Body Knows...Just Listen
Our personal experiences and our long-term action-research with women’s groups inform us that the work of integrating body, mind and spirit hold the key to make us whole and free us from the entrapments that bind us as women. Deeper memory held in our cells and hard wiring inside us influence our beliefs, attitudes, behaviour, action, our emotions to ‘be’ in a particular way in living life. This calls for training our body, attending to our breath, being aware of our cosmic connection to the nature’s rhythms like the moon cycles and changing seasons based on the dynamic path of the Sun, etc- our connection to wholeness.
In the course of our learning journey, we understood that illness, wellness and dissonances in our bodies are not isolated occurrences, neither nuisance to be got rid off, or something to be set right. We began to recognise them as a voice of the body telling us something worthwhile about how we are living our lives and what needs attention to which we have not given much thought. Every ache, pain, crack, accident, degenerative illnesses like arthritis, stomach disorders and such other body symptoms informed us what we have been denying and running away from fears, anxieties, phobias, difficult biographies, childhood and teenage traumas etc. What we discovered is not something new but a subject highly researched by neuroscientists, yoga practioners, etc. Author of many self- healing books like Louise Hay talks about healing by acknowledging body symptoms and emotions associated with it and doing self-healing through affirmations.
One of the prominent patterns we observed is how we as women push the traumas, indignities, sorrows and tragedies into our feet to survive and stand up as strong women and do our work in the world. Then the heels in the feet cracks up and begin bleeding, skin issues surface as a form of weeping of the body to attend to what has been long neglected part of our lives. Similarly, the shaky painful knees almost crippling and laming is again crying of the body to recognise the girl part of us that looks at everything with curiosity and wonder, the wild and untamed part of us that holds the creative life force of the child in us wanting freedom and deliverance from the tyrannical ‘should’ that we have internalised as second nature in our lives.
These insights evolve from our own experiences of questioning each symptom of the body as what it is trying to tell us, using our dreams to support this enquiry and observing the course of the body’s responses and the patterns of the pain, healing, inflammation, soreness, wellness and healing. Developing a sensitivity to hearing what the body wants to tell us through body symptoms – be it headache, other aches, inflammation, infections, allergies, fever, stomach upset, etc accompanied with feelings of irritation, discomfort, disorientation, anger, frustration, impatience, anxiety, tears, pity, fears, phobias, depression, and other feelings nameable and unnameable. What we observed is that when we become sensitive to these symptoms, feelings and experience them without denial or brushing it aside, or snuffing it out with pills, a sensitivity to hear the voice of the body’s wisdom opens up. A new way of understanding emerges to inform us why this is happening, what makes it happen. We just have to be open to receive and work on it.
One such example is that of our colleague. She is very much conscious of the interconnection to the body, mind and spirit narrated us this experience of hers. Each time she has a major conflict with her partner, she speaks it out and dialogues before going to sleep that day. One of the days she was so depressed about the situation she decided not to initiate the talk and went to sleep with a sad and desolate state. She is someone who was weighing herself frequently to ensure her weight gain is in check. The day after this incident of not talking it out, the next morning when she weighed herself, she found she had gained 4 kgs. that morning with no difference in the diet consumed. Apparently, the unsaid and unspoken sadness, conflict she carried into her sleep, resulted in the weight gain. It almost appears as impossible but these are true experiences.
It is interesting the famous author A.K. Ramanujam in his folk tale – ‘’Tell it to the walls’ talks about an old lady abused by her family, becoming obese day by day and is ridiculed by all at home. One day she wanders to an abandoned structure with walls and says it to the walls and the walls collapse one after another and she regains her normal weight. The idiom of folk tales holds these lived in experiences.
Another colleague has been saying for some months, how she works so hard both at work and home and needs a break badly. She didn’t do much about her self-care and continued with her life. One day she had an accident and she had to be home on cast for 6-8 weeks. She realised her pattern of ignoring her body and started painting and taking up other self-care actions.
Within each one of us, our body’s wisdom is waiting to be loving and caring friend and teacher. We are here talking about inner self that knows organically. ‘Body that knows’ speaks through a dream like image, a gnawing feeling, symbols, a sudden burst of spontaneous wild and creative idea or a thought. All it needs is reflective stance, alertness and the desire to listen.
