The Body Knows
Here’s a shorter one for ya’.
Think about it, how often have you been working with a client and watched as they approached THAT exercise, or the movement within, you know they don’t like (maybe it’s physically difficult, or maybe they have self-doubt around the movement) … and as they approach the exercise you witness their body tensing up. Maybe they physically or energetically withdraw from you or the movement. Diaphragms tighten up here, breath is held, joints clinch, and often their gaze fades away … somewhere far far away. (What the hell are they even looking at, or for, over in that corner!?!??)
Simply put … They freeze.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that we all know that we have a fight-or-flight response built right into our body. I’m also gonna guess that generally we all know what that means … but here’s the condensed science behind it. Our fight-or-flight response is an acute stress response (hyperarousal), meaning that when challenged with something that is either mentally and/or physically stressful (read scary as sh!t) our body undergoes a physiologic reaction. The body releases hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and adrenaline mostly, but coritsol, dopamine, serotonin, and even estrogen and testosterone play roles) that either prepare the body to stay and deal with the perceived threat, or run away to safety. There’s so much more cool stuff that happens during this sympathetic nervous system repsonse - like your digestion slowing down to near nothingness, and that is truly what your body perceives as frightening and responds to - but maybe that’s a blog for the future. It might be important to note here though, that if you’re constantly walking around stressed (knowingly or unknowingly) that might be why those few extra pounds you want off so badly are hangin’ on for dear life. Just sayin’.
What we don’t, as frequently, talk about is the third option our body often undergoes - the Freeze response. Fight or Flight is the result of optimism in the face of stress. I trust that I can either confront or successfully run away from this danger. The Freeze response is the result of lack of hopefulness. It’s the part of our autonomic nervous system that predates logic. During the freeze response our body stiffens, our blood pressure drops and heart rate slows, we seem rigid, and often we “leave our bodies” as time seems to slow down. We frequently experience a freeze response during car accidents, or physical assault, or natural disasters when getting away seems futile. Even fainting is the result of a freeze response. Here’s the deal though, we are not designed to live chronically in the freeze response … nor the fight … not even the flight.
Most people seek assistance when they feel stuck in the fight-or-flight response. They can usually feel it. They might feel chronically anxious, or have elevated blood pressure or high resting heart rate, digestion might feel sluggish … or maybe their friends tell them that they seem stressed … all the time. What’s often more difficult to detect is the chronic presence of the freeze response. They might just feel tired, or stiff, or distracted … a lot. Sound like any clients you know? Sound like you?
Last week I attended a local talk about the role of Somatics in Psychoanalytics. What I learned was that we, as mind-body practitioners, are correct and effectual in our role of helping clients learn and explore more about themselves through movement. I also walked away with a golden nugget of inspiration. I’d like to think that within my teaching I’m pretty open, and honest, and supportive. What I’m not always the best at doing is validating. I mean, I’ll go around the subject every which way explaining how processes work, and how experiences lead to this or that, and even how the body is a result of the demands and stresses placed upon it, biomechanically … but that’s not validation … that’s explanation.
Here’s what I learned (in a roundabout way) from one of the speakers, Stella Atienza, Massage Therapist & Social Worker -
What if next time you’re with a client, witnessing them withdraw from you or the movement … obviously experiencing a freeze response (either due to the movement experience itself or what that experience is resurfacing for them), instead of giving them another cue to correct, or relax, or revert … what if instead you (and I’m saying this to myself) acknowledged the bio-intelligence you’re privileged to witness. Simply say:
“How smart your body is.”
How smart your body is to perceive the threat, to feel uncomfortable, to feel or notice whatever it is you're noticing or feeling on whatever level you’re noticing, and for that body to respond for you. How smart your body is to do that … for you.
Then, from that space of validation, proceed with the amazing effectual work you know how to do.
by James Crader