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"Pull your shoulders back and down!"
"Tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets."
"Keep your scapulae flat against your back."
All commonly used cues for shoulder positioning. All things that befuddled me for the longest time. That back pocket cue still confuses me a bit, but that's just me.
I am a survivor of childhood trauma. It took a long time for me to acknowledge to myself that many of the things I experience to this day are the result of that trauma. I felt more badass to ignore the trauma and pretend that any difficulties I experienced were just clearly unexplainable. In clinical work, we sometimes call these things the sequelae of trauma. One of the things that I have had difficulty with is feeling very disconnected from my body.
This has manifested in many ways. I remember being pregnant with my first child and the midwife thought he was probably breech, and was asking where I felt his kicks. I had a difficult time clearly explaining. I remember her looking at me mystified, as I struggled to think of where I could feel kicking. "You don't know where you feel the kicking?"
I often have difficulty explaining pain to health care providers. Because I am disconnected from my body, I have a hard time pinpointing a specific place. So I may have knee pain, but struggle to say front, back, side, above, below... I am fortunate that I haven't often had health care providers think that I am "faking it", although that is certainly a problem that folks encounter when they can't clearly and specifically describe their aches and pains.
Another place where this has manifested itself is when I workout. I can recall being in group classes where the instructor gave cues that I just couldn't follow, because I lacked the awareness of the movement and control of those parts of my body. In yoga classes, I have struggled sometimes to know where the tightness is. I may find a pose difficult or uncomfortable, but I may struggle to identify a specific tight area; it just feels generally not good.
In all honesty, it has taken many years of both working through my trauma and working out regularly to connect to my body and understand how to intentionally pull my scapulae back and down. Being able to control my body, even those small movements like pulling my scaps back, is empowering. My fitness journey is fully interwoven with my trauma recovery journey. Developing bodily awareness through moving my body had improved my body awareness in other situations.
Note from Jess: This is a guest post written by our incredible friend and long-time yoga and dance practitioner, Kim Corda. We hope you enjoy it, and if you need some Movement Medicine, please check out our classes.
Have you ever seen a child have a full-on temper tantrum? You know, throwing themselves on the ground, kicking and screaming, moving everything. They are literally embodying their emotion in that moment.
Those temper tantrums serve a particularly good purpose. You could even say that they are divinely orchestrated. When a small child’s emotions build up to the point of being intolerable, they hit the release valve. They have a melt down and get all parts of their self involved. They don’t know why except that it feels right, and it’s actually brilliant.
Over the last few months, have you ever felt like throwing yourself on the ground? Running, literally running away? Curling up in the fetal position and wailing? Wanted to punch something or someone (please, don’t punch anyone!)? Have you felt impulses in your body in response to overwhelming emotions?
If you have, great. It means you haven’t lost touch with your body and you are receiving the messages it is sending. If you haven’t, don’t stress. There’s no fault in it but do read on because that’s what this blog is all about.
You see, emotions build up in our physical bodies and the way to get them out is through movement. We need to channel our inner three-year-old and let it all out.
Why? Not because it’s what the cool kids are doing, but because recent events have accelerated our experience with collective grief, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, and rage. Suppressed feelings are rising up, so much so that it may become extremely uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous.
Once that kid stops screaming and crying, they feel a ton better. In fact, they can move on by the time the tantrum has subsided (unless someone shut it down) and are able do all the other activities that bring them joy and connection. While they’re feeling that anger and frustration, they can’t feel, hear, or do anything else.
We adults, we’ve learned to compartmentalize. It comes in handy sometimes, but it’s far too convenient to say, “I don’t have time for my grief, my anger, my pain,” and stuff it into a box we’ve created for it. We cannot move on fully until we move this stuff out of our bodies, because our emotions aren’t just in our brains. And those compartments start to leak. Then all the stuff mixes together and makes a big, nasty mess.
It’s heavy, friends. What we have been bearing seems unbearable (for some more than others). And we may feel that we can’t even collapse into it just yet because there is so much work to do.
So, take a deep breath in and let it out.
This is collective grief. The world over is feeling it. You are not alone. WE are not alone.
We have seen great loss over the past few months as the pandemic swept the world and our nation. We’ve heard stories that break our hearts. The sorrow that Black people and people of color have carried for so long, that has never been fully acknowledged or validated, is palpable. There is much healing to be done and it starts with the individual.
