Ahhhhh… the Holidays.
Festivities, nostalgic movies, joy and connection, sorrow and loneliness… the seasonal sad-feelies, the ‘Love, Actually’ longings. It doesn’t seem to matter how much therapy I’ve done or how many hours I’ve clocked on the meditation cushion, this time of year brings up a lot. Sometimes, when the coconut cream rises to the top of my bulletproof eggnog latte of family gatherings, it is, well, a little curdled. With many bright lights can come even more shadows.
When there is no meditation cushion, no kirtan, no ecstatic dance, no cuddle circle of support, what’s a hummingbird of a nervous system to do?
Tongue-in-cheekness aside, the usual, vast range of feelings we all carry are often compressed and heightened at this time of year. What to do, really, when there is no support?
Hold yourself. We often use the phrase ‘holding space‘ when we speak about being there for another. By creating an energetic container through physical presence skills, we hold space for ourselves. We create a bigger vessel for the internal experience, a slightly larger flight path for the hummingbird inside our chest, one could say. This creates the feeling of being able to ‘handle’ feeling instead of being overwhelmed, or worried that it will spill over. This container becomes a safe and healthy boundary that honours your experience, allowing it to come up, expand, and release or become integrated.
“The basic emotions are experienced in the body and wave through the body, often changing from one emotion to another. If emotions are allowed to flow, to arise, to reach a climax and to decline again, they seem to move like waves into each other, processing whatever has impacted us through a series of emotions…There is a deep body-knowledge of how to regulate emotions. The muscular body provides us with a container for the energy and the hormone system is active in regulating the waves. If this process is trusted and allowed to move through the body, emotions rise, move on into other emotions, dissipate and resolve.” The Body as Container of Instincts, Emotions, and Feelings, Merete Holm Brantbjerg & Sally Stepath
Following are a few exercises for starting to cultivate a sense of this container in the torso. Some can be done as a practice before going out into the world, some can be snuck in anywhere, unnoticed….cocktail hour…holiday dinner…waiting in line??? Go slowly, let it feel good. Pause regularly to come back to your ground, notice what happens in the body and how you perceive the space around you. Find the level of activation in the muscles – or ‘dose’ that feels perfect for you. Be curious about which exercises do and don’t resonate. The ones that feel good to you are a resource.
Start by feeling the feet on the earth, or by doing a grounding exercise.
1.Move all the joints to sense the body, feeling flexibility throughout. Especially focus on the ribcage, arms, and shoulders.
2.Pat firmly the whole outside surface of the body. This wakes up the skin, your physical boundary. Pause. Notice how you feel inside, how you perceive your surroundings.
3.Explore, with palms facing out, pushing the space away from the body – from the front, the sides, above – finding out where your energetic boundary ends and begins. This can create a feeling of filling up or owning your personal space. Try the exercise inhaling as you push away. Then try it exhaling as you push away. Which one feels just right for you?
4.Lean against a wall with your back up against it, really feeling into the back’s surface, having your feet out in front so you are really steady and supported, bending the knees a little if needed. Feel your torso as a container of energy by pushing your back into the wall for a bit. Do it with the upper back, the lumbar, activating the muscles in these areas. Then move away from the wall to see how you feels. This can also be done in pairs with one person giving firm pressure into the other’s back with their hands.
5.Standing or sitting, bring your fingertips together in front of somewhere between then heart and the solar plexus. Starting lightly, press the fingertips together. Do it a little more firmly if you feel sleepy or the emotions are of the ‘lower’ variety. This can help wake up the back body while creating an energetic boundary in your front.
6.Try it with the heels of the hands pressing into each other. One might feel better than the other. Again, play with dose – finding the perfect amount of pressure that allows you to feel ‘held’ and to have space for your inner experience while being present and available to meet and be in the world.
Both of the above can also be done sitting, using the back of the chair as a support, and if the chair has arms, pressing the outside of your arm into them.
Go forth, hummingbird.
This is the second in a series intended to share skills for cultivating presence in the body and mind. Find the first, ground, here. Capacity-builders for regulation of the nervous system as trauma unwinds in the body, these skills are amazing resources for moving in and around this stimulating world. They come to me from my Relational Trauma Therapy teacher, Merete Holm Brantbjerg, Danish psychotherapist and one of the developers of the body-oriented psychotherapy, Bodynamic Analysis.