Recovering from Trauma? Listen to What Your Body's Trying to Tell You
The massage therapist slid her hand under my sacrum, and waited. I wasn’t sure what this was supposed to feel like and apparently nothing was happening.
“What do you feel?” she asked, keeping her hand still. I closed my eyes.
I felt as if my spine were spiraling away from her hand, curling and twitching towards the left, my shoulders rolling in, dizzy, as if I were spinning through the air. My jaw seemed to list to the left, like in the movies when someone gets punched in the face in slow motion. It all came rushing back: the car slamming me on my right side, throwing me spinning off my bike and onto the pavement. I felt tears spring up.
She just said “mmm,” like it wasn’t strange to have these kinds of visions on her massage table. As she continued to gently move her hands around my bones, barely manipulating them, I saw an image of myself inside a case: the relatively symmetrical “yoga body” that I work on each week seemed to conceal a different body, twisted and curled, Gollum-like, eternally frozen in the moment after impact.
I tried to explain, and the therapist seemed to think it made perfect sense. She told me that my “yoga body” was trying very hard to correct for the imbalances that resulted from my accident, and that I’ve gotten very good at compensating. This is part of the reason I still have pain.
It’s not that I need to throw away the yoga “case”; there’s lots of good strength and intelligence there. The Gollum creature isn’t any truer a representation of me, but it is an aspect of my memory body. The problem is one I know well: I’ve been trying so hard to appear to be fine that I’ve been ignoring the hurt, scared, twisted up self deep inside me.
I don’t think I’m the only one who does this: we’ve all had traumas of different kinds, and the shapes our bodies made in reaction to them leave imprints. We walk around with these internal shapes, but never want to show them, often even to ourselves, so we struggle to compensate and cover up the hurt below our skins.
Now I’m trying to figure out how to soften the distance between my two bodies. I want to allow movement and drift alongside mindful alignment, to breathe deeply into my imprinted shapes without trying to reject or suppress them. I want to play with them, tickling their edges.
Here’s an experiment you can try, too:
Stand with your feet wide, knees softly bent. Close your eyes and allow your body to move in the direction it seems to want to go. Notice if you are struggling to hold yourself in any specific posture. Let your shoulders curl in or your head droop or your spine twist and just notice: What does it remind you of? How does it make you feel? Hold this position with compassion.
Then, mindfully, begin to move at the edges of the shape. How does it feel? Is there fear, ease, anxiety, memories, nothing? There are no right answers to these questions.
After playing with this for a little while, write down the insights your memory body has provided, and honor them as you move through your day. Notice if you start to drift in that direction when you are focusing on your work or feeling stressed. Be willing to wiggle around and shift a bit if that starts happening, avoiding trying to rigidly “correct” your posture. Perhaps our inner Gollums are trying to teach us something we really need to learn.