How to Stretch

I was riding home last night on the subway and glanced over to the woman next to me.  She was reading something called, How to Stretch.  From the pictures, I saw that it was a manual on how to stretch the muscles in the human body.  The page showed a person bending and reaching in a variety of poses.  It seemed that there were many different ways to stretch and lengthen parts of the body.  It all depended on what you wanted to do.

Wouldn’t the same principals be applicable to how we stretch emotionally and psychologically?

From the many exercise classes I have taken over the years, the principals of stretching that I’ve learned are; 1) Warm up the body through some kind of movement  2) Slowly start to stretch your muscles while paying attention to any sign of discomfort 3) Challenge yourself to reach beyond your normal range of movement.

I believe and have witnessed the same principals in emotional, psychological and spiritual change.  At first, we need to warm up to the idea that change is happening or needs to happen.  This may be that quiet voice inside that starts to get louder and questions the state of your life.  You might start to feel restless, anxious or impatient with how things are.  You begin to think about what doesn’t feel right or how the things that used to fulfill you no longer do.  Slowly, you are warming up to the idea of change.

The second thing that occurs, after you warm up, is exploration.  Now that you realize that things need to change, you start to to explore what it is that needs to shift.  You may talk with others about your need for change.  You may look at classes, new job opportunities or relationships.  You then start to take steps towards these different areas.  While you are doing this, you probably will feel a level of discomfort.  You are doing new things and are exercising different aspects of your personality.  You feel the unfamiliar as you try new ways of being.

Finally, you move out of your comfort zone.  You notice that you are doing and acting in a new way.  While there may be intermittent fear and sometimes surprising pain, you realize that you are experiencing life differently.  You have expanded beyond your normal range of living.  Once that happens, you have fully stretched-until it’s time to do it again.

I belive we need apply the same type of care we do when we stretch our muscles as we do when stretching our souls.  Respect the need to warm up to the idea.  Accept that it will feel uncomfortable.  Challenge yourself to move beyond what is familiar .

After all, once you know that things need to change, it’s usually all ready started.

What are we trying to manage?

I read a piece in the November, 18th, New York Times Magazine, which was written by Stephen Dunbar and Steven Levitt. The article entitled, Freakonomics; The Stomach Surgery Conundrum (see full article) was mainly the writers’ view on the rise of gastric bypass surgery as a weight loss solution. What jumped out for me in the article were the following words.

“The operation often produces complications — physiological ones, to be sure, but also perhaps psychological ones. A significant fraction of postbariatric patients acquire new addictions like gambling, smoking, compulsive shopping or alcoholism once they are no longer addicted to eating. In certain cases, some people also learn to outfox the procedure by taking in calories in liquid form (drinking chocolate syrup straight from the can, for instance) or simply drinking and eating at the same time.”

As a body-mind psychotherapist, this makes perfect sense as to why this occurs. Unless the reasons for overeating are resolved or at least understood, the person will turn to another type of behavior in order to manage their feelings. A majority of the time the person won’t be aware that the urge to gamble, drink, or shop is connected to feelings. Most people who struggle with compulsive behavior describe the urge to overeat, drink or shop as an overwhelming need-they feel compelled to engage in these behaviors. In fact, in my experience, the compulsive activity initially provides a release from the unconscious yet built up emotional feelings in the body.  (For more on how and why emotions get held in the body, check out an article I contributed to at msnbc.com).  However, since the compulsive activities don’t reach the emotional root of what someone needs to express, the need to “binge” in some form or another starts again.  

 

It’s important to remember that most people don’t want to turn to destructive behaviors to cope. They inevitably feel shame and guilt for  being out of control and are harsh in their view of themselves. But often these coping mechanisms developed because it was the only resource the person had to comfort or nurture themselves. They had to find a way to manage the emotional pain either from the past or the present. Until there is an emotional and psychological understanding by the person about what they are feeling, what caused it and ultimately some healing, the desire to manage feelings through self destructive behavior will rise again.    

Whether a person decides on gastric bypass surgery or not, finding a therapist or support group is a key element in understanding the deep feelings that drove the need to overeat in the first place.  

Does Love Conquer All?

In working with couples, I have experienced the highs and lows of people in love.  It’s actually an honor to witness the determination some couples have in healing their relationships. They arrive in therapy with their hearts hurting and their hopes diminished-looking for something to create a spark. They sit in front of me divided-part of them has given up and part of them wants to try.

In watching the HBO series, Tell Me You Love Me, I am pleased to see how the therapeutic process is shown in a rare light. The couples depicted in the series believe they are in love yet in therapy, when that love is examined, the pain in their relationship emerges. It is a shock for them and for many real life couples to realize that love itself does not conquer all.  It does not conquer issues such as mistrust, broken promises, emotional or physical abuse. In my experience, consistent action combined with love is what heals those wounds.

Alexander Lowen, the well known bioenergetic therapist said that love blossoms with security. The security in knowing that when someone tells you they will be faithful, true to their word and present in the relationship, then that is what they will be. It’s not a matter of expecting perfection; it’s a matter of knowing that the person you love is someone you can have healthy dependence on. Healthy dependency occurs when you believe and know from experience that the person you are involved with will behave in a trustworthy manner a majority of the time. This is not to be confused with co-dependency, which is the giving up of your sense of self for the needs of another person. Healthy dependency provides couples with the comfort of knowing that someone else respects and yes loves you enough to honor your needs. 

Couples who communicate what they want from each other and understand the importance of action plus love, can create a strong foundation. In the long run, knowing that another person has your best interests at heart goes along way towards having a healthy relationship.