Written by Shaina Cantino, edited by Adam Brady
As a bodywork practitioner, I enter as an advocate for any parts holding uncomfortable experiences that may want to surface in order to get folded back into a present-time alignment. Part of my work is to tune into a pattern that doesn’t know how to ‘find its way back’ to integration.
This can also be seen from the perspective of the nervous system. Through our work, aim for a position of greatest ease (which we expand in the blog “The balance between alignment and ease”). Old habits, no longer relevant to present-time needs, can interfere with ideal musculoskeletal posture. In order to allow the body to find its ideal posture without diminishing its ease, we start from the position in which we are currently most comfortable. This place may not be the ideal alignment in the long term. From there, we allow the body to assume that position of ease, eventually encouraging it to spread to include a less confined positioning. By celebrating the intentions of support held by these stuck energies, we guide them through to resolution and back into integration.
Below is an example of how we may begin this process.
To start, locate ‘the loudest voice in the room.’ That can easily change from moment to moment and you get to change with it. Once you’ve located that very loud voice -the place in your body that most wants our attention- place a hand there, if reachable. Let that part of you lead, letting the tension fully express itself through the affected muscles in order to get underneath any unconscious habit of omission of those parts. One helpful cuing for this is to feel which way you might stretch and go in the opposite direction. If it feels like there is a center to the pull, move your hands towards that. The ‘center’ to the tension may have a quieter voice than the part that was trying to get our attention. Your rhythm and flow as you follow these pulls or voices need not be smooth. Notice if there are interruptions or hesitations and try to manifest those rhythms or redirections with your following hand. In doing this (‘Yes, go for it, I’m with you, I’ll follow you!’), you may notice that pain, which was there to flag your attention, changes in urgency or even lessens.
Adam was working with a client, a woman who fell off a horse. I explained to her how the manifesting tension was a part of her body asking her to protect it, to keep it from being over exposed and vulnerable. It had just been through a trauma and simply wanted to curl up and hide, safely. By stretching, she was accidentally telling it, ‘No.’ Through our work, she learned exercises for following the tension. She was able to feel it ease. In two months of listening and following, she went from a 7-10 on a pain scale of 10 to a 2-3.
The long term goal of this work is not necessarily always to follow the tension but to honor it. By honoring the tension, we learn to listen to and celebrate how the body hugs areas of perceived need. (This is similar to the perspective of Osteopathy, which approaches the body as a system that hugs restriction.) Most often, especially when becoming familiarized with this process of unwinding, the goal is to develop a way to listen to and follow rather than immediately try to fix the tension patterns. A major thrust of this work is the development of somatic awareness skills, which support us in present-time integration and trusting our inherently intelligent somatic systems.
If we lean towards trusting that our body actually knows how to and wants to orient towards our health, balance and well being, we may be able to respond differently to our tension. Expressive arts such as movement, journaling, drawing, theater, etc can also be effective means through which to unpack and better understand the narrative of tension in our bodies and what each is pulling us into. Spending time in any of these expressive arts, with this intention, can help us to better see the tension and it’s directionality, to honor it, integrate it, and in doing so, create less need for the attention-grabbing pain.
When you stretch parts of your body in which you are experiencing tension or pain, experiment with this perspective: stretching as, at best, a suggestion for openness, a suggestion to be less guarded. If stretching becomes a demand and the body is not yet ready to receive it, it can become a harmful exercise that we’re engaging in, in the misguided interest of rehabilitation. In this way, stretching may start to look like good intentions poorly applied. Remember, tension, and ultimately pain, is the language of the body trying to draw our attention there. When we try to release that tension, we are missing the message – and so it will often continue to get louder. Frustration or resentment towards these body patterns fuels the wrong mechanisms. Thus one of the most important aspects to this process is cultivating an attitude of appreciation.
The tension that sticks around was, in another instance, an adaptive mechanism for keeping the body safe. Shining our awareness on these tense or stalled places is a way of thanking those body patterns for being there. Thank goodness, for example, that after I hit my head on my car, my neck muscles came online with extra tone to support me in my disorientation, since I was in a situation in which stopping was not yet safe. Thank goodness for these now-tense parts, which helped me to keep going by hugging the areas of need. Now, by lending my attention towards unwinding or following, I am returning to help resolve the pattern or protection that was there to keep me safe in the past.
We invite you to experiment with relating differently to your tension. In a moment when you are able to direct some awareness to a gripping place in your body, see what it’s like to first, thank it, and upon thanking it, to listen and follow, through movement and awareness, to where it is pulling towards. (Remember, a helpful cue is to feel which way you would stretch and go in the opposite direction.) Report back, we would love to hear what you discover or notice!