Tag Archives: movement

Love & Anxiety #35: In Praise of Stillness!

Hello everyone, I have been traveling and helping with Somatic trainings for the past few weeks and have not had any time to sit down and put my thoughts to “paper”. But I am back home now and excited to post this  blog. The theme of the last blog was about the need to balance the body states of Stillness and Movement, and the impact each one has on our well-being and anxiety levels. Today we are going to focus solely on the benefits of Stillness. For quite a few reasons, most people find Stillness more challenging to practice than Movement. Except perhaps for those people who love to meditate, or inveterate couch potatoes, and sometimes, people who smoke tons of weed.

Our popular culture praises movement, especially forward movement. You receive lots of kudos, not to mention MONEY, for accomplishing, achieving, being all that you can be, etc.  And, there is nothing wrong with those things. The problems tend to come when we get way out of balance, which at least a few of us are. Movement also feels better to many people. Exercise has been credited to be the absolute best deterrent to aging, and the best support for our emotional well-being. When we are moving, we also send somatic messages of self-efficacy and agency to our reptilian brain via the limbic system. Movement usually feels good.

Stillness on the other hand often speedily brings about an internal sense of discomfort, restlessness, extreme anxiety, or even shame. When we are externally Still, that is usually when our “Stuff” boils up, and in consequence, when we become most aware of it. I don’t think I need to take too much time to define “Stuff” since I am writing to fellow humans. We all have it, our wounds, our stucknesses (is that a word), our extreme emotional states, our fears. For many of us, when we begin a practice of becoming externally Still, our internal world compensates by going bat crap crazy. Years ago when I first began to practice Stillness, it felt like the emotional equivalent of a sewer pipe bursting. It was so messy inside of my body and mind.

This is one reason why a New Year’s resolution to begin to meditate, or to pray more often, usually drops off by January 15th. Sitting Still with our “Stuff” can be really frightening. A while ago Carl Jung wrote quite a bit about “Stuff”. He called it the Shadow self and proposed there are many “gifts” available when we connect with our own Shadow, the disowned and wounded parts of our beings. But most of us hate the wrapping paper on those “gifts” and stow them in a dark closet unopened. As an unfortunate consequence, much of our conscious behavior is often influenced by stress/fear and feelings of which we are not fully aware. Some of the new Neuroscience research suggests at least 80% of our relations with other people are driven by our sub-cortical brain regions. Way before fMRI technology came along, Sigmund Freud, one of Jung’s near contemporaries, intuited this and stated: “That which we repress, we express.”

Slowing down is often a beginning step to the practice of becoming Still. When we slow down and learn how to periodically become externally Still, this is one means for embracing our “Stuff” so it loses its power to direct our behavior outside of our conscious awareness. This is a great growth practice but is usually quite painful so it is easy to avoid doing. A metaphor I use with clients to describe this struggle is, “Water-skilling across the surface of life”. When we move quickly and get a lot done, we do not need to feel those subterranean rumblings that come up from our hearts and bellies in times of stress or pain.

The good news is that at some point, after learning to embrace our “Stuff” while being externally Still, we begin to experience one of the greatest gifts of this process, internal Stillness! Where we can just sit and be, and let thoughts come and go across the sky of our minds like so many fluffy clouds, and feel the peace in our bodies and the goodness of being alive. Or even get to the point where there are no thoughts, just a deep peaceful calm and a quiet joy! This my friends, I propose must feel better than any drug, and is our birthright as a human being living on the earth. Many people who are trapped in the terrible cycle of addiction are just trying to get to this state of quiet peacefulness. For that matter, its a state everyone longs to experience.

When we are able to achieve external and internal Stillness, some of the additional benefits include; the ability to feel the goodness of our lives more deeply, expanded creativity, and a greater ability to be Self-aware and to listen to our bodies. But perhaps the greatest gift is the ability to be present to each moment without judgment or fear!

To close, as a final plug for how great periodic Stillness is, here are a few of the activities Stillness offers that frenetic movement does not: Sleep, hugging, cuddling, nursing a baby, staring into a lover’s eyes, meditating/praying, having a deep and meaningful conversation at the dinner table long after the food is consumed, just to name a few.

So go forth this week and if you usually don’t “do” Stillness, maybe just give it a try for 10 minutes and see what happens. If something you don’t love comes up inside you, remember Jung, and try to see it as a gift from inside of you. If you are already good at being Still, keep it up. The world needs more of you to balance out all the humans racing frenetically about. As always, I would love to hear how it goes.

even butterflies practice stillness at times
even butterflies practice stillness at times

Going Deeper:

1.) What are your instinctive responses to this blog? Is there some resonance in your mind/body, or resistance? If so, what is the root of the resistance?  What did you learn about Stillness in your first family? When you are Still, are you aware of your “Stuff”? If so, are you able to embrace it as an important part of being you?

2.) If you are a meditator or enjoy a form of periodic Stillness, what gifts do you receive from those practices? How did you come to learn how to be Still? Who in your life might you encourage to learn how to be Still that could use the benefit, and the rest?

Advertisements

Love & Anxiety: M & M’s for Reducing Anxiety

One month I was in Maui meditating on a mound of sand- can’t resist that awesome alliteration. When my mind refused to empty, I began thinking about BEING and overall health and what brings those about for me, and my fellow human beings. Giving up on the meditation, I instead concluded that for health and well being, a balanced body, and reduced anxiety, I needed a steady diet of M & M’s! Yes, you heard me correctly. But before you run out to Costco to buy a huge bag of the chocolate candy coated sugar bombs, that is not the right type of M&M’s. I am talking about Movements and Meditations (Any form of relaxed Stillness), those M and M’s. (My fellow sugar lovers are bumming right now).

