Movement as a pathway to healing your soul....
What the heck does movement have to do with the work of healing our souls? As a mental health professional with nearly twenty years of practice in the field of counseling and the healing arts—I am here to tell you movement has a great deal to do with the process of overcoming obstacles in our lives. In his book The Body Keeps the Score,Bessel Van Der Kolk, helps the reader to understand how the body becomes a record keeper of our experiences both on the cellular level, but also how memories are stored in the brain and nervous system. This book is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in digging deeper into the mind/body connection or who has suffered from traumatic experiences and wants to understand the physiology behind the mind/body connection.
Research in the field of somatic psychotherapy helps us to understand the human body stores memories which can emerge as sensations and may not be fully understood when surfaced. These specific memories are not cognitive in nature, rather they exist as the “felt” experiences of a former situation within the body of an individual. Both positive and difficultmemories can create body memoires (think about your all-time favorite song or piece of art work? What do you feel in your body when you call this into your mind? That would be an example of a positive stored experience. It’s all about how the energy of our experiences becomes stored in our body.
Furthermore, advances in the field of mental health have also helped us understand the human nervous system is influenced by present day circumstances and events that are shaped, in part, by previous experiences across the lifespan. For some, the combination of feelings and body memories can emerge with an intensity that may not be fully understood. Movement is a primary way in which people can begin to surface some of these stored memoires and heal from those experiences. I will define the benefits of movement in the context of many different types of movement, while sharing some of the experiences I have had incorporating different types of movement into my life. I am not suggesting that individuals will only benefit from a movement practice if they have experienced trauma or are stuck on overdrive in their nervous system. Quite the opposite…….how does any human grow and heal from a movement practice?
In grade school I was the kid that was always picked last for the team—athletics were not what I would call my “primary skill set” as a kid. I played sports even though I was not particularly good at them. I seriously doubt I enjoyed them (insert my parents signed me up for soccer when I was five in what I am sure was an attempt at good parenting). So, think the kid that basically has zero aim and was a klutz (truth be told I still am and I just embrace it…..plus it gives my friends a good occasional laugh when I fall down for no apparent reason at all. I am laughing as a I write this trust me). Somewhere along the way my career as a future soccer player of America was relinquished and transformed into a small stint in softball. I later ran track by my own choice. Knowing my affinity of socialization, I am sure this had much more to do with spending time with my friends than it did playing a sport.
Then something shifted in me as an adult. I first found joy in movement through spinning and yoga. Outdoor cycling followed soon thereafter. This subtle shift transformed my relationship with movement into running half marathons and completing a triathlon. I’ve done it all. CrossFit, Orange Theory Fitness, HIIT boot camps, Peloton, etc. I learned to LOVE to move my body because so much good came from becoming an athlete (albeit coordination is not one of those things because I am still a giant klutz. Ask any of my clients who have had the privilege of watching my trip over something innocuous in my office).
I started to fall so deeply in love with fitness and nutrition science that I became trained as a certified health and nutrition coach. The science of nutrition and movement lit up the inner geek in me (I really, really, really like to be a student). However, I also saw a significant connection between healing emotional wounds and claiming health in the physical body. While I don’t have a formal “coaching” practice, there are many elements of what I learned on my journey that inform the way I see the world and how I feel I can help people reclaim their relationship with their body that is heathy.
Here are a few of the things I find worth sharing with you….all of which I learned through my own journey or through my studies is functional fitness and nutrition.
Our bodies are the record keeper of our experiences. Period. Everything you have ever been through or will go through has some written records in your tissues, muscle memory, memory network, etc. This means our bodies record our experiences of joy and excitement—but also sadness, grief, loss, and traumatic experiences. If you want to get in touch with those stored emotions that might just be outside of your awareness pick a practice of movement. Allow movement in your body to be the vessel for which those emotions are surfaced and what needs healed in you will begin to show up.
If you want to get in touch with your experience of personal empowerment movement is an amazing commitment to your growth. I completed a Triathlon at a time in my life where I needed to be in touch with my experience as an empowered and strong woman. Personal empowerment does not mean that you must engage in distance racing or extreme sports. Many people find peace and empowerment on their yoga mat. Finding empowerment and healing in movement can be found in a walking meditation. It isn’t about the “type” of movement at all. It’s 100% about how you experience yourself in movement and what becomes available to you.
Commitment. Having a physical practice requires commitment to yourself. I am not suggesting the only way have a commitment to ourselves is through movement, but regular movement in pursuit of growth (getting stronger, faster, more flexible, ability to walk further, hike the mountain) requires a regular discipline of practice.
Learning when to slow down and when to push. Becoming an athlete has taught me more about when to really push through something and when to slow down more than maybe any other embodiment practice in my life. There have been many moments as an athlete that I was simply training too hard. Each and every time, without fail, resulted in some form of injury or set back. I had to learn that taking time off to rest was as important as the really powerful training sessions. Rest is key to recovery in movement as much as it is the key to healing/being in our lives in a healthy way. Yet the flip side of this was learning when and how to push harder. I was once working with a trainer who said to me “Why do you quit when you are on the brink of breaking through sometimes hard?” Hello…. Was this a metaphor for life? Mind you this was while I was climbing on top of a plyometric box with a 25 pound weighted plate above my head like 912 times in a row. How many times in life do we quit or give up on ourselves right when we are on the brink of a break through and what causes that in each of us? Is it fear? Fear of success? What if I (you)actually did the thing? I did the thing…913 weighted plyometric box steps- ups later I learned a valuable lesson about when to dig in and confront what scares me. Ok…it might not have been 900 plus reps but you certainly get my point, right?
