How your body holds onto life experiences and how to work with the feelings that arise.
On our first warm spring day of the year here in Nova Scotia, green buds dotted the trees, the snow had gone, and I was looking forward to my walk to work in the sunshine. I opened the door of my apartment building, took a few steps outside, some deep breaths of fresh air, and then stopped abruptly. Woah.
Despite my body being still, my heartbeat was pounding, my breath was shallow, and my mind was racing to figure out what caused this feeling. The sun was still shining, everything around me looked to be normal and safe, but stress swirled in my body. Having no explanation, I kept moving and eventually forgot about the feeling until the next morning when the same thing happened. It happened all week before I understood that I was feeling a memory.
For the last five years, until I started working at Mindful, I went commercial prawn fishing in British Columbia to make enough money to go to university. It was on spring days like this, when the air was cool and crisp in the early morning, with the promise of a warm day ahead, that myself and the rest of the crew would prepare to go to sea for a couple months. That job was empowering and awesome in some ways, but I felt considerable stress every year about leaving almost all contact with the people I love to do a dangerous job at sea.
I knew before that our bodies hold memories, trauma, and emotions, but I’d never felt it like this. Since I put those pieces together, I’ve noticed some other ways my body holds stress and trauma from past experiences. But now that I have this knowledge, I can name the sensation, take a breath, feel my feet on the ground where I stand, and bring my attention to the present moment. I can find comfort in the truth that right now, I am here, not there, and I am safe.
3 Ways to Work With Stress in Your Body:
- Check in with your body, breath, and heart. Yoga and meditation teacher Leslie Booker leads this guided meditation to connect with what we feel in the body, “without getting caught up in the narrative, without anything needing to make sense.” Letting go of the emotions and stories we attach to these feelings can help us find spaciousness and ease.
- Connect with what’s good. Not everything that’s stored in your body is stress or trauma. “We carry the information from all of our life experiences in our bodies, at the cellular level,” Michelle Maldonado says, and that includes love, lessons, and joy. Here, she offers a body mapping practice to reveal how your life experiences are held in your body.
- Know that you can rely on your body for resilience. Linda Graham, resilience expert, offers a full toolbox of mindfulness practices to calm your nervous system during difficult times using the breath, touch, and movement. “Mindfulness practice is about creating choices for ourselves—about how we perceive a stressor or a challenge, how we react, how we react to our reactions, how we perceive ourselves coping or not coping, how we choose to respond to the issues. And we learn that we can.”