The Vault

Ruminations on the Mind/Body Continuum

Razia Ross

 

I want to talk about the relationship of the emotions in the mind and body continuum—not from a position of expertise, but rather to ask some questions about where they fit into the picture, how they relate to our work and then the relevance of our work to the people whose emphasis is more on the emotional level and by that I mean counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and analysts.

Mind and Body

I chose to be the final speaker in order to have the opportunity of observing what I did with that experience. I became extremely nervous when anticipating talking to a large group of people and that propensity is particularly irresistible with an audience made up entirely of Alexander teachers and trainees. My mind tells me that: "It's all OK". At the same time, the messages that my body gives are quite a contradiction to my mind's messages—for instance, I experience as I stand here: that my stomach is full of butterflies; my legs are gently shaking; my breathing feels constricted and my ribcage tight; my hands are sweaty; and the muscles around my mouth are shaky.

So, obviously there are inner processes at work that I am unable to inhibit, which give me indications of my emotional state. I can and do check that my feet are supported by the floor, that I am allowing my sitting bones to support me on the chair, that my lower back is spreading, that I am breathing as easily as possible, that my shoulders are easy and my neck free. But, I also have a voice inside me that, in particular situations, tells me that I shouldn't be doing this, that I am not good enough, etc. etc., and all I can do is acknowledge the voice and what it is saying, ask it to be a little quiet— gently—give my directions and allow myself to be as comfortable as possible.

So I can use my mind to identify what is happening and to respond— rather than react—to the stimulus by finding simple ways of taking care of myself, my mind identifies the events that seem to be taking place in the body as well as any un-useful thought patterns that may be creating difficulties. And this can be very helpful.

Relation between Thoughts and Bodily Sensations

But I find it very interesting that there is a definite relationship between our thought patterns and the feelings and sensations in our bodies. Our way of identifying how we feel (emotionally) is by observing our bodies—butterflies in the stomach, a catch in the throat, stopping breathing, a sudden feeling of nausea. You will notice that all the examples I've given are of unpleasant sensations because more often than not when feeling relaxed and happy and easy, there is a lack of sensation other than perhaps some pleasant feelings that are much more difficult to describe, a sense of lightness and expanded breathing.

D.H. Lawrence said:

The body's life is the life of the sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, real thirst, real joy in the sun or the snow, real pleasure in the smell of roses or the look of a lilac bush; real anger, real sorrow, real tenderness, real warmth, real passion, real hate, real grief. All the emotions belong to the body and are only recognised by the mind.

As I suggested earlier, when I was talking about my experience of being up here, the mind can give you some pretty negative or distorted messages. Everything from being totally overwhelmed by the messages and sensations to being so cut off from the reality of the situation that you don't have any access to the thoughts and sensations—that makes me think of Florence Foster Jenkins who used to rent out Carnegie Hall in New York and give lieder recitals to packed houses. Unfortunately she was unable to sing in tune and the audiences came to laugh rather than appreciate. Her sensory appreciation must have been quite distorted.

So, sometimes, the messages between mind and body are not very reliable or may not be functioning at all in some areas of a person's life. This is a perfect situation for psychosomatic disorders to appear—such as rashes, paralyses, and other physical disorders.

Mind Regarded More Highly Than the Body

The conditions in which we live are not very conducive to keeping open the channels of relationship between mind and body. Over the past few hundred years, the mind has been raised to a position of superiority over the body. Forms of experiential learning such as the Alexander Technique, being less easy to quantify within the limits of scientific investigation, get dismissed or put in the "too difficult" basket by bureaucracy or are thought of as a bit strange and incomprehensible by the more conservative elements of society.

As the mind has been exalted, the poor old body becomes like the servant who does a valiant job but is not even noticed by the master. He's badly paid, overworked and his needs are not considered—and of course he must know his position in society.

On the one hand we have created a society that gives us great luxury compared to the vast majority of the world's population: soft beds; centrally heated or cooled buildings; cars; instant entertainment; the ability to talk to someone on the other side of the world by pressing a few buttons; computer technology—but there seems to be a greater incidence of physical inability and disability: inability in a sense of people no longer being able to sit cross legged or in a deep squat for long periods of time; no longer being able to use their bodies with a sense of integrated co-ordination; disability in the sense of physical ailments, headaches, back pain. Alexander talked so many years ago about the futility of physical exercise within a sedentary lifestyle and I think we are experiencing the rather bitter fruits of that today. The body is expected to function in the service of the brain. So it gets pushed around a gym, flung into a swimming pool or ordered to lift weights with no understanding that the body needs to be acknowledged, valued and listened to in order to function effectively and efficiently. We also need to acknowledge and recognise the feelings and emotions that are there in our bodies for us to experience and learn from. But, instead, we become obsessively active, we sleep to avoid, we eat or drink to excess, we smoke or we shut down and disconnect from ourselves in order to prevent these feelings from being perceived by our minds.

Very early in my experiences as an Alexander pupil I found myself experiencing myself very differently on an emotional level. I found myself to be less reactive and angry and in other ways I found it more difficult to avoid or shut off the more difficult emotions of sadness, fear and anger. As my body and mind became better co-ordinated it was less easy to trick myself.

Somatic Therapy and Alexander Lessons

During the time of my training in Somatic Psychotherapy, I was also in weekly therapy with a somatic therapist and had weekly Alexander lessons. It often felt as though I was moving incredibly quickly through deep and difficult issues. A most indispensable element of this process was the physical work of the somatic therapist to create a stronger sense of my self and my boundaries whilst encouraging a gentle letting go of the defensive structures I had created to protect myself and allow me to feel safe.

The Alexander work also contributed to creating a stronger sense of self and boundary and it felt as though the two modalities were both contributing to this process. Since an important element of emotional change is an expression of unexpressed emotions connected to past events it seemed sensible for the body to be acknowledged and involved in the work along with interpretation and integration. I'd like to quote from Alice Miller in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware:

The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused and our body tricked with medication, but, some day, the body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.

BIOGRAPHY

Razia Ross was trained at the School of Alexander Studies in London and qualified in 1981. She completed her training as a Somatic Psychotherapist in 1990 in Melbourne with the Australian Association of Somatic Psychotherapists. She maintains a private practise in Melbourne as both an Alexander teacher and Somatic psychotherapist.

  Bookmark and Share