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Come Home to Your Body: The Journey of Feeling Safe in Your Body

by Emma Gilmore(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 294 - May 2024

 

These techniques are for therapists and clients alike. When working with clients with complex histories, they will often arrive in a heightened sympathetic state. When clients share their stories in words or when the story arises from the body, the sympathetic activity may again increase. We, as therapists, can teach them these skills to support them in the process of settling, which allows the integration of tissue memory to process from and through the body. These techniques are also invaluable for us as therapists, in order to remain present and grounded in emotionally challenging clinical situations. When we drop into our parasympathetic nervous system, this will also support our clients in co-regulation. The skill of feeling safe in our bodies is invaluable as it supports us to navigate life with greater ease.

Clients with complex histories may also have the tendency to dissociate from their body or specific areas of their body – perhaps an area that has been violated or an area that feels painful or contracted. So the re-learning to come home to the body and feel safe within it is fundamental to restoring health of body-mind.

Feeling safe in our body facilitates the ability to feel our feelings as they arise. Our feelings arise as physical bodily sensations. The key to feeling safe in life and being able to navigate difficult situations with ease is to gain the ability to feel safe in one’s own body. We can use our body as an anchor into the world we live in. When we feel safe in our body, we will then have the ability to respond appropriately to difficult or challenging situations, we will connect with others in a more meaningful way. When we feel safe, we can actually witness and feel our feelings in real time both in the clinic and in life.

Let us now explore four different ways to begin to feel safe in our intricate, responsive, resourceful, and robust body. Our body which houses billions of cells, which makes up the tissues of our body, it is our body tissues and organs which create the sensations that trigger our multitude of emotions. A pounding heart may indicate we are either excitement or anxiety, and a constriction in our throat may indicate a difficulty in verbal expression or stress. A dry throat often indicates anxiety, tight neck muscles and poor breathing patterns, indicators of stress. A contracted diaphragm may also indicate stress and anxiety. A resource is a stepping-stone to feeling safe and therefore to the ability to feel our feelings as they arise. A resource is anything that supports you, in life. Especially useful are resources that can be readily drawn upon when needed, which is why having an in-built bodily resource is so helpful, as it is always there to be called upon, even in times of chaos. Many of us, who have experienced overwhelm in our past, will struggle initially to find an internal in-built bodily resource or an “island of safety” within our body. If this is the case, we can explore (below) what are called – external resources – resources outside our body. Once you have mastered the art of finding an external resource, you can navigate your way to the internal landscape of the ever-changing body sensations, once we can safely sit with our internal body sensations, you will then be able to feel your feelings as they arise. What you should witness as you identify and then explore a resource is that you begin to feel calmer, your breath may slow, your body feel more settled and you may feel heavier, more embodied, often a sense that you are taking up more space as you truly land in your body. As you begin to feel more embodied you will then be able to notice, acknowledge and feel your feelings as they arise, with more clarity.

 

Emma Gilmore 294 Feeling Safe in Your Body

Acknowledgement: previously in author’s article Issue 278
Re-integrate Patterns of Overwhelm, Trauma and Emotional Holding

 

Methods of Resourcing

Finding and working with a resource can be useful in our daily life; once a resource is established it can be used at any given moment – when we are in a challenging meeting when your partner or child is testing us and for example you are already tired, at your wits end. It is an incredibly simple concept yet takes a little time to establish. A resource gives you tools to feel safe if a difficult physical sensation or (tissue) memory arises. So, let us slowly explore the idea of an internal body resource and setting up safety. There is a subtlety to this work and patience is required to establish an effective resource, it also takes embodied awareness to feel the difference a resource makes, as our body physiology changes, and we begin to feel safe within our system.

Let us explore 4 methods of resourcing.

