"First, go for a swim": When the mind-body connection doesn't go far enough

A column in the Guardian late last week put words to something I’ve been considering for some time: if we are integrated creatures, can we go on thinking of our bodies as something separate from ourselves?

Oliver Burkeman succinctly unpacks the problem of how modern humans tend to regard their own senses of self: many if not most of us are dualists. We tend to think of our bodies (see even the title Our Bodies, Ourselves) as separate from us, as cases in which we carry around some more abstract notion of self. “Even the phrase “your body” is sneakily dualist,” Burkeman notes: “Who’s the ‘you’ to which the body belongs?”

The striking thing is that it is scientists, and not philosophers, who are currently at the fore in defining humans as more holistic, integrated beings. Physicalism, which might be called the opposite of dualism, suggests that everything that makes up the “self” – our thoughts, emotions, opinions, consciousness – comes from our physical selves, mainly, the brain. “Talk of the ‘mind-body connection’ is often dismissed as new-age quackery,” says this rather mainstream columnist, “but if physicalism’s right, mind and body are more than just connected: they’re essentially the same thing.”

A study performed at the University of Cologne shows that how one thinks on this subject makes a difference: subjects primed to think in a dualistic way tended to make decisions that were less friendly to their bodies afterward, whereas people primed to think like physicalists were more likely to make healthy choices. Fascinatingly, “it worked in reverse, too: making people think about health foods made them less dualist.”

This strikes me as an important development for bodymind research: if just thinking about what’s good for your body makes you view your body as more integrated with your total self, imagine what more could be achieved with something like Rubenfeld Synergy, where a person is asked to consider their own body deeply.

Check out the full column here.

“First, go for a swim”: When the mind-body connection doesn’t go far enough

A column in the Guardian late last week put words to something I’ve been considering for some time: if we are integrated creatures, can we go on thinking of our bodies as something separate from ourselves?

Oliver Burkeman succinctly unpacks the problem of how modern humans tend to regard their own senses of self: many if not most of us are dualists. We tend to think of our bodies (see even the title Our Bodies, Ourselves) as separate from us, as cases in which we carry around some more abstract notion of self. “Even the phrase “your body” is sneakily dualist,” Burkeman notes: “Who’s the ‘you’ to which the body belongs?”

The striking thing is that it is scientists, and not philosophers, who are currently at the fore in defining humans as more holistic, integrated beings. Physicalism, which might be called the opposite of dualism, suggests that everything that makes up the “self” – our thoughts, emotions, opinions, consciousness – comes from our physical selves, mainly, the brain. “Talk of the ‘mind-body connection’ is often dismissed as new-age quackery,” says this rather mainstream columnist, “but if physicalism’s right, mind and body are more than just connected: they’re essentially the same thing.”

A study performed at the University of Cologne shows that how one thinks on this subject makes a difference: subjects primed to think in a dualistic way tended to make decisions that were less friendly to their bodies afterward, whereas people primed to think like physicalists were more likely to make healthy choices. Fascinatingly, “it worked in reverse, too: making people think about health foods made them less dualist.”

This strikes me as an important development for bodymind research: if just thinking about what’s good for your body makes you view your body as more integrated with your total self, imagine what more could be achieved with something like Rubenfeld Synergy, where a person is asked to consider their own body deeply.

Check out the full column here.

So what if I am being defensive?

One of the favorite refuges of arguers and old-school psychotherapists everywhere is to invoke the old Freudian saw, “Why are you being so defensive?”

Now while it’s true that sometimes, people are being defensive, this line of argument tends to be almost completely useless – unless your goal is to escalate the argument. Telling someone they’re being defensive is a sure way to get their defenses up even higher. And for the person accused, there is no escape: anything they say will be construed as further defensiveness, while the other person sits smug in their knowledge that they did nothing wrong.