We wish to place two examples from our own experiments and learning:
One of us had serious allergy that has been bothering seasonally. One year, she had a severe attack in the right-hand fingers, almost immobilising and preventing her from all the work involving right hand/’right side’. Consequently, she had to use the left hand/side for every action. Reflecting on what is happening we examined what is the meaning of using left ‘side’/hand more? The on-going brain research informs us that left hemisphere of the brain coordinates the right side and right hemisphere coordinates the left side. “The two hemispheres function and process information in a contrasting mode. The ‘left’ thinks discreetly, analytically and reductively while ‘right’ thinks holistically, diffusely and synthetically. The intuitive, creative, symbolic, spontaneous part of oneself operates through right brain coordinated by left hemisphere. Her right hand being completely immobilised meant she need to really examine her ways of functioning in the world. Once this message from the body made sense and she understood the message, the right-hand started healing. Her behaviour patterns of pushing herself to the background and remaining in the shadow and fringes changed and she could voice her concerns with courage. All this came up as a new way of experiencing life. She had her non-judging colleague as a listening post and mirror and did all the inner work that needed to be done. Even though it appears simple, it was a complex and painful journey to understand this part and allow it to reveal the truth.
In Bhanu’s example of knees that were crippling and laming, the medical verdict was it is genetic, degenerative osteo-arthritis that comes with aging and you can do nothing about it and take ‘pain killers’ when it becomes unbearable. While this was internalised as ‘given’, the pain increased multi-fold and even doing yoga to lessen the pain became painful and finally slow crippling was coming on, even inhibiting simple walk. The insight about the need for listening more deeply to what the body is saying struck her when her five year old nephew asked ‘why do you walk like our grandma? You are not her surely!’ the wisdom of the child hit her like a thunderbolt. Bhanu realised she lived in fear of stairs, of falling in her walk, tyrannically driving the body to the brink of pain with no respite- just as her mother is living. The body seem to be occupied by mother-bodies and crying out for healing through listening with compassion. While delving deeply into herself, working with her stillness, dreams and fantasies and working with life size layout of her body to externalise the internalised crippling forces, it became clear that there is layered oppression of the mother-line that is showing up in her knees, calling out to her to do her work. It seemed like many mothers, who could not stand up in their brilliance and voice calling her out to do the generational work, occupy her body. The messages, synchronicities, dreams started guiding the work, unravelling it little by little almost like a tiny magic. A self-care regime was put in place almost to the point of feeling shame and guilt as ‘selfish’. She took up body aligning Rolfing sessions and Feldenkrais based physiotherapy sessions that put her back on a different rhythm but it needed lot of nudging from trusted friends, when utter depression and hopelessness completely took over. The tyrant in her needed to become compassionate to her to let the dream of resurrection of the creative, wild, lively Bhanu to surface and take breath. The twenty-year dream of getting back to playing the Veena instrument needed to become reality and finding time for creative arts cried for resurrection. The whole being seems to cry for resurrection through the anguish and pain of the excruciatingly painful shaky knees. Now, the walk is different but calls for constant awareness to be cautious of the ‘dog tail’ nature of old ways. The pain in the knees has become better to get back to yoga but they continue to be the teacher. It has been uphill struggle and the work is not easy and never ends. It only gets better and better. This is a work that has beginnings and no end.
What does ‘working with’ body-mind mean in this context? Here it meant ‘speaking the unspeakable’ to oneself first about her feelings of distress and embarrassment about the sore, itching, inflamed, infected right hand (inner parts of her) that stopped her from her usual active, brilliant self. Next step was to and seek help from trusted friends, which was extremely painful because it meant exposing her own vulnerability, and be a receiver rather than a giver. This enabled her to put the whole-body experience in perspective in a larger picture and not get overwhelmed by one part of her body (life) that is problematic. The usual tendency while living a complex life is not to view small symptoms of the body as significant but ignore them and practice denial, till they explode and become a heath crisis. Reflecting on messages from the body revealed that the pattern of self-depreciation is at the core of the problem. The work never ends and now the work is about looking at patterns of self-neglect and self-depreciation.
Essentially all this work needed support of compassionate and non-judging friends to keep working at it. We were together in this work along with the support of each other in our lives. Without each other’s support, we would have taken ourselves down to a helpless, cynical and hopeless place. Listening to the body gave us ears that can faintly listen through no sounds and lenses that can take a peek at unseen and sensing a little what is not on the physical plane. It sounds esoteric, but these unnameable experiences do lead us to say what we are saying with confidence. Some of the steps in learning to listen to the body are speaking the unspeakable to oneself first through reflection and journaling, followed by significant observations of oneself. The difficulty to listen to the body comes from habituated patterns of non-listening for survival.
The longest journey of more than a thousand miles begins with the first step. We feel we have made a good beginning with this first step and wish to continue through ups and downs. We are convinced that this work includes pain, failure, confusion, floundering and of course joy, discovery and new meanings as we move along on our life path with healthy body-mind.