Surrendering to Your Body

In my last article, I looked at how you can let your body move without consciously willing it—and how this can lead to richer movement sessions. Today, I’ll explore how to surrender and let that subconscious, body-based intelligence take control.

But first, let me address the “me” versus “my body” problem. Who exactly am “I” surrendering to? How do I talk about this distinct part of myself without sounding like I have multiple personalities? It’s all me. But it’s different parts of me—often with very different agendas and ideas. So, while I know there’s no me without my body, I have to distinguish between them to write about this. Which, I know, makes it a little weird.

So, to quickly recap…

My morning practice involves putting down a yoga mat and inviting my body to move. Then I wait and listen. I’m tracking my body sensations, noticing when an impulse to move builds, and trying to stay out of the way of the movement.

How “I” interfere

It’s the staying out of the way part that’s tricky. Below are the most common challenges to be mindful of:

Oh, this is what you’re doing. In this pitfall, I think I know what my body’s up to. Let’s say my arm sweeps over my head and I think, “Aha, a side bend!” Then it’s easy to subtly take over the movement, thinking I know where my body’s headed. Now I’m directing rather than witnessing.

Hold it, hold it…. What starts as a nice, body-initiated stretch, can turn into me holding that position—no matter how subtly—determined to “make” some muscle release.

Getting impatient. Sometimes my body pauses to rest and I’m waiting…and waiting. If I get impatient, then rather than wait for a movement, I imagine I feel an impulse and force a move, telling myself it was spontaneous.

Oh, I hope it will…. This one is less invasive and starts as a wish: “I hope we stretch the hamstrings.”  Then maybe 10 minutes later, my body may oblige. This can be a nice dialogue with yourself—if you’re not attached to outcome—or it can be a subtle way of imposing your will.

What should I have for dinner? Here, instead of being too involved, I’m absent. My mind’s wandered off and I’m no longer present with my body. So I’m moving, but I’m not aware. Or the body intelligence simply disengages too, so movement sputters out.

As you practice, notice whether you’re witnessing, conversing, taking over, or absent. And if you’ve left or taken over, how much more might you learn if you witnessed?

DEFCON 1 Level Stress

Imagine feeling overwhelmed with stress by even the smallest problem in your day. Huge energies and feelings just roar up out of nowhere. And try as you might, you can’t seem to relax.

Such massive arousal in the stress response system—the DEFCON 1 of threat responses—often has a common denominator: oxygen deprivation.

Being deprived of oxygen for more than a brief period is arguably the most extreme threat your nervous system can face. It thrusts your whole body into a near-death state—brain cells die within minutes. So your body responds with extreme, last-ditch survival responses, sending out a storm of nerve signals and stress hormones.

What Situations Cause It?

With oxygen deprivation, we tend to think of the obvious: choking, suffocation, and near-drowning. Less obvious are things like being born with the cord wrapped around your neck, medical intubation (potentially), and lightning strikes or electrocution.

Other situations can produce this extreme survival response, even if they don’t cause oxygen deprivation. Anesthesia and high fevers have the potential to cause it, because they blow you out of normal reality into altered states. And any kind of fetal distress, birth trauma, prolonged infant distress, or early surgery can cause it because a baby’s nervous system is so underdeveloped.

What Happens After You Survive?

Here’s the thing…the nervous system may never really reset. So now, whenever something stressful happens, the body has just one extreme response. This can feel like:

  • Energy storms: your body buzzes or floods with electricity
  • Overwhelm: you have to do everything “right” (e.g., diet, meditation, avoiding stimulants) just to stay calm
  • Floating away: your head gets foggy or swimmy
  • Chest constriction: your chest tightens, your heart pounds
  • Extreme sensitivity: to lights, sounds, scents, etc.
  • Intense fear: with nothing to connect it to
  • Shaky limbs: arms or legs that shake or tremble

The Light at the End

Does the above describe you? If so, one, know that it really is harder for you to relax than for others. You can’t just make it happen. So give yourself a break.

Two, you’re already doing a lot to successfully manage the activation and overwhelm. The key is to start doing it more consciously. One simple tip: Picture your arms and legs as drainpipes and let the contained energy drain downward.

And three, there’s help. Work with a body-oriented trauma therapist. It will likely take time…you’ll be working with small, 2% downshifts. But over time, you’ll reset.

Top Reasons Your Back Hurts

If there’s one issue I see over and over in my practice, it’s back pain. Usually, it’s caused by some short-term, mechanical problem with the muscles or joints. Perhaps a muscle has been pulled. Or a tendon is inflamed. Nothing that won’t heal, but it sure hurts. Unfortunately, for many people this back pain becomes a recurring problem.

So, what sets you up for this type of pain? And what stirs it up or keeps it coming back? Here are some of the top culprits I see in my practice. Do any of them apply to you?

  • Stress: Stress can play a huge role in back pain. Stress tightens up your muscles, which can make them sore and achy. And if there are other issues—like postural strains—stress can easily tip the balance into spasm and pain.
  • Too much sitting. Prolonged sitting causes muscles in your back, hips, and thighs to tighten up. Over time, this puts pressure on your discs and can set up the muscles and joints to be easily injured by something like a poor movement.
  • Lack of exercise: Without enough movement, joints and muscles stiffen, tissues don’t get enough blood flow, and muscles grow weak. If you’re a weekend warrior—sit all week, play hard on weekends—you’re especially prone to back injuries.
  • Emotional pain: When you resist or suppress a painful emotion, it doesn’t go away. Your body stores it in your tissues. This keeps is out of your awareness, but it causes other problems, like chronic muscle tension and guarding.
  • Postural problems: Poor posture puts incredible strains on your back and neck. For instance, you may not realize that those rounded shoulders are overstretching your low back and causing your back and hips to tighten up.
  • Overuse & poor body mechanics: Muscle strains can happen suddenly, but many build over time. Repetitive motions like bending or swinging a hammer can slowly stretch and tear tissues, especially if you use poor body mechanics.

Did any of these culprits ring true for you? If so, you’ve probably already recognized some changes you could make to feel better. Stay tuned to future articles, too, where I’ll look at simple things you can do to defuse stress and tension before they become pain.