Joe Weldon, one of the co-heads of the RSM training program and possibly my favorite teacher in the history of my personal universe, used to tell a story on this topic that I now find myself retelling constantly. Besides being a Master Synergist and having taught Rubenfeld Synergy Method for 30 years, Joe is a clinical psychologist and has been for even longer. He often had clashes with his colleagues, due to his unorthodox approaches, and apparently, nobody is more manipulative to psychologists than other psychologists. Once, in a meeting with a number of them that became heated, they told him, “You’re just being defensive!”

“Yes,” he said to them. “That’s because you’re attacking me.”

This was both the simplest and the best response I’d ever heard to that pointless accusation, in part because it draws on the wisdom of the body. One RSM principle states that the body always tells the truth, and if we pay attention, we know when we’re on alert – on the defense. And because the body has integrity, there is generally a reason why that’s happening: because we feel attacked.

“Attacked” may not always be literal, of course: the “attack” may be a feeling of neglect, of being pushed aside or taken for granted. It may be a sense of feeling unheard. It may be that you’re feeling manipulated, or taken advantage of. The point is that the body’s response to an attack is to defend. If you’re feeling defensive, look for where the attack is coming from.

This isn’t to say that it’s always the case that you’re being “attacked” from without. Trauma triggers, even what my own Synergist calls “lowercase-t trauma,” can cause the body to go on defense even when the intentions of someone on the outside are not to attack. Even without a major life trauma, there are habits and patterns our bodies learn: an old lover hurt us badly, and a situation with a new lover that resembles the situation with the old one may cause our feelings to be magnified beyond what is appropriate to the situation. We were laughed at as a child for being clumsy, and a lighthearted response to our dropping something makes us furious. The question in Synergy becomes: where is the wound? What was it that brought you to this place, and how can we shift it in the here and now?

This is a question I carry with me constantly these days. When someone cuts me off in traffic and makes violent gestures, I wonder: where is the wound? When I see someone abused, I wonder about the abuser: where is the wound? Even when I’m reminded of something like the horrors perpetrated in Sierra Leone by yesterday’s news of Charles Taylor’s conviction, I still wonder: for a man to orchestrate the systematic torture, rape, enslavement and killing of millions, what horrible things must have happened to him? Where is the wound?

Because nothing we do is without story. No defenses are built from nothing. Nobody erects fortresses who have never been harmed.

Why are you being defensive?

Principles of RSM #4: Change occurs in the present moment

During one module of my training, Ilana Rubenfeld visited us and taught for part of the week. She told stories, ran exercises, and most importantly, did demos. Watching Ilana work is a bit like magic at times; she makes the method she created look like wizardry as she delves deep into a client’s experience with almost unerring accuracy. But what she is doing is simply an expert-level deep listening, and helping a client to make changes in the now.

One demo client – let’s call him Dan – had a memory while on the table of a car accident he had been in many years ago. Dan is in his sixties, and this accident happened when he was a much younger man. But the crushing injury he received in his leg still has a story to tell.

Through touch and dialogue, Ilana recognized that this old injury was a distant enough memory, and he had healed from it enough, that its vestiges in the body were no longer useful to his system. When traumas happen to us, our bodies store them and remember. Often this is very useful to survival: we know not to touch that hot stove, or we learn not to drive too fast on slick roads. Other times, though, the protective mechanisms our bodies build around traumas can limit and trap us: we become overcautious or fearful, we startle too easily or lash out inappropriately. In extreme versions of this, we call it PTSD.

Often, when we have these kinds of symptoms or other relics of an old wound, we can get angry at ourselves. We tense up, or feel tears coming, and we wonder, “What’s the matter with me?” We may even repeat scripts we heard as children to our own bodies. “What’s wrong with you?” “There’s nothing to be afraid of, stupid.” “What are you crying for? Stop being so emotional.” We try and shut down our bodies’ responses, denigrating them: keep it together, be strong, get over it. What we fail to realize is that these responses have become integral to our systems somehow. And while they may not be responses appropriate to the present moment, they are nonetheless occurring in the present moment, and can only be healed there. Telling the story of what happened is only part of the process. Recalibrating your body’s responses to the current reality is where the healing occurs.

