Letting Your Emotions Move

If you were to grade your ability to process emotions, would you pass? Fail? Not be sure? Let me give you some context.

The word emotion comes from the Latin emovere, meaning “to move.” So at their most basic, emotions are something that want to move.

More specifically, emotions are an energy that wants to move. And the way that energy wants to move is as a wave that crests and passes after a couple minutes.

These waves of emotion can feel big, sometimes overwhelming. But they’re here to help us survive, function, and connect. Without emotions, we’d all have been saber-toothed tiger snacks long ago.

Learning the wrong lessons

The problem is that, for all but a few, no one ever taught us how to manage our emotions in a healthy way.  

Maybe you learned to ignore and stuff down your feelings. You feel angry about something, but then tell yourself you don’t or shouldn’t feel angry because…reasons.

Or you learned to avoid your feelings. You drink, smoke, watch TV, exercise, socialize, have sex…anything to avoid feeling that.

Others learned to ruminate on the emotion, feeding it with negative thoughts until it festers. Or they learned to blindly act on feelings, letting them explode or take over.

Getting all plugged up

But tamping down the energy of our emotions—not giving them healthy channels to flow through—can have serious consequences. It can cause:

  • Dulled vitality and depression
  • Broken or unfulfilling relationships
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Higher risk of illness

So, get them flowing

The basic steps for processing emotions are simple:

Step 1: Identify the feeling.
When you feel an emotion surfacing, the first step is to name it. What are you feeling? Is it one emotion or several?

Step 2: Feel the feeling.
Sit with the emotion, without judgment, and let yourself feel it. Try to:

  • Distinguish the felt-sense of the emotion from the cause. Thinking about the cause can re-trigger the feeling, making emotions churn, not process.
  • Track the wave of emotional energy. If we don’t re-trigger emotions with our thoughts, the wave will crest and pass within minutes.
  • Give it a channel to move. Sometimes emotions need expression. Try moving your body, journaling, drawing, singing or any form of creative expression.

Step 3: Take action if needed or let it go.
Once the wave has passed ask: Is there any action I need to take?

Sounds simple, right? In practice, processing emotions can get complex, especially with trauma. If you try these steps and feel numb, overwhelmed, or confused, you’re not doing it wrong. You’ve just got extra challenges to navigate. The help of a skilled guide can make all the difference.

Try this Adrenal Reset

Ah, the hard-working adrenal glands. They sit like mushroom caps atop our kidneys and pump out stress hormones when we need them. And if we’re stressed all the time? They just keep pumping them out….

Even when we’re deeply exhausted but so tired-wired we can’t sleep.

Even when every little sound makes us jump.

Even when the anxiety won’t quit…or we’re having panic attacks.

The good news is we can connect to our adrenal glands—and through them our body’s entire stress response system—to interrupt this stress cycle. I learned this simple adrenal reset in a recent training with Kathy Kain, who specializes in bodywork for trauma recovery. You can do this technique on yourself.  

Here’s how it works:

Get comfortable and sense or imagine your adrenals. Hold on, you say…you don’t where those are? No problem.

Your adrenals sit on top of your kidneys, which are near the bottom of your ribcage, next to the spine. The kidneys themselves are red and fist-sized. The adrenals are their lumpy, cream-colored caps.

So, sense or imagine your adrenals…in whatever way comes naturally. You might visualize the actual organs—or see imagery, colors, or energies. You might get more of a feeling-sense…like pulses, temperatures, tightness, or softening. You might even want to hold the area with your hands to get a better feel.

Next, pick one adrenal to start with. I usually start with the one that’s changing in some way. If you’re not sure, dealer’s choice. You’re going to work with both anyways.  

Now, simply be curious. You’re not trying to change anything. What you are doing is being extra attentive to any signs of slowing and settling—here and in your whole body.

Your attention is the powerful tool here. So notice changes like:

  • Softening, widening, or expansion
  • Temperature changes (like cool becomes warm…or…overheated cools down)
  • Soothing color changes
  • Energies slowing down
  • Taking a deep breath or breathing easier
  • Slowing heart rate
  • Feeling more relaxed overall

You may notice that these changes come in cycles. So you settle a bit, and then a new layer of activation shows up and slowly dissipates. Then you settle slightly deeper.  

Continue until you feel slower and calmer. Then do the other adrenal. You’ll likely find it goes faster than the first one. Keep going and enjoy the settling.

Congrats! You’ve interrupted your stress cycle.

This can be a great way to short-circuit a stress response in the moment…like during a panic attack. But it’s even more effective when practiced regularly over time. In this age of frazzled nerves, we’ve often got to retrain our bodies to relax.

A Solstice Blessing

Blessings to you on this winter solstice

Day of shortest sunlight and longest night

Outbreath between dark and light.

To the seeds dreaming beneath the ground

And those buried in our hearts,

To that first renewed spark of sun on the horizon

Hope re-ignited

That out of dark comes light

Out of death comes life

And out of the confusion and pain of our times, come the seeds for a brighter tomorrow.

~ VBW                                   

Thank you to all of my readers and clients for the gifts of your attention, presence, and patronage this year. I am grateful to you and honored by all those who allow me to walk with them on their healing journeys.

Blessings and happy holidays! Here’s to the return of the light.

Quiet Healing Miracles We Overlook

Today I want to take some time to acknowledge the quiet healing miracles that take place inside us, mostly unseen and unsung. All of the times that our health wins out, sometimes against great odds…while we barely notice.

Most people think of health as something static, as a state of being, a noun. We think we are in a state of good health—or not. But health isn’t static, it’s active. It’s an action hero, a verb. Health is a living, breathing process, guided by innate intelligence. And that process is constantly in flux, monitoring all of our bits and pieces that go out of whack and bringing them back into balance.  

