If a Headache can be Cured with Attention, What Else?

In this blog we are exploring the benefits and the “how-to’s” of getting more in touch with our bodies and sensations. If you haven’t yet seen the previous installment, you can find it here.

headache-1434466A few days ago, a headache I’d had for 2 days worsened to a point it additionally caused nausea. A friend came by to offer comfort, but I lay on the sofa groaning. It seemed possible I had a virus.

At a certain point, reminding myself of my beliefs as well as my experience with body-centered healing, I focused my attention inwardly on the sensations of the pain, noticing details of how and where it hurt. Almost immediately, I got some relief. I continued and after about 20 minutes, the headache was reduced around 80%. I then focused on the nausea. I had the thought “I don’t know how to do this” but instantly it came to me “you don’t need to do anything. Just stay present and allow the healing”. The stomach discomfort responded just as rapidly as the headache so that within an hour, I had my appetite back and enjoyed supper.

This was not just relaxation or temporary relief. The discomfort that had bothered me for 3 days was completely gone by the next morning.

Remember that heavy load on your back I wrote about last week here?  A very important way of opening the spigot to lighten the load is to become quietly very present to bodily sensations, like I did with my headache. It’s not very complicated and doesn’t require you to read a book on technique. It may, however, seem difficult at first because it runs counter to a natural instinct for all living creatures to avoid pain, whether by literally running away from something, or by distracting attention from it. That works pretty well if you’re pulling your hand away from a hot stove, but when it comes to addressing many more complicated pains, like a headache, or emotional pain in a relationship, or the pain of unresolved past trauma, this instinct misguides us.  The avoiding of or distracting from the pain actually prevents us from moving through and healing it!

So the secret, however counter-intuitive it might seem, is to turn around and courageously face whatever pain, fear, or other uncomfortable emotion or sensation seems to be threatening us.  We don’t need to think about it, understand it, interpret it, or any of those other heady processes we probably do a lot of already.  Simply give it your full attention, with gentle curiosity!

As you are able, a few minutes at a time, to feel what you feel in your body, without judgment, analyses, or the distraction of a complicated story, the spigot opens and lets a cup drain out….permanently!  At first, you may not notice any difference. What’s a cup compared to 5 gallons, anyway? The burden of old pain is still loathsome. But the next day or next week you do it again. Perhaps you notice new sensations in the body, like tremors or tingling. Maybe some tears come. That’s fine. These are signs of “releasing the past”, of your body and nervous system letting go of long-held protective tension.

Now several cups have drained out through the spigot and your step becomes a little lighter. You begin to see that moving through these old unresolved feelings is NOT impossible and need not be a scary experience. You become more willing to experience or “stay with” such feelings with compassion for yourself.

Now I know many of you are reading this, perhaps even nodding in agreement, but you haven’t yet tried doing it. These suggestions won’t work unless you practice them. If you’re drawn to it but it feels too strange, just do your best for 5 minutes only, and then leave a comment below.  I’ll reply. A sincere effort for even 5 minutes will drain a little more of the old burden out through your spigot.

Slowly, as you discover these ways of moving through the old stuck feelings, of slowly emptying the bucket, you may feel a growing commitment to yourself to continue draining the old stuff out of the bucket and also to never put anything new into the bucket. This means that when new challenges, traumas, or disappointments arise, you do your best to feel it or process it at the time. You don’t “stuff it”. You either find trustworthy support to help you through the new difficulty, or you find the willingness to be with yourself with loving presence, to the best of your ability, so that it doesn’t go into the bucket. And as you do, it drains through your body and emotions fully, leaving you unburdened afterwards.

I will continue to offer you concrete suggestions in this blog on the hows and whys of learning to stay with your old, unresolved feelings so that you can begin emptying your bucket, lightening your step, and experiencing your life with less burden. I hope you will join in the exploration and share your experiences.

Do you have private questions about the body-mind connection or about recovering from trauma, loss, or abuse? Click here to leave me a private message.

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Paul Chubbuck is a practicing psychotherapist in Fort Collins, CO, using Somatic Experiencing® to help people release trauma, abuse, and loss. He may be reached at 970-493-2958 or through his website at www.releasingthepast.com.

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