A complementary practice for resolving persistent psychophysiological symptoms
At times, we experience frustration in our work, with ourselves, and our clients when physical symptoms persist despite our best efforts to resolve them. When such symptoms have no obvious medical reason, we call them psychophysiological symptoms. The practice of embodying emotions is a simple body-based, science-backed, and easy-to-learn method that can be an effective complementary method for resolving psychophysiological symptoms in bodywork, energy work, psychological, mindfulness, and spiritual practice settings. What is the practice of embodying emotion? What is the science behind it? In addition to helping to resolve psychophysiological symptoms, how does it help in resolving physical, energetic, emotional, and relational symptoms?; and in improving mindfulness and spiritual practices? The answers to these questions constitute the subject of this short blog.
What is the practice of embodying emotions?
Embodiment can mean different things to different people. Embodying emotion is the act of expanding the experience of the emotion to as much of the body as possible. When we expand an emotional experience to as much of the body as possible, it turns out that the emotional experience becomes more tolerable. Even though the underlying science is complicated for this short blog, an easy way to understand it follows:
An emotion is nothing more than an assessment of the impact of our situation on our wellbeing, or, in other words, on our brain and body physiology.
The more dispersed the impact throughout the body, the easier it is to tolerate it and be with it for a longer period of time without shutting off different parts of our brain and body and the body’s connection to the environment. This gives our brain plenty of time to understand the situation and formulate an action to cope with the situation, and makes the body more open to the environment to access all the necessary collective resources to help us cope with the situation.
How do psychophysiological and other symptoms form from a lack of affect tolerance?
The primary reason why our bodies shut down, become dysregulated, and form psychophysiological symptoms is our inability to tolerate our emotional experiences. Even when we cannot perform a cognition or behavior, it is because of the perceived unpleasant emotional consequences of performing them. When our bodies shut down in response to difficult or unacceptable emotions, the connection between our brain and our body, as well as the connection between our body and the environment, are compromised. When our brain and body become disconnected from each other and from their environment, the ability of the body and the brain to regulate each other is compromised, and the ability of the environment to regulate our brain and body is interfered with. This can lead to not just psychophysiological symptoms but also cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. This is because cognition, emotion, and behavior have been found to be dependent not just on the brain but also on the body and its connection to the environment, by the ground-breaking scientific paradigms of embodied cognition, emotion, and behavior.
Examples of how embodying emotions can help in different therapeutic modalities
Modalities such as Craniosacral Therapy, Transpersonal Psychology, and Archetypal Psychology that involve connecting the individual body to resources of the collective to facilitate healing at the individual level might be compromised by a body that is shut down in defense against unbearable emotions. Including the practice of embodying emotions as a complementary method can help such modalities to keep the body open and connected to its collective resources, and help support work in these therapeutic modalities.
Mindfulness practices that involve separating the experiencer or the ego from the experience and spiritual practices that go one step further to separate the pure awareness from the sense of self that together form the experiencer or the ego are harder to implement when the capacity to tolerate emotional experiences is low and the body is shut down in defense against them. This is one reason why the ability to tolerate opposites in human experience is emphasized as a basic qualification for individuation in Jungian psychology and for enlightenment in Eastern and Western spiritual paths. Adding the practice of embodying emotions to such practices can help the practitioners of these methods to achieve greater discrimination between the experience and the experiencer and greater differentiation of pure awareness from the sense of self.
Therapists from any therapeutic modality looking for ways to improve cognitive, emotional, and behavioral outcomes can similarly add the practice of embodying emotions to their modalities to reduce treatment times. And laypersons interested in a simple method for improving their lives through improving their ability to regulate their emotions, cognitions, and behaviors in these difficult times in our history could also add the practice of embodying emotions as a self-help tool.