As you can see from my website, one of my specialties is Somatic Psychology, how issues are held in the body. Emotions are separate from our physical and mental bodies in that they are signposts that provide a window into our inner psyche, but that are also intimately connected to both the physical and mental bodies.
This is somewhat easy to see for the mental construct, if we experience strong negative emotions about something, we will label it “bad” and try to not place ourselves in a position to experience those same emotions again and the opposite is true for positive emotions. Less well understood is how emotions are held in the body.
I explain this by saying to imagine we are talking and, with no warning, I lunge at you. Naturally, your limbic brain will perceive this as a threat and before your cortex can interject that maybe I am playing some joke on you, your body will respond in a flight, fight, freeze, or feign death response, usually the former two unless the threat is perceived as too huge to even respond.
Another example that I sometimes use is when we round a corner and a child jumps out and yells, “boo!” Either way, your body will tense up to either move away from or to absorb the seemingly eminent assault. Because the threat was not real, we will either end up laughing about it or you will get angry and yell at me; both responses involve releasing the pent up energy that momentarily flooded your body, dissipating it and the adrenaline and cortisol that was released into your body. Watch two dogs or cats after they engage in play fighting; they will shake to release that same energy from their bodies.
When energy from some trauma is not released, it is stored in the body. This is easily seen in what we call big “T” trauma, a sexual or physical assault that causes the person to freeze in the presence of the perpetrator. It can also be seen after a major car accident where the driver is frantically checking their rear view mirror or side windows searching for another possible vehicle about to hit him or her. Less noticeable, but just as present in the body, are small “t” traumas, such as constant minor bullying.
In a somatic psychotherapy session, this pent up energy from some small traumas can be easily released with various techniques, but that energy can also be released by physical movement, such as a massage, yoga, running, etc. Ask any long term massage therapist or yoga teacher and they will be able to tell you of a client/student that begins to softly weep during a session. It has happened to me and did so again the other morning.
Since I believe the passage in 1 Corinthian “For we are the temple of the living God,” I take care of my body, along with eating healthy, I usually exercise three time a week and practicing yoga three or four times. I believe in an earlier blog I related that eating healthy, moderate exercise, and eight hours of sleep could almost match the healing of any psychotropic drug prescribed for mild cases of depression, anxiety, etc.
So yesterday I was doing weight lifting for the chest, and a song came on the radio, “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks. This was one of my best friend’s favorite songs, along with “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli/Sara Brightman, and probably more mine than his, “Friends For Life” by Gary P. Nunn. The two country songs we would sing together whenever on the radio/CD or when attending a concert. Not only was “Friends in Low Places” playing while exercising, but it was a live recording, so extra long and included audience participation; both the length and hearing others sing along did me in!
Michael died about ten years ago, the brother I never had, and all these songs have been tough to hear and not cry, but I have gotten better at not bawling in public with time passing. Further, his passing came at a time when I was committed to really living life, to stop being a middle of the roader. That way of living was safe, never having to experience real pain, but it also blunted any real happiness. Really opening up to what I felt when Michael died was excruciating, and it also helped me relish all the good times.
As the old saying goes, time heals all wounds, but an extended live version, coming in the middle of exercise concentrating where my heart resides, it was too much; grief overwhelmed and I lost it. Even with all the releasing of that trauma around his death that I have done over the years, there is still a hole in my heart that I can fall into ten years later.
Further, here I was presented with a diametrically opposing conflict, my authentic-self wanting to grieve and the social mask of “be a man,” “don’t cry in public,” and, worse, in front of someone I only know only in a business setting, my personal trainer half my age! Luckily, I defaulted to my authentic-self, although I was helped somewhat by the fact that we were alone in a back room! Even while tearing up, I could still feel the battle going on between letting it out and conforming to social norms. I was grateful that I honored Michael, all our shared experiences, and myself. I am also grateful that my trainer was aware of how powerful shared auditory experiences during concentrated exertions can bring forth a release of stored emotions and that he honored my loss.