Sometimes I feel mischievous when people come to see me in my clinic
I know they've come for solving a certain problem, but I'm playing a different game. It feels a bit cheeky to be honest...they have no idea what they're getting themselves into [cue lightning flash and evil laugh].
People usually come because they're having some kind of difficulty with their body. Sometimes it's pain related: - Sore neck. Sore back. Sore knees, hips, feet etc. There's also many other non-pain reasons. Stiff shoulders, twitchy muscles, numbness, incontinence, uneven posture. etc.
They've often already attempted to get help from more commonly known methodologies. Chiropractic, physiotherapy or osteopathy for example.
But if their issues weren't so straightforward to solve, then frustration may have driven them across the bridge into unknown territory.
That's where I reside. I have trained in movement and healing modalities that are mostly-unheard-of and mostly-strange-sounding - (Shuichuan Qigong and The Feldenkrais Method)
If someone makes it this far I take my hat off to them. I recognize the courage it takes to pay a chunk of money, try something new and to put trust in a complete stranger...especially a stranger who's going to touch their body.
Now you may be thinking - "Jeez Tom, some vulnerable person has put their trust in you and then you just go ahead and deceive them. That's horrible!"
Yes, that would be horrible. But I don't really see it as deception. I see it more like... an upgrade. You could think of it as though they've asked for an entree and I have delivered a 3 course meal with drinks and fine music.
You see, I'm working hands-on with their body and moving them around in all kinds of unusual ways. But beneath the surface, the game I'm playing is one of self-love. I know it may seem overstated, but I truly see my job as helping people fall in love with themselves... and as part of that process, their pain and difficulties fade away.
If you'd like to see how working with movement can help you love your life more then you're in the right place. Put your SCUBA gear on, we're leaving the shallows and going for a deep dive.
Our Lives Are All About Relationships
One way I like to look at life is through the lens of relationships. From this viewpoint I see that my world is comprised of relationships and meaning. I have relationships with everything that shows up in my experience.
There's the obvious relationships, like those I have with my daughter, my family, my friends etc.
Then there's one's which are less obvious. Political figures, famous people I've never met and that annoying chihuahua which once peed on my foot.
And then there's relationships which are even less obvious. I have relationships with objects, memories, sensations, ideas, myself, archetypes, values etc.
Basically, if I can experience something, then I can have a relationship with it.
You can probably guess that I'm not describing regular relationshippy stuff here like deep and meaningful conversations. (My bookshelf is a great listener by the way) Rather, I'm suggesting that I have a collection of...
- Meanings/stories I make up...
...about all the things in my life.
For example, I used to have real trouble picking up the phone and calling people - even for really simple things. Every time I thought about doing it I would feel extreme fear. I would resist it for as long as possible while trying desperately to build up the courage to make it happen. I was playing a story in my head about me picking up the phone, the other person hearing my nervousness, laughing at me and thinking I was weak and stupid. When and if I finally did make the call, my voice would be wobbly and it WAS quite clear how nervous I was. I would feel super embarrassed talking to the person on the other end. In my body there was a physical sensation of being crushed.
This collection of stuff I described is what I would term my relationship with the phone.
Nowadays calling people on the phone is easy and I can actually enjoy it. I see the phone as a tool which can open me to many new experiences. My feelings about it are more neutral in general and I don't experience that extreme repulsion anymore.
Now I'm going to point out something which is quite obvious here, but I wouldn't want you to miss it... Did you notice how my experience of using the phone is much more enjoyable, yet nothing actually changed about the phone itself? The phone is the same phone it's always been - yet my life is better anyway... The thing that did change was my attitudes, behaviours, feelings and stories about the phone. In short, my relationship to it changed.
What I'm suggesting here is that...
The quality of my life is determined by the quality of my relationships
That's a weighty statement. I'll give you a moment to ponder it...
The downstream waves of an understanding like this are enormous.
- You have relationships with everything that shows up in your life, and...
- The quality of your life is determined by the quality of those relationships and...
- It's possible to change those relationships, then...
It's possible to change the quality of your life by changing the quality of your relationships
Think of some of the statements people often say (maybe not out loud) about themselves and the world...
