Monday, November 09, 2015

Relating to our Body.


As someone who has worked on many a body and explored the physical and spiritual boundaries of my own body over the years, I have seen and experienced first hand, how we relate to our bodies.

The relationship we have with our bodies is a relationship we will have throughout this life.  And I would argue, the relationship we have with our bodies is a microcosm with how we relate with others and our environment.  How we perceive our body is instilled in us at a very early age.  This relationship is augmented and shaped throughout our lifespan by many events, both tragic and ecstatic.

Often times, a client will come in when this relationship has broken down on some level, usually at no fault of their own.

All of these places / relationships this newsletter explores are not static.  Many are ways of relating that we have all felt or are familiar with.  There is nothing wrong with any one type.  That said, take note and see if you tend to reside or live in one way of relating more than others. 

Let's explore . .

The Body Doesn't Exist
This perception of our body is all too common.  With this type of rapport, we see our body as a vague and ghost like entity that functions as it is supposed to, until it "breaks" or feels acute pain.  Or, we realize we have a head, but are disconnected from the neck down.  "Feeling" our bodies is an unknown quality of being.  Sometimes this way of relating to our bodies is a mechanism for survival.  Within the forgotten rich and sensuous realms of our body lies hidden hurts and long forgotten traumas.  We cut ourselves off from not only the pains of our past, but the potential joys of the present. 
In our day to day life, as we go about our errands and other responsibilities, we generally relate to our bodies in this way, especially when we are in "planning" mode. There is nothing wrong with this state of being in of itself, but ideally it is not a place we should remain...
Body as Pain
With this type of relationship, we sense and feel our bodies as being the harbinger of discomfort and pain.  I'm not entirely sure why this happens, but any sensation in our body is seen as a potential threat.  We become hyper vigilant and brace ourselves deep within against a perceived danger...within our own body. 
If this is a way of relating you are familiar with, try and sooth yourself when you begin to feel scared or threatened.  Pain and discomfort from within becomes less intense and more manageable. 
Body As Machine
Here we realize that we do have a body, and it can do some pretty amazing things!  Another description might be Body as Instrument.  Body as machine can build a house, fix a car, repair the sink, mow the lawn, trim trees etc.  This can be a satisfying and at times rewarding approach to being in our bodies.  Look what I did!  Look what I can do! 

Unfortunately, with Body as Machine taken to the extreme, we learn to ignore and even suppress warning signs.  We might feel unsettling aches, fatigue, and building chronic pain, yet we learn to ignore these alerts from our body.  Why?  Because there is a job to do. There is work to be done. Unfortunately this is done at the expense of our living, breathing, and feeling body.
Body as Athlete
Body as Athlete is a body that we are more intimate with.  With the athletic body we have learned to feel the limitations of this amazing being by pushing it's edges, feeling it's limitations and surpassing them.  With time and practice, we begin to learn of it's awesome power, potential, and amazing grace.  At times though, especially in competitive sports, our body can simply become Body as Machine, losing sight of the first felt joy of athletic accomplishment.  At it's extreme, vulnerability is not an option.  To be flawed can be seen as being weak, and must be suppressed to accomplish the given athletic task at hand.
Body as LIFE
Body as life, I think, is our birthright.  It is a relationship that beckons exploration, curiosity, felt sense, and most importantly, compassion.  Here we can explore the myriad of anatomical relationships throughout our body.  From the curious grounding of our feet, to the ever growing expansion in our chest.  It is infinite.  We can also be playful here, to be curious, to try new things and ways of moving or sensing that might be harder to do with Body as Athlete or Body as Machine. 
With Body as Life, there is no end goal of winning, but of being.  Felt sense is hard to describe.  Language feels limiting here.  It is a joy to watch and be witness to clients who begin to feel felt sense changes in their body.  These might be the sensation of a cool breeze gently moving within their body, or feeling an electrical charge in their finger tips, or seeing a kaleidoscope of colors as their body begins to release long held tensions. 
This is the place where thought is an intruder.  With Body as Life, we are one and the same with our biology, our shared evolution, and dare I say, the teased edges of a larger and more universal sense of self.  I am not one for new age fluff. This way of being, Body as Life, is quite real and accessible, even though it feels tortuously brief sometimes. 
Compassion.  I think to fully experience the myriad of sensations in our body, we must be compassionate.  To be kind to our bodies and to our selves.  With Body as Machine and Body as Athlete in particular, compassion is shuffled to the way side.  Compassion on this level is one of nurture and self care.  Of rest and rejuvenation.  Hungry?  Eat well.  Tired?  Sleep deep.  So stunningly simple, yet easily forgotten. 
Even Body As Life is not a place you would want to reside in permanently, I think, because you might go mad!  Well, either that or attain enlightenment.  :)  That said, Body As Life has been, unfortunately, forgotten by most of us.

Body as Finite

One of the many undercurrents of doing any sort of body work, is the implicit understanding that we are, in essence, trying to keep mortality at bay.  I think, especially when we begin to grow older, chronic pain is not just seen as being a hindrance, but a reminder that our time is here is limited. 
Rolfing is not simply trying to shore up resources to keep your body up and running.  On the contrary, we are trying to create optimal health and the highest quality of life possible.  Granted, as we grow older our bodies begin to deteriorate.  That said, MUCH of our suffering as we age is duly unnecessary. 

Hopefully, as we age, Body As Life becomes much more appealing.  Our limitations become more apparent, yet the richness and infinite complexity of our body is still there to be explored and honored.  I have seen this with people in their 80's who continue to do martial arts.  The depth of their somatic knowledge is mind blowing.  The irony is, as they get closer to the end of their life span, the greater their appreciation and understanding of their finite yet infinitely rich body.
The question becomes, with Body as Finite, what is the quality of the relationship I wish to have with this body while I am here?  And eventually, when the time comes, in what  way do I hope to leave it?  In many ways, the way we relate to our body now is how we will pass on as well.  No guarantee, but definitely a precursor.


Rolfing has the capacity to bring us closer to Body As Life.  Sometimes this sudden illumination into what is possible and accessible in our bodies can be...shocking.

We might begin to realize that the way in which we have been living, relating to our bodies, will simply no longer suffice.  Construction workers might feel the need to find work that is more gentle on their bodies.  Long Distance runners may begin to feel and appreciate the need for more rest.  Those who have been dissociated from their bodies will perhaps feel the totality of their being, rather than just the thinking brain.  Clients who have experienced a life of chronic pain might begin to feel longer and longer spats of time with little or no discomfort.  For those who are getting older, the desire to live more fully and intimately might become more pronounce