A Voice Movement Therapists reflection on Psychologist Leonard Carr’s Article entitled “Hope for the Best. Be prepared for the worst”
During the early days of the CoVid 19 pandemic a number of people warned that we might also be faced with serious mental heath crisis. There is no doubt that five weeks into lockdown the pressure is having a significant impact on the mental health of many. Esteemed clinical psychologist, Leonard Carr, responded early on with a most valuable and still relevant article entitled “Hope for the best. Be prepared for the worst”. In the article he clearly unpacks a number of the psychological aspects of the crisis and offers some insightful growth-focused ways of thinking about and responding to our current situation. Carr’s article spurred me on to respond in a parallel way from the perspective of the embodied modality of Voice Movement Therapy of which I am a practitioner. I hope that, through this article, I can provide you with a starting place, a first step towards deepening your sense of embodiment as a personal resource for well-being.
Deepening Our Understanding Of What We Are Experiencing
In our attempt to find ways of coping with the stress and trauma of living during this pandemic we would do well to accept that the body and the mind are in fact one and the same, the bodymind. And so, any attempt to tend to our mental and emotional health demands not only a cognitive strategy but also, and equally importantly, an embodied one. Take a moment to close your eyes and remember a most joyous or beautiful moment in your life. Remember and imagine in a good amount of detail the settings, the sounds, smells, and the others who perhaps shared that moment with you. What you might notice is that your body, right now, tangibly responds to this positive memory and its associations by relaxing, releasing and expanding. The opposite is true if we think of a negative experience; the body will tighten, breathing will become more restricted and one will feel a tangible sense of contracting. As embodied beings we respond to our environment, quite basically, by contracting or expanding, by closing down or opening up; indeed not unlike a muscle on a seaside rock, or a snail in the garden.
At the moment many people are experiencing a phase of contraction. Fear, anxiety, anger, exhaustion and overwhelm are having a contracting effect on our bodies and on our minds. So your muscles might feel tight and your throat tense, you may be clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth at night, you may be experiencing headaches or a change in heart rate. On the other hand you may feel a lack of strength in your body, your posture may express a sense of collapse or retreat.
One thing that is common to many as a result of this state of contraction, is restricted breathing. Breathing is either more shallow, rapid, or tighter or you may be unconsciously holding your breath. If we want to feel better, feel happier, positive and empowered then we must actively find ways of experiencing a sense of radiating expansion. There are a number of breathing techniques that I use with clients to de-stress, open the body, to nurture self-awareness and to integrate the bodymind; here is one that might be useful to you right now in inviting your body to enjoy an experience of expansion.
When negative experiences result in a contraction of self; physically, mentally and spiritually, we can use breath, movement, imagination and embodied memories of positive experiences to facilitate a journey back towards an expanded sense of self.
Approaching self-care from an embodied perspective enables us to effectively re-establish our balance and nurture our well-being through listening to our body. Is my body in a state of contraction or expansion? What can I do to help myself expand?
Bring Yourself Into The Present
Connecting more consciously with the body and its movement, the flow and rhythm of breath, the resonance of vocal sound, the sense of touch and smell, the sounds of people and nature around us, are essential to being able to be present in this moment. It is the body which connects us to time and space. At this time many people are either living in the nostalgia of how things used to be (often hoping things will go back to ‘normal’), or living in a state of fantasy of how the future might be. Both of these states, the past and the future, exist only in our imagination. Spending too much time in either serves only to detach you from the present, from yourself and the others who are in this moment with you and all the gifts and opportunities that are being offered to you right now. In other words, it is the embodied self that grounds us and provides us with the ability to find for ourselves a sense of safety and support.
Being in the present can be challenging. It requires us to quieten the mind and focus on connecting to the deeper layers of the self and our truth (including our difficult emotions) and at the same time to connect with the environment and people we find in front of us. It is in being fully present that real connections are made with oneself and with others.
Being present requires us to be grounded. It also requires our senses to be alive and our hearts to be open to this moment.
When you feel yourself being knocked off centre and out of balance, or pulled into the contraction of anxiety or fear, bring yourself back into the grounded present moment. Right now I am breathing, I can smile, I can move and go outside, I can… (this or that) I have the time to… I have a voice… I am grateful for… I can see the clouds and feel the sun (or rain, or wind) on my skin. In this moment, this very moment, I am fine, neither the past nor the future exist. And then ask: can my next choice be one that supports my well-being? If something is not supporting your well-being and offering you a sense of expansion in some way it’s probably time to make different choices.
The Key To Well-Being Is Embodiment
If we can actively nurture a sense of embodiment in ourselves and are able to be present in the moment with an open heart and gentle eyes we will be better able to connect with and support those around us in this time of stress. We can only embrace change if we open and expand ourselves to the expereince of this moment. When we can find a more fluid, grounded and ‘breathed’ sense of self and being in timespace we can relax into the certainty of change. (The phenomenon of balance is achieved through movmement and not rigidity.)
One’s sense of well-being is ultimately a function of how grounded you are in the present moment. Self-care is nurtured in and through the body and the ever-deepening connection with the bodymind self it provides. If we listen carefully to those inner voices and to the truthful impulses in our bodies, if we can put aside our self-judgements, embarrassment and shame, we can feel the fundamental and ancient human instinct that invites us to dance and sing our selves and our souls through this. Play your favourite song, or one which matches your mood, and move your body, follow the impulses your body is providing you. Take a deep breath and sing the songs you love and need right now, sing them like YOU wrote them for this moment. Your bodymind and soul will thank you.