When our body tenses up, or our heart rate increases and we feel anxious, afraid or have other unpleasant emotions in the form of body sensations that arise, we create a story with that tension.
We may be told to calm down, relax, don't worry so much or to take some time out for self-care. But what happens when we take that time out and we sit to meditate because we are told "this is good for me" and that just amps up the anxiety that comes with a story "I am not good at this". Instead of it giving us that much needed reprieve, it actually creates more anxiety or worry or fear or anger or [fill in the blank].
This was my experience. I have a history of bipolar disorder, clinical depression, adhd, social anxiety and addiction. There were several years of stress and pressure when my husband and I were newly married with two babies (which eventually became 3), we worked two jobs, we lived in cruddy apartments with unreasonable landlords and were not only newly navigating each other, but being parents and responsible adults. It felt overwhelming and I was in fear and panic often.
What helped me out of it at first was learning to ask for help. This sounds easy, but it wasn't. Up until recently, my heart rate would increase, my face would turn red when uttering the words "can you help me?". The oldest part of my nervous system assessed this request as life threatening and so my sympathetic nervous system activation was full on (fight/flight). I would want to run away rather than ask for help. This was due to a whole bunch of historical learning that was embodied. I was taught to provide help to others, but never felt ok asking. I learned how to be resilient, to be strong. My interpretation of weak was asking for help.
My body would tense up, it was not practiced in asking for help and so it was alerting me that this is not something familiar. My neural networks had strong pathways from old habits of being the help not seeking the help.
I learned there is a place that helps people with this very thing! I learned there is an institute of learning that helps adults like me who thought "this is the way I am" that this is not the way I have to be forever! This is the Institute for Generative Leadership (IGL). I was able to have my employer sponsor my enrollment at IGL when I was a young mom, young wife and young professional trying to make her way in some career.
I know I was lucky that I had the resources I had. Now because of this work, I am on a mission to create access to the learning I had to everyone.
This blog is a part of this mission to get this out there. The first thing I learned was to pay attention to my body's reactions to anger-inducing, anxiety-inducing and fear-inducing situations. I would just notice how my body tensed up. I was also coached on a practice of paying attention to where my breath was. I didn't know one could control or manage breath! I thought it was just something we did automatically. It turns out that as children, we learn to adapt to our environments for survival. We develop, unintentionally, ways to be safe, win the approval and love of our caregivers, and coping mechanisms to deal with stressful situations.
Often those coping mechanisms don't serve us as adults. For me, I would lash out in anger, or I would freeze during tests. When I turned 12, I turned to alcohol, at 14 to smoking cigarettes to ease the pressure of life. What started as fun vices, became addiction. Addiction is just a habit, after all. The more we do something, the more it becomes wired in our neural networks. It becomes embodied and our body's way of surviving. This is why addicts suffer from withdrawal. Our body is saying "what are you doing! You are taking away the thing that is so familiar and soothing to me!" and we feel the discomfort and either continue habits that don't serve us or stay in the discomfort until our body adapts and builds a different way to cope.
My way of coping with alcohol, cigarettes and later on in my teen years, drugs only got worse as I got older. Responsible and therefore stress increased, so did my addiction. I relied on my cigarettes, alcohol and pills to take the edge off, only that edge got bigger and more intense.
I learned that the body requires 300 iterations of something to be comfortable. So by the time I had that 300th cigarette after a stressful situation, my body just knew that it was time for a cigarette. I didn't have to think about it, my body craved it. It takes 3000 for embodiment. By my 3000th cigarette, it was basically an extension of me. Any bit of stress, my butts were waiting for me. Same with alcohol, same with drugs.
What I learned was that if I paid attention to my breathing throughout the day, when NOT in stress, I could intentionally drop my breath.
When we drop our breath to our abdomen, and take longer exhales, we are activating our parasympathetic nervous system. I was so familiar with my sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze/appease) that I was worn out, exhausted and angry all the time. I wasn't sleeping because my heart rate was always elevated and I was always reacting to something.
When stress would come, instead of reaching for a cigarette, I would notice the breath high up in my chest and drop it to my abdomen. This became effortless as I practiced in when I wasn't in stress. When stress came, I had a practice I could access. I learned that I can stay in the discomfort, notice it and take in a deeper breath and let out a deeper breath on my own. I did this with drugs, too.
I then did this with alcohol. I now no longer suffer from addiction to substances because I practiced the 300 iterations, which then became the 3000 iterations. My body now knew this was a new pattern and habit and wasn't alarming me that I needed to reach for booze or butts to placate the edge. This is now a habit of easing into breath when stress mounts, rather than allowing the stress to build until I lash out somehow or require a substance to take the edge off.
We all need help sometimes. I will continue to post blogs and host events with my colleagues that bring generative ways (actionable and observable methods) to leading a higher quality of life.
There are live events, workshops and long term programs at IGL that offer this. These come with personal coaches.
There is also a teleclass that one of my coaches, Suzanne Zeman, pioneered called "Listening to Bodies Long Distance". This teleclass provides content and body-based (somatic) practices to rewire our nervous system so we can better respond to stress. It requires attention, practice, and commitment. We can deepen our relationship with our body, our breath, our emotions even when we are on the phone! When we can do this, we can be that much more effective in person.
The course runs for 6 weeks and includes practice sessions in between each session to further embody the learning and to reveal what practices are not quite yet understood so it can be asked during our session together. The price is $425.
The next class starts Monday October 7, 2019 at 1PM Eastern Time. There are still 3 seats open. The course outline is below. Please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in a spot.
Mondays 1PM Oct 7 - Nov 18 (class on Col. Day, but not on Vet. Day).
I will send a call in number and an e-book for reference with weekly light reading to further embody the learning.
LISTENING TO BODIES LONG-DISTANCE
A Teleclass Series
led by Andrea Bordenca, Somatic Coach
In this 6 week teleclass you will learn 5 basic distinctions with practical application that will shift your awareness and response to both your individual level of presence and connection with yourself and in relationship with others. You'll learn how to apply what we're discussing immediately. We'll spend one week on each distinction and one week integrating all of them.
Come to the class with your questions - we will do some coaching in real time. What you can expect from the teleclass:
Somatic distinctions you can use to shift from reacting from emotion to responding rooted deeper in center
Practices that will be useful for embodying the various distinctions
More freedom and movement in day to day life
These are the somatic distinctions we will work with:
Week 1: Sensation
What is being experienced in the body now? Where is energy flowing, where are points of attention, where is there constriction or contraction, where is there lack of awareness (for example, no awareness or sensation in back)…What is awareness of their vertical line? Horizontal? Front to back? Practices to enhance awareness.
Week 2: Breath
Listening for shortness of breath or shallow breathing, constriction or contraction, moving to fuller and deeper breathing from the belly, with relaxed shoulders and upper chest. Practices to enhance full breathing.
Week 3: Voice
Listening for characteristics of strained, constricted, shallow, tight voice, moving toward relaxation, expansion, and connection with others from a fuller, deeper voice. How does the voice represent identity and how we reveal ourselves to the world?
Week 4: Mood
Listening for a pervasive story that has us, and others, trapped in a mood that doesn't allow for effective actions. Review of four basic moods and how to shift to a mood that is more fulfilling.
Week 5: Center
Sensing embodiment and action based on what we care about. Practices to help discover cares, passions, commitments that are not yet revealed.
Week 6: Integration
Review of practices and distinctions, bringing them together, and further application for work and life.