I’m really into things that allow me to reset my brain for the day – that take a “got up on the wrong side of the bed” mentality and beat it before it gets the best of me. I remember a time when going to the gym would do this for me – and maybe it still would, except that my time in the gym now is spent focusing on strength, rather than kicking my own butt so hard in a cardio class that my mind has no choice but to surrender to the exhaustion and the endorphins.
I remember one morning at work, at least a year ago, when everything that could have gone wrong was going wrong (stupid, work-related stuff like not having enough time to get through an insane amount of cheese backstock before the store opened, and people then giving me shit for not working fast enough), and one coworker, seeing how stressed and upset I was, told me to go to the back, take a break, drink some coffee, and just start over. And it worked. I was stunned, and now value my ten-minute breaks in a way I didn’t before.
Two weeks ago, after I confessed that I often hold back or ignore my tears (or let them come only out of context, like when watching sad/inspirational things on TV), my therapist told me that crying can be like hitting the reset button as well. And I’m no stranger to the idea of catharsis, but crying often seems like such an inopportune thing to do, especially in public or when wearing mascara.
So at this week’s session, she taught me an exercise that can serve the same purpose, but, according to her, is “a little more appropriate in public than breaking down in tears.”
What you do is, you stand with your feet under your hips and bend forward as in yoga, letting your neck relax and your head hang loose. This part is important because we are culturally conditioned to keep our heads up (notice the very implications of that phrase). After letting yourself hang there for a minute, you put your fingertips on the ground and, as you inhale, bend your knees into a squat and rest your chest on your thighs. Then, on the exhale, straighten your legs as best you can, keeping your body bent and your fingers on the floor. Theoretically, your knees will shake, a manifestation of traumatic energy being released from the body.
Think of the way that an animal will quickly shake its entire body after being startled. The animal is releasing that trauma, resetting, re-centering, coming back to the present. Sometime along our evolutionary or cultural timeline, humans forgot how to do this. Instead, we hold all our trauma inside our bodies, where it eventually leads to psychological and physical injuries. The idea behind many bioenergetic exercises is to allow us to reconnect with our animal selves and shake the trauma out. The particular exercise I’m describing is also a grounding exercise, intended to take us out of our often hyperactive, past-and-future-focused minds, and root us back in the moment we’re actually living in.
As my therapist was hanging upside down pointing out how her knees were shaking, I interrupted the exercise demonstration to make a typical smart-alecky comment: “I’m not sure this is that much more normal or acceptable in public than crying is.”
She laughed, and began to agree with me, but I was already correcting myself. “Although I guess… If someone walks in on you crying, they’re going to start asking questions and wanting to know what’s wrong. If someone walked in on me doing this, I could always just say I was stretching.”
“Right,” she said. “And then they wouldn’t need an explanation, because it’s just like, ‘Oh, you’re taking care of yourself. Okay.'”
What went unsaid was that sometimes allowing yourself to cry is taking care of yourself as well.
So for the last few days, I’ve been practicing this exercise, before bed and in quiet moments at home; today I even tried it at work, in the breakroom by myself, after spending the first few hours of my shift feeling like I wasn’t quite awake yet, or that my head wasn’t screwed on quite tightly enough.
And it appears to have worked: I went back out onto the floor feeling much more in control and on-point for the rest of the day. I mean, it was either the exercise or the coffee.
There have been several moments in my therapy sessions, especially when discussing bioenergetics and doing body-scans, when I’ve looked at my therapist as though she was crazy. But I keep telling her, too, that I’m trusting the process. Like with the mystery drugs the vet gave Chomper, sometimes we don’t understand how or why things work; we just know that they do. In the end, we couldn’t save Chomper’s life, but we were able to make it better for him, at least for a little while. And I’ll never be able to go back in time and undo the upsetting and traumatizing things that have happened to me, but I may be able to, with an arsenal of reset buttons, save myself yet.