July 25, 2013

Our Bodies Speak. ~ Anne E. Millheiser

Physics tells us that all matter has movement and I believe that all movement matters.

A friend once sent me a birthday card that read:

“Every oak tree started out as a nut that stood its ground.”  

We all have the capacity to create, to grow, to bend a little. Meaningful and lasting change is typically initiated by a movement of sorts—a person or a group of people coming together for a cause—strongly convicted, deeply rooted and ready to organize, to move, to connect, to create and to bend.

We have seen this time and time again in social movement, political uprisings and in community organizing.

The same concept can be applied to one’s physical body. Our bodies become vehicles for our life’s narratives. We embody the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what our journey has been like. Our bodies are containers for perception, emotions, our learned sense of safety and our place in the world.

When we think of our bodies as vessels for these essential elements of meaning and identity, it makes sense that we should be able to use our bodies to access and re-conceptualize these resources and elements of “self.”

Let’s use public speaking to illustrate the above.

Every time I am asked to speak publicly, my stomach “drops” and my heart begins to race.  These visceral responses happen at the mere suggestion that I enter into a public speaking role. Because I believe in the power of sharing information and facing my fears head-on, I accept. Let’s fast forward to the day of the presentation. I am nervous as all get out! My hands are fidgety and my heart is racing. As the time to approach the podium nears, my mind begins to go blank! Imagine! 

If we are operating under the construct that our body is a vessel for these reactions, it would make sense that our body could serve as an entryway into mitigating these reactions and ultimately retrain the way that our body copes with emotionally charged situations.

In the above situation, my sympathetic nervous system is operating on overdrive. I become so anxious that I begin to move from feeling grounded in my body and in my “self,” to a mode of “flight, fight or freeze,” which are not especially effective when it comes to public speaking. Do I have any control here? Not especially.

Control is an illusion.

Are there things that I can do to move out of the sympathetic response and into a parasympathetic state? Yes!

When I’m feeling anxious, fidgety and light headed, I take a moment to breathe.

I take deep, slow, diaphragmatic breaths, extending the length of both my inhale and my exhale. I might also practice alternate nostril breathing. As a result, my respiration feels less shallow and my heart rate slows.

If after the breath work, I’m still feeling “blank” or distracted, I will often go into a gentle inversion in order to improve blood flow and circulation. Slowing down and reconnecting with my physical body through subtle movement and vibration profoundly impacts my state of mind and ability to approach the podium and to speak in front of a group.

There has been a decent amount of research looking into yoga’s impact on physical and emotional wellness and centuries of anecdotal evidence speaking to the impact that movement, such as, dance, yoga, tai chi, qi gong and more, has on identity, emotional state and narrative.

Is it a panacea? Heck no! But I truly believe that each time we interrupt disruptive patterns, we are training our bodies to respond, rather than react, and are shifting our narrative about what we are capable of accomplishing.

So, do acorns bend? Of course!

“The body says what words cannot.” ~ Martha Graham

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Asst. Ed: Tawny Sanabria/Ed: Sara Crolick


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Anne E. Millheiser