Mother Earth’s Embrace: an mp3 Download to Support You in Times of Stress, Anxiety, or Emotional Overwhelm

Following is a reprint of Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety, to accompany an mp3 I used to share with clients in need of support between one-on-one sessions. I hope you find it helpful and look forward to sharing another with you in the months to come.


 

Mother Earth’s Embrace: A Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Wrinkled brows, a tight jaw, and eyes wide with dilated pupils. Legs cross and uncross, fingers pick cuticles then press the forehead. Breath fills lungs then exits before reaching the stomach.

MEEI observe the body language of a client seated across from me. Caught in the turbulence of her mind, she’s disconnected from the now-moment and her body.

She speaks rapidly, seeking safety in potential solutions too many to track. “What if” this and “maybe that?” Underneath what she’s saying, I hear, “If I just do that, I won’t have to feel this.”

Softly, I name what I’m sensing. Her eyes water in response. Her throat tightens, and she looks into her lap. Tears slide into the corners of her mouth. Energy flows through her body once more. She’d been holding on tightly and just needed a safe space to feel before moving into a calmer, more spacious state.

So many of us cope with our fears of feeling—and with our fears in general—by escaping into our minds and seeking solutions or distractions. It’s a behavior that helped us feel safer when we were too young, too small, or too vulnerable to deal directly with actual threats. Over time, this became habitual and we never learned that it was safe to simply feel.

But the mind is no refuge. It can create all sorts of thought forms, including worst-case scenarios to which our nervous systems respond as though the scenarios are happening right here and right now.

I invited my client, and I invite you, to soothe your frazzled nerves, ease your anxiety, and create a safe space to tolerate your emotions by engaging in an exercise I use daily, as frequently as necessary (you can’t overdose).

First, connect with your breath by simply noticing it. Then exhale, squeezing out the oxygen from your pulled-in abdomen so that when you again inhale, you fill your belly first and then your lungs. Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe. If you feel the urge to cry, to yell into a pillow, to grunt, to squeeze your pinky fingers with your ring fingers and thumbs, allow yourself the release.

Feel the heaviness of your body. Mother Earth holds you close to her through gravity. You’re safe; she won’t let you float away. Visualize this and track any emotional response.

Again notice your breath and your body’s weight, held up by Earth; she prevents you from falling through. Linger here for a while, noting the experience of being embraced and supported by Earth. See if you can take in her nourishment. What is it like?

Imagine your hearbeat in sync with the Earth’s. You are an extension of her, made of the same vitamins and minerals and nearly the same percentage of water. The stardust that comprises her is in you as well. Hang out with these truths for a a few minutes.

Extend your awareness to your five senses, noticing sounds, colors, smells, the taste of your mouth, the temperature of your skin. Remember your breath and that Earth breathes through you.

Explore the now. What is true in this moment? Not the next hour. Not even tomorrow or next year. Can you stay here a while longer? Can you carry the now-moment into the next moment, then into the next? Can you remember that this quality of presence, that this stillness, is available to you any time you need it?

Can you remember too that you don’t have to do any of this alone? You’re supported by something greater than yourself, that which is as miraculous and divine as you. Carry a photo of Earth with you as a resource, if it helps. Consider connecting with her directly when your feelings are more intense.

Nuzzle into a tree. Press your cheeks to some grass. Allow her to cool you with ocean waves or to blanket you in sunlight. She’ll never leave you. She’s here for you always.

(Download “Mother Earth’s Embrace” guided exercise on mp3 here.)

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

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Invite Your Anxiety to Tea

Much of this article by Allison Brunner, LCSW, is reprinted from Natural Awakenings magazine’s (Lancaster/Berks edition) November 2016 issue.

Many of us know it well: a gnawing in the pit of the stomach, an ache in the chest, shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat or a lump in the throat. Roughly 40 million Americans (or 18 percent of the population above the age of 18), according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, experience anxiety as a full-blown disorder.

Most of us encounter the symptoms from time to time. Hardwired to avoid pain, we do everything we can to self-distract or problem-solve our way out. We try to convince ourselves we’re “worrying about nothing”. In cognitive approaches to psychotherapy, too, we examine the validity of the thoughts that create suffering and attempt to assuage our fears by labeling them irrational.

But how effective has that been for you?

Running and thinking (or arguing with our thoughts) exacerbate angst. The worse we feel, the more afraid we tend to become, wondering how long the discomfort will last or whether it may worsen and turn us crazy. Our minds are adept at tricking us into believing that what’s really a mouse in the closet is a six-foot monster with fangs.

