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We have all likely heard that “The body never lies.” What does this mean? How do we listen to the body? How can we find meaning in listening to the body and work towards healing?

Recently, in a general conversation with an acquaintance, she told me about a painful past situation: “I put all my emotions in a suitcase and shoved it under the bed. I’ll never open that suitcase”. She went on to describe herself as being broken, in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Her identification with being broken was concrete, a fact that wasn’t ever going to change because that suitcase was hidden and never going to see the light of day. But unsurprisingly, her body wouldn’t let her ever forget the suitcase of emotions and was crying out for some recognition of these never-to-be-expressed emotions in the manifestation of body symptoms that she was attempting to address.

Why do we listen to the body?

First, listening to the body helps us to better understand where we are at, rather than listening to our analysis about where we think we are at. Secondly, if we learn to listen to our body, we can uncover aspects of ourselves that are not known to us (or unconscious). From this point, of having a more complete understanding and accessing new information about ourselves, we can better work towards healing.

What type of person are you when it comes to body symptoms?

People operate in different ways in terms of body symptoms. Some individuals only become aware that they are experiencing stress and strain when it shows up in their body as a pain in the neck or shoulders or some other place that becomes hard to ignore. They are not aware they are struggling until their body tells them. Usually, this is when the individual seeks some kind of help to deal with the symptoms.

Then others have no notion of the issues that are showing up in the body but can communicate that they are struggling with life or with a painful past situation. They might describe these feelings as a heaviness about life, feeling stuck or not able to set or achieve goals. They are aware that things aren’t working as they would like but are less aware of why they are feeling the struggle.

The fact is, sometimes we know that there are “things” we need to deal with but refuse to listen to the messages from our bodies. Meanwhile, we may well be going about our everyday lives, and on the surface, appear to be highly functioning. Other times, we have no idea what we’ve stuffed so far down but feel a general sense of unease about life and discover we’re not functioning as well as we could. Yet still, somehow, we manage to function, although sometimes we are the only ones who know that we are operating as the walking dead.

The body adapts and is amazing, but…

On some level, we can admire that our whole self can continue functioning even when we have had a traumatic past or are facing an extremely challenging situation now. However, in shutting off those feelings and sensations, we are often preventing ourselves from living and feeling fully alive and sometimes even preventing ourselves from recognising any feelings in the present at all.

We may feel like we are not functioning well if we face more extreme symptoms that may be long-term or that seem to appear suddenly. Crippling anxiety, deep wells of darkness, and loneliness can make us feel as if we are dying or want to die the moment they occur, or as if we never want to move again. On the other hand, symptoms may show up as feelings that we are living someone else’s life, trapped in some in-between space where we seem to just float and be numb.

It is only natural that when any of these symptoms show up, we may just want the feelings and sensations gone. They are uncomfortable and sometimes utterly terrifying. We try and tuck them into that suitcase. If you have experienced any of these types of sensations, you will know that fighting or hiding the appearance of them does no good. It is as if they are an external force that does not go away when we try to ignore it.

So, what do we do?

We may find ourselves at a point where we have been able to use our minds to know there is an issue, and we may even be able to come to some sort of accurate conclusion about the issue. Although the illumination of one’s insights from the head can be useful when we only work within this framework (of head knowledge and insights), the insights themselves remain disembodied.

The answer lies in embodiment. This starts with creating a space for the body to speak to us. This first step can be found in a trusting therapeutic relationship with a therapist that knows how to work with the body in the counselling space. A competent somatic therapist will gently guide the individual to experience the present felt sensations in the body. They will help the individual to stay focused on the process, allowing for whatever unfolds in the body naturally and holding them in that sacred space of allowing. There will be no “goal” in this process—or you could say that if there were a goal, it would be to simply stay with the process that is presented in the moment. Simply staying present with the sensations, feelings, and emotions with the support of a caring therapist attuned to your experience helps in unpacking the packed-away experiences in the suitcase.

This first step can also be done on your own by creating your own sacred space and allowing time for simply noticing the body, signaling that you are ready to listen to it. Remember that you are your body, and this action indicates to your entire self that you are ready to listen to yourself more fully. This could also be through body movement, consciously moving the body, and being curious about why it feels good to move this way and not that way. This may seem like such a small thing to do, but these small steps will work to bring more awareness to the body, to the sensations that are present, and to what you are feeling within the body. It is by working consistently in this way that you commit to listening to whatever may come up. This allows for knowing what you feel within the body, which leads to knowing why it is you feel this way. Knowing why means you can look towards better managing what is happening in life or move to make the changes that may have been impossible to even visualise, let alone act on.

For those who have never allowed time alone to listen to their bodies, it is important to remember that this process is gentle. If at any time you find the feelings and sensations too uncomfortable, or unbearable, or continually feel numb to any sensations, then this is the time to seek help. If an individual is already completely overwhelmed – experiencing panic or extreme anxiety – then it is best to seek experienced help and support.

Indeed, the body never lies, but we need to know how to listen to what it is saying. Creating a space to listen to the body is the first step to learning how and, once we tune in, with patience, we can gain a more complete picture of what is happening and uncover those things that haven’t been known before. It is through this process of acknowledging the body that we can move towards healing.

Rebecca works with women who are navigating big transitions in their lives so they can discover or rediscover their unique way of being. Her approach is body-oriented, which means paying attention to the whole of the individual, not only words spoken but also subconscious patterns and the feelings and sensations in the body.

You can find out more about Rebecca and book a free 15-minute intro session to see if Rebecca is a good fit for where you are at. Find out more or book.