A week or so ago, a facebook friend crowd sourced the following question, “For those of you who've lost a loved one in the past and feel like you're healing… What habits, practices, or efforts have contributed to that healing? What should grieving people make sure they're doing?
I responded with, “Do massage or yoga or energy work as often as you would do regular therapy. Trauma lives in the body in ways that typical talk therapy can’t get to.”
Since Pete’s diagnosis with MS, I have been consistently curious about the mind/body connection. I use Louise Hayes Heal Your Body like a reference guide, easily acceptable to me on my kindle app. That led me to learning, practicing and teaching the Japanese healing technique, Reiki. I have used massage as a regular form of healing for myself. And recently, I’ve engaged in private yoga lessons with a skilled, loving Iyengar yoga instructor.
Iyengar yoga is new to me. In the past, I have gravitated toward a flow practice, where my breath worked with my movement to find and release stress and discomfort. Iyengar seeks to perfect a post by building it from the bottom up. Staying in a pose and making microscopic changes has allowed me to explore my body more thoroughly.
Last week, upon arrival to my yoga lesson, I explained to my teacher that during a massage the week before we were surprised at how “locked up” my sacrum was. Well, “surprised” is probably not accurate; it makes perfect sense. Our sacrum is at the base of our spine. Our spine holds us up, supports us all day, and all night. The sacrum is the beginning part of our root chakra. The root chakra is the portion of our body from our hips down to our feet. Energetically, or psychosomatically, our root chakra is all about grounding, being rooted in life. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to either of us that my root chakra is “locked up.”
With the death of Pete, my life has lost much of its footing. We cannot underestimate how much our primary relationships provide solid footing for us. Pete was the one at the end of the day who affirmed that I was deeply loved, despite whatever the day had brought. In a very real sense I have been uprooted and as a result my body is clinging to itself for stability. Physically, my muscles are locking onto themselves and affixing themselves to my spine.
So my yoga instructor and I did a full hour of poses that would help release my sacrum. We started in seated position, stretching forward. We moved to side twists. We ended in down dog, finding that my hamstrings are connected to my gluts are connected to my sacrum. Yikes! Ouch! But here’s the thing, instead of loathing my body, being angry or frustrated that it was so locked up, I found myself in down dog, sending the thought, “I’m so grateful for you,” to my body.
Maybe that sounds odd, but I am so deeply grateful for this body that continues to hold me upright. This body of mine is astounding. It is teaching me and supporting me. I am a body. I believe as a spiritual being that I am more than a body but for too long my spiritual life positioned my body against my spirit. As if my body was bad, evil, sinful. My spiritual life posited that it was its own being that could overcome, dominate the flesh part of me. Ultimately this is so unhelpful.
My body is working really hard to help me be spiritually healthy. My spirit ought to be working really hard to make my body healthy. John Barnes, a renowned physical therapist says, “the body is not just a reflection of the personality, the body is the personality.” He also believes “the body remembers everything that ever happened to it.”
I believe that too.
At the point in my yoga lesson where I was thanking my body for helping me live my life, my yoga instructor asks, “do you know about fascia?”
Here’s what I’ve been learning since that question. Fascia is like the membrane of an orange and it’s all over our bodies. Fascia is made up of densely packed collagen fibers that wrap around each of our internal organs and connect them to our muscles and bones. Some like to imagine that perhaps we are not made up of 600 different muscles but instead we have one muscle that separates and distinguishes it into 600 different parts. Our fascia stabilizes our entire body and gives us our human form. It is a fluid system that literally holds all of our life together – and not just physically…
Fascia contains sensory nerve endings. Proprioceptive sensory nerves help us perceive ourselves as separate from the outside world. Nociceptive sensory nerves help us perceive harmful substances like chili powder in our eyes or hot and cold temperatures. Interoceptive sensory nerves help us perceive pain and hunger.
Our fascia not only holds my back together, it also holds all of the emotion that I have experienced since Pete’s death – the dread, the sadness, the fear, the relief, the gratitude, the delight, the want, the hope. It’s all there, in my fascia – in your fascia. John Barnes, renowned physical therapist says, “when one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring or inflammation, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted and a source of tension to the rest of the body.”
So there is no amount of talk therapy that can get at the emotional memory locked in our beautiful, complex bodies. We are at our core, body. And I am lovingly helping my body loosen up its grip on life.