What if we tuned into our bodies when the symptoms, like little lights on an automobile dashboard, indicated distress? What if we pulled up a chair and invited our anxiety to tea, so to speak? When we take the opportunity to face it, feel it and get to know it a little better, it calms. We can drop beneath it and find that where it was trying to turn our attention is an emotion that is far more tolerable than panic or fear. There may be sadness, grief, disappointment or anger—only a mouse when compared to the anxiety monster.

Try the following next time the body-mind gets noisy.

Find a safe, quiet space where you can turn your attention inward. It’s best to sit on the floor and allow yourself to feel the support of the earth beneath you. Squeeze all of the breath out of your belly, if you can; then fill it first, before your lungs, with fresh air. Notice whether your body is holding tension and relax if you’d like.

Let go of thinking. There is no future, not even a few minutes from now. There is only this moment. Breathe.

Enhance your feeling of safety by focusing on an object in the room that gives you pleasure. Notice the quality of light where you’re seated. Feel the texture of your clothing against your skin. Notice any sounds, smells, the taste in your mouth.

Where in your body are you feeling anxious? What are the physical sensations that accompany it? Place your awareness in that area. How much space does it take up? Does it have a shape; is it solid or diffuse; does it have a temperature?

Stay out of story. Remove the labels (good, bad, awful, terrified) from what you’re feeling. Simply allow yourself to feel what you feel.

What does your body want to do? Does it want to curl into a ball while wrapped in blankets? Do you need to cry into a pillow or scream? Do you need to shake, punch or kick? Allow the release.

Emotions move like waves; they don’t last forever. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes to ride this one, rather than being pummeled by it, and know that the nervous system will calm again. When we resist, anxiety persists and either somaticizes or intensifies.

Once the waters still, ask your body what it needs. Reconnect to your five senses and where you’re situated in time and space. Soothe yourself with a warm bath, lit candles, low lights or relaxing music. Make yourself a warm cup of tea. After you’ve braved this storm, those in the future will feel more manageable.

Invite Your Anxiety to Tea.png

Body Talks Therapy owner, coach, healer, and facilitator of a community of Highly Sensitive People, Allison Brunner, LCSW, will facilitate a workshop on Thursday, May 11, 7:15pm to 8:45pm, at Mulberry Art Studios’ Mulberry on King, 253 W. King St., Lancaster (off-street parking is available against the side of the building, near the entrance. Join us for a combination of psychoeducation, hands-on learning, and experiential practice of tools for coping with and minimizing or even eliminating your symptoms of anxiety as a way of protecting yourself against the emotions that scare you.

Bring a pen and paper or journal. If you prefer to express yourself through art or music, bring the tools to do so. We’ll engage in body awareness and somatic work (grounding and resourcing), mindfulness practice and strategies, guided visualization, “parts work,” and journaling.

RSVP and pay here in advance. For questions, contact info@bodytalkstherapy.com.

Allison Brunner, LSCW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

One Way to Heal Emotional Pain: Do Nothing

As a client, I fell in love with experiential psychotherapy with each shift from emotional or existential anguish to insight, clarity, and release. Like any human being, I long for relief, and my clients do the same.

Often, though, we circle back to a clearing, and there is no place else to explore. We’ve done all we can “do.” We’ve examined every angle, we’ve scoured the unconscious, perhaps we’ve even reintegrated fragmented parts. But the present moment now calls us to sit with what is, even if what’s present is uncomfortable.

Often, that’s what life asks of us: to sit with discomfort instead of trying to fix it.

A therapist friend and I joke that we are addicted to self-growth. Like an artist who cannot not paint, she and I cannot stop reflecting, stretching, and navigating the depths of our underworlds. I wonder too, if like me, she prefers this “doing” to “being.”

Other non-clients look to me for answers: Should I break up with so-and-so; should I take an antidepressant; how do I forgive this-or-that person? What should I do?

Even if I had the answers, they’re not mine to give. So I sit with people in the questions and be a loving presence as they dip into their angst. That is where much of the healing lies, in the murky waters where we can’t see where we’re going or do much while we’re in it. Sometimes the most healing thing we can “do” is nothing.

The trick is to be mindful when doing nothing. Alternate between feeling your feelings and observing them with some distance. (Do not get mired in or over-identified with how you’re feeling.)

First, see if you can rest in your emotion, whether it’s sadness, anger, depression, fear, etc. Identify where it lives in your body. Say hello to it. Notice its size and the boundaries or edges of it. If you’re able to tolerate it, then I ask you this: Can you purposely feel it even more? (You may think me harsh, but to resist your feelings strengthens them.) Notice what happens as you do this. Take your time.

