Get out of your head!
How many times have I been told to just relax, to think about something else, to take a breath, to chill out?
I know I can be intense, but this is not what it’s about.
When you are in the midst of a full blown anxiety wave, there is no space for reasoning, negotiating, bribing, analyzing. When your mind is highjacked, all its lines are beeep-beeep busy. Sorry, call again!
Trying to reason with anxiety and worry is like trying to have a conversation with my 86-year-old grand-maman in the last stages of Alzheimers. At the worst, you’ll get gibberish. At the best, you might get a glimpse of “OK, I get it. I’m here now,” quickly followed by a “What’s your name again? Anxiety, you say? I’ve heard that name before…” (Goddess, bless my little grand-maman.) If relevance and logic are out of the books, then you might as well try to humour her. You could be surprised…
Was it Einstein who said that you can’t solve a problem the same way it was created?
So what’s a woman left to do? Eating chocolate or drinking wine will only take you so far.
There is only one thing I know that cuts anxiety in its tracks. And that’s a trip down south. I don’t mean you need to buy a flight to some exotic destination, I mean you have to be willing to leave the realm of your head to explore the mighty queendom of the body to learn its language and wisdom.
Feeling sensation in the body seems somewhat foreign to most of us at first, especially those of us raised by Western standards.
The body has its own wisdom whose function is to keep us healthy and balanced. When we ignore the signs, the sensations, the gut feelings, we block this innate wisdom - and we are left with only our head to rely on. Honestly, what does the head know about health and well-being? It certainly has lots of theories and ideas, and possibly some scientific research to back it up. While this information is helpful, it is absolutely unnecessary and superfluous compared to the innate knowledge of YOUR body.
Your body knows what it needs to get healthy and calm.
Who is it that managed to convince you that so-and-so over there in this lab, in this ashram, in this clinic, knows better than YOU about what YOU need for well-being?* (Do not judge yourself, it’s a generalized predicament that we all share.)
So, here you have it. You might not like it, it might sound complicated. But it’s still the simple truth: Get out of your head, and pay attention. Feel sensation and be curious about your own inner experience.
Pain is but one sensation. The body is constantly sending signals.
Gut feelings are signals.
Goosebumps are signals.
Digestion discomforts are signals.
Feeling tired is a signal.
The sensations of hunger and fullness are signals.
When was the last time you actually let yourself feel these signals?
The beauty here is that you don’t have to be fluent in this somatic language yet to communicate with the body. It’s a two-way street. This is where you can affect your experience of anxiety, or even the quality of your digestion, among others.
Instead of “just breathe,” feel your breath as it is.
Instead of “chill out,” sit comfortably and feel your seat. I mean really feel it.
Go outside and smell the air.
Touch the zipper of your coat or the grain of the wood table. I mean really touch it.
Listen to the sounds outside the room, and inside the room.
Give your body any (calming) sensory information to work with and give your full attention. Take a bath, hug a tree, pet a dog, walk barefoot, taste the food, get a massage, give a massage, listen to uplifting tunes, look out the window, pay attention to inner body sensation…
The more you cultivate presence in your body, the more embodied you will feel. Anxiety will come and go, but it will have less grip on you.
Anxiety runs high in my life, and it usually comes with its friends: random pains, migraines and severe digestion upset. I have found that paying attention usually reduces the severity of my symptoms and contributes to a heightened sense of safety. My migraines are actually interesting now! As for my digestion, it is pretty stable as long as I listen to my body’s opinion (not my head’s or my tongue’s) about what I should and shouldn’t eat. I think that taking the time to actually smell and taste my food also helps, along with giving myself permission to experience and honour the sensations of hunger and fullness.
So, get out of your head!
I know, easier said than done. That’s why we turn to practices that help us develop this capacity in a routinely manner. As you know, my favourites are Yoga and Yoga Nidra, but it could be any other movement or focus practice that allows you to feel the body rather than control it. Practice. Systematically. On a regular basis. It’ll bring short term relief, as well as restore your long term capacity to feel and communicate with your body.
* NOTE: To be clear, I’m not saying that external support is not helpful, and I’m NOT saying that medical advice isn’t sometimes necessary and beneficial. I’m saying that we were taught to rely heavily on external sources and topic specialists, and we seem to forget that we are the first specialists of ‘ME.’
Photo by Alfons Morales.