We can lead healthier and happier lives when we are present in the body, grounded, aware, connected, and without being overwhelmed by stress responses. Stress in itself cannot be avoided, but our response can be managed and the tension can be released. So what can you do when you want to stop ignoring the patterns of stress in your body? A conscious embodiment practice helps release stress and tension through awareness, breath, and by allowing the body to express itself.
A fear response in the body can be turned into movement. Movement makes you present in your body, and when you are connected to your body your mind quiets down. If you shift your attention to your breathing it allows for the energy in your body to be set in motion, as it travels with the breath. Movement is grounding, as it lets you focus on sensations instead of your thoughts. Movement takes the focus away from what is making you feel uneasy and interrupts the fear response that you are experiencing. This is why an embodiment practice is essential in my coaching – whether meditation, free form dance, shaking, tapping, breathing, or mindful nature walks, embodiment practices let you release what you carry.
Release the stress response out of your system
I found that once I recognized how stress manifested itself in my body, and what it was that was so stressful, and why, I knew how to self-regulate and how to release that reaction out of my system. In a stressful situation I immediately feel my body tense up. My hips stiffen, my shoulders contract, my neck feels shorter, and my face harder. Movement lets me release that stress response and gain mobility and lightness, but also a sense of harmony. Getting into the present moment and into my body is the only way to get me into a connected and peaceful state.
In a sense, movement (whether shaking, jumping, or completely uncoordinated) is all a dance, and it allows the body to release the anxiety it stores in that moment. There is trust and safety in learning that the body knows exactly what is needed when we experience overwhelm and tension. But it is up to you to get familiar with your body’s communication, so that you know when to release that stress and tension.
Can you notice the tension that you carry now? Check in with yourself: what can you notice? Whatever comes up for you, can you recognise the times that it shows up? When you learn to pay attention to how your body reacts to stress, you also notice which kind of surroundings make you tense up. Do certain people make you feel stressed or give you a headache? Notice how some people make you feel open and at ease, whereas others make you feel agitated and tense. Possibly, because you have to stand up for yourself or set boundaries in their company, which they might not even respect. Or instead of setting boundaries with them, you clench your jaw, block your throat, and walk away, pretending that nothing feels wrong, only to find that you are tense and stressed and need a rest.
Becoming aware of what your stressed state is like, you can get conscious about releasing the tension. How can you describe your stress response, how do you sense it in your body, how do you feel it arises, and for how long does it last?
Our body contracts when we are distressed or threatened. This forces our breathing, our posture and movement to become limited and constricted. We tense up as the body braces itself for a conflict or an attack. Body awareness educator Paul Linden writes in Embodied Peacemaking about how your stress response narrows your perception, physical abilities, speech and creativity. When you are stressed you become fearful and angry, and stop connecting to others as humans. Instead they become a threat. Stressful situations can be conflicts, unsafe environments, or challenging situations that demand a lot from you. Movement helps create an outlet for the system that is the bodymind and soul, so that it can expand again, open up, and feel safe, rather than closed and constricted.
Movement puts energy in motion
Dance it out, shake it out. Let the breath flow. Movement puts the emotions and the energy into motion and releases the stress response. Lean into your body and your breath, and move. If you need to cry, allow a cry. If you need to let out a scream, do it, because it will help release stress and tension. When you get embodied and learn to handle your stress responses, it is much easier to understand them and to give them the space they need, each time they show up.
Dr. Tamara Russell writes in Mindfulness in Motion that the solution to stress, anxiety and mental clutter lie in our bodies, not in our heads. By engaging with the moving body we get into a mindful state that quiets the anxiety. She also mentions the fact that some people find it difficult to sit still in meditation while they are stressed and anxious. For me, the relief I find in movement, dance, singing or shaking, is that it releases the built up energy, which is what tension and stress is, but also excitement and nervousness. If you are suffering from chronic stress and tension, you might be familiar with not expressing your voice, needs, boundaries, or letting out the energy that gets built up inside.
We experience stress or anxiety physically in our bodies, so work with the body; be aware of how you feel it, and in which form it comes up. This is where movement plays such an important role and why it is essential in my coaching. Notice how you are in your body. How are you in the dance, what expression is there? Without trying to perform, follow impulses and express yourself. You can move on your own or even together with someone you need to have a difficult conversation with. Let me know what comes up for you once you give it a try.