Next, add a special ingredient—one that can transmute your suffering over time: awareness. Observe the emotion that is present. Notice that it is part of and not all of you. Now re-label it energy.

You’ll note that, as Quantum Psychologist Stephen H. Wolinsky, PhD, explains, you, your emotions, and everything around you is basically energy. The matter you can perceive with your eyes (e.g., furniture, the walls of the room) is denser energy.  Your emotions and the space around you are lighter, less condensed, so they seem invisible. They are energy too.

See if you can rest your awareness in the space around you, then to the space beyond (perhaps outside the room and into nature). Imagine now that some of the molecules of that space enter your body and float between the molecules of energy we formally referred to as emotion. Spend some time here. Notice the way it feels.

Finally, allow even more space to enter into the formally denser energy of what we called your emotions, your body. Re-label all of it energy. There is no longer a difference between any of it. It’s all just energy.

You can use this exercise as often as you’d like, but its purpose is not to get rid of your pain. If your intention is to surrender to what’s present, over time you’ll likely see a shift and find relief. For everything is temporary and this, too, shall pass.

Disclaimer: The exercises, tools, and insights I offer on this blog will not work for everyone. Each of us is unique, and I am not the expert of you, your mind, your body, or your experience. Listen to your own body-mind wisdom. None of my writing should take the place of a licensed mental health professional if you are experiencing unyielding or overwhelming distress. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, I urge you to call (800) 273-8255 or go to your nearest emergency room. 

Acknowledgments: This exercise combines techniques originated by Quantum Psychologist Stephen H. Wolinsky, PhD, and author of The Open Focus Brain, Les Fehmi, PhD. But I credit my own therapist foremost for introducing me to this work, for guiding and supporting me through my dark nights of the soul and in inspiring me to become a therapist and to integrate her knowledge and methods into my own skill set. She’d likely have written this differently, but I confess unabashedly that I’ve modeled most of my own therapeutic approach after hers. From the bottom of my heart, Martha, thank you. 

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Mother Earth’s Embrace: a Natural Remedy for Anxiety

Wrinkled brows, a tight jaw, and eyes wide with dilated pupils. Legs cross and uncross, fingers pick cuticles then press the forehead. Breath fills lungs then exits before reaching the stomach.

I observe the body language of a client seated across from me. Caught in the turbulence of her mind, she’s disconnected from the now-moment and her body.

She speaks rapidly, seeking safety in potential solutions too many to track. “What if” this and “maybe that?” Underneath what she’s saying, I hear, “If I just do that, I won’t have to feel this.”

Softly, I name what I’m sensing. Her eyes water in response. Her throat tightens, and she looks into her lap. Tears slide into the corners of her mouth. Energy flows through her body once more. She’d been holding on tightly and just needed a safe space to feel before moving into a calmer, more spacious state.

So many of us cope with our fears of feeling—and with our fears in general—by escaping into our minds and seeking solutions or distractions. It’s a behavior that helped us feel safer when we were too young, too small, or too vulnerable to deal directly with actual threats. Over time, this became habitual and we never learned that it was safe to simply feel.

But the mind is no refuge. It can create all sorts of thought forms, including worst-case scenarios to which our nervous systems respond as though the scenarios are happening right here and right now.

I invited my client, and I invite you, to soothe your frazzled nerves, ease your anxiety, and create a safe space to tolerate your emotions by engaging in an exercise I use daily, as frequently as necessary (you can’t overdose).

First, connect with your breath by simply noticing it. Then exhale, squeezing out the oxygen from your pulled-in abdomen so that when you again inhale, you fill your belly first and then your lungs. Notice the sensations in your body as you breathe. If you feel the urge to cry, to yell into a pillow, to grunt, to squeeze your pinky fingers with your ring fingers and thumbs, allow yourself the release.

Feel the heaviness of your body. Mother Earth holds you close to her through gravity. You’re safe; she won’t let you float away. Visualize this and track any emotional response.

Again notice your breath and your body’s weight, held up by Earth; she prevents you from falling through. Linger here for a while, noting the experience of being embraced and supported by Earth. See if you can take in her nourishment. What is it like?

Imagine your hearbeat in sync with the Earth’s. You are an extension of her, made of the same vitamins and minerals and nearly the same percentage of water. The stardust that comprises her is in you as well. Hang out with these truths for a a few minutes.

Extend your awareness to your five senses, noticing sounds, colors, smells, the taste of your mouth, the temperature of your skin. Remember your breath and that Earth breathes through you.

Explore the now. What is true in this moment? Not the next hour. Not even tomorrow or next year. Can you stay here a while longer? Can you carry the now-moment into the next moment, then into the next? Can you remember that this quality of presence, that this stillness, is available to you any time you need it?

