Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The somatics of emotion

Have you ever noticed what happens in your body as you experience different emotions? Do you know what it feels like to be grounded, centered, and present? When you are grounded, centered, and present, where are your shoulders? Where is your attention? Can you feel your feet on the ground? What does your breathing feel like?

For me, breaths are slow when I am centered. My eyes are forward and relaxed with a soft gaze. I feel the earth beneath my feet, even when concrete and my shoes block the path. My weight is centered over my feet or slightly back so I can take in everything around me.

Now, imagine what your body feels like when you are angry. For me, my eyes still look straight forward but they are squinted- glaring straight ahead, not willing to take anything in outside of the focus of my anger. My weight is forward and all of my energy is directed to the front of me- my energy follows my glare. My breath becomes forceful but shallow and I no longer feel the earth beneath my feet.

What about sadness? In sadness, my breath becomes shaky, my eyes fall to the floor, and all I want to do is curl up into a ball and shut the world out. My shoulders are hunched forward, my arms are crossed or covering my face, and I feel so heavy that I want to sink to my knees. I do not feel the earth beneath my feet or notice anything outside of myself. My focus turns almost entirely inward.

There are many ways to shift our moods but for me the most powerful method is through the body. The next time you feel angry or sad, notice your body. Notice your breath. Then shift back to a centered, grounded, present way of being. This can be done indoors but tends to work more easily if you are surrounded by the natural world. Bring your shoulders back and center your weight over your feet. Take a deep breath and notice your breath filling your head, your lungs, and your belly. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Relax your gaze and take in all of the sights, sounds, and smells around you. When you breathe in, be aware that the air you are taking in was just exhaled by the trees, birds, squirrels, and grass. Breathe in. Feel the breath flowing through your feet and into the earth. Feel yourself filled with the strength of the earth beneath you. Let the earth's strength become your strength. Breathe out your anger or sadness, and breathe in the energy and peace of the natural world.

Has your emotion shifted?

Interestingly, your amygdala, which is the emotional center of your brain, sits right next to your nasal cavity and literally is cooled down when you take a breath through your nose. The next time you hear someone suggest you take a deep breath, realize now how profound that suggestion really is!