Written by Shaina Cantino, edited by Adam Brady
For many of us, our first impulse when feeling tension in our bodies is to try to push it away. There may be a rejectionary messaging — ‘You need to go away’ — motivating our efforts to stretch or relax. Tension is bad, right? Or is it? Could you dare to believe that allowing tension to exist might actually be the most effective route towards comfort? What does it mean to say ‘yes’ to tension?
In our work at Tend, we relate to tension as a sign of our somatic system embracing a vulnerable part, attempting to increase safety, support, and comfort. When the body is not able to integrate an experience, to move through the end of the tension to the release on the other side, it remains in a no-longer advantageous pattern. We could call such unresolved tension-patterns ‘body memories’ or ‘stuck energies.’ We are talking about an experience that we didn’t get to fully process and are now subconsciously stuck in.
At Tend, we are interested in how to move towards and into tension as a means to say to our body, ‘Thank you, I see you. I see how you’re trying to support this challenging pattern, let me listen to you.”
As with other respectful relationships, saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to these patterns is key for release.Shaina Cantino & Adam Brady
In some languages, such as French and Latin, the word ‘memory’ has roots in the word ‘thought,’ pointing to the commonly shared association between memory and cognitive, conscious knowing. These are explicit memories. Implicit memory is memory stored in the body and not associated with words or cognitive patterns. One form of implicit memory is procedural memory, which accounts for knowing where the letters are on the keyboard or how to drive a car. Additionally, as is often encountered in bodywork-based processes, there are other ways that implicit memory manifests in our body and informs our experiences. There is a knowing that does not form through conscious thought. Some more general examples of this could be the feeling of safety when you spend time with someone that you trust, or how you can sense another’s emotional state without them articulating or even consciously recognizing it. For many of us, we begin to be curious about these other ways of knowing and remembering when we encounter injury or ‘cannot explain our own feelings.’
Bodywork, when it cultivates a safe relational space, is a great place to begin to honor the implicit memories stored in our bodies, and by doing so, to support tension patterns through to a resolution of that tension. At Tend, we find language inspired by the therapeutic practices of Internal Family Systems and Inner Parts Work to be supportive to this process. We will go into more depth into these perspectives in future blogs, but to say it simply here: When experiencing pain or tension, some parts of you may be wanting something different from the rest of you. We hope to support you, through bodywork and home practices, to invite all of those parts and intentions to the ‘same table,’ so to speak. We do this by listening to each, cultivating inclusivity in the somatic system and thus, integration.
Often when we ‘listen’ to tension in our body or in someone else’s, we can feel it pulling in a particular direction.
Take a moment to feel into an area of tension. Does it pull your attention in a specific direction or take a shape? Does it feel like it’s pulling you more to the front of your feet or to the back? To the left of center or to the right? In imagining that 0% is the front skin of your body and 100% is the back skin, how deep does this feel?Does it have a rhythm? Does it have an emotional tone? Without over-analyzing, you can even feel for whether the tension has a felt ‘age.’ For example, perhaps it feels like a scared 4 year old.
These prompting questions are not meant to generate a sense of peering-in, rather they help compassionate awareness to arise. We call this practice of inward listening (interoception) and following: unwinding.
As with other respectful relationships, saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to these patterns is key for release. Releasing tension remains the long term goal. However, forcing this agenda in the short term often runs counter to longer term gains. Thus we propose this experiment, of listening to and honoring why a tension is with us in the first place, before trying to change it. This process can also help alleviate distress related to discomfort.
Our bodies make choices that are highly intelligent, skillful and accurate to our various needs. Skillful choices include postural alignment. However, a body’s healthful postural alignment in a given moment may not look like proper alignment. A frequent question is, “If it’s true I’m making the best choices provided in a moment, then why am I not always in perfect alignment?” Our answer is rooted in the understanding that we do not tend to make choices based solely on present-time reality and current tasks, e.g. standing, dancing, lifting an object, sitting in a chair or talking to somebody. There is a subset of additional intentions held in our bodies. These intentions become habits formed from old tasks or ways of being. For example, if I am suffering from whiplash, my body feels the need to protect my neck from possible future whiplash scenarios. The previous ‘task’ was to protect my neck. That protection is not supportive of current tasks I may be engaged in. Thus, the more I am able to process the past experience, the more refined my choices around it become, and the less I am driven by generalized or out-of-date habits, which interfere with my ability to find currently appropriate alignment.
Our bodies make choices that are highly intelligent, skillful and accurate to our various needs.Shaina Cantino & Adam Brady
Does that make sense?
It is important to note that there is a value in old habits. Habits support us by ensuring that we do not need to reinvent the wheel for each repeated action. And it is important to periodically investigate the postural, mechanical habits that live inside our bodies to ensure they continue to support our present-day selves. In doing so, we get to refine their capacity to be truly appropriate for the moment. This is part of our work at Tend.