I lay on the table listening to my body as the fingers of my therapist moved gently over my back and legs, flipping switches, releasing energy and emotion that surged up towards my head. When I scheduled my first Bowen session, I could hear those skeptical voices in my own mind telling me that this was a desperate and useless attempt to treat my neck pain. But I did feel out of options and there was a deeper voice inside pointing out that all of what I’d read about this method completely aligned with my view of the world, of spirit, and of body.
In that first session the release of emotion within my body left me in uncontrollable tears and the therapist ended up wrapping her arms around me in a hug as I cried into her shoulder. It really doesn’t matter how or why it happened, but only that it happened. I was holding on to things that needed release and somehow that day they were released through tears in a healthy and safe environment.
None of the following sessions have been as intense, but I still feel both energy and emotion pulsing through my body as she does tiny adjustments down my spine, legs, arms, neck and finally my face. And this day as I lay feeling my own body, giving weight to its voice, I realized how much of my life has been spent doing the opposite.
My body has always spoken to me quite loudly. It’s why I always wanted to dance as a child, and why I was always super conscious of making sure I didn’t move my body in certain ways in public because certain types of dancing (particularly those that involve your hips) were considered inappropriate in the culture of my youth. Because I was always so conscious of my body’s place and movement in the spaces I inhabited I practiced rigid control over it when surrounded by others. But in the privacy of my own room, I let my body lead the way in my dance, and those hippy, suggestive dances were precisely the type of dances I wanted to do.
I knew why those dances were looked on with suspicion and I knew why they were considered inappropriate, but there was something within me that was captivated by my own body and the power it held. I don’t think that all of this had to do with sexuality, but because that was one of the energies that pulsed within me, I viewed this fascination with fear and shame. I think this was mostly because no one in my close circle of trusted individuals knew what to do with my body awareness. Without really meaning to, they taught me to fight my body, to feel shame over any attraction or confusing thoughts, and to link everything from suggestive dancing to masturbation to a part of myself that I thought was dirty and sinful. Sex was a beautiful and wonderful thing, I was told, but only in one specific context. I therefore learned that my body could not be trusted, and though I couldn’t silence the messages it was sending to me, they were often warped. I looked for the answers to life’s questions outside of myself, and tried to categorize those things within me depending on how they compared to the external messages I read in the culture around me. I labelled those that lined up as coming from the Spirit and those that didn’t as coming from my untrustworthy body (well, technically, I believed they came from Satan, who I viewed as the source of all sinful nature and impulses, which meant I gave no weight at all to my own body as a source).
I also grew up in a family that used spanking as a method of discipline, at least when we were very young. I never thought twice about this until I was a parent myself and had to wrestle firsthand with the implications for myself and my children of this disciplinary method. Now I look back and realize that this was one more way that I was taught to separate myself from my body, as if bodies could be subjected to pain without damaging the spirit or soul beneath. And as a parent, I realized that not only were my children the victims of my choice to inflict pain, but that the very act of inflicting that pain was also damaging my own soul.
In our Christian context we were taught that our bodies are the temple of the living God, and yet we were rarely taught to pay attention to the Spirit moving within us. Instead our bodies were seen as temporary shells, something that we would one day discard and therefore were not as important as “soul.” That the two could be separated so easily was never questioned.
But through all of it, I still loved my body. I danced in front of the mirror. I brushed my hair while admiring the glisten of it. I admired my own shape, and secretly loved any admiration I received from others. I was once called vain. I preferred to think of myself as self-confident. Whatever you name it, I am grateful for it now because I think it preserved a connection to my body that could have been lost. I was, of course, not immune to the messages of body idealism that we have all struggled with at one point or another. When my stomach was flabbier than I wanted or my hips and thighs wider, I wished they were different. After having kids, this of course, got harder because my body had changed. That thin, curvy in all the right places, body that I had in my teenage years had become soft in the wrong places, thick where I didn’t want it to be. I may not be fighting my body in the same way I did as a kid, but I do often find myself fighting the way it is now. Always wanting to be lighter, thinner, stronger. I struggle to find a way to work with my body to find my healthiest version of myself instead of seeing my body as the enemy.
But our bodies are not our enemies. On the contrary, no matter how much we mistreat our bodies, they continually work to support us. Our souls are not held in an empty shell, but rather entwined in an amazing living body that pulses with light and energy. Within my body I have found love, wisdom, intuition and creativity. And also scars. Our bodies hold the emotional and mental pain that we find too great to bear. All our traumas, large and small, scar our body as it willingly holds the pain for us so that we can survive. Yet we ignore it and push away the signs when it says it is now time to deal with this hurt that they’ve been holding for us. We get angry, wondering why our bodies are now failing us, when in fact our bodies hurt and ache specifically because they have been doing all along what they were made to do. We ignore those voices within that are asking now for our attention, and thereby continue to add to our own pain. I do not believe that our souls and bodies are as separate as we’d like to believe. What hurts one hurts the other.
Ironically, the one thing that has ended up treating my chronic neck pain most effectively has been dance. That thing my body was always telling me to do was the thing I needed most. And all that pent up emotion, fear, confusion and stored pain? I’m working on releasing that too through EMDR therapy, which includes a lot of body listening. The Spirit moves within me, just as it does within each human being. I try now to pay attention to it. I try to embrace all of myself. I dance the way I want to dance. I smile when I look at myself and see the beauty my body holds. I embrace that power I feel within myself instead of fighting it. I look with curiosity and acceptance on all the ways in which my body speaks to me, whether that energy be sexual, intuitive, creative, divine or just pure joyful. I am learning to see my body and soul as intertwined. Only in that understanding will I be truly whole.