“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, and relationships that have lost their meaning.” – John C. Maxwell
A few years ago, I attended a Yin yoga class for several months. Yin yoga is a form of yoga during which passive poses are held for several minutes. In this way, without the distraction of constant movement and muscle engagement, your connective tissue has the opportunity to stretch and you are able to go much deeper into a pose. In addition, as poses are held for several minutes, your body can move beyond the 30 seconds it takes for muscles to relax and stretching to occur.
During our first class our teacher asked us: “What is the difference between pain and discomfort?” I had never thought of this before. I didn’t know how to answer and I remained a little confused. Then I realized that I had developed a high tolerance to pain. I was accustomed to categorize most hurts (physical, emotional, psychological) as uncomfortable and I was used to staying in painful situations for a long time. That’s a great strategy during a crisis but not as an ongoing way to deal with life.
The degree of pain or discomfort has some universal and subjective elements. Some people endure in the face of pain out of self-reliance and a belief that we must make every effort to stay alive. Others experience everything as pain and try to move away from it by avoidance methods like watching TV or eating ice cream. Basically, I’ve learned to distinguish the difference between pain and discomfort this way…
Pain is intense. Pain changes the way you behave. Pain gets worse the more you continue to try and push through it. Adjectives you use to describe pain may include sharp, stabbing, and shooting. Pain tells us to back off and regroup.
Discomfort is there, but in the background. Discomfort can fluctuate and both increase and decrease over time. Discomfort can be described with words like annoying, lingering, irritating, and aching. Oftentimes, we need to learn to lean into discomfort to make improvements.
Physical pain is often easiest to figure out. You break a bone in your leg, and immediately your nervous system zings a message to your brain, so your brain can say, “Hey, my leg hurts!”
But when there’s a spiritual, emotional or mental pain, it’s not so easy to recognize the body connection, unless you’re deeply attuned to your body sensations. Practicing mindfulness will help you become aware of how you’re organized around pain and discomfort.
Whether it’s preventing a sport’s injury, taking a business risk, or handling a crisis in the family, it’s important to recognize the signals that pain and discomfort are sending you. If you want to achieve excellence, it’s vital to know when to push it and when to back off.
What’s the first step to releasing discomfort and pain? Breathing is the key to connecting feelings to thought, body to mind, so you can make informed choices about your body sensations.
If you want to release a tight muscle, you must go directly into a stretch and open the muscle and breathe into it, not around it. Learn to face life challenges in the same way – begin breathing exercises and mindfully face it head on. Jamie Gerdsen describes this choice so well:
“To learn, to experience something new, you have to leave your comfort zone. That transition between what was comfortable and what will be comfortable is scary. Everything you thought you knew starts to look wrong. Your head trash really starts doing a number on you. Those who are a tad weak in the knees will fold faster than a cheap card table chair. To grow, you have to embrace the discomfort and work at it until all the shades of gray change back to black and white.”
Because they are on the same continuum, it takes practice to determine the between pain and discomfort. Just as it’s crucial to get your broken leg professional help, it’s vital to get professional help for the spiritual, emotional, and psychological pain. Because when we endure that kind of pain, it may transform into physical pain, compounding the problem.
Remember that staying in control will make you less susceptible to pain and injury. If life seems out of control and you’ve been putting up with chronic pain (physical, emotional, psychological) for too long, please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). I’d love to help you practice greater awareness and coping techniques.
People who are tense suffer more pain and are more prone to injury. This takes a toll physically and psychologically! Stuntmen, gymnasts, firefighters and even the elderly are taught to soften the body, tuck and roll when they fall. Skydivers are masters of softening their bodies to land without bruising or breaking a bone. They’re taught the “banana method”.
You may not be a skydiver but all of us occasionally trip. Softening your body into a curve makes your deceleration last as long as possible to minimize injury. Even when you’re just tripping over a curb, if you land stiff-armed you’ll likely break something. Tuck and roll to your side if possible, or if you’re falling face first let your elbows bend in a push up motion allows your pecs to take the force of the fall.
We carry so much tension and stress from daily life in our muscles and tissue and so it’s not surprising that we often suffer from aches and pains. Plus as we age, we lose flexibility, becoming more prone to losing our balance and falling. While learning to safely fall takes months of practice under the direction of a skilled trainer, there’s a lot you can do on your own to learn how to soften your body on a daily basis. You’ll find yourself becoming more flexible and at the same time relieve stress and tension.
