Movement Medicine: a Somatic Approach to Personal Transformation

When the music started, I lay on the hardwood floor. Heaviness spread from my abdomen to my chest. I’d come to dance class to begin mending my heart, aching from a recent loss. But I wasn’t yet ready to move.

At the corner of the room, a friend yelped. And as the beat quickened, another dancer stomped and grunted. I realized I wasn’t alone. This was a venue where all feelings—and a variety of expressions, no matter how primal or odd-looking—were welcome.

So I closed my eyes, connected to my physical sensation of grief, and played with all of the ways it wanted to move (and not move).  Noticing the tears in my eyes, peers stepped near and around me, smiled and bowed, then allowed me space to process my feelings on my own. The group provided emotional support and a container for my emotions. With each song and successive rhythm, I experimented with tightening my body to resist the pain then expanding and breathing long, full breaths to allow it more space to be felt.

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.”  —Ruth St. Denis

Most of us know the physical and mental health benefits of dance: it stimulates the release of endorphins, thus reducing pain, lifting our mood, burning calories, increasing metabolism, and prompting our lymph system to flush toxins. More intriguing to me as a licensed therapist and psychospiritual healer is the opportunity authentic movement affords us to reconnect with our spirit through somatic (or body) awareness. In a culture more inclined to process life challenges through the mind or to approach personal growth via intellect, dance offers a deeper, more transformative experience: aligned with our true selves, we can transmute thought-induced suffering and shift long-term our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world.

Human beings need time for self-contemplation, meditation, or any sort of activity that helps us get in touch with our subconscious or inner process or to see how or where we get stuck. Through mindful movement, we can meet ourselves in a new (and perhaps more enjoyable) way, noticing the postures and gestures that hint at our deeper patterns. We can also decide where we’d like to break free or choose a new way of walking in the world.

A ballet teacher pointed out to a peer when we were younger dancers that she tended to move along the sidelines or fold her shoulders shyly when in the center of the room. In a 5Rhythms class years later, she explored why it was important to stay small and noticed what happened as she experimented with taking up more space by making larger, more dramatic movements. Memories buried since childhood surfaced, and she reconnected with her younger, more creative self who once believed in her greatness. In time, her style became less rigid, more expressive, and thus began years of positive transitions for her in her career and relationships.

Movement Medicine, a transformational dance class starting Thursday, February 16, in downtown Lancaster, will encourage you to connect with what within you longs to be acknowledged, healed, and transformed. We’ll center and become present to ourselves first, noticing where in our bodies we experience our emotions. We’ll then go deeper, aided by carefully chosen tunes and rhythms, and dance with the parts of ourselves that are afraid or feel unworthy and the parts that long to thrive and align with our full potential and higher selves.

No previous dance experience is required and is in fact preferred, because you won’t have to unlearn any rules. If your aim is to look professional, graceful, or even “good” at it, you may perhaps reconsider your deeper motivation for this approach to inner alchemy. For, as a professional who is trained in body-centered depth work, I invite you to come as you are, with all of your shadow, your light, and everything in between. Allow genuineness and sincerity to guide you.

We’ll meet every first and third Thursday of the month at Mulberry Art Studios21. N. Mulberry St, Lancaster, PA, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. Off-street parking is available behind the building.

Drop-ins are welcome! Bring a new participant, and you each pay half so we can grow our community. To pay by credit in advance, RSVSP here. Cost is $20.

I look forward to meeting you on the dance floor.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

Highly Sensitive Mystics’ New Moon Meetup Starts Next Week

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul,” wrote Clarissa Pinkola Estés, poet, Jungian psychoanalyst, and author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, in her Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”

You, members of the Body Talks community, are beacons of light. Some of you have been seeking opportunities to join forces with like-minded folks to beam more brightly in what a few of you have described “a tough time to be highly sensitive.”