Can you remember too that you don’t have to do any of this alone? You’re supported by something greater than yourself, that which is as miraculous and divine as you. Carry a photo of Earth with you as a resource, if it helps. Consider connecting with her directly when your feelings are more intense.

Nuzzle into a tree. Press your cheeks to some grass. Allow her to cool you with ocean waves or to blanket you in sunlight. She’ll never leave you. She’s here for you always.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Self-Compassion Is Key to Behavior Change

Many of us become frustrated or angry at ourselves when we try unsuccessfully to change our behaviors or to act differently. Some of my clients have even expressed, early on in therapy, self-loathing for their perceived failures. But feeling negatively toward yourself will not get you any closer to your goals. It’ll do the exact opposite, in fact: it’ll keep you stuck.

First, recognize that you, as a human being, are already OK just as you are. Your behaviors may not be completely aligned with your best self. But you are not your behaviors. Do not identify with them.

Second, behavior change is difficult for a reason. If it weren’t, more of us would be perfectly healthy, for example, treat everyone with respect and tell the truth at all times, have admirable careers or substantial savings accounts, and the list goes on depending on what’s relevant to you and what you’re able to do differently. Look around you. You’ll see you’re not alone in your imperfection.

Now let me ask you a question: What would your life be like without the behavior? Can you imagine this scenario? What would happen if you let go of this unwanted behavior?

If your answer sounds something like, “I’d be happier,” or “I’d feel better about myself,” or “I’d be relieved,” then I’ll ask you another question (let the answer come from your body rather than your intellect): How does the behavior help you? What prevents you from giving it up?

Does the response surprise or enlighten you? Have you gained any insight? Or do you still perceive the behavior as a simple obstacle in your journey and you’d like some help in transforming it?

Regardless of the answer, I invite you now to have compassion for the part of yourself that has stumbled, even repeatedly. That’s where change begins: radical acceptance of your imperfection. If you can’t get past your guilt, then I urge you to reach out to a trusted friend, family member, mental health professional, or spiritual coach for help.

The truth is, the behavior, even if it is dysfunctional, unhealthy, or not in your or others’ best interests, is helping you in some way. It may have been soothing you, helping you feel safe, keeping you steady. Now that you recognize there’s a better way, it’s time to forgive yourself and  then embark on that next step: change.

Ask yourself: is this a change you can make on your own? If not, where do you get stuck, and who can help you? Do you need a doctor, a coach, a therapist, or a support group? Consider giving yourself the gift of asking for assistance. You don’t have to do this alone. Above all, hold onto self-compassion.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

To My Body: I’m Sorry. Please Forgive Me. Thank You. I Love You.

Shopping for clothing to accommodate the weight I’d gained from a health struggle over the past year, I entered a dressing room with several pairs of pants. I tried pulling up pastel khakis past my hips, and they wouldn’t budge. I sank into shame. They were one size larger than I’d worn last year. I pulled on a larger pair, and they too were snug.

I frowned at myself in the mirror. 

In a neighboring stall, two women brooded over their own bodies.

“My arms look like sausages. I should buy something with sleeves, shouldn’t I?”

“You’re smaller than I am. I look like a tent in this dress.”

At the sound of the ladies’ self-deprecation, my heart felt like it gained a few pounds. 

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) are more aesthetically discerning than 80 to 85 percent of the population, according to psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron. I suspect that this aspect of our personality traits can translate to perfectionism with regard to our physical appearances. 

For a decade, I’ve worked with highly sensitive women (and a couple of men) who hated their bodies and themselves, and I’ve cheered inwardly at the slow but steady progress theyve made in feeling more tenderly toward themselves.

Well, healer, heal thyself, I thought while slipping forlornly back into my too-tight jeans.

After years of personal growth and healing work, I thought that at last I’d fallen in love with myself and vowed to help others regard themselves as tenderly.

Today was a setback. I winced at the emotional bruise inflicted by my own self-loathing and at the collective “I’m unlovable” or “I’m not enough” wound that weighs on the psyches of humans around the world.

Exiting the dressing room, I spotted the women I’d overheard. My favorite barista, among the two, lights up entire rooms with her bright-green eyes, warm smile and belly laughter. People pack the coffee shop where she serves genuine compliments and encouragement along with our espressos and herbal tea, remembers our names and details of our personal lives, and creates an environment to which patrons like I return for a little energetic sunshine when life feels heavy.

If only she knew how easy she is to love, I thought, I doubt she’d fret at her figure.

