The way I think about healing and well-being hinges on cultivating Inner Awareness. What is it, and why is it important while enjoying bodywork?
There are many ways to describe what somatic therapists and bodyworkers, yoga teachers and meditators know as self-awareness of the bodily sensations and emotions. Some common terms are:
MindBody connection Inner experience
Embodiment Listening to your body
Felt sense Embodied Self-awareness
Inhabiting your body Inner guidance system
Inner awareness is one of the most important, yet least-acknowledged, influences on health. It is how we come toward ourselves to meet and allow our sensations and emotions.
Studies have shown that people who develop inner awareness, the ability to get “user-friendly” with signals from within, have greater chances of healing and resolving concerns for which they seek medical or mental health care. This may be because these people have developed the natural communication channels that go back and forth between what we think of as mind and body. Mind and body are actually one continuum of present moment sensations and emotions influenced deeply by our past experiences, our beliefs, our consciousness and our unconscious. Our mind-bodies are continually changing based on how we live, think, feel, and act, and how our environment affects us.
Our structures, nervous systems, and physiological systems, and everything else in us begin to form patterns from conception at least. When circumstances “wire” us one way, it can affect us for life. The good news is that every moment of our lives, we get another chance to notice what the “wiring” is within us, thereby creating the possibility for it to change.
How can we change entrenched patterns by noticing them?
How many times have we continued unhelpful behaviors or suffered pain that we clearly noticed and wanted to change, but felt helpless to make a difference?
Practiced meditators know about “sitting” with what is within and watching the shifts that can occur from unbearable suffering to enlightenment and wholeness.
Dr. Eugene Gendlin, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago discovered in the 1960’s that therapy clients with inner awareness had much greater therapeutic success clients who did not have this skill. According to Dr. Gendlin’s colleague, Ann Weiser Cornell, PhD, these clients sensed into themselves during therapy sessions, slowing their speech as they turned inward and “groped for words” to try to describe their feeling. Dr. Gendlin called this ability “Focusing”. Unsuccessful therapy clients stayed articulate throughout their sessions, analyzing, explaining, and even crying about their problems, but never directly feeling something that first came from within that was hard to describe. He went on to create Focusing workshops that helped participants develop skills of inner awareness. Dr. Cornell continues to teach Focusing in California, and wrote the book “The Power of Focusing” (1996), an easy-to-understand tool for learning inner awareness of the body and emotions.
“There are no enemies inside. Every part of us is trying to save our lives.”
(from Ann Weiser Cornell, PhD, Focusing Resources, Inc.)
Current neuroscientists and trauma recovery specialists such as Peter Levine, Antonio Damasio and Daniel Siegel, understand the benefits of inner awareness for health and healing.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist from the Netherlands and pioneer in treating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, in his interview with Krista Tippet (OnBeing.org, July 11, 2013) talks about our animal brain which expresses itself purely through sensation and emotion:
“We have these two different parts of our brain and they are really quite separate. We have our animal brain that makes you go to sleep, makes us hungry and makes us turned on to other human beings in sexual ways…And then we have our rational brain that makes you get along in a civilized way. These two are not connected to each other…The more upset you are, you shut down your rational part of your brain.
We can talk till we are blue in the face, but if our primitive part of our brain perceives something in a particular way, it’s almost impossible to talk ourselves out of it…As for my patients, I always recommend they see somebody who helps them to really feel their body, experience their body, open up to their bodies…to do something that engages their body in a very mindful and purposeful way… it resets some critical brain areas that get disturbed by trauma.”
To access our animal brain, our most primal unconscious, Dr. van der Kolk recommends yoga, Rolfing, EMDR and Cranio-sacral Therapies. Through relaxation alongside the practice of inner awareness we can reset, or renegotiate unhelpful patterns resulting from trauma. He also says that humans are resilient and “most people do pretty well with even very horrendous events if we are around people who love us, trust us, take care of us, and nurture us when we are down.”
This is exactly what Rosen Method Bodywork offers: relationship and relaxation, touch and awareness.
The trick is not just in the noticing and wishing it to be different, but in the noticing and allowing, sustaining awareness and accepting the Inner Truth of the Moment, even if it is difficult, even if you don’t have an answer, and even if the concern is not resolved. Over time, this willingness to allow without analyzing or judging harshly lets shifts happen in ways that are helpful to us. Shifts happen not because we are making them happen or “figuring it out”, but because as we change, consciousness of the present moment influences changes into who we are becoming.
By the same token, if we notice what is there, but speak hatefully to ourselves about it, constantly distract ourselves from it through overwork, intellectualization, self-medicating, compartmentalizing, denying, or believing in an old story, the changes that happen continue on the track of the unhelpful patterns.
Rosen Method Bodywork is like meditation only with the added benefit of a specific type of touch and dialogue that influences the going inward experience in many wonderful ways.
Touch that is gentle, present and responsive in and of itself is innately healing. When the relaxation response occurs from touch the body can restore itself, not only physiologically but structurally, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
If you’ve ever come away from a massage session refreshed, rebalanced and with a new perspective on a problem, you know what I mean even if you were quiet and not thinking much during the massage itself.
Touch influences change just by happening, even if there is not manipulation or heavy pressure. How we respond to touch influences what type of change will happen. If touch comforts us, opens us, helps us feel connected and not alone, the changes shift in helpful ways, toward more of what we deeply long for, more ease, more aliveness.
If, through touch we notice that our body stiffens, we space out, we experience pain or agitation, we get important information about something inside of us that could be very helpful in learning about our patterns. At this point, gentle supportive touch and encouraging dialogue can help you listen inward to what is uncomfortable. I hold the possibility of bringing compassion to whatever is there, being curious about it in a patient way, and honoring the way your body works so hard and has tried to protect you all your life. I invite you to have “tender curiosity” toward yourself, as you would with a good friend who is going through a hard time.
Inner awareness, cultivated by Rosen Method Bodywork and many other ways, is a skill that helps us befriend ourselves deeply in a way that matters for life.
Nobody else but me
could do the job of being me.
No matter what happened
I couldn’t abandon myself,
because I couldn’t get away.
I saw that I could take good care
of myself by being me,
and I was elated to have myself
for a friend.
(From Susan Moon, Ed. of “Being Bodies”)
Rose photo by Travis Stegmeir
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