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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.