now washing the dishes. Her mind wanders off the task at hand. Seemingly without warning she holds her breath and squeezes the dishcloth. Her eyes get big. An old memory has scared her but she doesn’t know it.
Do you identify with any part of Sara’s scenario? Perhaps you have you felt afraid and didn’t know why? Maybe you didn’t call it fear. Maybe you said you were anxious. Maybe you said you were stressed. These are a few of the emotions that separate us from our natural state of peace.
If you identify with any of these symptoms, this article is for you! Today's article will introduce you to one of several methods in this series for relieving stress through early detection and attention to your body.
Survival is our strongest impulse
Emotions that separate you from your natural state of peace don’t work alone. Simultaneously, your body tightens to defend itself and your thoughts race to fix the problem. I had once believed we feel afraid and therefore our bodies “run.” But recently I came to learn that the reverse also is true: “Our bodies run and therefore we feel afraid.”
Have you ever had a near car wreck but avoided it in a millisecond? Your body went into action before you knew what was going on. This scenario is a perfect example of your body running and then you feel afraid. Survival is our strongest impulse. The impulse that helped you survive the near car wreck is your survival impulse.
Shame is one of the deepest and worst feelings we can have. It puts us into survival mode as quickly as an oncoming car wreck triggering your body’s reaction to run and therefore you feel afraid because our bodies react to external and internal events equally.
Whether your body gets triggered by shame, judgment or another ancient memory, the following method will help you learn how to come back into relationship to your physical experiences so you can return to your natural state of peace.
1. Early Detection
If you are in a near catastrophic car accident, you have a rational reason for your upset. But if you are with friends or even home watching TV or reading, old memories can come up and scare you. The following exercise is meant to help you know your attention is caught in an old pattern and you are reacting to that pattern. Once you know where your attention is, you can learn skills to bring your attention back to the present moment.
Remember a time you were anxious for no apparent reason. (We will refer back to this exercise).
1. Briefly describe the scene and jot down whatever comes to mind___________________________
2. What were your thoughts or judgments when your body reacted this way?
For example what visual images, audible sayings came up? (An audible saying might be “I can’t,” “So what,” “Who cares,” “That doesn’t matter,” “I don’t want to.”
3. What were you feelings when your body reacted this way?
For example, you might have felt guilt or shame, not good enough, helpless or hopeless.
4. As you recall this incident what do you notice about your body’s reaction?
For example, do you tighten a part of your body such as your fists, jaw or tongue?
Does any chronic place of pain become more noticeable?
Like a good spy, use what you just learned to help you know your attention is in an old memory that is stealing your peace.
2. Find a comfortable position to focus on your internal experience.
It is especially important that you begin this new way of caring for yourself with the least amount of pressure. I suggest you first try this method at home, either alone or with someone who supports this new way of helping yourself.
After noticing you are anxious, stop whatever you are doing as soon as you can safely can. Find a comfortable place where you can lay down on a bed or floor. You may want to get blankets or pillows to help you feel as comfortable as possible.
By lying down, the floor supports your postural muscles to help you let go. Lying down and closing you eyes (if you feel safe) helps you focus on your internal experience. A bed or floor will give you feedback on your back or side so you have more awareness of your body than standing or even in sitting in a chair. Do whatever is necessary to feel safe first! I feet comfortable alone and on my bed. But you might want a companion for comfort or prefer a chair. Whatever suits you is right.
Once you commit to the two basic steps below, you will build strength to end whatever emotional experience robs you of your peace.
1. Recognize you are separated from yourself
2. Stop the current activity to sit or lay down and reconnect to your body’s experience
3. Finding Peace with a Guided Meditation on Breathing Out
Soften your body as you listen to your breath
As you breathe out
Invite your mouth to soften
Invite your belly to soften.
With each out breath, let the body soften.
As the breath flows out, let it soften your jaw
Breathe out and let your body rest
Soften your fists
Soften any other place you feel tight
As you breathe out
Soften your tongue
Soften your eyes
Allowing them to fall back into the warm nest of your body
As you breathe out
Enjoy the muscles of your eyes and mouth softening
As your face softens
Feel the rest of your body soften, too.
As you breathe out
Soften your belly
Soften your tongue
Feel the rest of your body also soften
Allow the out breath to soften your body.
Soften and dissolve holding
Listen to the breath
Listen and soften
Listen and receive your own softness
Thoughts on following suggestions
The guided meditations or instructions you are giving yourself are merely suggestions. Knowing where your attention is and being with your attention is the most important point.
Be patient with yourself as you start to come out of the chaos. Your thoughts are scattered and chaotic because you are scattered and chaotic.
Your ability to follow the instructions you give yourself or are listening to will be scattered and chaotic. Give yourself permission for that to be OK as you take steps to settle down.
Let your attention land wherever it can land for just a brief second. When you are listening to others or even your own suggestions, do what you can but allow your attention to be OK wherever it lands. Stay wherever you land for a brief moment with no push or judgment.
Then follow the instructions you listening to and land again.
These are merely suggestions to help you settle down. There are many ways techniques to become aware of your attention. Make the techniques your own. Follow as many different techniques that you help you and enjoy the path.
As you take steps to settle down, you will be able to stay where you are with your attention longer. The wonderful bonus is that you will begin to receive insights from a deep place within you because your attention is deep.
Working with your nervous system
When you meditate or do any attention work you are working with your nervous system. It’s important to realize you are working with your nervous system because this work is slower and deeper work than working with your muscular system. Guided meditations will teach you what and how to pay attention to old patterns your energy has been conditioned to.
The work is slow but successful. The results tend to show up in week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year increments, so be patient with yourself. Enjoy the experience of getting to know you. Teaching yourself to return to a balanced state may be one of the most important accomplishments you will ever do.
The summary of the scientific article from the Weizmann Institute Of Science, February 27, 1998 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/02/980227055013.htm states “One of the most bizarre premises of quantum theory, which has long fascinated philosophers and physicists alike, states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality.”
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If you would like more information on how I work with clients, contact me at the link below and we can discuss setting up an appointment or finding someone in your area who might be able to support you.
Stephanie Rauch has a Ph.D. in Counseling Education, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in NC and is a Licensed Massage Therapist in NC.