Building Resilience in the Body
Sometimes we need to get at the emotional root of pain to help us recover. Learn how to care for your body in a more mindful way and start developing the habits that build resilience in the body.
The experience of being human involves, for most of us, movement. Our bodies do the heavy lifting of life. Creating resilience in our body allows us to recover faster from any setbacks we have.
When we become afraid of movement, afraid of hurting ourselves or unleashing emotions that have been stored deep in our tissues, we become unable to access the incredible benefits that movement offers.
We can care for our body in an intentional way, developing habits that allow us to support our structural integrity, including making sure that we move in a variety of ways each day, moving and sitting with excellent posture, and paying attention when our body whispers that it is injured instead of waiting for it to scream at us. Once we have experienced a setback, whether from a traumatic experience or an injury, we must address the issues in our tissues from more than one perspective.
By paying attention to how we hold our bodies, we are communicating with our brains about how to feel. Curling around ourselves, hanging our heads, and slumping our shoulders tends to create pain in the body and also communicates to our minds that we are not safe—these are postures of protection.
Next time you are feeling stressed or stuck in an unhealthy mental pattern, notice your posture. Plant your feet on the ground, stack your vertebrae and lift your spine tall, allow your chest to open, and reach your arms up into the air. Take some deep breaths in this position and notice if you feel an immediate shift.
If you have ever had an emotional release while getting a massage or taking a yoga class, you know firsthand that our bodies are powerful storehouses for our emotional experience. Practitioners from most healing traditions will address the emotional and psychological roots of any physical pain you experience in your body. Back pain tends to be associated with fear and insecurity around core survival needs, while shoulder pain can stem from what you are carrying on a spiritual level for others or an inability to pull what you want into your life. Taking the time to address these deeper emotional aspects of our pain can free us to move with more ease in our body and our life.
Many cultures value the medicine that shaking the body offers. “The complement to relaxation is arousal, or the arousal response,” explains Bradford Keeney, a creative therapist, anthropologist of cultural healing traditions, and author of Shaking Medicine. “Heightened arousal—whether through wild dancing, spontaneous jumping, or bodily shaking—may be as valuable a healing and transformative practice as sitting quietly in a lotus position.” (The healing power of shaking is being used by James S. Gordon in his work with refugees from war-torn areas. Read “Trauma Shake” from our January/February issue. Subscriber login required.)
Our fascia is a connective tissue that weaves its way throughout all of our muscles, bones, and nerves; the circulatory system; and major organs. When it becomes compressed and dehydrated, which can happen as a result of physical injury, psychological trauma, or repetitive strain, it loses elasticity, becoming less pliable. We can rehydrate and recreate dynamism in this tissue by foam rolling, activating myofascial release using a special kind of soft ball, or by practicing yin yoga.
We are complex beings, and our path to healing and to creating space and resilience in our body involves a multilayered approach. Having the strength and suppleness to recover involves acknowledging this complexity and exploring our full range of experience.
My daughter was 18 months old when I was vacuuming my car and suddenly felt intense pain in my back. Catching my breath, I hobbled my way into the house and collapsed on the couch—it was like no pain I had ever experienced.
When I could finally get up, I felt twisted and sideways. Looking at myself in the mirror, it was almost as though the top half of my body had been placed on the bottom half of my body incorrectly; my ribcage was not lined up over my hips.
I spent the next month in fear, terrified that I wouldn’t even be able to carry my daughter anymore, let alone be active and fully engaged in the life I knew. As a surfer and a runner, my zest for life had been renewed in large part by my active experience of the natural world. My physical state hardly allowed me to go outside, let alone go for a walk.
Finally I connected with a physical therapist who helped me not only regain my physical body, but also helped me to explore new perspectives on my life. She helped me discover alternate ways of experiencing the beauty of the world and the beauty of movement.
While I did recover my ability to surf, I had to let go of running, which had been one of my pillars to mental health. My back pain has become a kind of companion, not always welcome, but one that reminds me to be aware of how I am caring for my physical form.
It reminds me, sometimes not so gently, that although I may never run a marathon if I am consistent with maintaining my strength and structural integrity I don’t have to be afraid of movement. Rather, I can move toward it, even if it does require a more measured and intentional pace.
Read more stories in our series on resilience from Kalia Kelmenson: