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Natural Awakenings Boston

Alison Shaw and Bodymind Repatterning: Treating the Whole Person

Nov 30, 2011 01:21PM ● By Kim Childs

Alison Shaw has spent 25 years helping people as a nurse practitioner, licensed massage therapist and certified energy healer. Currently she practices body-centered counseling at Bodymind Resourcing in Arlington. Shaw, whoseeks to educateother medical professionals about the impact of stress and emotionsonphysical health, sat down with Natural Awakenings to discuss the mind-body connection.

How are physical symptoms connected to emotions and thoughts?

The body is constantly responding to our emotional experiences. If I’m in a situation that brings up fear, even unconsciously, I’ll feel my chest tighten, my breath get smaller, and my pulse quicken. I may alsofeel more disconnected from my body. The nervous systemis always perceiving the world underneath our conscious awareness and, while it’s brilliant,it doesn’t know the difference between past and present. A situation that was threatening or traumatic in the past may not be present in this moment, but the nervous system responds from old conditioning.

Another connection is historic or postural. As kids we develop our perception of the world and come up with psychologically and emotionally protective strategies. I think the body also participates in these strategies. For example, some people “disappear” when they get scared; they get spacey and their body may not feel strong and vital. These people might have problems with fatigue, whereas someone who develops a life strategy that’s about being strong and controlling might have a lot of upper body tension that has to do with armoring.

Finally, our bodies may symbolically express what’s going on emotionally, as with the connection between heart disease and heartache. It’s not necessarily a direct physiologic connection, but it’s useful to listen to the body in a symbolic way for information about what’s going on emotionally.

Can you give us someother examples?

I worked with a woman who was struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome for about eight years and she couldn’t find a medical reason or treatment for it. We started to approach it from a symbolic level through talking, body dialoging and guided imagery in which I asked her to locate where and how she felt the fatigue in her body. She felt it as a heaviness and a weakness, so I guided her to ask her fatigue, “What are you tired of?” Knowing about some of her struggles and emotional issues, I found that her answer made a lot of sense: “I’m tired of trying to be somebody for everybody else all the time. I’m trying so hard to do it right that I’m exhausted.” After she made that connection, she felt a kind of tingling in her body and, over time, she explored the issue on a conscious level, noting how she held back her own expression and held the core of her body tight, as well as her gut and her throat. She was holding in her own expression while trying to be there for everybody else, and her body was reflecting that symbolically.

I never want to say that if you have an emotional problem you cause an illness to arise. It’s not that direct. It’s more just being curious about how the body and the mind are both expressions of our lives.So if someone came to me with low back pain, we’d discuss how the back holds us up and examine the issue of support in that person’s life. If a person has asthma, which affects that part of the body associated with the life breath and expression, I would ask them to listen to their lungs and see what they might have to say about being free and expressing themselves in the world. Chronic injuries like repetitive ankle sprains may be rooted in very real physiologic issues, but I’d also wonder how that person is doing around walking forward or standing their ground.

Can illness therefore be a kind of messenger?

Symptoms can be helpers and messengers because they bring our attention to something that needs healing or balancing. If an illness has something to do with an emotional issue and the person can see the greater life issues behind it, make changes and do some emotional healing, then the body can release the reaction that’s causing pain or illness. I love being with people when they’re going down beneath their automatic armoring and touching the truth and expression of who they really are and what they really need. When I help people to release restrictive blockages in their minds and bodies, I also feel more alive.

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