What we must do first, is to honor our bodies and take good care of ourselves, because in order to heal, we have to feel. And in order to hold others up, we have to be able to hold ourselves.
You want things to get better? You have to process your pain and grief.
For starters, it never hurts to have a professionally trained therapist to support you during times of crisis and loss and if your feelings run deeper than some occasional sadness and despondency, it’s probably a good time to ask for help.
Grief and trauma are linked. Though we may all feel a sense of being traumatized by what we are seeing on our screens and reading about in graphic detail, there are those who have suffered deep trauma with resulting PTSD. In these cases, there is a definite need for the support and guidance of a mental health professional to process in a safe way.
Right now, we are dealing with events that we have little reference for. We are both scared and hopeful. We are flooded with information to the point of being incapacitated. Exhilarated one day and exhausted the next.
There are many well known ways to process our feelings alongside or independent of therapy. Writing and journaling are effective ways to release thoughts and words that are spinning in our minds. Practicing quiet reflection or meditation can calm nerves, cultivate a feeling of connection to the divine, and make us less reactive over time. Spending time in nature, playing with the kids. Games. Crocheting. Knitting. Carpentry.
Most of us know at least a few activities that will soothe the soul for a short time. The thing that happens when we quiet down though, is those repressed thoughts and feelings begin to speak up, so we need to give them the stage.
What we need is movement.
There is medicine in the body to heal through movement. Just like that kid’s temper tantrum.
The approach may be different based on whether you are feeling anger or sadness. It could be the difference between kicking a heavy bag or waltzing to a sad song. Whatever the activity, you may find that it dissolves into something else entirely as the initial sensation dissipates making room for something more deeply rooted.
Anger is a protective expression that shows up around hurt places in us. As you allow anger to move through your body, you are likely to access deeper grief. And let’s be clear. There is no way around grief. You may think you avoided it, but it will find you when you least expect it. And it will stay with you longer.
It’s time to release.
Yes, there is still much work to be done. Yes, we will have more grief. Yes, you will still lose your patience some days. And yes, you can do something accessible to soothe your pain and permit it to lessen and lessen. I mean, ask yourself why you would want to hold on to it. As a testament to the people and things you’ve lost? As validation for things you may have done? Has it become an identity?
When we neglect to take the time to process and release our emotions or intentionally identify with them, they become stuck in our physical bodies. Take just a moment or two and check in with your neck and shoulders. This area is commonly a place where our tensions fester causing stiffness and even pain. Stomach ulcers, headaches, irritability. These are just a few physical symptoms that will manifest with time when we do not honor our body’s role in healing.
In our defense, our culture doesn’t reward people who take their time, who cry out loud, who dance like fools under the full moon. But this is the way through! Many indigenous tribes include music, dance, singing, wailing, fasting, and other rituals that move energy and cleanse the whole community. This is an ancient practice that we have forgotten. It’s time to remember.
There are an almost endless number of ways that you can use movement to your benefit. For some it may be yoga, for others a good run. A swim in the ocean imagining your sorrows being washed away with each wave. Pick out some music, move any breakables out of the way- move the furniture even- and dance it out. Throw paint. Participate in peaceful protest march. Plant a garden as a dedication. Lay on the ground in the rain.
Your beautiful body is wise and if you listen, it will tell you what you need. Maybe you get out the sidewalk chalk and write a message, then dance around your yard to Diana Ross or Rage Against the Machine. Cartwheels, push-ups, the trampoline. There’s no wrong way as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others.
Remember this is not about targeting your feelings at someone else, it’s about letting go of them through physical expression.
What are you letting go of?
Not your memories, or your experiences, but all the things about them that you cannot control. Emotions come as they wish, but they are just emotions; impulses from a part of your brain called the limbic system. We don’t get to decide how we feel, but we DO get to decide how we respond. We don’t have to stay invested in any emotion. They are transient and it is ok to move on. You experience these feelings, but they are not what makes up who you are.
If you already have access to movement practice in your life, keep going, but try something new, too. If all of this is new and scary, there are a few links below that may facilitate your finding a practice that feels right and safe for you. May you feel lighter, open to receive joy and love, and continuing to become more whole and present each day.