Join me to do just that, during the moon’s darkest phase of the cycle, at the Highly Sensitive Mystics first New Moon meetup, Friday, January 27, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. There are four spaces remaining for those who want to meet in person at 237 N. Prince St., Suite 303, Lancaster (above the Lancaster Trophy House). Ten additional, from San Francisco to Philadelphia, may participate live online.

We’ll start the evening by introducing ourselves, then open sacred space in the manner taught to me by one of my teachers, a shaman and practitioner of the sacred energy medicine ways of the Q’ero and the Machi and the female shamans of the Chilean Mapuche. We’ll read poetry (bring your own or a song if you’d like), bless the Earth, and engage in meditation similar to Tonglen to benefit those special to us and to beings worldwide. We’ll hold space for each other and set intentions and burn them in fire, close the circle, and sample a little food and drink.

This will be a smaller, more intimate gathering. As our community grows, we’ll move into a larger space. Until then, please be sure to R.S.V.P. here whether you’re joining us in-person or via Google Hangouts; your payment of $5 reserves your spot. (If you’re a part of my Meetup.com group, I’ve already received your R.S.V.P.). You may also contact me to place you on a waiting list should one participant cancel in advance.

Reach out to me by Wednesday with any technical questions regarding Google Hangouts (make sure you have a Gmail address, and then meet us here a few minutes prior to the start of the event).

In the mean time, I leave you with more from Estés: “I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.”

That includes each one of you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highly Sensitive People, Now More Than Ever the World Needs Our Medicine

The timing of this announcement, given what we have been facing in our communities, our nation, and internationally, feels significant.

Years of planetary chaos seemed in late-2016 to reach a crescendo. All that lay hidden in our shadows with regard to what in humankind wants to heal (greed, violence, hatred, separation or the illusion of “the other”) moved into the light of our collective awareness. The crisis, like a global-scale Herxheimer Reaction, prompted some of my friends and clients to ask how we can take responsibility for and help soothe the world’s woes and bring us back into balance.

Moved and inspired by your displays of tenderness, compassion, and commitment to serve, I’ve felt a soul yearning to support you bearers of light to ensure your missions are accomplished. In order to create a community for and attract more who are similar in characteristics and attributes, I’ve reflected on what you all have in common. I came to the conclusion that you (and I) are what clinical psychologist and researcher Dr. Elaine Aron refers to as Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs).

We process stimuli more thoroughly than the average person and feel more intensely than others. Often this means we’re more artistic, observant and conscientious, exhibit greater empathy, notice subtleties in our environments, identify imbalances as well as solutions, put others at ease, and hold a vision for what is possible in creating a better world. We’re artists, guides, coaches, healers, empaths, intuitives, inventors, philosophers, thought leaders, and sages.

Many HSPs are not aware that their sensory processing sensitivity trait, when acknowledged, understood, and honored, is a strength—nor the fact that it is the very medicine Earth and its inhabitants need now more than ever. When an ailing child cries out for comfort (as humanity seems to be doing more and more desperately these days), it is the embrace and nourishment of the wisest and most nurturing caregiver that can most effectively lull the little one’s pain.

That is the gift that you possess, HSPs. When our own nervous systems are balanced and our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs met, we’re an unstoppable force for positive transformation in our families, communities, and beyond.

And this is where I feel called to serve, beginning now, in this auspicious hour.

I’ve narrowed my niche, serving those among the 15 to 20 percent of the human population who identify as highly sensitive, by offering virtual and in-person emotional healing services, coaching, education, community, even transformational dance classes, so that you may heal yourself to heal the world, find support and power in numbers, and dare to shine your light far and wide.

Body Talks Therapy, the name of my new practice, is more than a nod to my somatic (or body-centered) approach to facilitating your self-empowerment; it acknowledges the sacredness of that which allows our spirits to live in form, where we can connect with our breath, with our five senses, and with our emotions, and experience the wonder, mystery, and miracle of being alive—even during turbulent times.

No one knows precisely what’s in store for the human race and for Earth, our beautiful home. But because of you, I am optimistic. With the unfolding of current events, I’ve witnessed your journey from shock and devastation to a willingness to peacefully rise up, embody your best selves, and to love others (regardless of their background or beliefs) with every bit of strength and resilience you have.

