What we feel in our physical bodies and our emotions, memories and experiences are inextricably wound together in ways that we can only begin to imagine. The connection between what we think and how we feel is becoming more and more well documented and well considered, but I believe that the room for exploration of this connection is still in its infancy.
I also know that this connection can be exploited for the purposes of bringing people relief in a more profound and complete way.
While you have an experience, any experience at all – eating lunch, banging your head getting into the car, playing tennis, or getting embarrassed – your body is constantly monitoring, assessing and adjusting the sense of where your body is in space, in relationship to itself (proprioception), and muscle tone (quick twitch, or slow and languid). The vast amount of information that is coming into the body at any given time is this sort of sensory information. Add to that smells, noises and other tactile information, and you can see that our regular, almost constant experience of being in the world is a very physical one.
As a result, when you remember an experience, a significant amount of that memory consists of information regarding our body experience. Using this information can allow working in two directions. One way of making use of this is that by working with the body in relationship to its position and movement in relationship to its physical limitations, stuck traumatic experiences can be brought forward for processing and movement in a non-invasive way.
I have seen this in my practice as an Advanced Ortho-BionomyÂ® Practitioner. In my work, I use a technique of using position and movement that is reflective of the preference of the individual with whom I’m working. The miraculous thing that happens is that without any kind of intention or intervention for it to do so, reflection brings the mind to gently process any emotional content that may be connected to the pattern, while allowing the body to process and release restrictions and pain. This “back door” approach works so well because the following of the preference of the individual’s physical pattern promotes a safe environment for the mind to follow.
Coming from another direction, this connection is being used in an innovative and productive manner in treating post-traumatic patients. A study was conducted using individuals who had experienced a traumatic event about a decade previous. About half were given a propranolol pill, the other half a placebo, and then they relaxed while the drug took effect. Then each of the patients was asked to read a script that had been developed with a narrative describing their traumatic experience based on previous interviews. Some of the patients cried, some were fine, some needed to take breaks.
This process was completed a week later without the use of the drug (or placebo). The patients who had taken the propranol in the first part of the study were noticeably calmer, had a smaller increase in heart rate, and less perspiration as opposed to those who were given the placebo.
A larger study was done where participants repeated the drug/script regimen for six weeks, once a week and they showed an average reduction in standard PTSD symptoms of 50 percent. What seemed to have happened is that the “emotional tone” of the memories had changed. They seemed less invested in the intense quality of the memories.
Propranolol is a drug used to treat high blood pressure and has been taken to address stage fright. I mention this story not because I recommend its use, but because I want to show how changing the relationship of the physical body to the emotional experience changed the individual’s overall relationship to it.
Whether feelings begin in the mind or body is still up for debate, and sometimes it might seem like an appealing idea to erase the memories of unpleasant experiences, but these experiences are a defining part of who you are. The better choice is to change your relationship to the difficult events in your life in a way that, instead of erasing them, changes how you respond to them.