It’s no mistake that a ball is round. Rounder objects handle stress better. When you learn not to be rigid but to soften the body you’ll stand up under stress better. This is well-illustrated by what engineers have learned about designing airplane windows.
Airplanes at first used square windows since that was the norm for homes and autos. However, when jets began flying faster and at higher altitudes, two planes fell apart in midair. Why? The sharp corners of the square windows were natural weak spots where stress concentrates. When subjected to repeated pressurization, the corners cracked and gave way.
Curved windows, on the other hand, have no focal point so it distributes the stress. Circular shapes are stronger and resist deformation, and can thus survive the extreme differences in pressure between the inside and outside of the plane.
What does that mean for you? Instead of letting everyday stressors make you rigid in your thinking and physiology, learn to soften the body and roll with the punches both literally and figuratively.
Here are three simple ways to soften your body…
- Slow down your frenetic brain by practicing deep breathing exercises. The brain mimics what the body is doing, so if you slow down, your chaotic thoughts will start to cool down too.
- Actively soften the body. Pay attention to what your body is saying and move it until it relaxes. Stretching exercises, yoga, and improving your posture will help. Daily practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques to stretch and soften your body will help you increase your awareness.
- Practice mindfulness in daily tasks. Quiet your mind by learning to be present in each moment instead of multi-tasking. Whether you’re walking or washing dishes, or eating, be mindful of that one simple thing.
Somatic coaching is a superior way of creating a greater self-awareness. I invite you to contact me to schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation, in-person, by phone or via Skype, so we can talk more about it.
And if you’re curious on how to enhance your overall health and wellness don’t forget to download my free 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment. It will help you identify the areas that most need your attention right now and what you can do to bring balance to your life.
“Our sensations are the original language of the body.” ~ Amanda Blake
Is your body talking to you?
Are you listening to its whispers?
Or do you wait until it screams?
Learning to slow down and listen to your body isn’t just about feeling the aches and pains of over exertion. It involves discovering how you actually feel emotionally about something.
Your emotional health and physical health are intertwined and inseparable. Your emotions are experienced and stored in your body. And they are manifested through body sensations. Breathless, clammy, fuzzy, hot, heavy, dizzy, queasy, or shaky are a few body sensations you may experience when you’re angry or stressed. Energized, full, expansive, smooth, and radiating are a few body sensations you may experience when you’re joyful and confident.
It’s within your body that you’ll discover the key to unlocking your emotional intelligence. In other words, emotions live inside your body, changing your physical experience and causing you to believe and act in particular ways. One moment you’re happy (emotion) on top of the world, so you’re feeling spacious and light in the chest (body sensations). Then someone says something that makes you feel anxious (emotion). It feels like your world is caving in, your shoulders slump and you feel deflated and dull (body sensations).
Conversely, by changing your posturing, you can alleviate these body sensations and alter your emotional experience. If you’re feeling shy and uncertain, you can breathe deeply, soften and straighten your spine, lift your head and look people in they eyes. The more you practice this, the more it will be your natural response and your emotions will change to feeling more confident and self-assured.
The concept, embodied cognition, says every thought/ideal is connected with an emotion which, in turn, has a physiological response in your body. Reflect on how the energy of shyness makes you feel small and act withdrawn. Sadness feels heavy, like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Anger feels hot and stormy. Excitement feels energizing.
Tune into your emotions and identify each sensation as you experience it. Honor the messages that your body is sending you about your feelings. Don’t try to over ride them. Suspend any judgment of them. Simply observe them for what they are.
Do you want to become more balanced and centered? Here are some simple ways to get better acquainted with how your body responds to emotions. Observe what body sensations and emotions manifest as you do each of the following:
Regular exercise. It’s been proven to reduce stress, boost your “feel good” endorphins, enhance your self-confidence, sharpen your thinking ability, ground you, and inspire creativity.
Now add another dimension to your exercise sessions – an emotional one. Are you feeling anxious? Channel your anxiety into the physical act of exercise and release it. Invite all of your feelings, whether you view them as positive or negative, to come through your movement.