Dan felt the pain and tension in his leg, remembering, as he told the story of that long-ago crash. He’d been in the back of the car, asleep, when it happened. He awoke only when the crash occurred, after he’d already been hurt. The revelation that he’d been asleep became an “aha” moment for Ilana and Dan alike: he had no narrative for the trauma, no sense of control over what had happened. Not only was there nothing he could have done differently; he wasn’t even able to consider any choices, as he was literally unconscious. The leg had healed, but the story remained an empty question mark in his body, a sense of powerlessness and fear.

We cannot change our pasts. Many of us spend years in therapy, going over our old wounds, rehashing our histories. People with trauma are tell their stories again and again, though this is changing as research shows that it tends to retraumatize more than it helps. Even for people who are not suffering PTSD, dwelling on past mistakes, wrongs done them, or unhappy childhoods often doesn’t lead anywhere.

It’s important to know the truth, yes, and sometimes the damage done has to do with not knowing, fully, what happened. At times, though, we can never know, and even when we do know, we often can’t confront the person who did this to us directly. The only means we have for healing is healing our relationship to ourselves, in the present moment.

Dan knew what had happened; he’d been told after the accident. There was nothing he could have done about it. Yet something in his body still hesitated and held him back. Ilana realized that it was time to change the story.

Gently, she took Dan back to the night of the accident. Deep in the therapeutic trance now, Dan was ready and willing to go. In this version, he was awake, looking out the window into the rainy night. He saw the truck coming toward the car, the lights blaring, and readied himself for the impact. But at the last moment, the driver managed to swerve – and the accident that shattered his leg was transformed into a near-miss.

“That was close,” Dan said, and Ilana moved her hands down his leg. We could all see how loose and free it was, how much tension had been released from it in that moment. “Say that one again,” Ilana said. “That was close,” Dan said again, more softly. “But I’m okay.”

I questioned Ilana afterward about the path she’d chosen: it struck me as odd and maybe even harmful to rewrite history like that. But she had had that instinct because the wound was so old and Dan knew it so well that it was time for him to let it go, and rewriting is one way of doing that. It’s also a great example of this principle: change occurs in the present moment. What we cannot go back and change, we can sometimes honor, and then release. We can meet our bodies where they are now, see the old wound, and instead of decrying it, we can listen to it, find out its story, even thank it for being there for us.

The defenses we build up over time are not often things we have conscious control over. In fact, they often have more control over us. Addressing these defenses by going to the body can help a system adjust to the present reality, rather than responding to an old one.

Next: The ultimate responsibility for change rests with the client.

Toward a new theory of depression

Yesterdays’ New York Times Magazine contains a long article by Siddhartha Mukherjee detailing the history of the serotonin theory of depression, and a newly emerging theory about neuron generation. The whole thing is very much worth the read, and opens a number of fascinating questions and possibilities about what it is that causes what writer Andrew Sullvian called the “flaw in love” that is clinical depression.

Rubenfeld Synergy seeks to approach disturbances in people’s lives – physical ailments, mental distress, emotional pain, spiritual deadness – through an integrative approach, addressing all of a person’s parts, but starting especially with the body. The brain, though, is no less a part of the body than all the other parts, and in many ways, one of the most important. (I say “one of” only because of the enormous over-valuing of the brain that has occurred in recent memory, to the detriment of the heart and the spirit.) While it can be argued that antidepressants have been overprescribed, there is no denying that for some people, they have a profound effect. A combination of drugs and talk therapy is consistently shown as the most effective treatment, and I would never dream of telling a Synergy client that they should stop taking their medications in favor of Synergy alone. There are effects that these drugs can have deep inside the brain that are integral to changing some patients’ outlooks dramatically.

But the mechanism for these drugs, it turns out, might be much different from what we thought, and their effectiveness may depend on the type of depression you have.

