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Bodywork and the mind

I’ve been seeing a wonderful Rolfer named Liesl for quite a while now, and even though I’m a bodywork practitioner myself, it never ceases to amaze me just how much of our past emotional experiences get carried around with us in the fascial tissue and muscle memory of the body.

The body is a storehouse of emotions for everything we’ve ever experienced, but that doesn’t mean that it gets processed in any kind of predictable pattern. Each person holds and lets go of tension in their body differently, and while some things are absorbed and released immediately, other things make an imprint on multiple layers in the body and in various areas, meaning these issues can come up again and again both physically and emotionally. It can be a rather tedious and frustrating process to get to the roots of emotional or physical pain, but as Liesl reminded me last week, just because something doesn’t get completely resolved on the first, second or even on the tenth treatment, the work involved in letting go along the way is all meaningful and relevant.

In craniosacral therapy, the belief is that the body knows what it has to do to heal itself, but it happens only when the body and mind are ready to release the holding pattern. Small shifts and explorations facilitated by the practitioner are what help the larger shift occur. We can think of this shift as a change in mind/body perception, or mind/body attention-where we place our attention on the body. As Sharon Gannon sums up so beautifully, magic is a shift in perception, and in this way, the magic of the mind and body letting go and releasing into softness is a shift in perception, a shift in attention.

The biggest obstacle in resolving past experiences in the body is the mind and the stubbornness of the mind in making that shift in perception and attention; for the mind’s resilience is usually what drives the body into the holding patterns to begin with.

In yoga terminology, there is a sanskrit word ‘klesha’ that means ‘hindrance’ or ‘obstacle’. The obstacles to yoga, or the state of peace and being at ease with oneself in the world, are fivefold: avidya (misknowing/ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (preferences, attachment to nice things), dvesha (aversions, attachment to repusion), abinivesha (fear of death). In bodywork, we can see these five hindrances as holding patterns in the body. Avidya can be spotted by a total lack of body awareness, along with a genuine sense by the individual that they have no pain or body issues when it is clear they have a multitude of things going on. Egoism and the preferences and aversions we have based on the ego all tend to be connected with the digestive region. These can appear in a negative light as judgement, critical thinking, anger, pride and insecurity, and tend to affect the stomach, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestines, and spleen. Fear of death can be extended to all fear, as all fear is ultimately about the fear of death when you look deeply at its roots. It is held in various regions throughout the body, including the hips, shoulders, throat, jaw and neck.

Shifting the attention from the pain, whether it is looking at the details of painting or remaining present by focusing on the breath, is a wonderful way of shifting one’s perception from being ‘in pain’ to releasing the pain or moving to a more relaxed state of mind and body,  softening the holding patterns in the body. And when one has been in chronic pain for an extended period, this is magic.

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