A: Islands of Safety within the intricate landscape of sensation that is your body, you may notice small areas or islands of safety, if you can inhabit these, you will begin to feel safe in your own body and this will allow you to feel your feelings. An embodied sense of resource is the ultimate in coming home to your body and being able to witness the intricate, ever-changing landscape of body sensations. I invite you to explore islands of safety during a body scan. I invite you to lie down on the floor, taking a moment to get comfortable. As you begin to settle, pause…...wait and witness, what do you notice? What does your body feel like? Does your body take up the offer of settling? Simply allow yourself to feel into the support the floor provides…….pause…... what do you notice? What changes? Allow yourself to feel the contact the back of your head makes with the floor, allow yourself to feel the contact your shoulders make with the floor, continue to slowly scan through the body parts that make contact with the floor, give yourself time to feel and notice a settling. If already this feels too much, or you are finding it difficult to have an awareness of your body, an external resource (see below) is probably a better method for you to use for now.

Once you have felt your head, shoulders, back, hips, thighs, back of legs and ankles against the floor, ask yourself what do you notice right now? What do you feel?

It is common that areas of ill-ease will initially draw your attention, areas of pain, discomfort areas of tension, listen to these areas, and acknowledge them, then explore a little further……we are looking for areas of health, anywhere at all that lets you know you are ok – I call these  “islands of safety”. If you find an “island of safety”, an area that speaks to you of health, comfort, ease or wellness, then describe this area to yourself. Descriptors are very helpful to assist you in inhabiting this new space. Does this area have a shape? A colour? A texture? all of these descriptors help with feeling deeper into the feelings within the body. You might end up with a descriptive sentence – such as “my feet feel strong, yet spacious, they feel clearly connected to my ankles.” Or “me legs feel heavy and soft against the bed, this lets me know that I am safe”.

Take your time to pause, as you explore these potentially new feelings, as you describe these sensations of wellness, of health to yourself, as you explore the “islands of safety”, you may notice that you are actually settling deeper, your breathing may have changed, you may notice that you are actually feeling more comfortable in your own system, heavier on the couch. It is now when you are feeling safe that you can then explore the areas of less comfort and begin to feel your feelings in more depth.

Now that you have found an “island of safety” in your body you can always use this internal body resource, you can always bring your attention back to your body, at any moment that you feel you need to. At any moment of any day you can scan your body and find an “island of safety” this island will vary day-to-day, moment to moment, as we our body is an ever-changing landscape of sensation. If your positive body sensations have changed, moved, or disappeared. Then you may need to re-establish a felt sense of safety – which on a challenging day - may be easier to do with an external resource. See below.

External Resource

If we have had a challenging time, or if we have had many difficulties in our past, we may find it hard to find an internal bodily resource. If this is the case, not to worry, there are many other methods we can use to feeling safe within our body

B: Pet – useful with adults and children alike;

C: Perfect place – descriptors of sensations, smells, tastes, wind on skin;

D: Present moment - orient to what is around you, sounds, sensations, the wind on your face, use descriptors.

A. Pet as a resource: using your adored four-legged furry friend as a resource to help you feel safe in your body (much more reliable than another human – as even our most beloved can be infuriating at times!). if you are an animal lover read on. If you do not have your pet with you, you can still use this method with visualization. Get comfortable and place your pet on your lap, look at your pet and tell yourself, what is it you love about your pet. Begin to stroke your pet, really notice and feel the texture of the fur or skin beneath your hands, describe to yourself the sensations your notice as you stroke your pet (soft, bristly, scaly). Have an awareness of the smell of your pet, find some descriptors to really describe to yourself what you are noticing with your senses. This will really bring you into the present moment – when you are in the present moment, you can begin to feel your feelings. As you settle with your pet, notice what happens…. Does your body physiology change? Does your breathing change? Do you notice a dropping down into a more parasympathetic state? Do you sense relaxation? Do you feel you have settled more onto the chair? Does your body feel softer? Has your voice change? Your shoulders dropped? If you answer yes to any of the above, then they are feeling more resourced, and this is the state you ideally want them to be in to truly feel your feelings. If as you are allowing yourself to feel whatever arises, and things begin to feel overwhelming, or you notice any signs of activation, draw your attention back to your pet, or the memory of your pet, by remembering some details. This will facilitate a sense of safety and support you in a return to a more parasympathetic state, which in turn will allow the sensations to arise in a safe way.

