How to See, Hear & Hold Yourself through an Embodiment Practice (Part 1)

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When my children detest my assertiveness and push back (“Sorry, time to turn off the tv,” which results in tears or developmentally appropriate defiance and furrowed brows), I recognize my own frustration. Luckily, I have not raised them to be fearful of me, so they tend to push back with defiant words (“poopy face!” from a 4-yr-old, anyone?), clever negotiating or avoidant behavior, which I recognize as their need for connection and empathy, not my need for aggressiveness toward them. I usually even ask during a tantrum, “hey, do you need to be held?”, which always results in a tearful “yes.” A big pause and genuine co-regulating hug, and wa-lah, my work is done (for the moment)! It’s the Victor Frankl quote:

Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

While I certainly do not believe everyone needs to become a parent to learn the greatest lessons of life (we all have unique opportunities and challenges to push us to grow, stretch and learn; doesn’t necessarily include parenting), my journey of mothering has and continues to teach me about the importance of a warm container, a safe place to anchor and be held. While good boundary setting is a necessary part of this container-relationship too, the main idea is the mother or primary caregiver’s being able to see, hear, and hold the WHOLE child — all the child’s behaviors and tendencies and energy as important parts of what make them whole, but they as parts do not define their essence.

As a psychotherapist who works from a body-based approach, I find the quality of the therapeutic relationship sets the stage for the client’s movement forward. Before my counseling work, as a movement teacher and personal trainer for eating disorders and addictions, I worked from noticing and building movement or breath patterns for people to increase their body awareness (this includes interoception and proprioception; in a nutshell, what we notice inside and outside of us, respectively).

When I entered the counseling world, I noticed these patterns usually on a more subtle, nonverbal, unconscious level. However, adding in the need for safety for a client to effectively participate in therapy, I found the value of inviting the body into the treatment environment: to slowly invite attention to a tone of voice, or a tilt of the head, or nervous tapping of feet underneath an otherwise steady demeanor.

Because I work a lot with folks who struggle with disordered eating as well as mothers whose own bodies are always in physical demand (many times to everyone else but themselves), I became really curious about the innate and universal gestures, movements and patterns that are all asking to be seen, heard and held. Therefore, why not return to our earliest place of being seen, heard and held from the most physical level, hence, my love for introducing developmental movement into the therapeutic work.

I like to describe this somatic work as “womb-to-walking” because it’s rich not only in physical developmental patterns but also our initial psychological development patterns. While the parent, therapist, bodyworker, teacher, or other loving/helping figure can offer a child the qualities of being seen, heard and held literally and figuratively, at some point, each of us — in one way or another — is bound to be challenged and even privileged to do this “mothering” work for our own body and self.

I consider this an opportunity for healthy embodiment, as we are often conditioned through complex or developmental trauma to split our psyche from our soma. We are taught to ignore our urges, sensations, “gut feelings.” We are taught to blaze ahead with a narrowly defined scope of intelligence and thinking, often cutting ourself off from the wisdom of the patterns and rhythms of our body. We are taught to “shake it off,” “you’re okay,” “chin up,” too often when even if it looks like the scraped knee isn’t bloody, that little person inside might just need two minutes of big holding for lots of other things she can’t quite articulate yet.

So — How do you mother yourself through mindful movement? How do you see, hear and hold yourself in an healthily embodied way? A few hints are:

  • It’s process- and reflective-based work (aka: it’s daily work that takes time, compassion, curiosity)

  • Start where you are (yes, how’s your jaw? is your tongue locked to the roof of your mouth? are you clinching your belly? where’s your breath going?)

  • Notice, notice, notice. Deep urges, lingering thoughts, big dreams, numbness in the body, dissociative tendencies, areas of tension, flutters of wonder.

  • When and if it feels safe enough: It’ll be nice to get out of the chair, take off your shoes and even get on the floor. (Having a sense of exploration and playfulness is not a bad thing either! :) )

***Part 2 continues in my next postClick here to check it out!

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