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Why body-centred therapy?



The field of cognitive science – investigations into the process of acquiring knowledge and human understanding through thought, experience, and the senses – has shown that the mind arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. Essentially, the foundations of reason are a result of our embodiment... and to understand reason we need to understand our senses, our motor system and the ways in which our brains work in connection with our body. Perception, action, reason, attention, emotion, experience and learning all require a connection to the body.


The way in which we use language and metaphor gives a great insight into how much our senses, that are felt through the body, affect our experience. For example, when we talk about being angry we might say “it made my blood boil”, or “I’m fuming” and this reflects physical changes we experience in the body when we’re angry. Our heart might start to beat faster, we feel hot and have a sense of heat rising. If we talk about affection we speak of warmth “I’m warming up to her” or experiences of love are describe as electricity “I could feel the sparks between us”. We also speak of things moving upwards or downwards when we’re happy or sad, “I’ve cheered up after seeing you”, or “I’m feeling down since she left”. And all of these expressions or metaphors are based on physiological changes that happen in the body when we experience emotion.


All of that might seem obvious but the idea that the body and the mind is separate has been a dominant perspective in the sciences, philosophy and psychology until recent decades. This split between the mind and the body can be traced back to Descartes (a 16th century philosopher and scientist) who said “there is nothing included in the concept of body that belongs to the mind”. The body has been viewed as being inferior and base, and it’s instinctual drives and desires as something to overcome in favour of a rational and analytical approach to life. The dualistic view of seeing the mind and body as completely separate has also favoured empirical, objective, scientific data over the subjective experience of life. But if we want to truly understand the human experience, it is necessary to see the value in both perspectives. The third-person provides the detached objective perception, and the persons’ own perception provides valuable first-hand information on lived experience. And both perceptions represent two sides of the same coin.


We now know that everything we sense in our bodies, everything that we do in the world, and every movement we make comes through our bodies and feeds information to our brain through our sensory nerves. To move in the world, we need a constant stream of sensory information from the outside world to ensure that we can move through space effectively. If anything happens that dims our sensory perception, we can no longer maintain control of our body, our senses and our actions. We then no longer receive feedback from our environment and our body to the brain, which serves to further confuse our ability to move and sense ourselves effectively in the world. The way in which we sense our body and the way we feel, affects how we act in the world and how well we function. Our attitudes and expectations towards our health, our body and our age all affect how we perceive life – if we constantly brace at discomfort we reinforce messages of stress, tension, and pain. For some who have had overwhelming experiences, or intense pain, disconnecting from the body can become their way of being in the world.


But, we can work to reconnect with our body, and alter our perspective if we’re seeking change. We can regain control of those disconnected parts of our body that feel uncomfortable, numb, painful, or in some cases,

full of overwhelming emotion or memories. For some people it is a process of developing language to describe and sense what happens in their body in a way that feels controlled and safe for them. For others it is about slowing movement down, and being curious, bringing full awareness to our body. Whatever the method, by developing felt awareness of the body we can begin to re-establish neural pathways and reconnect ourselves to our senses to find more ease and wellbeing in our bodymind. By having a connection with our body – a felt sense or awareness of the sensations that arise – we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our challenges and our hopes and dreams about where we want to go and what kind of person we most want to be.



References

Ekman et al. Difficulty does not account for emotion-specific heart rate changes in the directed facial action task. Psychophysiology 2002, 39:397-405

T Hanna. Somatics: reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility and health. Lifelong Books, 1988.

J Hardy. A psychology with soul. Penguin, 1987.

G Lakoff and Johnson M. Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago Press. 2003

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