A Somatic Sense of Self
There are many reasons why an individual may lose connection with the body. One such explanation is due to being exposed to an overwhelming or life-threatening event. Taking flight is a normal physiological response to traumatic and inescapable harm, and in many cases life saving (Fisher, 2003). “Going offline”, also known as frontal lobe inhibition, becomes a more serious problem when dissociation becomes habitual and chronic. This feature negatively affects one’s life when there is no longer a choice whether or not to remain in the present moment. A slightly different phenomena responsible for rendering mindlessness can be attributed to living in a highly industrialized society rampant with an increasing reliance on technology. As a result, we are rapidly losing the precious gift of connection with our bodies. Consequently, we become increasingly desensitized to the atrocities taking place within ourselves and as reflected in the world.
Why is maintaining good rapport and relations with your body a good idea?
The mind working in synchrony with the body exudes an inherent intelligence or mindfulness that can assist us to navigate better than either one can alone. Our body has the capacity to inform us of better choices when we listen attentively and interpret accurately what the mind and body are saying in union. There is a tendency for human beings to somatize difficult life experiences and as a first response to seek medical treatment. Body messages are often identified as somatic complaints, which acquire diagnosis such as somatization disorder as found in the DSM-IV (Katon et al, 2001). An incomplete assessment and misleading diagnosis can lead to inaccurate treatment and perhaps a prescription that could worsen the condition rather than directly address the root cause of suffering.
Somatic therapies use the body as a vehicle for understanding non-conscious beliefs held within the bodymind construct. Typically, beliefs are repetitively woven into the generational fabric of one’s family’s history and stem from early childhood experiences passed on from one generation to the next. Beliefs remain unfettered until there is discongruity in the present with the old habits and an inkling for something different for one’s life. Perhaps, an effort is made to try something more suitable for one’s current needs and goals. Conditioning can be the most eminent barrier to change when faced with new and interesting possibilities for change.
Thoughts that imprison one’s mind in old habits and one’s body in deleterious situations that are prolonged can negatively affect physical health (Felitti, 1998). Fortunately, the body wisely gives numerous signals long before an acute or chronic condition arises. For example, there may be certain foods which the body does not digest well, yet an individual overrides the warning because the craving is so intense and the fleeting moment of instant gratification is unable to be stalled by a desire of lesser consequence. Perhaps, there are other compelling cravings such as intoxicants that one succumbs to at the dismay of the body. The ailment of grasping for something to temporarily relieve uncomfortable feelings can rarely if ever be soothed by short term diversions.
How do we connect with the pleasure of becoming fully embodied?
Somatic Therapy supports the individual to develop a sense of somatic self by pacing, expanding resources and respecting the innate defenses of the body. A somatic therapist interactively regulates with the client by emotionally and physiologically attuning with the individual while inserting opportune moments for mindfulness and self-reflection. At times a somatic therapist may ask the individual to notice his or her body while continuing to narrate the story. The rational mind engages a witness self in order to observe the present moment. The experience of tracking the connections between core organizers such as emotions, thoughts, impulses, sense perceptions, and memories can assist a person to remain stationed and resourced within the framework of the body while exploring new terrain. Pausing the moment to track the present experience can allow for the completion of previously truncated impulses in the body to occur. As a result, energy is able to flow more congruously throughout the body and a coherence of bodymind can be achieved. Elongated moments of comfort and assurance derived from a felt sense of safety can eventually re-pattern every cell in the body resulting in a new and healing relationship with oneself. As trust in the interactive regulatory process develops, one’s relationship with the environment may be experienced with a newfound sense of ease derived from and registered as connections that are meaningful and wholesome (Ogden, 2006).
In some cases, change may take time especially if conditioning is the result of a lifetime of patterning. The good news is that the human brain is very plastic, meaning that it is capable of changing in response to patterned, repetitive activation (Perry, 2002). In other words, it is never too late to attain greater health and wellbeing. Enduring faith serves as a constant source of reassurance along the way. We more than likely need to be reminded of and continuously connected to sources of unconditional support as self-efficacy begins to take root. Ultimately, the benefits of living a life of mindfulness are certain to outweigh the return to a less than satisfying lifestyle.
Does this article come with a maintenance package?
Good maintenance comes from listening, which is enhanced with the support of mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga or other daily bodymind practices that assist the mind to slow down and synchronize with the biorhythms of the body.
Helpful Tips: The ocean permeates the air with ions that help to uplift the spirit and dissolve negativity. Epsom salt baths can be helpful too. Eating the right foods can assist the bodymind to grow strong and become vital with the seasons. Cultivating a vegetable garden further connects us with the natural cycles of the earth unleashing the creative spirit that is nourished by tending to growth. An abundance of rich loamy compost feeds the soil that houses the plants and in turn the body receives the essential minerals and nutrients to live a balanced life.
Felitti VJ, Andra RF, Nordenberg D, et al. The relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med. 1998;14(4):245-258.
Fisher, Janina, Ph.D. (July 2003). Working with the Neurobiological Legacy of Early Trauma. Paper presented at the Annual Conference, American Mental Health Counselors. http://janinafisher.com/resources.php
Katon W, Sullivan M, Walker E. Medical symptoms without identified pathology: relationship to psychiatric disorders, childhood and adult trauma, and personality traits. Ann Intern Med. 2001;134:917-925.
Ogden, Pat, Ph.D. (2006). Trauma and the Body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Child Trauma Academy presents “The Amazing Human Brain and Human Development”
Free online course: http://www.childtraumaacademy.com/amazing_brain/index.html
Perry, Bruce, MD, Ph.D. (2002). Brain Structure and Function II: Special topics informing work with maltreated children. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. http://www.childtrauma.org/CTAMATERIALS/brain2_inter_02.pdf.
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute
Professional Training in Somatic Psychology