Since I was a child, I possessed a deep knowing that once I worked through my own pain and integrated much of my personal shadow with my light, I would play some kind of role in helping others do the same and to steer us in a direction that would serve humankind’s highest good. Often I felt isolated, unaware of those around me who were doing the same, and longed for a community of folks with a similar life purpose.

The Hopi elders have said that we, this generation, yes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  From where I sit, you are the ones I’ve been waiting for. I bow to you; for the light in me recognizes the light in you.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy

 

 

 

Be the Joy You Wish to See in the World

“I don’t know if I have it in me,” a friend confided in me recently. He was referring to the work that lies ahead in restoring harmony and peace on the planet following the election of Donald Trump for U.S. President and the outbreak of hate crimes and hate speech that have ensued.

Some clients and friends carry the heaviness of the world on their shoulders and in their hearts. In their commitment to alleviate post-election division and stand up for human rights and the health of our Earth, they seem exhausted, worried, and intensely focused.

While their emotions are warranted, I wonder how often they’re laughing.

Following several national tragedies last spring and summer, people processed their pain by doing what’s human and considered a natural stage of grieving: drawing attention to the problem, railing against a broken system, and posting violent videos on Facebook. Then I encountered in my newsfeed a photograph of a butterfly on the beach. A therapist friend musing at that day’s magic at the Jersey Shore had taken it.

She worried it was inappropriate, she later shared with me in a text. She didn’t want to seem insensitive.

Together though we intuited that it was exactly what the world needed. People were spiraling into a pit of despair; someone who was able needed to anchor some light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Albert Einstein proved that all matter is comprised of energy. Emotions are energy as well. According to the Law of Vibration, energy is always vibrating. The speed at which energy vibrates can be measured in hertz (Hz); one hertz equals one vibrational cycle per second.

Joy vibrates at 540 Hz, or 540 cycles of vibration per second. Anger vibrates at 150 Hz.

The lower the vibration, the slower the vibration; the higher, the faster. Fear vibrates at 100, for example, love at 528 Hz. [i]

When large numbers of beings not only focus their attention on but experience such high-frequency states as oneness, unity, forgiveness, communion, gratitude, and generosity, there is a palpable shift in our collective vibration. We feel it on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, for example, and it’s measurable and explained by science.

Raising the planet’s vibration affects the way we think, feel, and act. It can impact the trajectory of our evolution.

The same thing occurs when we focus collectively on the world’s troubles and the weight of what lies ahead.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ―Nicola Tesla

Make no mistake: we must feel our feelings in order to avoid suppressing and experiencing them later as physical, mental, or spiritual illness. As we’re called then to participate in our own way to create solutions, we can do so more powerfully and without burning out if we allow such higher-frequency emotions as joy, compassion and inspiration to motivate us.

It doesn’t always have to be difficult; it can be as simple as inviting friends to a good meal, hiking on a beautiful day, hanging holiday lights, singing out loud to music that moves us, dancing, gazing at nature’s wonders, and, most importantly, laughing.

For we must be that which we long to manifest in the world.

How do we do that when we’re upset or afraid? First, we cultivate self-compassion for the parts of ourselves that are hurting. Remember that emotions are impermanent and move through us in waves. As much as is tolerable, become present to what is and trust that it will pass; we cannot resist or will ourselves to feel differently. See if you can observe or witness your experience rather than identifying with it until the pain begins to shift. (For more, read “One Way to Heal Emotional Pain: Do Nothing.”)

Quantum physics’ principle of resonance states that when two frequencies are brought together, the lower will always rise to meet the higher. By stepping into joy and embodying our best selves, we transmute greed, separation, fear, and the like. With every thought, word, giggle, and guffaw, we can change the world—and yes, even those who hold political office.

[i] Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D., Hay House, Inc., 2012.

