Q I have studied a fair amount of psychology and was also in therapy for two years. I have found it all very helpful and interesting. After reading some of your articles, I realize that I am more comfortable analyzing issues and ideas, than really allowing myself to deeply feel what I am experiencing in my body. Slowing down and understanding what is happening with my feelings and body sensations is more challenging for me. However, I am intrigued and interested in exploring it. Are there any practices you would recommend that could aid me in getting better at this?

A Psychology and psychotherapy have grown tremendously in the last few years. The frontier of exploring the body as part of psychospiritual growth is a powerful facet of this work. Modern medicine is recognizing that stress causes physical ailments. Even heart disease has some emotional roots. And exercise can greatly enhance positive moods and thoughts.

Chinese medicine explains that the body has currents of energy that connect with the organs and the entire body. The Indian chakra system explains that there are also energy centers throughout the body that open as we develop spiritually. Everything we experience is felt and registered in our bodies. Even abstract thoughts affect our breathing, posture, and muscular holding or letting go. Every thought brings forth a feeling, whether consciously felt or not. Every feeling moves the body in a different way, even if we are not paying attention to the experience. Human beings are incredibly integral, or whole. The field of somatic psychology explores these interrelationships.

Here are two tools in this field. The foundational practice that I would suggest is the practice of sensing your body. Start with your foot, and put your attention in just feeling your foot: the warmth, coolness, tension, flexibility, tightness, aches, movement of energy, or any other sensations. Then continue the same practice with your ankle, calf, knee, thigh, and up to your pelvis. Then move your attention to your fingers, palm, arms, elbow, and up to your neck and shoulders. Move across to the other side of your body, all the way down to sensing your toes. Then sense your belly, chest, and entire back slowly. Breathe naturally while you do this. Over the days and months, this practice alone will begin to sensitize you to your somatic experience.

The second tool is to learn to integrate your feelings with your bodily experiences. You may begin by noticing what you are physically experiencing while certain feelings arise. For example, when you get some good news see how your body feels. Do you loosen and feel more energy in your body? If you feel worried, do you get more tense? If so, what part of your body feels it the most? By noticing these sensations, you’ll begin the process of making your body an integral part of your mind.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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