For so many years, I based all my exercise choices on what burned the most calories. HIIT, running, cycling; these were my staples. I used them to "earn" my food, or to atone for having eaten something "I wasn't supposed to." I was obsessed with working my body smaller, smaller, smaller, yet somehow never small enough. I habitually did two a days, doing a weightlifting workout and also some type of cardio, because just weightlifting didn't burn enough calories for me. When I started to make the shift to intuitive eating and body positive fitness, I began learning about joyful movement, and I have come to this conclusion:
The best kind of exercise is the kind you enjoy.
This might sound unexpected coming from a fitness instructor, but all of your exercise doesn't need to come from designated workouts or fitness activities. Gardening, home repairs, biking with kids, cleaning; these activities all provide your body with exercise.
The general recommendation is that you should get some cardio work and also some resistance training. Cardio training will help you develop a healthy cardiopulmonary system, a heart that works efficiently, and lungs that function to optimally supply oxygen to your body. Resistance training helps develop strong muscles and bones, reducing your risk for osteoporosis, fractures, and other musculoskeletal injuries. Given the recommendation that you should do some of both of these types of training, how do you go about that?
This is where you have so many options! If you aren't sure, I really encourage you to try different things out. Sometimes, I've tried a new type of class and been surprised that I actually loved it. If you're a little uncertain, it can be helpful to try a few times. When I was obsessed with weight loss, I avoided yoga because it didn't burn enough calories. When I finally tried yoga, it took trying several times for some of the poses to start to click and to actually get into a flow and enjoy it. I fell in love with heavy lifting when I was working with a trainer who started programming me for heavy lifts. Before that, I was afraid of the weight section of the gym; I felt like I didn't know what I was doing there. I still love HIIT, and I love the challenge of it, but if that's not your thing, there are other ways to get a good cardio workout in.
Bottom line here is to find workouts you like to do, and try to get a mix of cardio and resistance training. Sometimes, just having the right friends to workout with makes all the difference! Move your body in ways that make you feel good, and you'll want to keep coming back to it.
The idea was simple enough. Spend a week to "center the voices and lived experiences of folks of color", particularly people doing body positive/body liberation work. The challenge came from @jessicawilson.msrd and @blackandembodied. Different white people who I follow participated in different ways. The basic idea was to mute your own content, and reshare content from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) content creators. The challenge ended with the suggestion to reflect on the experience of the week.
In thinking about writing this, I have been mentally chasing my own tail. On the one hand, I am learning that we need to do more centering of the voices of people in BIPOC communities. Often, white people will shift the conversation to make it about ourselves. On the other hand, I believe it is important for us to engage in this conversation, to talk about the difficult things. I have also seen critiques of white women's perfectionism, particularly in the context of antiracist work. We want to be perfect allies. And dude, I have a competitive streak a mile wide; I want to be the BEST ally, the most knowledgeable, and I don't want to make any mistakes or missteps. The reality is there is no such thing as a perfect ally, allyship isn't a contest, nobody is handing out gold stars for doing the best job. All that said, here is some of my reaction to the challenge.
Honestly, it was refreshing to see some different content from a more diverse group of people instead of my normal feed of just people's running/yoga/lifting photos. I found some really incredible people who I would not have otherwise come across, posting really challenging content. Stuff that makes you think a bit. That was a delightful and refreshing change. It is frankly pretty freaking sad that it takes a challenge of this nature to make me actively seek out content from BIPOC people.
During the course of the week, I was sad to see well-intentioned people (well, I think most of their intentions were good) engaging in behaviors that further harmed some of BIPOC people who they were reposting. At times, I became afraid to repost content fearing that I was "doing it wrong" (see perfectionism above). A few things I found to be a general rule of thumb: sharing other people's content to your stories with attribution and without specific permission is generally okay. Sharing to your own feed usually needs permission. Always be sure to attribute the work to the original source. I'm not sure if there is specific etiquette around this, but this seems like a good rule of thumb. Another harmful behavior I observed was white folks trying to work through their own questions and struggles with racism in the comments section of someone's feed. I can say without hesitation, that isn't really the place for it. Where is the place for it? My very honest recommendation is to talk to some antiracist white friends. I did just this thing last night on a Zoom call with a few other body postive trainers. I was able to talk through a few sticking points that was struggling with together with other people actively trying to be antiracist and working to dismantle white supremacy. If you're trying to do this work, you're going to encounter stuck points, and you want to have some people you can work through that with.
I think it is important for all of us to think about what we're going to actually do moving forward to dismantle racism. Here are a few things that I am committing to right now.