Her friend attends the more advanced ballet class still in session each week as I arrive to warm up for mine. I gaze at her in delight through glass doors as she steps and pirouettes masterfully across the hardwood floors. Her frame, soft and curvier than her peers’, expresses most precisely that which stirs within me as I hear the music.

On summer nights when I was a little girl, my Catholic grandmother would summon my sister and me to shower as we returned sweaty from playing badminton with our aunt. “Your body is a temple,” she’d instruct cheerfully, the vessel through which our Souls came to Earth so we could spread God’s love. Then she’d hand us towels and washcloths for our evening scrub.

My grandmother planted in me a seed that today has sprouted into gratitude for my physicality; over the years my body has provided a safe container to process years of emotional pain and grief and assists me to this day in tolerating strong emotions. It is among a list of reasons I cherish my profession as a somatic psychotherapist. Moreover, by grounding into and being aware of our physical experience, we can more fully access our creativity, divinity, intuition, and information that is beyond the intellect’s reach.

Every May, my legs carry me sturdily as I run like a lover to her beloved at the first sight of the Jersey Shore and plunge ecstatically into the waves. Through September, my arms pull me beneath and my knees help me jump high above crests as I splash and flirt with the restless summer sea. From fall until spring, my ankles and core prevent me from falling from boulders and steep hills on hikes while my lungs welcome fresh mountain air and exhale city pollutants and accumulated weeklong stress.

When I consider all that our bodies do for us and the miracles they perform every minute of every day, I regret the mental and verbal abuse we inflict on ourselves and cringe at its potential impact on our health and well-being.

Consider these experiments conducted by Dr. Masaru Emoto beginning in 1994: When Emoto exposed water to words in the form of printed letters, prayer, speeches, and music, the results were astonishing. Samples from rivers and lakes labeled “love and appreciation” and “gratitude,” for example, transformed when frozen into silvery mandala-like crystals. Those subjected to “I hate you, I want to kill you” and similar language turned murky and asymmetrical.

Humans contain about 60 percent water. How are the the thoughts and words we use to label ourselves and others affecting our bodies? If we could crystalize the water inside of us, what would it look like?

From infancy into adulthood, we’ve adopted beliefs about ourselves based on the way people have spoken to and treated us. Parents, teachers, peers, strangers, institutions, and even our culture and society have dubbed us dumb, lazy, losers, sinners, uncool, lacking in this or that, etc.

How long will we choose to perpetuate such cruelty with our own self-judgment?

When will we turn the tide and begin to heal our relationships with not only our bodies but ourselves?

I can tell you from experience, in what I’ve observed in myself and in clients, that the more you love yourself unconditionally, the more love you can hold for others. Assess the consciousness of our planet these days, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the world could use a whopping dose of unconditional love.

By now you’ve likely heard the increasingly popular mantra, “Heal yourself to heal the world.”

So I invite you to join me, for we have plenty of work to do.

Jot down all the ways you’re able to live your life as you intend, thanks to your body. Or, consider what you’d not be able to do if you didn’t have a body. Remember the fresh berries you’ve tasted, the hugs you’ve received, the sunsets you’ve watched, the dinners you’ve cooked, the car you’ve driven, the dances you’ve danced, or the fires you’ve started at camp sites. Include the impact you have on people day to day by just being you, holding doors, smiling at strangers, comforting a child, tipping generously, giving people the benefit of the doubt, offering expert advice, or cheering a friend.

Regard the story of your life as an omniscient observer and notice whether you can feel compassion for all that you’ve been through and for all that you dream of.

Now, if you feel so inspired, repeat several times the words of this ancient Hawaiian healing practice, called Ho’oponopono. Address your body:

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.

Or sing it along with one of my most inspiring friends and favorite kirtan musician, Jennifer Angelino Petro, whose YouTube videos she created when known as Joseph Anthony recently facilitated deeper healing in my relationship with my body—to the extent that inflammation that caused me chronic pain has healed and, yes, I’ve even lost a little weight.

For all of that within you that longs to heal, sing these words. Sing them to political candidates (perhaps without them knowing), people with whom you experience conflict, people who are suffering, and even your cat (mine purrs when I do).

I invite you to contact me via my web site, or leave a message below, and let me know whether you experience any shifts in emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual health.

And if you love Jennifer’s video as much as I do, there are so many more in which she includes tapping on specific spots of the body, or the Emotional Freedom Technique, to help boost your body image and self-worth. You can find them on her YouTube channel.

Here is one more of Jennifer’s videos I recommend (and my grandmother would appreciate):

And to Jennifer (and all others on this planet): for the persecution you’ve endured for expressing yourself authentically, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. So much.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy