Despite what we are often told by such phrases as, "It's all in your head," it would be more accurate to say you are an emotional body with a brain, not the other way around.
One reason why your body has pain is because emotions are not simply imaginary energies that fly around and boop us on the nose or change the shape of our mouths from smiling to frowning and vice versa as we often believe. Humans experience a range of emotions for various reasons, one of which is survival. We want to feel fearful so we are alerted to danger to protect ourselves, for example. Beyond survival, however, humans want to thrive. Ecosystems also adapt to survive, but do not have the consciousness of emotions like humans and our animal counterparts. Humans have the incredible ability to imagine our past and future selves. We can remember when we messed up so we do differently today and we can plan for the future. We use logic to set up systems, but what we often overlook is these systems are also based on the emotions we feel.
For example, we create budgets because we know we need to eat today, but we also will need to eat in the future and on some level we are scared we won't have food and we are happy when we do. Since we can imagine the future, our stress is expanded to not only harvesting the food today, but harvesting the food until our next paycheck. Each day we see our future selves possibly not having food, our stress builds as our bank accounts deplete. We work hard for a long time to make sure we are surviving by fighting off homelessness or hunger by paying rent and grocery bills.
As you have experienced before, the emotional build-up of being a conscious being in the modern world is much different than when our brains developed to hunt, harvest, and find shelter. Now we use money or now perhaps a digital coin to pay for food we can get easily and from many sources we must decide is our best option based on prices, location, the process it took to get to us, and perhaps our first priority in these busy times, convenience. The same goes for shelter, where we track a housing market and can access more land faster than ever before. I'm not even going to go into connection, community, and dare I say it, love, that is also a human need that causes us to feel a rollercoaster of emotions. You can use your own experiences as a reference. For now, I will just add that emotions are also social cues and humans are wired to connect, communicate, and build tribes.
Now that we know how emotional we are, how is this related to our physical bodies? Our bodies receive emotions in our organs, tissues, skin, muscle, and endocrine glands. The communication we use from our brain to our physical body is through peptides (molecule chains). The brain senses the emotion and sends the peptide into the body where it is received and stored as memory. That's right. Your physical body has an emotional memory.
You have probably had an experience getting a massage, doing yoga, exercising, or even breathing in a different way that resulted in a sudden and confusing emotional experience. You were simply doing your self-care and something triggers your body's emotional memory and you don't even know what it was, but bam you are sobbing like you did when you fell off your bike at age 10. Perhaps you are raging like you were when your mother-in-law wore white to your wedding. Maybe you just feel “off” and there isn't an emotion to describe what is going on, but if you tuned in at that moment you would notice you can't feel your body at all—you are frozen. It could even sound like uncontrollable maniacal laughter. Your body may be tensing, shaking, or trembling in these moments. This is an emotional experience and it may not even be access your brain much or at all in these moments, but instead is most or all body memory from those sad, mad, glad, or overwhelmed peptide buddies you received sometime in your past.
Your emotions, that started in your brain, have settled and planted a flag to claim their territory in your body, and now you are feeling them. It may be painful, confusing, or well, whatever emotion you were feeling when your body was given this memory. This will continue to happen until—get this—you return to your mind.
Without engaging your mind, you will strengthen this experience by practicing it over and over, just like if you practiced your slap shot in hockey, your choir solo, or parallel parking. You will get better and better at shaking with fear, reliving this memory, and disconnecting to your body through numbness. This is the pain and danger of doing the self-care, the massages, the yoga, the exercise, or the breathwork without using both your body and your mind. Either one left without the other is potentially dangerous and instead of working you towards your goal of a pain-free life, may be creating more pain that is easier to get to in the long-term.
Here is the great news! You use the following tips to engage your mind when your emotional body is talking to you:
Label the emotion(s) you are feeling as precisely as possible and the part of your body you feel it.
Is it anger or disappointment? Your body has a set response to emotions, so the more precise we can be with what we feel, the better we are telling our bodies how to serve us. By knowing where in your body you are feeling it, you are certain to be using your mind and body together.
Acknowledge the emotion protected you in the past.
You do not need to be aware of the memory or even think of it. Simply acknowledge there was a reason for having this emotion and that is why your body is feeling it now. Speak or think directly to this part of your body and wherever you feel sensations. Drop out of judgment and into a place of curiosity as you explore.
Let your body know what is true now.
For example, this is a feeling from the past. Now I am safe. Now I feel my body. Now I forgive myself. Now I choose to release this emotion and feel differently.
Touch or move your body where you feel the sensation.
Breathe into that part of your body as you intend to allow the tension, shaking, or trembling to be relieved. If you are working with a therapist or teacher, you may ask them to hold the area if you want. You can move slowly, shake, dance, isolate your muscles, or any form of connecting with your body that you prefer.
Share what you experience.
Tell the person you are working with in the moment about how your body sensations and/or emotions are changing. If you are not working with someone, tell a trusted friend, family member, or professional about your experience afterwards. You may journal about your experience if you choose to.
Make sure to tell them what you learned and want to experience differently now. You will activate a new response pattern by sharing whatever is true for you.
If you want more support to go deeper into healing using your mind, join us for Map Your Mind: 4-Weeks to Choose Where Your Thoughts Lead You, kicking off next week!
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