My Body Will Get Me Through
I've been practicing what's called 'somatic therapy,' the concept that emotions can be released through physical exercise, movements and breathing
I hurl my arms out in front of me, sinking into the water's embrace. The hotel pool isn't long enough to do serious laps, so I begin swimming around the rim in circles.
As I swim, I try to visualize the pancreas. Where is it, exactly? Apparently it's hidden, surrounded by other organs. This is why the undetected tumor could grow so large that, as my sister's oncologist said, "it's treatable, but not curable."
Minutes earlier, outside my hotel window on the Northern California coast, the ocean waves thrashed violently against the shore. I had just read the stark words on my laptop. "I'm having such a hard time accepting the fact that Megan is so sick," my brother-in-law wrote. "I don't want it. I don't want it. I don't want it. I can't say anything more."
"I'm having such a hard time accepting the fact that Megan is so sick," my brother-in-law wrote. "I don't want it. I don't want it."
Jim's words were so raw, I could barely breathe. I slammed my laptop shut and stared out the window again at the storm. Violence without, violence within.
I had to do something. But what? Drive on dark, slick roads to find a restaurant? Watch TV? Read? Finish planning tomorrow's leadership seminar? Hit the vending machine? M&Ms and Oreos. That's what I wanted: sugar.
Fumbling through my suitcase, I forced myself to suit up and pad down the carpeted steps to the hotel pool. No one was around, not even a hotel clerk. Good!
Flooded By Images of My Sister
I turned on the sauna for later. In the water, I remember the blue floor-length Laura Ashley dress I wore when Megan asked me to be her maid-of-honor. Now I see the black-and-white photo of seven-year-old Megan with her straight, shiny brown hair held back with a barrette, standing solemnly with other little girls around a school table laden with books. Then an image of the two of us walking miles on a balmy June night from West 34th Street to Central Park, where we joined the joyous throngs and stared up in awe at a wide-screen TV to watch the first moon landing. As my hot tears mingle with the pool water, I wonder idly how saline mixes with chlorine.
As my hot tears mingle with the pool water, I wonder idly how saline mixes with chlorine.
I climb out of the water and sink into the sacred vault of the sauna, gasping the dry air. My legs upright against the wall, I stare up at the ceiling, counting the wood panels. Heat courses through my body like molten lava.
Back in my room, I gaze out the window again at the ocean. The waves are still pounding, but I'm a different person. How did that happen? Jim's words have somehow absorbed into my bloodstream and cells: the alchemy of movement.
Somatic Therapy: The Body Knows How to Heal
I didn't know the term then, but by swimming in the hotel pool I was practicing what's called "somatic therapy," the concept that seemingly intractable emotions can be released through physical exercise, movements and breathing techniques. As you move, you focus not on fitness or physical conditioning, but on your sensations and inner experience, as I did.
My sister lived another two years, and in that difficult stage of my life, I regularly turned to swimming, yoga, and other forms of somatic therapy to help me deal with her death at a young 60.
From Minor to Serious
Since then, I've found that this form of therapy helps not only with deep, difficult issues, but with lighter annoyances as well — the whole spectrum. Recently, for example, I was in Spain with my husband, painting at a small table on our hotel room balcony in the town of Zamora. From time to time I sipped tea and looked down at the plaza below. Late-afternoon sun cast shadows on the tiles, and I could hear the clackety timbre of Spanish conversation. Such a sweet afternoon!
Suddenly, I felt an unexpected pang slice through my body, as I remembered an email from a friend saying how much she enjoyed a party she'd gone to.
This form of therapy helps not only with deep, difficult issues, but with lighter annoyances as well
I wanted to be invited. Although my rationalist husband would later say, "But you're not there! Of course you weren't on the guest list!" I also knew I wouldn't be invited even if I were there. The hostess was a person whom I wanted to be friends with more than she wanted to be friends with me. It was that simple.
Oh, for God's sake! Come on, Rogers, I said to myself, looking down at my watercolor, my delight in the arch I was painting suddenly lost. Grow up! Not everyone is going to like you. You know that.
All Primates Have Social Hierarchies
I remembered a friend who had studied social anthropology telling me that inner and outer circles are common among primates. Just like me, they occasionally struggle with feeling excluded.
But knowing I wasn't alone didn't help. Watching a mom and her toddler waddling across the plaza, the little one holding her mother's hand as she awkwardly crossed a few tiles, I sat back and sipped my tea. "Stop!" a voice from within suddenly announced clearly. "Enough! I refuse to have my sacred painting time poisoned by all this!"
Yoga to the Rescue
I stood up, went inside and, without thinking, knelt on the wood floor and did a few Cat-Cow yoga poses. Oh, how I loved arching and rounding my back. It felt so good.
And poof! Within five minutes, the hurt feelings were gone. Yoga had done its magic, and I returned to my watercolors, mellow as a kitten.
Within five minutes, the hurt feelings were gone. Yoga had done its magic.
That was three months ago. Feeling hurt when I'm not invited to a gathering has not magically vanished, but now I have an intervention: yoga. It's very convenient, because it's portable and doesn't require any equipment, though a yoga mat is handy. I've even done yoga behind rows of seats in airports.
Wherever I am, I just stretch out. Sometimes I do Warrior pose, which helps me feel strong and invincible; other times I do a Spinal Twist, which brings such an exquisite ache to my body, my head can't be anywhere else; it's physically impossible. I might do Bridge pose, where my heart feels open and receptive. Or Child's pose, where I surrender to gravity, to the earth, to what is. And almost always I roll back and forward on whatever floor I'm on, loving the sensation on my spine.
Partnering With My Body
Although I've swum all my life, and practiced yoga off and on for 30 years, in neither case am I an advanced practitioner. I can't stand on my hands, let alone my head, nor can I do the butterfly crawl. But it's not about skill or flexibility or fitness level; it's about release. I'm collaborating with my body to allow it to do what it knows best. My body will heal me, and all I have to do is get out of the way and let it do what it knows how to do. My body will get me through.