Body psychotherapy isn’t as odd-sounding as it once was. People are beginning to understand that the mind and body are not really separate, that there are tissues in the gut, for example, that are much like brain tissue, that emotions are experienced at the body level, and that even those classic “psychological” problems of depression and anxiety are body experiences. The mind of course is part of them; the kinds of distorted thinking that we engage in when we are experiencing depression or anxiety can most certainly make things a lot worse. But I am not sure that the chicken-egg question matters here….I personally don’t care if how you feel affects how you think, or if your thoughts are affecting your emotions. The point is that things are pretty bad, one way or another, and how can you live more comfortably?
So it is obvious, I guess, that developing awareness of what you are thinking can make a difference. You can even change your habits of mind. You can also change your habits of body, and your habitual ways of responding to situations, and those kinds of changes can be most helpful in trying to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Self awareness is the key to any kind of change. You can’t change if you don’t know what you are currently doing. And the key to self awareness is, for many of us, slowing down. Slowing our everyday experiences so that there is time for self-reflection, slowing our thinking, so that we can become aware of thoughts as they arise and fade away, slowing our behaviour so that we can become responsive rather than in the perpetual knee-jerk of reaction.
What happens when you slow down? Just take a moment to notice what happens….without judgment, without struggle, with compassion. For many of us, slowing down generates negative thoughts (“this is unproductive,” “I”ll never accomplish anything,” “Does she think I’m not a busy person? I don’t have time for this nonsense.”). For some people, the open space of unstructured time feels uncomfortable, as if you should DO something. For some, a bit of quiet allows us to feel our exhaustion, the fatigue that comes with forever and forever keeping up a front, being frantically productive and chronically stressed.
But without judgment and with compassion, what is it like for you to take time and space to just be? What do you notice about yourself? Who are you, really, when you separate yourself from the story inside your head?
Wherever you are is the place to work. Notice sensation in the body. Notice what you notice in your environment; what are you sensitive to in this moment? In the next moment? Notice thoughts as they arise and fade out. Notice which ones tug hardest on your attention. Notice more sensations in the body; try moving, and notice what that is like. Can you feel the desire to move, the intention to move, before you manifest that intention into action? Where in your body are you aware of that intention? How do you KNOW, in your body, that you want to move?