- I hate my [insert body part here]
- I shouldn't be feeling [sad/angry/afraid/etc]
- I'm so stupid.
- I'm not good enough.
- I'll never be as good as [X person]
- People won't like me
- I can't do it...
- I'm too old...
- The world is doomed...
Do you think these statements reveal anything about the quality of someone's relationships? How about the quality of their life experience?
Consider what it might be like to have internal dialogue more like the following...
- My [insert body part here] is actually really amazing when I take time to notice it.
- I feel [sad/angry/afraid etc] right now, and that's okay
- There's something here I don't understand yet.
- I didn't get the outcome I wanted, but I learned something and I can try again.
- I'll give it my best shot and if I don't make it, that's okay.
- I like myself and that's why I'm doing this...
- I wonder what happens when I do this...
- Never too old to try something new
- There's lots of things happening which I cannot change so I let those be.
These suggest totally different relationships and totally different quality of life experience
The effect of listening on relationships
In my life I've sat with many people and listened to the things they struggle with. The really deep, vulnerable stuff that's hard to talk about. Loss. Addiction. Traumatic experiences. Fears and worries. Abuse. Uncontrollable rage.
My younger self would have approached this by giving advice, trying to fix the persons problem for them and trying to cheer them up. On the surface, while this appears to be helpful and caring behaviour, I've discovered that it usually has the opposite effect.
On the receiving end, it can often feel isolating... as though "they just don't understand me"...or "they're not really listening"...
I have learned that this approach tends to weaken relationships. Because it was true... I didn't REALLY understand their position. I wasn't REALLY listening. In fact, I believe my behaviour was driven by a deep insecurity - perhaps a need to show others how smart I am by being able to solve all problems. It was fear-based.
Now I'm a little wiser my approach has changed. My intent is to listen deeply, to honour the feelings, to withhold judgement and to understand through asking questions.
I've had people do this for me and it feels deeply validating. It is such a relief to be seen and heard. From this place it becomes easier to access my own wisdom. My problems either tend to unravel on their own, or they have fairly simple solutions.
In addition, this approach strengthens the relationship and builds more trust. It's actual real loving this time.
Listening = Loving
Many people aren't listening to themselves
Many people relate to their bodies and their selves from the immature place of the first example - giving advice, fixing problems and "cheering up".
They're giving themselves advice. "You should be going to the gym more". "You should eat better"
They are trying to "fix" themselves. "My thighs are too fat, they should be skinnier". "My leg hurts, I want it to stop". "I hate my X body part, I want it to be different".
They are trying to stop feeling the thing they're actually feeling. "Sadness, loneliness, anger, fear etc. This could be through distraction (more eating, television, busyness, cellphones, sex) or numbing (painkillers, alcohol, drugs etc)
This approach has the same affect on their relationship with themselves. It creates a sense of feeling isolated, misunderstood and not being heard. It ruins the trust in the relationship and certainly doesn't fix the "problems".
Listening to yourself is loving yourself
Approaching the body from the more mature second method is COMPLETELY different. When I work with people I am primarily asking questions and listening deeply. My aim is to see and understand someone exactly where they are at without needing to fix or change them. I do this both verbally and with my hands.
I'll get them to move and ask questions like these...
- Did you know that your ribs move in this way?
- Can you feel that your head rolls when we go this way, but when we go that way it stays still?
- Which part of this movement is the clearest and easiest for you?
- How does it feel when you do this?
- Where does the movement start to feel sticky or difficult?
This type of questioning can evoke the feeling of being seen. Being understood.
It builds trust.
The person begins to access their own body-wisdom and their problems start to unravel all on their own.
It feels a bit like magic sometimes. Externally it looks like I'm touching someone's body and their pain gets better. But I know that under the surface, something profound is actually happening. It's like a gentle river steadily carving away at the banks. Gradually over time people's relationships with themselves and their lives changes course.
Perhaps now you can see why this makes me feel so mischievous? I'm not actually there to fix people's problems. All I'm doing is inviting them to listen to themselves more deeply. They think I'm a "sore bits fixer", but really I'm helping them love their lives more.