This constant, gentle return to homeostasis is an ongoing miracle.

Day in, day out, your health is there, repelling invaders, repairing cuts, rebuilding tissues, rebalancing hormones and emotions. It’s all of the times we didn’t get cancer, or fought off the latest virus, because our immune system roared to our defense. It’s all of the times we took an emotional gut punch and then felt better the next morning because our dreams did emotion repair. 

Does our health get overwhelmed at times? Of course it does. We’re mortal. We have limits. And our health needs sustenance and support. But it’s always there, trying to return us to balance. As a craniosacral therapist, my job is to support and stimulate your body’s own self-healing ability—its health. And I’ve felt that health do wonders. 

There’s the quiet miracle of the client who comes in stressed out and frazzled. They may not know it, but their brain and nerves are literally buzzing and sparking with heat. And for them, the session may just be deeply relaxing. But I know the health has managed to cool all that heat and do a huge nervous system and hormonal reset.

Or there’s the client whose arthritic neck is killing them. They may feel immediate relief after the session or that may take a couple days. But I feel joints that start out hot, dry, and irritated. And then the health manages to pump in fluids, discharge the heat, and realign the bones to relieve pressure. All while the client dreams.

We so often want healing to be instant and dramatic. And sometimes it is. But more often, healing is so gentle and organic over time that you hardly notice it’s happening, like a paper cut healing. It just feels like things have always been that way.

So, if you’re looking for healing, give more attention to the things that are slowly and gently—without any fanfare—going right. And remember, your health is always there.

Some Favorite Relaxation Techniques

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You reach the end of a long, stressful day and finally get to relax in front of the TV. But when you go to bed, your mind’s still racing and your body’s keyed up. That blue light from the screen—and most shows—is stimulating. So your body never actually gets to relax.

To reduce the toxic effects of chronic stress, and actually relax, you’ve got to elicit your body’s relaxation response. This restful state slows your breathing and heart rate, relaxes muscles, and lowers blood pressure.

But what relaxes you may differ from what relaxes somebody else, so it pays to try different techniques. Here are some of my favorites.

World’s Most Relaxing Song

Dubbed the “world’s most relaxing song,” Weightless by Marconi Union was engineered to be relaxing. Collaborating with sound therapists, the musicians chose non-repeating melodies that let the brain switch off and an underlying beat that slows from 60 beats per minute to 50 over eight minutes, letting your heart entrain and slow down.

Learn more and listen here.

Relaxing Acupressure Points

Acupressure involves massaging specific points along energy meridians. Several of these can relieve stress. I rub central points on the soles of my feet whenever I need to draw energy out of my head and calm down. And the point between my eyebrows really helps with anxiety (and draining my sinuses!).

For simple guidance with diagrams, see this post.

Restorative Yoga: Legs-up-the-Wall

Yoga offers several wonderful poses for relaxing and restoring mind and body. One of my favorites is legs-up-the-wall pose. I often do this to relax and relieve back tension. It’s also great to do right before bed, as it can leave you feeling deeply still and sleepy.

To learn this and other restorative poses, see this article.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Long revered by yoga practitioners, alternate nostril breathing is a great way to relax and reduce stress. This simple breathing technique helps calm the nervous system and balance the mind and emotions. I use it to settle my mind before morning meditation. But it’s also a good sleep aid, helping ease stress and anxiety.

See this article to learn it.

And if you missed them, here’s a look back at some of my past articles offering more techniques:

When a technique’s working, your body will slowly shift into rest-and-digest. So, if you feel relaxed or your tummy starts gurgling…you’ve got a winner.

What Is Somatic Bodywork?

Most people have a clear idea of what therapeutic bodywork is—it helps relax and heal the body. And most have at least a basic understanding of talk therapy—it treats the mind. But what about this thing that works with the whole of you: somatic bodywork?

What is it?

Somatic bodywork is any type of bodywork—whether it’s massage, reiki, or craniosacral therapy—where you and your practitioner consciously work with your inner perceptions. It combines bodywork with verbal skills, and it works with a lot more than muscles.

Somatics works with the whole of you: your physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts; your intuition and imagery; your spiritual insights. It can facilitate deep healing of old wounds and trauma, but it is definitively not talk therapy.

A comparison to massage

If you’ve had a therapeutic massage, your practitioner probably checked in on pressure and hopefully checked you were OK during work on painful spots. But most exploration of your inner state stops there. If the massage brings up feelings or memories, these may be managed skillfully, but the focus is on releasing tissues.

But bodywork can bring up a lot. Our body stores unhealed experiences for a safer time, and then nonverbally brings them up for healing—as sensations, symptoms, feelings, and more. So what if those were the focus? That’s somatic bodywork.

How does this work in practice?

To start a session, I often ask clients to get comfortable and turn inwards. I’ll ask: What do you notice?

You might say my shoulders are tight…or I feel revved up. This is just an initial sense of the terrain, an invitation to turn inward. I’ll do a craniosacral therapy hold somewhere comforting, like your feet. And we’ll wait for settling.

Once your body slows, it generally brings up an issue. Perhaps pressure arises in your chest. I may hold your shoulders to help track and we’ll be curious: Is it like a weight? A squeezing? Is there a color? An emotion? As we keep noticing, the sensation will usually change. It may decrease, you may sweat as heat discharges, or you may grow sad and cry.

Do you know why you’re crying? Not always. You don’t have to know to heal. But you may get an insight: I felt unloved as a child. I won’t analyze why—I’m not a therapist. We’ll acknowledge what’s here now. How is it for you to realize that? Perhaps you feel sad but relieved.  

Constantly seeking health

The body is constantly bringing up old issues in an effort to heal—but it needs our attention. If we can speak its language, and truly listen, the body will heal itself.