One patient Mukherjee mentions fell into a deep depression after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. She knew that it was normal for such a thing to make her grieve, but her symptoms were more disturbing than that, and she asked for help. Prozac improved her more out-of-control symptoms – harming herself, not tending to her appearance – but her emotional state did not improve. Mukherjee notes, “Any sane reader of this case would argue that a serotonin imbalance was not the initiating cause of Dorothy’s depression; it was, quite evidently, the diagnosis of a fatal disease. Should we be searching for a chemical cause and cure when the provocation of grief is so apparent?”

It’s a complicated question, and one that has to do with how we tend to look at mood and affect. “We ‘grow sorrowful,’ says the author, “but we rarely describe ourselves as ‘growing joyful.’ Imprinted in our language is an instinct that suggests that happiness is a state, while grief is a process.” Further studies of the mechanisms of antidepressant drugs suggest that they are involved in a process as well: the process building new neurons in the parts of the brain that control memory and emotion.

This is fascinating news to me, as small parts of our training focused on neuroplasticity, or the brain’s capacity to build new neurons and new synaptic connections – to grow and adapt to circumstances. One study showed that vividly imagining practicing scales on a piano, complete with imagining the movements of your hands, was just as effective practice for a musician as actually performing the scales. If this is the case, what techniques might we have available to us that can strengthen the parts of our brains that can help us feel more vital, more alive, less “flawed in love”? If drugs and therapy together are the best solution, what can we learn about helping people with behavior and patterns of thought from studying the mechanisms of these drugs?

Mukherjee finishes the article with some interesting ruminations on all of this: “How much of mood is behavior anyway? Maybe your brain makes you ‘act’ depressed, and then you ‘feel’ depressed. Or you feel depressed in part because your brain is making you act depressed. Thoughts like these quickly transcend psychiatry and move into more unexpected and unsettling realms.” For me, these thoughts are less unsettling than they are encouraging: if behavior and feeling are interlinked in a way that doesn’t have a definitive direction, then we can begin with one and lead to the other. Remember the smile research? What other possibilities might there be for altering our very brains by altering what we do? Rubenfeld Synergists have known this for a long time, but we haven’t known a lot about the brain’s mechanisms for making the new connections we see our clients make. Knowing that antidepressant drugs may be working on creating new connections in the brain and not just on altering levels of serotonin makes this work I do seem more relevant than ever.

Read the full NYT article here.

Hack Yourself

Sorting through some old emails yesterday, I found a link that a friend sent to me long ago, that I probably wasn’t ready for around then. Yesterday I clicked that link and, to my delight, it was still there. Or rather, its author – horror and fantasy writer Michael Montoure – had pulled it from the depths of his archives, near the end of last year, just in time for me to rediscover it.

You can be happy. You can live the life you want to live. You can become the person you want to be.

This is what I’ve figured out so far.

The main thrust of the article? That we – very like fantasy writers, actually – can create our own realities. That we don’t have to listen to the ever-present inner demons that hold us back. That we can, in fact, choose to become the people we want to be – largely by acting like we already are.

The concept of “fake it til you make it” has always been one that resonated with me, and I’ve found that it almost always works. I believe that this phenomenon relates to the second principle of Rubenfeld Synergy: that the body, mind, emotions and spirit are dynamically interrelated. One part of the system affects all of the others, and no one of them is more powerful than the others in creating our realities. Like the smile research shows, sometimes we smile because we feel happy, but sometimes we feel happy because we smile.

In the modern, industrialized world, most people think of our minds as the top dogs. We use our big brains to make decisions, work through problems, and achieve our goals. We tend to think of our minds as “us,” and locate our consciousness, our identities, in our heads. Everything below the head is not “me” but “my body,” disconnected from identity and treated more like a possession than like a part of us.

We’re excellent pattern-matchers. That’s what the human mind does — it’s a pattern-matching engine. So we look at ourselves, at our history, at our behaviors, and we draw straight lines between the points — we assume that just because we’ve done things a certain way in the past, we’ll always do them that way in the future. If we’ve failed before, we’ll always fail.

Screw that.

Surprise yourself. No — amaze yourself.

It’s true that our brains are very powerful machines. But deciding that they are the totality of our identity is a mistake – especially when following those straight lines leads you straight to more failure. The truth is that sometimes it’s our bodies that are doing the driving; athletes will tell you that in moments of true physical achievement, their minds “shut off” and their bodies do what they know how to do. Sometimes our hearts – which research is showing to be more complex and powerful than we even knew – are doing the leading, drawing us toward a person, a dream, a desire, or through a process of mourning.

Try this: spread your arms wide and over your head, open your chest, throw your head back, and then say, “I’m so depressed!” Ilana used to do this with workshops all the time. See how depressed you can feel in that posture, even if you were feeling down beforehand. We can make changes in one part of the system, and cause a cascade of changes in the others.

[The demon is] the little voice in the back of your head that’s always whispering, “You can’t.” You know the demon. You may think you hate the demon, but you don’t. You love it. You let it own you. You do everything it says. Everytime there’s something you want, you consult the demon first, to see if it will say, “You can’t have that.”

Exorcise yourself.

You can take me literally or not, as suits you. But do, please, the next time you hear that voice in your head, imagine it, visualize it, as something physical that you can get hold of; tear it out of you, feel its fingers weaken and lose their grip on your spine, and grind it to dust, to nothing, under your boot heel on your way out to dance in the streets.

You can. You think you can’t; but it’s telling you that. You can.

There’s a bit of oversimplifying here, which he even apologizes for early on; some of the article smacks of the “Just Do It” culture that can be so damaging to people who find their histories, traumas, or environments too poisonous to easily escape by force of will. But I do love the idea that, as the name I chose for my business suggests, the power is in your hands. It may be difficult, and we may need to approach it from a different perspective than we’re used to. But – more RSM principles coming up! – we have the natural capacity for self-healing and self-regulation, and the responsibility for change ultimately rests with us.

Even more important to this discussion, though, is the principle I’ll look at next week: change happens in the present moment.

If we’re not talking about something that is real and present and in your life right now, then it doesn’t matter. Nothing can be done about it. If nothing can be done about it, then don’t spend your energy dwelling on it — you have other things to do.

This is not to say that traumas don’t need healing, that we don’t need to understand our pasts in order to move forward. Quite the contrary: we need to understand and know them well in order to move from them in a new direction. Our bodies tell the stories of our lives, but we can also shape those stories with our bodies, and with our minds, our hearts, and our souls.

We’re nothing but the stories we tell ourselves. We know in our hearts what kind of people we are, what we’re capable of, because we’ve told ourselves what kind of people we are. You’re a carefully-rehearsed list of weaknesses and strengths you’ve told yourself you have….

You owe no allegiance to that self-image if it harms you. If you don’t like the story your life has become — tell yourself a better one.

Think about the person you want to be and do what that person would do. Act the way that person would act.

Amazingly enough, once you start acting like that person, people will start treating you like that person.

And you’ll start to believe it. And then it will be true.

Welcome to your new self.

Principles of RSM #3: Awareness is the first key to change

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

-Socrates

This principle is one of my favorites, and in fact I sometimes think it should be the first principle of Rubenfeld Synergy. All of the principles, I think, are equally important, but this one just has so much juice in it. Why? Because all the bodywork and all the therapy in the world won’t help you to make a change if you don’t know there is a problem.

Self-awareness is absolutely essential when it comes to transforming your life, even in small ways. To begin in the body – as RSM practitioners so frequently do – we can look at pain. Pain is a phenomenon that most people don’t enjoy, though many have a complex relationship with it: the athletic slogan “no pain, no gain” comes to mind, as does the thin line between pain and pleasure. However, the main function of pain in the body is to alert us to a problem. This can be anything from “Hey, you’re working to capacity and your muscles are filling with lactic acid,” to “Excuse me, but I believe you just broke your toe.” The first is a minor pain, soon alleviated by water, protein and rest; the latter is something that requires immediate attention.

Sometimes, though, these signals aren’t as clear cut as that. Our natural self-regulatory systems, our alert systems, our fight or flight responses – all of these things can be damaged by trauma, or even by habituation.  One of the things that sometimes occurs in PTSD is that a person dissociates during anything that reminds them of the original trauma; fight or flight, having been betrayed or circumvented, becomes hypersensitized and ceases to work reliably.  Physically, if we work ourselves to exhaustion often enough, the body becomes habituated to it: if there’s one thing human beings are great at, it’s adaptation. So our bodies decide that this is the way it’s going to be, because it doesn’t know any other possibility. Eventually, such a body will fall into collapse, and the person will have no choice but to rest. But part of the goal of RSM is to help people not to have to take their bodies to such extremes in order to give them what they need.

“Listen to the whispers of the body, so that it does not have to scream,” is a quotation Noel Wight frequently shared with us in our training. So many of us go through our lives ignoring our bodies’ subtle messages until suddenly we’re felled by illness, or exhaustion, or injury. I sometimes think of the body as a toddler, first calling softly, “Mom?” Then, receiving no response, calling louder, “Mom?!” Then tugging on Mom’s arm and yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” The response to such a child is generally annoyance, even anger, which deepens the distancing effect of not listening. The more a child learns that she won’t be responded to, the more she will act out, until a hard shell of indifference forms around her, or she retreats into a silent corner, or she becomes violent.

Our bodies, similarly, want to be heard. They are our closest friends, our best allies, and they will work with us if we listen to them. Continuing to push yourself at the gym when you can already feel your knees whispering to you is a sure way to a severe knee injury, where resting or doing alternative exercises when you first feel the pain can avoid it.

Giving your mind a chance to focus on something deeply and without distractions can lead to more productive time at work, rather than finding at the day’s end that you’ve accomplished little other than reading other people’s Facebook statuses.

Telling someone they hurt your feelings, rather than sitting on it and letting it fester until you explode at them later on, helps to clear the emotional air between you, and allows relationships to deepen.

Giving your spirit time to heal from grief or wounding can make it more resilient, while having a “stiff upper lip” and telling yourself to “get over it” can result in a broken spirit.

All of these things, at all levels of our being, begin with awareness. We must know that something is going on. Even if we don’t know what it is yet. A man who doesn’t know that his ADD behaviors are making his friends and lovers think that he doesn’t care about them can do nothing until he recognizes those behaviors. A woman who doesn’t know how her poor self-image drives people away from her can’t change anything until she sees that she hates herself.  Change of the behaviors, or of the self-image, cannot begin until a person can see them.

And this is where we return to the body, because the body, as I’ll explicate in a later principle, always tells the truth. Even if it has to scream, the body is the first line of defense for awareness. If you’re pushing it too hard physically, eventually it will tell you. If you are really stressed out but don’t register it mentally, your body will respond with physical ailments that can’t be ignored for long.  Even in PTSD, where the body’s defenses are so heightened that they overreact, knowing that that is the case can begin to heal the fight or flight system.  Rubenfeld Synergy’s first aim is toward increasing somatic awareness – awareness of the body – so that its whispers can be heard, and your truths can come to light.

Once they do, change becomes possible.

Next: Change occurs in the present moment.

How music brings people back to life

My colleague Aita Passmore alerted me to this beautiful video, which shows a nearly completely unresponsive old man in a nursing home coming back to himself when he hears music that he loved as a younger man. Watch through for his crooning rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Ilana Rubenfeld, the founder of our Method, started out as a Julliard-trained symphonic conductor – one of the only women in the field at the time. It was music – and the rigors of conducting – that brought her to Alexander Technique, then to therapy, and then to the entire world that led her to develop this modality. In her sessions, she still uses her music background to listen to the body’s messages; it is not for nothing that her book is called The Listening Hand, and that we Synergists work to develop listening hands ourselves. Music is the natural language of humans, and there seems to be nothing that goes so directly to our spirits and identities as music that we love.

Not every Synergist relates completely to this idea of the body’s music, or the idea of “listening” hands; some experience the work as more related to sight, or touch, or even smell. But it’s amazing to see from time to time the way music can so powerfully resonate – there’s a sound-related word for you! – with a human being we’d thought was lost to us.

Enjoy.

Smiling has even more power than I thought

I found this TED talk about smile research on Santita Farella’s blog; thanks for the heads-up! I thought I knew a lot about smile research after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s fabulous book Blink, but this video offers much more.

Most of us know that when you smile, it actually makes you feel happier – not just the reverse. But did you know that smiling can increase your lifespan? Improve your overall health? Induce the same stimulation in the brain as 2000 bars of chocolate??

Watch and be amazed. And see if you can manage to avoid smiling your face off as you watch this delightful presenter.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Principles of RSM #2: The body, mind, emotions and spirit are dynamically interrelated.

As the years go on, scientific research continues to mount showing the truth of this simple principle: the body, mind, emotions and spirit are dynamically interrelated. What we feed our bodies, how well we sleep and how often we exercise all have profound affects on common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. Feelings of love and affection can make the difference between life and death in an infant. Prayer, meditation and other forms of spiritual exercise have been shown to increase grey matter in areas of the brain concerned with memory, learning and cognition.

Rubenfeld Synergy has been operating from this principle for about 50 years, and it’s exciting to see the research bearing out what Ilana Rubenfeld and her descendents have continuously found to be true.  What happens in the body affects the system all the way through.  The thoughts we continually ruminate on have effects in our bodies and emotions.  A trauma to the body is a trauma to the mind, emotions, and spirit.  And the more conscious we are of these connections, the more integrated a life we can lead.

My own experience with this principle came during the personal sessions I received during my training.  I was having a repetitive shoulder injury: every six months or so, the muscles running from my right shoulder blade up into my neck would lock up and spasm so painfully that I couldn’t raise my arm without crying out.  I would go to the chiropractor, who would snap my cervical vertebrae back into place, and then get massage to loosen up the spasmed muscles.  I would fully recover, only to have it happen again whenever I worked too hard at the gym, or spent too much time with my computer.  It was never clear what exactly would trigger it, and I could make no progress in improving my fitness and strength.  It was extremely frustrating.

On the table at one of the trainings, staring up at the ceiling of one of the little buildings at the Omega Institute, it came to me.  My Synergist, the marvelous Sarah Baker, had her hands beneath my shoulder.  I was in some pain that week, and my shoulders were tight and pulled in toward my spine.  I was also thinking about my writing, and why I hadn’t yet worked harder in my life to become published.  What was my problem, I wondered?  What was I afraid of?  Sarah had me tune in to my shoulders as I was talking about this.

I felt my shoulders pulled in, and I recalled myself as a teenage girl, walking the halls of my high school, waiting for the next lash of the various casual bullies who helped make my life there miserable.  I remembered curling inward, hugging my books to my chest, trying to be smaller, trying to be invisible.

“What might happen if you published a book?” Sarah asked me.

“I’ll be seen,” I said, tears starting.  “And being seen isn’t safe.”

My shoulders had been protecting me all of these years: making me small and invisible so that I wouldn’t get hurt.  With my tight, protected shoulders I was safe, but I couldn’t get stronger, I couldn’t get bigger, and I couldn’t put myself in any kind of spotlight.  Every time I tried, I got injured, and had to go back and start over.

Once I listened to the messages of my shoulders, I was able to see that their tightness had been integral to me at one point, but now it was time to do something different.  I didn’t need to be invisible anymore; I didn’t need that protection.  As I cried and released the emotion of the realization, my shoulders relaxed under Sarah’s hands.  I haven’t suffered that injury since.

The messages of our bodies are varied and complex, and tell stories that go far beyond tight muscles, old injuries, or sprains and strains.  They tell the story of our lives in all their prismatic beauty and pain – our emotional wounds and triumphs, our broken or soaring spirits, our troubled or clear minds.  This interrelation is key to understanding how Rubenfeld Synergy works, and how we can heal ourselves.

Next: Awareness is the first key to change.