Every week at therapy, after we’ve been talking for a while, my therapist asks me to check in with my body and see what I feel. She wants sensations: hot, cold, pain, tingling… And although she’s reassured me that “nothing” means something too, I still feel like I’m letting her down when I check in, and feel, if not nothing, then nothing out of the ordinary.
When I sit on that couch and close my eyes, and really focus on the way my body feels, I begin to notice things that I didn’t notice when we were talking. But they are explainable things: I notice my posture, and so I correct it; I notice that I’m hungry; I notice that my head hurts a little, because I haven’t gotten enough sleep lately. There’s nothing really new and/or different that I can link to the conversation we’ve just had.
“It’s more like, all these physical things were there before, but because we were talking, I didn’t notice them,” I told her on Tuesday. “It’s like I get involved in the conversation, and transcend all of that. Then when you ask me to check in, I come back to my body, and I notice those things again.”
Although I’m usually shy and reserved, I’m aware that my energy level rises drastically when I’m talking one-on-one with someone – especially when the conversation is about me or something I’m familiar with, and I end up doing most of the talking. All that energy takes me spiraling out of my body and entirely into the realm of the conversation. This is why I’m usually considered a great therapy patient. It’s also why I tend to do well in job interviews.
“So what would it take,” my therapist asked, “for your body to become part of the conversation?”
“Oh, whatever I’m feeling physically would have to be pretty unbearable, so that it supersedes my normal thought process. I do this in real life too: I don’t notice that I’m hungry until I’m starving; I don’t mention that I have to pee until I’m desperate. I ignore all the early signals my body gives me, and then I get all crazy and take it out on Doug or whoever I’m with.”
“Ok, so for homework, start paying attention to those signals. Work backwards. See what you notice before the situation gets desperate. But for now – and we’re running low on time, but – I want to try something. Are you familiar with the wall-sit?”
Duh. I have Yoga Mom and love The Biggest Loser. Of course I’m familiar with the wall-sit. In case you aren’t:
The experiment my therapist wanted to conduct was to have me hold this position and then have a conversation at the same time. To see at what point my body would make its way into my sphere of awareness and my psyche, or maybe vice-versa.
“The theory behind bioenergetics is that emotions – usually sadness, anger, and fear – get trapped in our bodies,” she explained again. “There’s a connection between emotions and physical sensations.”
“Oh, I know,” I said, and as I sat against the wall with my thighs burning, we ended up talking about cycling.
“I have this bike, and I hate it,” I began. I went on to explain how my dad is an avid cyclist and how Doug would like to be, and how the two of them like to take me on rides that I’m not ready for: rides with too many miles and too many hills.
“On my dad’s birthday, we rode with him from his house in Del Mar down to the bay [14 miles], around the bay [+17 miles], and back [+14 miles = 45 total]. On the way back, we came around this corner by UCSD and there was a really big hill. Even though it wasn’t very long, it looked like it was going straight up, and I’d already had enough. So my dad rode across the street to start the climb, but I stopped on the corner and got off my bike. Doug stopped with me to try to convince me to keep going, and I was crying, and I told him that I hated this – cycling, this ride, whatever – because it was just another thing that I fail at. You know, along with marriage and babies. So there’s your physical and mental connection.”
Suddenly I didn’t know what point I was trying to make about myself anymore. Do I ignore my body in favor of my brain, until I’m in unbearable discomfort? Or do I ignore my emotions until my body is so broken down so completely that I have no armor left to keep those emotions from escaping? Or do I give up before I even get there, as my therapist pointed out that, during our wall-sit conversation, I kept straightening my legs to give my muscles a break? Or is it all the same?
I don’t know. We ran out of time. “Next week,” my therapist said, “I want to try a different experiment, and have you get into a wall-sit and then sing.” (She knows of my choir girl background.)
I guess this next experiment is to see if we can open those stubborn body-mind channels after all. Sometimes I feel that these exercises lack explanations, these experiments lack clear hypotheses. But, as always, I am willing to trust the process.