In order to live in a body with a regulated and healthy Autonomic Nervous System, and to experience health and well being, the human body needs a combination of Stillness, and Kinetic expulsion of energy, better known as movement.  As always, balance occurs by experiencing  the combination of opposites. Stillness and movement are polar opposites. Let’s begin by talking about movement.

Experts have been insisting for years, consistent exercise is the best predictor of long term health. And not just physical, but physiological and emotional health as well. Exercise/movement even slows down age-related cognitive decline. People who exercise regularly are happier and healthier across the board. Now I know you have heard this many times before but I am going to add an additional motivator that may help you begin a regular habit of movement if you don’t already have one. For that we will talk about our lovely Limbic system.

The Limbic system sits on top of our primitive brain stem and regulates many functions. One of them is movement! When you think Limbic system think of your limbs, arms and legs. Those parts of our bodies so integral for self-protective actions. If you trip, hopefully your arms fly out to catch yourself, if you are attacked -and you do not freeze in terror- your arms fly out automatically to punch or push away, and your feet and legs team up to kick or run away. For our early hunter-gatherer ancestors , the ability to move, and often quite quickly, was the difference between living and extinction. As Perry and Szalavitz state in their wonderful book, “Born for love: why empathy is essential and endangered”, “…even in adults, threat or distress shifts control from the rational abstract thinking areas {sic neo-cortex} to the ‘more decisive, rapidly acting central lower regions’ {sic limbic and brain stem}. Under perceived threat we get dumber but faster, which can help us survive running from a bad guy…” These authors help us understand due to the way our body and brains are wired, the ability to move easily is an instinctive precursor to feeling safe in our bodies. This is especially true at a sub-cortical level.

In my experience, as a human and a therapist, because this connection is subcortical and not found in our conscious understanding, we are often unaware of this deep limbic benefit! This is one reason why some of us can keep ignoring the suggestion to exercise. When we understand all the benefits of movement and its ability to bring on a somatic sensation of safety, perhaps we can find some motivation to begin a new habit of consistent movement.

In our current culture the message that movement is needed for health will probably be more easily accepted than my second suggestion. That stillness, and quite a bit of it, is needed for health as well. This may be a harder sell. There is little praise given out for sitting still, unless you are a Buddhist and/or someone who values meditation. (This can include prayer, breath work, or any form of silent stillness.) Most of us are frantically racing about toward the next “thing”, our next task. The idea to sit still and do NOTHING but BE and let ourselves surrender to the moment and to our essential being, this is not a message you hear on TV or at the movies.  However, in order to settle down after all our running around accomplishing things, our bodies need stillness. We need to stop and let our muscles relax and our nerves to stop sending jumpy messages to our brain. We need our digestion to begin again and for our body to go into rejuvenation mode. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is called the “Rest and Digest” system just for that reason. When we come down out of the Sympathetic Charge (movement and action) it is because the Parasympathetic system has kicked in. This is the time that our bodies go into recovery mode. Most anxious people have stomach problems and digestion issues because they are rarely still, they are rarely in the Parasympathetic branch of the Autonomic Nervous system.
Now, to be accurate, you do not need to be fully still to be in Rest & Digest mode, but stillness and meditation have been linked to relaxation and decreased anxiety for years now. One reason for this is that the inside of our body follows the messages sent by the outside of our body. The bracing or relaxing of our muscle/skeletal system (MSS) tell our bellies and brains whether it is safe to relax and calm down. Or, our MSS can tell our insides to be really scared and that maybe we should run like hell. If you have trouble believing this try the following experiment. Sit slumped over, like you are a rag doll. After 20 seconds check in with your internal body and your energy levels and sense of readiness for action.  Now, sit up straight and tall, or better yet, stand up in parade rest like a soldier, chest out head up, with your arms and legs spread out. Now check internally and see what has changed. Notice how this simple posture change, immediately impacts the sensations in your body and how you feel in the world. In my work as a therapist, I can usually tell how my clients are feeling inside merely by observing how they walk in and how they sit in my office. I can tell how tight and braced or loose and relaxed they are by their body movements and how they sit overall.
In meditation/stillness a deep relaxation is possible because your MSS is not sending messages of tension or action to your brain and belly. Try sitting on the edge of your chair in a tense, braced position while attempting to relax. You most likely cannot do it. The outside of your body needs to be in the right posture/to send internal messages that it is safe to relax.

While I could keep going, I will just add one more benefit to adding more stillness into your life. Often people who make a living by being creative (writers/painters/musicians) have shared how being still for a time can really jump start their creativity. When the mind is not leaping from idea to idea and task to task, perhaps there is more opportunity for it to allow the juicy goodness like music, art and books to come up out of our subconscious minds and our souls.

I encourage you this week to pick the M that you have the most difficult time doing and deliberately add more of it into your life. Let me know how it goes.

Eli, meditating in the sand!
Eli, meditating in the sand!

Going Deeper:

1.) Are you a person who really loves action and movement or someone who values quiet, solitude and stillness?  Does the thought of adding lots of the one that is harder for you bring anxiety or excitement? What messages did you get in your Family of Origin (FOO) about movement? How about stillness/meditation?

2.) For those of you who may struggle with movement, do you know what blocks you from consistent movement/exercise? Try being more active for a few weeks and see how that changes how you feel in your daily life.  This can be as simple as adding in a nice easy walk 3-5 times per week, or putting on 3-5 of your favorite songs in a row and dancing in your living room. The Limbic system does not demand intense exercise, just lots of easy moving.