Fail often, fail hard, and fail forward. Movement, very specifically weight training, has taught me that failing is a non-thing. A nothing. It’s purely an invitation to tweak the system and grow from what didn’t work into what’s the thing that does work? What moves the needle forward? So, I encourage, no invite, you to fail often and fail forward in the spirit of becoming exactly who you are meant to be when you are living in the flow of growth and change.
Courage and guts. The first half marathon I ever ran I did not train for. Not exactly anyway. I had been doing a ton of cross training but I had never run any distance greater than about 6 or 7 miles. I had no idea if I could actually do all 13.1. I knew I was in good shape and I knew that I had the drive to attempt it. The first half marathon I ever ran was in the Cleveland Marathon In May of 2016. The Cleveland Marathon has historically been the second weekend in May. Anyone who knows Cleveland Weather knows that early May can result in a wide variety of weather conditions. This particular early May morning I woke up to snow on my car (oh fun..nothing like running in snow). However, it was not just a day of snow. In the time it took me to run 13.1 times it snowed, rained, sleeted, thundered and lightening—it was also 70 degrees by 1 p.m. Seriously? At mile 3 I thought to myself why the hell am I doing this? I hate the cold. At mile 7 I could no longer feel my feet. My shoes were totally soaked and I was well on my way to trying to figure out if I should start removing layers and leaving them behind. Surely all my wet clothes were not helping my performance but I was getting a bit concerned with how cold my body was getting. I rounded the into mile 11 on the Detroit shoreway and it was now snowing so hard I could barely see. I did end up ditching my gloves and first layer of clothes because I was just so wet from all the weather. I made it to 1.31 miles, took my silver blanket (the little warming blanket they give you when you’ve run in extreme temps) and made my way to the first hotel I could find to get some coffee and warm up. I will admit I ubered back to my car on the other side of Cleveland because I was just so damn cold. There were many times during that race that I wanted to give up and sag it in. That would be what any “normal” person who doesn’t run half marathons would do given the extremes, right??? All this to say it took guts and glory to sign up and even more to finish. One might think I had learned my lesson and would never sign up for a distance race again (at least not one in Cleveland in early May). Sometimes the things we do in life take a lot of guts and glory. Sometimes the circumstances and events of our lives do not provide us with the opportunity to quit. We have to find a way to call upon our courage and guts. Someday I will tell you about swimming in Lake Erie (yuck) during the Triathlon I did. If the weather wasn’t going to kill me in 2016 the lake made a good attempt in 2017.
Goals. When we have goals and we write them down we are statistically 42% more like to achieve what we set out to do for ourselves according to one study. Another study found that 76% of individuals who wrote down their goals were successful in reaching identified goals. Whether it’s 42% or 76% really isn’t the main point. Setting and achieving goals creates a connection to a sense of personal accomplishment. Having an accountability partner can also help support successful outcomes. Having goals relative to movement is just another metaphor for life. When we take small, consistent, daily action steps in the direction of what we long for we can tap into a sense of power and growth, rather than allow ourselves to blow in the mind with what life throws at each of us. (For more information on how to establish goals check out this article https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201803/goal-setting-is-linked-higher-achievement).
Brain benefits galore!let’s talk for just a moment about the impact movement has on psychological functioning from the perspective of brain science and health. When you exercise regularly you release high vibe good feeling chemicals (endorphins) into the body. Ever hear of the runners high? When we develop a regular practice of movement and make it a habit we are also lighting up the reward center of our brain. With time and regular exposure to exercise the reward center of our brain allows greater circulation of dopamine and increased dopamine receptors in the brain. Other research demonstrates that regular exercise can improve memory and cognition, increase concentration, and regulate mood. Regular movement is a known stress reducer and is massively helpful to those who are in early recovery from substance abuse by helping to refocus the reward center of the brain away from substances formerly abused. AND…..in case you needed more convincing movement promotes deeper sleep and more energy during the day. (Here’s more information from the CDC relative the benefits of exercise:
I have heard that some therapists actually require their clients to commit to taking up some form of exercise or movement practice when they begin counseling. It’s not my approach to mandate this expectation from clients or anyone else in my life. However, I fully support a holistic and integrative approach to healing emotional wounds. We cannot reduce ourselves to the sum total of one aspect of the self (i.e. mind or body). It simply makes sense that if you want to heal emotional wounds in your life then taking a good solid look at your relationship with movement has a worthy place. I encourage you to find your way to movement. Healing is both knowing when to move our bodies and when to be in stillness. If you have not exercised in a while, or are struggling with health issues, meet with your doctor to make sure you are medically cleared for movement and then go for it! What do you have to lose?
For more on Van Der Kolk:
. (For more information on the work of Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/resources/the-body-keeps-the-score).