In my book, The Body Deva, I teach people the skills needed to communicate with their bodies. How to work with everything from emotions to lingering ancestral trauma patterns is covered.
Since the time I have published that book, I have realized that many people require a sort of “bridge” to get to the point where they can have a dialogue with their bodies.
The types of people who this bridge is helpful for are:
1– We live in a culture where we energetically are very much in our heads, in touch with our mental reality but out of touch with our bodies and our felt senses (intuition, feeling/emotion). Anyone looking to get more in touch with their emotions and wondering how to skillfully work with them can use this bridge
1a- So, really anyone can benefit from this meditation. This meditation creates a bridge, or communication between the head and the body. It is suitable for those completely out of touch with their bodies and their emotions. It is also helpful for anyone, no matter how in touch with their bodies/emotions they are
2– I work with many individuals who have meditated plenty but have not felt. Meditation can be utilized to disassociate, or to work through our thoughts intellectually but not really any of our issues. When this happens, perspective can change but daily reality will not. We will still be stuck in the same trauma-based, pain-based patterns that we always were.
We can intellectually understand the spiritual path but not be living it.
When our meditations become embodied, we learn to process the backlog of emotional and trauma-based material in our bodies. When we do this, how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we experience reality vastly changes. We can learn to live our spiritual path, instead of thinking or talking about it. Becoming more conscious is a bodily act; working through our emotions, pain patterns, and beliefs through the body allows for spiritual awakening through every layer of our being (mind, body, and spirit).
3- Some people when meditating or getting in touch with their emotions come across an ocean of emotion that comes bursting forward, sort of like a fire hose releasing. This can be overwhelming. It also simply isn’t helpful and doesn’t process anything. If anything it puts people into flight or freeze states, where panic attacks, flashbacks, disassociation, overwhelm, or depression can feel all-consuming.
This exercise can allow for those individuals to come into contact with their emotions in a healthy, life-affirming way that also sets boundaries. We talk quite a bit about setting boundaries with other people, but we rarely recognize that setting boundaries with ourselves is crucial.
When we set boundaries with this meditation, what happens are two things. The first is that we learn that we can process our emotions bit by bit. No need for an ocean to come forward– we can process a cup of grief, or perhaps a small pond.
The second is that doing this meditation over time will allow for our body-mind to understand that it is creating a safe container to process emotions. This means that we are developing the understanding that we have power over our emotions, they do not have power over us.
In time our body-mind will understand that we have a way and a time to process the emotions we experience.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. If lying down ever feels too overwhelming for you, know that sitting up allows for us to feel more in control
- Specifically set the intention (parameters) that you will be working with your emotions for ten minutes
- Set an alarm for ten minutes
- Take a nice breath in and out
- Do a body scan: starting at the feet, go up to the head, and down the arms. Notice any area that feels painful or otherwise captures your attention. You can also simply sit and notice what area or areas of your body are drawing your attention
- Pick one of those areas. It can be the “loudest” or simply one that you feel is right to choose for today
- Bring your attention to that area and feel whatever is going on there. Start with physical sensations. Does this area feel tight, heavy, empty, pulling, hot, cold?
- Now move on to emotions. What emotion is coming up for you? If nothing is coming up, that is fine. If several emotions are coming up, that is fine as well. Name them as they come up (I feel grief, I feel confusing rage-anger-grief-joy, I feel stressed, I feel like I want to punch someone)
- Sit with whatever emotions arise until your alarm goes off. The feelings may change or they may remain the same. Both are wonderful
- If you notice your focus drifting away from the area or from feeling, bring it back to a feeling state and the area of the body you are focusing on. You can think about what to have for lunch later
- When the alarm goes off, get up and specifically let yourself know you are done with this session
Do not let yourself go beyond the boundaries you have set with yourself. Ten minutes to a beginner or to an advanced meditator is plenty of time. Setting boundaries with yourself is healthy, and is an essential skill for all of us to learn.
This meditation can be done up to three times a day (ten minutes each). Start where you are. If you begin doing it once a week, or once a day, that is wonderful. There is no need to do a longer time period. We tend to want to overdo things in our culture. Cultivating gentleness and grace for yourself through ten minute intervals is a big deal. No need for a huge catharsis! Allow yourself to be okay with ten minutes at a time.
When doing this meditation, if memories arise, simply come back to feeling and to the area of the body you have chosen for this session. There are others tools that are helpful to process arising memories (the body deva, for example). In this meditation, simply treat whatever comes up as interesting thoughts or memories that are arising, and return back to feeling. No need to play detective! Just allow yourself to simply feel.
If you feel intense emotion in between meditations, let yourself know (practice boundaries!) that you will sit with those feelings later.
This will do a few things. The first is that it will let your body know, over time, that you do have a release outlet for your emotions. The second is to allow for you to reorient yourself from intense emotions that you cannot process at the time because you need to focus on something else in your life. You are creating a time and space (and a container of safety) to work with intense emotions. To build this and practice boundaries is incredibly empowering.
Ideally we will all get to a point where we can process life (and our emotions) as they happen. Even at that point, this exercise is still helpful.
To do this exercise with a specific emotion that has arisen during your day, such as anger, you will do the same exercise. You will just alter it slightly:
- Do steps 1-4
- With step 5, you will now ask your body to show where you are holding your anger (or any other emotion). Do a body scan or notice what areas appear. Pick an area– either the “loudest” or the one that feels right to work with. Be sure to start with noticing what is happening physically in that area of your body
- Complete the rest of the steps
Allowing ourselves to feel in an embodied way can feel scary at first. Recognize that you are building an important skill. When you develop this skill over time it will build confidence and emotional intelligence.
We do have the capacity to work with even our most difficult emotions, and it is by feeling them that the emotional load that we carry lessens. Fighting with our emotions or pushing them aside never works! What does is feeling them, bit by bit.
For those looking for further skill-building, I suggest working with my book, The Body Deva. Many times our body can simply feel, and will learn to resolve and heal emotions by allowing ourselves permission to feel them.
Some of our pain and emotions require reconciliation and a telling of their story in order to resolve. This is what the body deva is for, and by eventually building both skills (this skill and the body deva), we can work with every single emotion we feel with the awareness that we have the skill and capacity to manage them.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual teacher, practitioner, and author
Thanks for chiming in. I am sure that someone will be helped by what you wrote here. I do find what you wrote to be absolutely correct– often when we are focusing on our emotions we expect a singular emotion to arise, like anger or grief. Sometimes it does. But most often it is layered and kind of confusing (like I mentioned confusion-joy-anger-wanting to punch someone). I do find that starting wherever you can with your emotions, like a visual like you mentioned, is really helpful. That way you can have a roadmap to later work, where the emotions can be identified directly (but may still arise as symbolic or wanting to do an action, like fleeing or punching or something)
Thank you Mary, I love your blogs.
It’s take me a long time to feel contact with my emotions. The first breakthrough came when I discovered I could start from physical sensations (as you say).
Later I came across a different block: Naming emotions. We only have a few words: grief. anger, fear, joy etc, for what has a universe of nuance. I have found it very helpful not to try to squeeze myself into these words, but make up pictures and analogies instead (for instance “I feel like someone just slammed a door in my face” instead of “I feel anger”).
After that I began to find that I could experience emotions without naming them (subtly different from physical sensations) – which seems to process them on another level. I was taught in therapy that it’s all about putting things into words. Now I believe that “being with” in the right way really does something – without the words.
Maybe someone needs to read this as much as I need to write it?
Thank you Paul, Hannah, and Daniela.
I am glad that you all enjoyed the blog–
Thank you Mary, thank you!
Many thanks for this blog Mary.
So much needed just now.
Thank you for breaking this down. Closing the gap here shows much of your compassion, ability, and character.