My therapy work has got me interested in the field of energy psychology.
Working with trauma – highly painful, emotionally-charged events from the past that impact on the here-and-now – psychologist and therapist have started working with bodywork techniques. There is a practice called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming) which the NHS now uses as its standard treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (which is when past trauma flashes into the present as if it were happening now). EMDR involves people recalling their difficult memories while following a moving spot (usually a finger) with their eyes.
There are other procedures (using tapping on the acupuncture meridian points or the ‘chakras’ of Eastern medicine) which have a similar effect: a movement or stimulation of the body seems to have a powerful effect on our emotional and thought patterns. Practices like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or AIT (Advanced Integrative Therapy) have proved very successful in the treatment of phobias, panic attacks, traumas.
Since almost all our negative mindstates can be traced back to ‘little T’ traumas then these techniques also have an exciting application in general therapy and meditation practice.
No one really understands how these things work. There are theories about balancing the hemispheres of the brain (the right brain taking a more holistic, contextual stance); about replicating the dream-processing of REM sleep; breaking chemical and neurological pathways between painful memory and other parts of the brain.
Of course, Chinese, TIbetan and Indian medical thinking has always linked body energies with mental well-being. The Western separation of ‘thinking mind’ and body doesn’t hold in yoga or acupuncture. However, as we in Europe and America approach meditation and make it our own, there’s a danger in making it too cerebral.
When I trained in a Thai Monastery, the emphasis was almost entirely on walking practice, There was actually not very much sitting. Embodying your being was seen as central.
Teaching and participating on various mindfulness courses, I am struck by how that first ‘pause’ – the first time we stop ‘doing’ all the time and take some space to ‘be’ – often pitches us into a panic and a startling anxiety about being in our body. Very often our habitual mode of existence is totally ‘in our heads’ and we are shocked to find how painful our body is; how we have let it get tense, irritable and distorted by simply not being there for too long.
John Kabat-Zinn’s work has concentrated on this in his ‘body-scanning’ but I think that taking it a step further there might be space within the body to actively free-up the mind.
There is also a phenomenon which I am increasingly noting which is called ‘psychological reversal’. Energy workers like Roger Callahan, noted this decades ago. It’s a unconscious reversal of the body’s energy system from health. That is, unconsciously, we are hijacking all attempts to get well.
Often there are ‘secondary gains’ to illness: maybe being depressed allows us to avoid a difficult decision, or get out of a painful relationship. But often as not there is simply a systematic distortion. Our energies – which naturally should be flowing forward into connection and flux – get muddled and start to flow backwards. Which explains that inchoate sense of stuckness we often feel.
I’ve found that working with the body directly can work on our psyche quickly and powerful. Much more so than endlessly circling the issues in the thinking mind. By “working with the body” I mean – on one level – keeping active and doing exercise; but also trusting that the body has an unconscious flow towards health and mental well-being that we can stimulate by exercises.
Things like taking five minutes every day to do Donna Eden’s ‘energy workout’ or learning to tap the meridian points while experiencing painful emotional states or negative thoughts seems to have a very direct and powerful influence on the body-mind.
It’s a rich and exciting vein of practice that I’m keen to explore. We’ll be looking it more deeply in the “Tapping into the Body” workshop at the Spa Road Centre in April, if you’re interested.