Allison Brunner, LCSW, RM, Body Talks Therapy

Love Yourself to Heal Our Nation

Following is an essay I wrote almost two years ago; following the U.S. Presidential election of 2016, its relevance remains:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014, about 18 hours after the announcement in Ferguson, Missouri, that White police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for fatally shooting unarmed, Black, 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer:

Helicopters hover about a quarter of a mile from my office on the ninth floor of a skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia. I’m trying to communicate something to my client but am distracted by the noise and the emotions it evokes. Thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop, thwop. The chopper blades quicken and seem to multiply, and my heartbeat hastens to match their cadence. I stop mid-sentence. “I’m sorry,” I tell my client. We exchange pained looks. We know that just a few blocks away protesters are chanting through megaphones as they prepare to march up Broad Street and demonstrate.

I can feel our nation’s collective rage, grief, indignation, and confusion gnawing at my heart and my gut in a way that briefly interferes with my ability to stay in my body—because I feel like I should be doing something. Part of me wants to cradle the nation in my arms and soothe it as I would a distraught child.

I look at the human being sitting across from me. I know that this is where I’m called to be, in this moment, supporting her on her journey so that she can heal and go into the world and touch others similarly. I breathe, bow inwardly to what’s present, and focus my attention on her.

In the moments that follow, the separation between her, me, and the hurt people all over the country dissolves. By touching into the place in myself and loving that which is human in me, I am anchoring the space and holding compassion for her humanness, for everyone’s humanness. Here there is unconditional positive regard and love for all beings.

At the close of my work day, I tend to e-mails, text messages, and missed phone calls. I’m invited to an organized rally in which its photograph on Facebook is, I’m told later, of a protester throwing a molotov cocktail back at the police who threw it into a crowd. Why would they post a photo that could mistakenly lead people to believe their aim is violent, I ask organizers. I’m attacked for my ignorance regarding the “iconic image” and sent private hate mail to my Facebook inbox. “A violent system must be overturned by a violent revolution,” a stranger wrote to me.

My body moves as if underwater, and my thoughts disappear into fog. I decide before I meditate to check my Facebook newsfeed to find out whether the protests taking place all over the country have remained peaceful. What I discover is that people are not just hurting. They’ve lost their minds. I scroll through my smart-phone and see folks lashing out via social media, using terms like, “punks, pigs, Nazis, animals, bigots, racists, animals, savages,” and on and on. One article after another emerges, pointing fingers this way and that. No one is listening to anyone else. Most have become hypnotized into an “us vs them” mentality.

Everyone has a right to their anger, I tell myself. You’re a therapist, you know this. Rage comes out sideways. It must be felt before it can heal, I repeat the mantra I tell my clients. Then my own tears begin to fall. “I have a right to my grief, too,” I whisper. Just as I counsel others to do, I allow the sadness to move through me, give it time to just be.

I sit in meditation afterwards, asking then letting go of the question: How can I serve the greater good in this turbulence? The answer feels warm in my “gut” and then translates into words, for me, for you, for all who wonder, what can we do?

Everyone’s role in healing our planet is unique. For some, it’s writing, acting, painting, or singing. For others it’s legislating, organizing, rallying, or wearing a police badge and enforcing the law. Still others must raise a new generation who will change the social climate. And others will change the world by being their best selves. Only you can access the wisdom within yourself to know exactly how to play it.

But the message is this: It starts with you. Love yourself. Because if you don’t, then you cannot fully love others in that deep and selfless way that facilitates the mending of others’ hearts. If when you witness other people’s behaviors and are quick to label them with hate or with even the slightest tinge of judgment, then you do not love yourself—for the external is a mirror to your internal world. If you accept your imperfections with full compassion, then your perception of the flaws in others will shift as well. Rather than a “punk or a pig,” you’ll see a human being who is afraid, suffering, or does not love himself.

You’ll see something else: that he is you. That they are us. That the only distinction between yourself and others is three-dimensional in space and time. You’ll know on a level beyond reason: We are ONE. There is only one human race, indivisible. Separation is an illusion.

—Allison Brunner, LCSW, 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