Let the Body Bear the Burden
Mom had died four months before I decided I was ready to move my body intentionally. I had been so numb, I feared the return to my body would be a crash landing. Instead I found Jessica’s class – a Friday night restorative yoga hour at my local sliding scale yoga place. Jessica Leigh Andersen is a body-positive teacher that starts each class discussing “consent to touch” in yoga which doesn’t take much to extrapolate into life outside the studio. She describes the class as “mostly, lying in funny shapes on the floor” which doesn’t begin to capture the environment of gentle, self-evident acceptance Jessica creates for students. Class starts with a full body scan in conversation, both internal and out loud “let’s normalize aches and pains!” Jessica’s restorative class was access back into my own body. It was grief and recovery wrapped in cactus arms during heart bench. It was a gift I hope to pass along through Jessica’s writing this week…
I consider myself a scientist. A rational thinker, a seeker of truth. When presented with a problem, my first instinct is to break it into pieces – smaller pieces, more manageable pieces. Pieces I can then sift through one-by-one to analyze and explain. This is the way my brain works best – the way my mind has learned to comprehend big problems. Don’t pigeonhole me, I’m quite capable of seeing “the big picture” but breaking it down helps me to understand its intricacies. This quality makes me good at things like physics, biology, chemistry, and math. It sometimes makes me bad at things like love, pain, and grief.
I used to let my mind process love, pain, and grief, the way I encouraged it to process other things that I considered to be problems. Over time though, I’ve learned that I can’t always trust my mind with this task. It rationalizes too much, draws boundaries that are too clear, too straight. It dissociates, it’s rejects pieces that don’t fit the pattern.
Instead, I’ve learned to trust my body with the task of feeling. My body can endure the inconsistencies. It can withstand the waves of visceral feelings that leave my mind short-circuited—my body even enjoys them sometimes. I allow the waves to wash all over me. Sometimes they pass and sometimes they don’t.
When they don’t pass, I’m left sitting with them – or rather, sitting in them. It’s uncomfortable because there’s discord happening inside of me. A dissonance that wants to resolve. Here again, my mind tries to take matters into its own hands — tries to sort the feelings, pass them around, inspect them to death. That’s how my feelings die — my mind over-handles them.
So, I keep them in my body. It’s uncomfortable, but they’re safer here. I’ve learned to sit with my feelings for days, months, sometimes even years. They stay dormant most times, and people like to tell you this is a bad thing. They say you’re “repressing” something. They say, “deal with it”, “face your fears” – or some other euphemism implying that you’re supposed to have all the skills already to deal with your feelings. Yoga teachers especially will tell you that you’re storing a lot of “emotional tension” in your body, which is ironic because I’m a yoga teacher. I’ve been told to “work it out through the posture”, like some emotional resolution will be achieved once I can touch my toes. It’s absurd.
I don’t know about you, but my emotions feel safest here — stored in my body. I don’t want to work them out, I just want to feel them. This is what my body is best at. When my mind tries to make room for conflict it quickly exhausts itself — so I let my body bear this burden.
Feelings are slippery
The feelings come in waves, out of their semi-hibernation. The hope is that in the time transpired since the feelings originated, I’ve learned something that makes feeling them easier. Something I didn’t know when they were fresh and new, or gained some emotional tool I didn’t have.
Maybe “repression” is storing the feelings somewhere in your body and never learning new tools for feeling them when they inevitably come up again. I don’t do this, though. I know the feelings are there. The promise of their imminent resurgence motivates me to learn things about myself, about my body, about how to feel feelings – instead of how to rationalize them away.
Putting feeling into practice
You could try this sometime – letting your body feel things for you. Letting your body store the feelings for you. And while you wait for the waves to come back up, you can learn new ways to feel.
Because eventually, they will come up again.
When they do, you may remember to breathe, and that may be enough to let them go.
In for three, out for four.
Maybe now that the feelings are in your body, you remember that you can move that body.
You can shake it, dance it, convulse it, jiggle it.
Maybe you take a night (a year, a whole lifetime) just to explore all the ways that moving your body changes the way it feels.
Maybe some of those changes last. Maybe some of those changes are big enough to let the feelings go.
Maybe you feel different in different places of your body. You can explore with questions…
How do your feet feel? Your ankles? How do your knees and thighs feel? How about your back? Your shoulders? Your neck? How does your face feel?
Maybe some of these exercises help you let the feelings go – but maybe you’re not trying to let them go.
Maybe some of these exercises help you learn how to “handle” the feelings better – but maybe you’re not trying to handle them.
At the very least (or most) you’ve learned how to notice your feelings.
I’m not saying I know how to help you move passed these feelings, or how to “handle” them — all I’m saying is that you can let your body hold onto them – you can keep feeling them again and again – each time with a different lens as you unpack them after a week, a year, a decade, a lifetime. Sometimes, you’ll be a whole new person the next time you feel them, and your body can help you with this. Let your body help.
Let your body help you with today’s most difficult tasks.
With gratitude to Jessica,
Art by Andrew Race