Improve your posture. Sitting in a slumped, helpless position invites thoughts and memories to manifest. Sitting in an upright, powerful position invites empowerment thoughts and memories.
Eating healthfully for your body type. Everyone has a unique biochemistry which greatly influences brain chemistry and emotional state. What you choose to fuel this system will be determined by your metabolism, blood type, genetic history, and activity level. Of course, we all have basic needs for fresh, nutrient-rich, whole foods.
Deep breathing. It improves your physical health and helps you remain calm under stressful situations. Also Alternate Nostril Breathing can help you achieve balance and harmony.
The key to controlling your emotions is developing an awareness of exactly WHERE you feel them, HOW they feel in your body, and in WHAT healthy ways you can process them. Somatic Coaching can help you become between attuned to what your body is telling you. Contact me and let’s schedule a session that will transform you life.
And if you need help listening to your body, make sure to click here to download your free copy of The 7-Point Wellness Assessment – Create Change Through Awareness.
It feels so good to deeply relax! Do you find that these moments are all too rare for you? Does the idea of relaxing at a deeper level seem illusive?
While there are no specific guidelines for how much relaxation a person should incorporate into their lifestyle, making time to unwind and enjoy life is an important part of maintaining good health.
To get the most benefit from your periods of relaxation, strive to achieve deep relaxation via the body, via the mind, and via the soul.
1. Deep Relaxation via the Body:
Deep relaxation, like meditation, exercise and deep breathing, when practiced regularly, is shown to have many potential benefits, such as, improved mood, decreased blood pressure, alleviated stress, anxiety and pain, and improved immune and cardiovascular systems.
You can achieve deep relaxation of the body by practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Here’s how:
Create a relaxed, uninterrupted atmosphere by putting on loose clothing, playing soft music, dimming the lights, and shutting off the world around you.
Sit in a comfortable chair that supports your head and back. You can also do this exercise lying down if you’re trying to get to sleep.
Taking a few deep breaths, close your eyes and clear your mind. As you breathe in slowly, visualize what’s making you tense. As you slowly breathe out, visualize that you’re releasing those feelings. Imagine that all intruding thoughts are clouds sailing over you, so they move on and don’t fill your mind.
Progressively tense and relax every area of your body. As you proceed, think about how you would describe the relaxed state. If you can associate the relaxed state with a color, word, or image, you’ll attain deep relaxation more quickly in the future.
- Make a fist with your right hand, tightening the muscles of your hand and forearm. Count 10 seconds. Then allow your hand to open and your arm to relax as you count 10 seconds. Do the same with your left hand and arm. Feel the difference between the relaxed state and the tense state. Repeat.
- Make a fist with your right hand, and bring it up to your shoulder, tightening your upper arm. Hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat with your left arm. Allow tension to flow out through your fingertips. Repeat both arms.
- Now focus on your head. Raise your eyebrows as high as you can, hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Allow your forehead to become smooth. Repeat. Next bring your eyebrows together, as you frown deeply. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat. Next, purse your lips into an ooh (like a monkey sounds). Hold for 10 seconds. Fully relax until your mouth falls slightly open. Next, clench your jaw tightly. Hold 10 seconds. Release. Relax fully. Repeat.
- Raise your shoulders toward your ears, allowing your shoulder and neck muscles to tighten. Hold for 10 seconds. Allow your shoulders to drop. Feel the tension flow down and out fingertips. Relax for 10 seconds. Repeat. Next, press the back of your head against the chair, tightening the muscles in the back of your neck. Hold 10 seconds. Relax 10 seconds. Focus on the relaxed feeling and allow it to spread throughout your neck. Repeat.
- Move your focus to your upper back, mid-back, and abdomen. Begin by pressing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Take a couple of deep breaths in and out, releasing any remaining tension. Next arch your lower back just enough to tense the lower back muscles. Hold 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Tuck your abdomen in tightly. Hold for 10 seconds. Release 10 seconds. Repeat. Breathe deeply a couple of times to release any remaining tension.
- Finally, focus on your buttocks and legs. First, squeeze your buttocks together, hold for 10 seconds. Release for 10 seconds. You can choose to work on your legs separately or together. Bring your legs straight out in front of you and point your toes toward your face. Tighten your calves and thighs. Hold for 10 seconds. Release for 10 seconds. Repeat. Allow tension to flow down your legs and out the bottom of your feet.
