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  By Michael O.L. Seabaugh, Ph.D
Copyright 2005 Santa Barbara News-Press

De-stressing: Listen to your body talk


Last week, I explored the significant relationship between stress and its impact on our healthspan. One thing is for certain: stress -- or more specifically how we respond to it -- will age us and foreshorten the precious time we have to do our thing on this earthly plane.

To paraphrase a popular saying, "Stress happens."?It is how we are dealing with it, or not dealing with it, that matters.

Therefore, we all need to develop our own strategy for dismissing stress from our lives. I am not exempt.

Even though I have spent years developing techniques to help others (and myself) to de-stress our lives, my body started telling me I needed to go back to school.

I sought out the services of Ann Brode, a certified somatic therapist and a longtime member of Santa Barbara's vital and large healing community. I readily admitted that I was having trouble keeping my "mind in my body."

She told me that I was not alone and reminded of what the cutting-edge neuroscientist Candace Pert so famously said: "Our bodies are our subconscious mind."

When the mind ignores the body, it will squawk. Aches and pains, here and there, sometimes, loud, sometimes vague. The body will not be ignored.

According to Ms. Brode, there are two sources of information about stress available to us.

One source that we are well aware of is the information we receive from the outside -- all of the articles, sound bites, Web sites and advice from everyone you know. This can be confusing and often not relevant to your specific situation.

That is what makes the second source -- what we receive from "inside" -- particularly valuable. And it can be more reliable.

So many of us have a problem with accessing this inside information because we have lapsed into an inarticulate relationship with our bodies.

"Probably 80 percent of the people who come to me for help relate to who they are from the neck up and don't even consider their heads as part of their body," reported Ms. Brode.

So how can we allow ourselves to hear the body speak to us?

First off, we need to get a reference point of what it is like to be in neutral, where there is no inner tension, no racing of the mind "with its madness and its lists."

When the mind is quiet and the body is quiet, they are no longer strangers to each other. Because of the dialogue that results, the mind stops stressing the body and vice versa.

"Hence, the power and the value of meditation," said Ms. Brode. She recognizes that meditation can present a quandary for many people. To some it seems foreign or mystical. And for many others who have tried it, it has been a frustrating and unproductive effort.

"One of the reasons it is so difficult to meditate is that when we do allow ourselves to sit quietly all that is disturbing and discordant becomes apparent and we would rather distract ourselves," Ms. Brode explained. "After all, we live in a culture that is geared for distraction.

"Most people I see in my practice have a holding pattern around their breath and aren't even aware of it. How can we be self aware if we are always distracted by the dramas and demands of our lives? The breath and the vital necessity of breathing can be an ally to tuning in and de-stressing."

To successfully meditate, most of us will require an attitude adjustment, said Ms. Brode. Instead of being afraid of the distresses fomenting inside of us, we need to develop a "bring it on" attitude. If there is an agitation about something someone said to us, an uncertainty about a decision we have made or need to make, whatever is unsettling us, we need to be curious, not defensive, about it.

Defensiveness is what grips our bodies and mind causing restriction, tightness and distress.

This is how Ms. Brode suggested we approach meditation:

1. Ensure your comfort. Find a physical space that is quiet, sensually pleasing or at least without distraction.

2. Scan the body, check in with it to see where there are physical tensions. Let them go.

3. Focus on the breath. Bring your singular attention to the act of breathing . . . inhaling, exhaling. ("This automatically bypasses the language-dominated mind," she said.)

4. Feel the movement of the breath in the body. Be aware of when your mind wanders off. Without judgment, notice where your mind is and gently bring it back to its focus on your breath.

And for those of us who are easily distracted, a little extra help can be useful. Recognizing this, Ms. Brode has produced a wonderful CD to support people who are wanting to de-stress, tune into their bodies and hear its voice. It is called "Body Breath" and contains three guided meditations, utilizing her rich and soothing voice and some beautiful original music.

To hear a sample from the CD, visit www.sbhealthsource.org/cd

CDs can be purchased locally at:

Chaucer's Books


Paradise Found

Family Therapy Institue

Skin Resolutions

The Vedanta Book Store

also online at CDBaby.com and Amazon.com

Dr. Michael O. L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. He welcomes your comments at healthspan@earthlink.net. Healthspan appears every Tuesday.
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