B. Perfect place – using a perfect place to create a positive embodied memory as a resource. Take your time and think back to a favourite memory or moment in time, lying on a beach or by a river, taking in a perfect view, lying in a bath with candles, music and aromas arising. As you draw to mind a place or an event, take your time, picture yourself there and begin to describe the scene to yourself in as much detail as possible. You want to engage as many of your senses as possible. What did you see? Describe the colours of the ……, the shapes of the….., the faces. What did you feel? Describe this to yourself, the wind or sun on your face, your clothes against your skin, the hammock beneath you. What did you smell? The sea air, the mossy woodland, the scallops cooking, someone’s perfume or aftershave? What can you hear? As you immerse yourself in this wonderful memory, take time to describe to yourself what you are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting. The descriptors make it real for you. “I looked out beyond the trees to the sea, and felt the warm breeze on my face, I could taste the salty sea air and feel my dress lightly flap around my ankles. In the distance I could hear the gentle babble of people chatting – the sounds of friendship, sharing and fun”.

As you do this, what do you notice going on in your body? Does your body begin to feel more settled? Softer? Relaxed? Care-free? Do you notice your shoulders dropping? Your breath slowing, deepening? By drawing on these resources and moving into a more settled state you will then have the ability to FYF and allow the tissue memory to re-integrate, as the tissue changes the

C. Present moment, come into the present moment by using our senses and descriptors:

Sight – describe down to the minutia the pattern or the weave of a piece of clothing or the sofa that you’re sitting on;

Sounds – listen all around you what do you notice music the sound of an engine fire crackling

Touch – begin to stroke the surface beneath your hands, feeling the different textures – describe these to yourself

Smell – can you smell coffee being made can smell perfume what smells are around you really begin to describe these to yourself sweet sickly better musky by tapping into a sense as it brings us right back into the present moment and in the present moment, we can reassure ourselves that we are in fact okay – in a safe place.

Do not rush the journey of beginning to feel safe in your body, it takes time, like all new skills, once practiced it will come with ease.  If you set it up well, both you and your client will reap the benefits.

 

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About Emma Gilmore

Emma Gilmore APNT Dip BCST Founded School of Bodywork in 2009 and sold the business in 2023 to pursue her interest in how Trauma is held within the system. Our every experience from our embryological beginnings are stored within the physiology of our body and these can be accessed and safely processed through Trauma Informed Bodywork. Emma’s passion for the benefits of bodywork are enthusiastically transmitted through her national and international teaching. An advanced bodywork therapist specializing in Fascia Informed Bodywork, with a deep knowledge of human anatomy, fascia and the delicacy of the human condition, Emma shares her knowledge of how physical and emotional trauma manifests in our physiology causing pain, discomfort and pathologies, as well as the potential for its release through bodywork.

Emma is currently researching a book on the manifestation of trauma in the body. She writes regularly for Massage World Magazine and is an Expert Regular Columnist for Positive Health PH Online. Having been a bodywork therapist for 30 years, Emma shares her detailed knowledge in an accessible and engaging way; she encourages students to quiet their own system, to enable a deep listening, thus the client's system can express itself in safety. With these skills, clinical practice deepens and we  witness the delicacy yet resilience of the human form and the complex, intricacy of the stories held within the system. Emma’s journey through the world of bodywork has been a very personal one of self-development and healing and it is with this understanding and sensitivity she shares her knowledge.  Emma may be contacted via Tel: 07557 262 357;  www.clinicofbodywork.com  appt@clinicofbodywork.com        

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