Sensations and Emotions are the Language of Your Body
When we are first born, before we can speak or use language to express ourselves, we use our physical sensations, our “body sense,” to guide us toward what makes us feel safe and fulfilled and away from what makes us feel bad. As we develop into adults, it becomes easy to lose touch with these crucial mind-body communication channels, but they are essential to our ability to navigate social interactions and deal with psychological stress, physical injury, and trauma.
Alan Fogel, Body Sense
Most of us are quite familiar with Cognitive Awareness, or “thinking about” things. Just as important to our survival is Somatic Awareness , “feeling into” sensation and emotion.
While Cognitive Awareness helps us plan, make meaning, and analyze, Somatic Awareness (of our natural instincts and processes) helps protect us, to recover from stress and injury, to experience joy and aliveness.
Without sensations you would not know when you are tired, hot or cold, feeling safe or in danger, injured, hungry, sad or happy. Valuing your sensations helps you know how to protect yourself, when to reach out for something new, when to set or hold a boundary, and when to stop doing something that is not serving you or others well. Allowing sensations and emotions to process, with the right support, can shift you into new states and perspectives, new possibilities for meeting life fully.
BodyBeing sessions help you develop your Somatic Awareness, to learn the felt sense of how you are in the present moment from all aspects of you… emotional, mental, physical and spiritual… and why these aspects are important to your overall life and well-being.
Through awareness practices, I encourage you to follow and allow your sensations with tender curiosity. I help you notice links between sensations and images, thought patterns or emotions that arise for you. This discovered information connects your subconscious with your consciousness, and invites new possibilities for improved ways of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
During your session, your mind may drift or have busy thoughts. You might meet difficult feelings or become tense. You may notice patterns of self-judgment or feelings of despair, agitation, or fear arise in you as you come closer to yourself initially. You may try to analyze what is there or have a story about why you feel the way you feel.
As you are simply aware of what is there, without trying to change it or judge it, you may notice changes in your muscle tension. Emotional expression, pain relief, or feelings of goodness and support may arise as muscles soften and relaxation deepens. You may have a new understanding of an old problem or perspective.
Living embodied means noticing and valuing your natural instincts and processes, consciously connecting cognitive and somatic aspects of your being, and being able to sustain presence in the face of discomfort and challenges.
You expand your ability to respond to life in ways that are congruent with your best self, to experience well-being and compassionate connection in relationship with ourselves and other beings.
Sensations are the most basic language of the body.
They give us immediate information about what our body-unconscious is experiencing in a given moment.
Our nervous systems react to experiences automatically to keep us safe. Getting comfortable with our involuntary physical responses connects our consciousness with our body-unconscious, allowing us more possibilities than our default reactions.
We can learn to discern whether we are getting activated: a fear response that helps us be alert and act quickly, or having a relaxation response that enables us to rest, digest our food, and repair our bodies.
Our Fear Response kicks in when our body senses a threat.
We Fight, Flee and Freeze.
Sensations of this state include:
Fast heart beat
Shallow, quick even breathing
Tingly arms and hands, legs and feet
Urge to move or hold still in order to get safe
Our Relaxation Response is engaged when we feel safe and connected.
We Rest, Digest and Repair.
Sensations of this state include:
Gurgling in the abdomen
Varied and easy breathing
Warm blush to the skin
Core softening and flow in the whole body
Hunger or thirst
Pleasant vibration or tingling anywhere or everywhere in the body
Both responses help us protect ourselves and preserve our well-being. Our bodies respond to distress with the Fear Response. We soothe and restore our bodies through the Relaxation Response. If we stayed in one state or the other, we would compromise either safety or the ability to restore ourselves.
Acknowledging the goodness of both responses in our bodies helps us value and discern what our bodies are trying to tell us.
If you notice your heart is pounding, your breath is shallow, and your hands are sweaty, chances are your nervous system is activated. The automatic part of you is saying, “Hey, pay attention! Something is going on and we may have to act fast in order to keep us safe!” We get a boost of stress hormones, blood supply is directed away from our core to our extremities, our heart beats faster and breathing becomes measured and efficient, and our muscles tense, all with the purpose to zip up our energy and give us strength to act. Thank goodness we can respond this way to help get ourselves safe when we need to! Then, when the threat has passed, we may feel shaky, have to go to the bathroom urgently, or express strong emotions to discharge the extra energy we created to help ourselves get safe. Our bodies adjust back to a state where we can re-orient to safety, connect with others and go along our way feeling calmer.
If you notice yourself yawning, your stomach gurgling, and your shoulders drooping, chances are your nervous system is winding down toward relaxation and may be ready to eat or sleep. Having plenty of time in the state of relaxation daily keeps us strong and fortified, ready to face what life brings us.
Benefits of the Relaxation Response include:
Decreased stress hormones
Lower heart rate and blood pressure
Optimal digestion and nutritional uptake
Improved immune response
Promotion of cell regeneration and healing
Breathing becomes free and varied
Increased feelings of ease, belonging and connection
Creativity and clear-thinking
A well-regulated nervous system gently waves back and forth throughout a typical day within an optimal range between these two responses. We can be alert, respond to perceived stressors, discharge excess energy, recover and relax many times a day. We are more alert when we are driving or speaking in front of a crowd, and we relax at lunch time when we sit quietly at our desk, or as we savor a sunny walk.
In this optimal range we feel:
Calm and interested
Engaged and able to focus
Tuned in and connective
Empathetic toward others
Emotionally accessible and stable
Tuning in to sensations gives you clues as to whether your body-unconscious is feeling safe enough or not safe. Very often we tend to deny or ignore what we feel, instead of valuing the truth of the body’s experience. Once we are aware of the automatic responses we are having, we have the possibilities of choice, change and healing.
The Vocabulary of Sensation
Noticing your felt sense and exploring the right words to describe the feeling is part of healthy inner awareness. During your bodywork session, these words might come in handy to help you articulate sensations you experience:
bloated blocked breathless
brittle bubbly burning buzzy
chilled clammy closed
congested constricted contracted
dense dizzy dull elastic
electric empty energized
expanding faint fluid
flushed flutter flowing
frantic frozen full
gurgling hard heavy
icy intense itchy jagged
jittery jumpy open
knotted loose light
pulsing pressure prickly puffy
pulled quaking quiet
raw relieved shaky
smooth soft spinning
still strong sweaty
tender tense thick
tight tingling skin tightness
vibration warm wobbly
full of breath sleepy
teary shimmery piercing
nauseous numb alert
Based on material from Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute.