My husband had just spent 64 days in the hospital at an absolutely incredible brain injury rehabilitation unit after a cycling accident.
He was given instructions and recommendations for a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist, but no concrete mental health therapy recommendations nor alternative somatic therapies were discussed as future modalities for total and complete healing.
I couldn’t believe it.
How could someone who was recovering from a traumatic brain injury not be given the required mental health support? Or what if a year out, they had compassionately assessed his mental health along with his cognitive functions? Or sat down with him six months out and discussed alternative health offerings like gentle yoga, dance therapy, or breathwork?
Why does the patient or family have to be the one to research all of these vastly important potential healing modalities? It seemed to me that the focus was on the here and now, which is valid, but in my line of embodiment work, I couldn’t help but feel that much was left out of the equation for a total and complete healing prescription.
Flash-forward to October 2021, and I was having a conversation with a best friend who is trained in Kundalini yoga, which has a much stronger spiritual emphasis to it than a lot of the power, exercise-driven yoga styles and studios out there. She explained to me that if we’re not careful, we can blast off into the spirit realm of infinity and struggle to find deep connection to our earthly bodies and human lives.
So, what does that look like?
We may prefer to live in the cosmos. We may lean on plant medicine a little too much. This living for the spirit realm may cause things such as unhealthy eating habits, lackluster sex, a disconnection from the body, trouble connecting in relationships, inability to ground, difficulty dancing intuitively, lack of emotional expression, and an intellectualization of everything, even embodiment. Why? Because the body just feels like a skin suit for the soul.
In that same breath, I’ve heard countless students say, “I’m doing the therapy and meditation, so why don’t I feel better?”
Well, I learned three ways we fail to acknowledge the body’s unique role in healing when I put this conversation plus my husband’s accident together:
1. When we place too much emphasis on the physical healing of the body, we neglect mental and spiritual health.
2. When we place too much emphasis on the spiritual enlightenment of the mind, we neglect to see the body as a sacred tool.
3. When we place too much emphasis on mental health in talk therapy, we forget that the body is also a place to process emotions without words, especially when you’ve talked enough.
What does that all mean?
It means that the space between the medical view of the body and the spiritual view of the body is embodiment and somatic healing.
So, is learning to walk again in physical therapy absolutely incredible? It sure is. Is being able to drop into meditation and connect to the spirit with ease absolutely a gift? Yep! And do I wish everyone had access to talk therapy? Hell yes!
But is it not equally incredible to dance your ass off, make loud noises, stab a piece of fruit, and ball your eyes out at the end in clarified stillness with sweat dripping down your face, all in the name of embodying and releasing anger that you didn’t even know was in there? Heck yeah, it is!
Somatic means referring to the body and is a healing modality that is specifically used to help foster a strong body-mind connection to determine how one is feeling and pinpoint any pain or imbalances—physically or energetically—stored in the body in order to release them.
We must not forget that embodiment and somatic study is a study of the self and self-expression in a body, as a body, to heal and thrive.
It’s about learning to regulate your nervous system and become aware of the self from a body perspective. Not just a skin suit, nor a mere home to the brain. Although we try to process everything mentally or meditate on it with the mind, the body is a processor in and of itself that allows us an entry point to our internal world and awareness of the self from the inside-out versus the outside-in, like the traditional Western medical approach.
Embodiment also works from the bottom-up versus top-down, unlike upper-chakra-based spiritual practices where there is a larger emphasis on ascension, and where the lower chakras can tend to feel like lesser than stepping stones to the heavens compared to the enlightened yogis. Finding safety and grounding in the physical body is emphasized in somatic work.
As such, there is much to be found and learned from our body processors.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself right now, or while getting into your body with intentional movement and breath.
>> How do I feel as a body right now?
>> Where do I sense that feeling in my body?
>> What does that look like if I express it with dance?
>> What does this inner feeling sound like?
>> What do I sense as a body?
>> Do I feel alive or alive?
>> Who and how am I right now as a body?
After my husband’s accident, I was able to see the frustration in his face when his body couldn’t do what he wanted it to. Having nerve tingles in his feet that made even walking hard. I saw his suffering in not being able to cry due to psychological dissociation. The anger in physically having to relearn how to speak loudly, let alone scream. I felt the pain of not seeing his dynamic facial expressions for a long time.
Can you imagine how much buildup of emotion was inside him? And yet, we do the same willingly.
Emotions want to be seen and heard, and the two ways we can do that are through movement and sound current, including breath, but the dysfunction of that body-brain connection was deep and real for him on a physical and emotional level due to neural pathway communication issues.
That being said, it was also real for me and the trauma I experienced as a caregiver, and relatable to how many of us feel after chronic stress or trauma. We begin to leave the body out of physiological trauma responses for safety, and yet coming back to the body is where full-spectrum healing and living happens. It’s where rest and digest can come back versus fight-or-flight.
I leaned into my practices deeply. I danced like my life depended on it. It did. I cried and yelled loudly like my expression would save me from feeling nothing. It worked. I breathed deeply in stillness like every breath was a gift. It is. I felt my feelings even if I thought they would drown me. They did not. And as he gained greater body-mind awareness, I started bringing somatic practices, especially breathwork, into healing his nervous system and body-mind connection.
In the end, my husband blessedly fully healed physically, and we are both in a much stronger emotional-mental space. And although his team of doctors and staff were incredible, I can’t help but look forward to a future where healthcare has a greater interest in wellness and extends well beyond your time in the hospital for a true, fair shot at a beautiful life.
Like most things in life, I found that there is space in the middle for healing.
Meet me there?