What I’ve Learned about the Mind/Body Connection
As I shared in episode 6 of my podcast, I believe that everyone needs therapy. Not just people who have mental illness, although obviously that is a great reason to go. Therapy, to me, is an opportunity to learning coping skills to both heal from past traumas, and learn healthy ways to deal with life in general as we get older. In my experience, there aren’t a ton of places to learn these kinds of general life skills once you move out of your parent’s home. Of course, I still relied on my father for guidance and to this day speak with my mom for support, but it’s not the same as living under the same roof. Not that it should be. You know what I mean.
For some, they may find this type of support in other places, perhaps in a religious setting with their rabbis or preachers/pastors. I have my own opinions about organized religion, but also know lots of happily practicing people who use these relationships as a sort of ‘therapy’ of their own. So I can’t knock that part.
For me, therapy has been the place for me to educate myself as I continue to navigate this world as an adult.
I have done talk therapy several times throughout my 20s, eventually ending that as things mellowed out and I worked through some issues that weren’t serving me well back then. I tried going BACK to talk therapy, but didn’t find that it was giving me what I needed to work through certain traumas that have occurred in my life.
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When I began somatic experiencing, I had three specific traumas I wanted to address: sexual assault in college, the death of my father, and my current fertility treatment, which I shared about in episode 7. These three experiences continued to effect me to this day (so many years later) that I knew talking about it wasn’t really needed anymore. It was as if they were stuck in my physical body, and I had no idea how to release them.
As I searched for types of therapy that may help this, I found Somatic Experience and immediately knew it was what I needed.
Somatic Expericinging therapy is defined as a form of alternative therapy aimed at relieving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client's perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences). It was created by trauma therapist Peter A. Levine.
Somatic experiencing focuses on the patients physical reaction as they describe and communicate their traumas.
This, is the mind/body connection. I’m sure a lot of you have heard this saying, but so often it is used alongside a picture of a white woman in all white linen holding a lotus flower and speaking about the spiritual side of it all. I am not here to hate on that, because I don’t want to make anyone feel badly about who they are…but I needed something else. And I think a lot of people do. Especially because of the spiritual connection to it all. While I consider myself a spiritual person, when it comes to the healing of physical body, I need a lot more science and facts to jump on the bandwaggon. I am a critical thinker, what can I say.
Ok back to WHAT all of this is, exactly. So as I said, the focus is on the way the body reacts as a person is describing their trauma. The therapist observes this, and brings awareness to the patient of the ways in which the body is communicating, that they may be ignoring. For example, I sigh. A lot. Especially when I am overwhelmed or maybe pushing myself past where I should when discussing something. Normally, I would ignore that sigh, and continue discussing/participating in whatever it is that is causing my body to physically react. Because I never really paid attention to the physical communication my body was giving me throughout the day.
Or, maybe you hold your head when you are stressed. Perhaps it’s a leg shaking, or tapping, or or or. There are SO many ways our bodies are communicating with us. So instead of just letting me continue down the road of crying, sighing, ignoring my body, my therapist will politely interrupt me, and force me to pause. In traditional talk therapy I would cry it out until I was a puddle, and then my hour was up. Instead, this therapist forces me to LISTEN to my body, acknowledge what is going on, take a breath or move my body around, and pause.
At first, it was so jarring. I was like WAIT what? No, I want to just keep spiraling! Why aren’t you letting me spiral?! And then…you want me to do what now? Look around the room and nod at things? Check in with my body and describe how it feels? Shake my body out in front of a complete stranger? This is silly. But as the weeks went on, I started to better understand what all of those pauses and interruptions were meant to do. And each week, I began to hear my body louder and louder, and instead of ignoring it to make room for MORE stress…I stop the thought or behavior that is clearly causing me stress.
It’s been the craziest thing to start having a relationship with my body again. For SO long, I have ignored it almost completely. Which is so sad. But it was my defense mechanism as my body had seemingly “caused” me a lot of pain, so I shut it down. It had endured too much. Sexual abuse, objectification, infertility. So my mind was truly running the show.
Part of this therapy has been re-igning the communicati0on between my mind and my body. You see, it turns out that both the mind and the body have messages they are sending all the time. Sometimes it’s the mind telling the body something….and yes, sometimes it is the body telling the mind something. So many of us, including myself, have been taught from a young age that the mind controls everything. The mind is the center of our universe. The mind tells the body what to do (move your leg, blink your eyes, etc. etc) but we don’t learn a ton about how the body ALSO can tell us things. And again not in just a “woo woo” listen to your body thing, but in a literally biology thing that has studies showing that there are signals that start in the body long before they hit the brain.
Think about it. How often do you ignore the signals from your body because your mind over rides the message. A good example would be when your gut is telling you one thing, but you do another. Your body is sending you a message, but you are letting your mind decide instead.
I have become so into this new relationship that I often find myself thinking things through as what my mind thinks and what my body thinks. That was actually one of the many journaling exercises my therapist had me do, which were LIFE CHANGING. I would think about one of the traumas, and write two separate entries from the perspective of my mind, and of my body. It was so wild to see it on paper.
I can’t express enough how much I believe in this modality (fuck “alternative”) of therapy. Especially if you are looking to work through traumatic events in your life. Trauma is stored in the body and will stay there FOREVER (esepcially as you continue to re-trigger and ignore it) if untreated. And if you don’t start to listen to your body, you will continue to suffer, which sucks.
So that is what I have learned recently about the mind/body connecti0pon. It is a very real and true thing, and I would be willing to bet that a TON of you listening likely have shut down your body’s communication for one reason or another. You may consider looking into this modality. If you throw yourself into it, do all the things that feel silly at first, I promise you will see the changes and the benefits of this specific type of work.
Before I end this, I want to thank a fellow student in my herbalism course for sharing that my podcast inspired them to finally make a therapy appointment. I can’t really express how much that meant to me, and to know that this little passion project of mine is having a positive effect on people. I feel honored, I am inrpisred, and I am encouraged to keep going because of these types of messages. So thank you for sharing that with me, and congratulations on taking the first step to better health. I really am thrilled for you.