Once you complete the Progressive Muscle Relaxation routine, scan your body for areas that still feel tense. Repeat the tensing and relaxing for that muscle group. Allow yourself to stay in the relaxed state for a few moments. Open your eyes. How do you feel?
Note: When tensing the muscles, don’t over tighten a muscle to the point of pain. If you have an injury, consult your doctor or therapist to determining the best method of tensing and relaxing that muscle group.
2. Deep Relaxation via the Mind:
Making time to find enjoyment is also an important element of relaxation. Get out of your mind often and distract yourself from your worries by making room for leisure and play. After all, laughter is good medicine! It decreases pain, helps your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and reduces anxiety.
We’ll discuss Deep Relaxation via the Soul in an upcoming blog post. Many people have found that they relax more fully if a coach guides them through the steps, rather than trying to do them from written instructions. If this is true for you, contact me and we can arrange a session that works for you.
“To touch can be to give life.” ~ Michelangelo
Can a hug a day keep the doctor away? There’s plenty of evidence that the power of human touch like a hug, a pat on the shoulders, or holding hands does improve your physical and mental health!
It’s no wonder that people in our society are lonely, depressed and anxious. They are touch deprived. Especially in the United States, people minimize the importance of closeness and touch for adults because we’re raised to be independent, resilient and individualistic. It’s amazing how many people claim they don’t have anyone to hug or to get hugs from. Sadly, most people have not experienced good touch or platonic touch that doesn’t lead to a sexual encounter. So they’re afraid to be the person who reaches out with a touch or hug.
The science behind the power of human touch
Neuroscientist Edmund Rolls discovered that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Touch soothes cardiovascular stress. The skin contains encapsulated nerve endings called corpuscles and Merkel cells that register the pressure of each touch and sends a message to the brain, which then triggers a hormonal reaction. So a hug from a loved one reduces cortisol – the stress hormone, while releasing melatonin, serotonin and oxytocin – the feel good and love hormones.
To show how powerful human touch is studies show that a person can identify strong emotions like love, anger, gratitude, or fear just from a touch without even being able to see the other person!
Neuroscientist, psychologists, and researches have discovered fascinating things about the power of human touch. Here are some of their findings:
- Those who are touched are much more likely to cooperate and share with their partner.
- NBA basketball players who touch each other the most win the most games.
- Touch from a loved one calms the stress activity in the brain so perceived threats aren’t as scary.
- Preemie babies gain 47% more weight, have less pain and autoimmune disease symptoms after touch therapy than preemies who receive standard medical treatment.
- Touch helps Alzheimer’s patients to relax, make emotional connections, and reduce depression symptoms.
- Massage therapy reduces pain and prenatal depression in pregnant women.
- Eye contact and a pat on the back from the doctor boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases.
- Students who receive friendly pats from the teacher are three times more likely to speak up in class.
- When librarians pat the hand of a student checking out a book, the student likes the library more and is more likely to come back.
- Autistic children, widely believed to hate being touched, respond well to being massaged by a parent or therapist.
- Touch lowers glucose levels in children with diabetes.
- Touch therapy improved immune systems in people with cancer.
- Patients who get a massage regularly heal faster, feel more comfortable and get greater pain relief as they are able to relax more fully.
- Cuddling your furry pet improves immune function, reduces blood pressure and eases the perception of pain.
As psychotherapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” No matter what our age, we need to be touched, whether it’s a hug, a back rub, a pat on the back, a squeeze of the shoulder or even a hand shake. Touch is fundamental to everything we think and feel, how we communicate and bond, and whether or not we catch a cold.
A word of caution, however – let the reaction of others guide how much you touch them. If someone has been physically abused, touching them without permission may increase their stress.
Somatic coaching and therapy is an excellent way to create subtle shifts in how you use your body to influence, listen, be resilient, manage stress, maintain energy and be more effective. Rather than numbing yourself to uncomfortable circumstances and powering through them, contact me to learn how to respond in a way that leaves you feeling whole and at peace.
Touch is just one of the indicators of a life well lived. Take the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment to see how you’re doing. Click here to download your free copy. And don’t forget that January 21, 2016 is National Hugging Day. How many people will you hug?