Feeling Is Healing Exercise: If You Can Feel It, You Can Heal It
Exercise: Embodied Presence
Recall a time in your life when you felt immense joy, sadness, or anger.
Pause a moment: Take a breath and tune in to your body.
Where do you feel that emotion in your physical body?
And what does it feel like? Hot, cold, tingly, light, spacious, tense, or heavy.
Does it move around or stay still? Does it dissipate or stay consistent?
Pleasant or unpleasant, take note of the sensation and sit with it for a few moments.
This is embodied presence.
From Surviving to Thriving
Learning to feel sensations in the body, as well as the emotions behind them, is a priceless resource for healing. Through my many years as a Myofascial Release practitioner (John F. Barnes Approach) and Personal Development Coach, I have discovered that this awareness practice is the root of healing, self-compassion, and letting go of what no longer serves. It allows one to release what they have unknowingly been holding, creating space in your body for new, more pleasant sensations and experiences.
This awareness practice can help bring nourishing attention to physical pain in your body as well, which can have an underlying thought or emotion. Some examples of those thoughts might be: “Something is wrong!” “I shouldn’t have pain.” “I am afraid of feeling this pain.” Pain indeed indicates that there is something that needs your attention; it is our body’s way of saying, “Hey, something is going on. Let’s work with this.”
I see pain as a reminder to take a breath, tune in to our body, and ask what is needed.
Often there are tension and holding patterns around the painful area. When we realize this, tap into the holding sensation, and soften, the edge of the pain is allowed to soften, too. Or, we may notice that there is a feeling of heaviness or sadness underneath the pain.
When we take a breath directly into this sensation & soften, we recognize the emotion or weight of the pain. This process releases tension in the body, freeing up the energy that we were unconsciously using to tighten and contain the pain, turning it into a source of wisdom.
Most of us have been trained our whole lives to hold it in, toughen up instead of feeling what is actually happening in the moment. The vulnerability of feeling can be overwhelming, so instead we unconsciously choose to hold our pain inside. However, once we learn the tools, we actually have a choice to let things move through us, which keeps emotions from getting stuck in the body. This practice opens doors to healing and removes the barriers we have created to true thriving.
Kristen Neff, mindfulness researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, and author of Self Compassion, describes mindfulness and the willingness to feel emotions as a “resource that helps us open to difficult experiences with less resistance thereby reducing the amount of suffering in our lives.”
Dr. Candace Pert, award winning neuroscientist, mind-body pioneer, and author of the book “Molecules of Emotion”, discovered that peptide receptors for emotion are not just located in the brain as we once thought. These receptors for emotion are located throughout the entire body, in our cellular matrix.
Her (and my) hypothesis is that our emotions live in our bodies and that our bodies process emotions for us in physiologic ways. This is especially the case when we do not have the skills or bandwidth to process our emotions fully, such as during childhood or times of great stress. When we develop the skills to feel deeply into our emotions and experiences, we are given the opportunity to release pain and trauma from the body.
The Nervous System
When emotions and experiences stay lodged in our system, unprocessed, there is a physiologic result. The Sympathetic Nervous System gets triggered and activates our bodies’ “fight or flight” response. The fight or flight response is a very efficient system designed to prepare us to fight or flee in a dangerous situation. When painful and fearful emotions get stored in the body, we essentially get stuck in the fight or flight mode, unconsciously running a continuous loop. This unconscious pattern can eventually lead to physical pain & prolonged emotional distress.
Essentially, when we ignore sensations and emotions, we become disconnected from our inner resources and ability to calm ourselves. The ability to calm & soothe ourselves is rooted in the practice of noticing the intense emotions, feeling them in the body, and responding to them in healthy nourishing ways (such as breathing deeply or speaking kind words to ourselves). Doing so activates our Parasympathetic Nervous System which regulates our ability to “rest and digest”. Here, there is a sense of ease, nourishment, and we access our inner wisdom. Here, we can respond to stress in appropriate life-giving ways. Essentially, we move from surviving to thriving!
As you’ll find through this practice, in order to move emotions stored in the body, we must first FEEL them. It takes tremendous courage to allow ourselves to feel big emotions and sensations, especially if there is trauma stored in the body. Having a witness or guide as you ease into this process and release those experiences can be extremely helpful. This practice is a cornerstone of my myofascial release, coaching, and yoga therapy sessions with clients, and I’d be honored to guide you through it.
So, let’s tap in to embodied presence together and make space for new, more pleasant emotions and body sensations. Because if you can feel it, you can heal it.