Julian is a dynamic, tall, handsome man in his early 20s.
He came to me with deep exhaustion and anxiety that kept him on edge most of the time. When I first met him, I was struck by his earnest warmth and genuine caring for others. We did this session seated, although I did use touch to speed up the process as we worked.
As he sat with his eyes closed, I asked him to describe his life for me. I put my hands on the front of his chest and on his back behind his heart to better track what he was struggling with as he spoke. Julian runs a nonprofit for inner-city children living below the poverty line, and it inspires him deeply.
What I felt as he talked about his mission with these children was a heart that is deeply inspired—my front hand felt lots of warmth exuding from his chest as he shared the details of this part of his life. My back hand felt almost no warmth or energy at all. It actually felt a little vacant.
I asked Julian whether he could feel a difference between the front of his chest and the back, and he immediately confirmed that he could feel the warmth coming from about halfway back out to the front. His back felt cold to him.
I was encouraged that he had that level of awareness in the beginning of our first session. I knew this would probably go quickly with that level of opening awareness.
I explained that he was not alone in doing what I call “running slightly in front of himself” with all his inspiring activities. I felt him relax a bit when he realized that this was simply an energy habit, not a character flaw.
It is an epidemic in our culture today to adopt the energy habit of running slightly out in front of ourselves, trying to keep up with all that life offers or demands of us. However, the first problem that arises is that we lose the sense of the back of our body when we chronically live from this forward-leaning energy habit.
As I was writing this book, which deeply inspired me, I also caught my inner body awareness sliding forward out of my back, as I concentrated on the words appearing on my computer screen in front of me. So many things pull us forward in the world today, and it is so important to remember to rest back and enjoy yourself on a regular basis.
I often see people in my practice with anxiety as a result of abandoning their inner navigational system by running in front of themselves, constantly checking for safety on different levels. For some, it is physical safety.
For others, it might be emotional safety, financial safety, or any kind of preoccupation with the future. The squirrel in the cage of the mind, running endlessly on the wheel of worry, is fed when you do not have access to the present moment of sensation in the exquisite navigational system of your body, which leaves only future possibilities or past experiences to go on.
I asked Julian to let his focus expand from the front to his back, where my hand cradled his spine behind his heart. Slowly, he was able to sink in. About halfway there, it stopped. I asked him what he was thinking.
“If I do not keep my awareness on red alert for safety, I will fall prey to untrustworthy people. I have to keep my awareness constantly scanning out there in front of me….” Julian trailed off, realizing what he was saying. I let him know that I would be introducing him to a better danger/safety detector in a few minutes.
Again, I felt him relax another level, and both of us could feel warmth arriving in my hand on his spine. A slow smile came to his face.
“This feels really nice—and quiet, restful, and peaceful. If I could live from here, I bet I would not feel so exhausted all the time!” A smile came to my face this time.
Now that warmth was extending from front to back fully, we could start exploring the sensations of his gut instincts—that danger/safety knowing. He easily breathed his way down his spine and into his gut. It felt easy and full. I brought his awareness to the connection between his heart and his gut. He could feel that easily as well.
Next I asked him to think of a situation where he had made a decision that he regretted. He immediately thought of a recent issue where he had felt things were off, but he had let his mental faculties overrule his gut knowing. On paper, the situation looked perfect.
In real time, it was a mismatch that had made his life miserable for a month. I asked him to notice that his gut had signaled him without him constantly scanning the horizon and exhausting himself. He grinned when he realized that.
Next I asked him to think of something that he had done that was a wonderful success. He immediately brought to mind a wonderful and slightly wacky idea he had jumped into and brought to fruition easily. I asked him how that felt.
I could feel the warmth flood his gut with “this is right for you” signals, even as his heart was feeling deeply inspired by it all. He was grinning from ear to ear remembering the whole event and how right it had felt, despite all the facts surrounding the issue. This told me he had a good relationship going between his heart and his gut.
On top of that, his mental faculties had joined with his gut and his heart to strategize how to make it all work so easily. It was just fun!
I completed the session by walking him through the Core Embodiment Process. I showed him how to ground and fill up the rest of the container of his body by allowing a flow of energy to come in from the earth beneath him, flowing up his legs to join and support his gut, heart, and mind.
When we were done, he felt relaxed, solid, and present. What a gift he will bring to the world from here!
Resilience and an Open Heart
“I am seriously wondering whether my husband and I will make it,” Lila said to me during our session. “At times, I think he’s really selfish and has no idea the impact of his behavior on me. I often feel vulnerable and anxious.” Lila’s calm demeanor and intelligent gaze belied her inner turmoil.
I asked what her husband had done to cause so much angst, and Lila replied that her husband had had three motorcycle accidents in the last three years, which had left her fried.
In the last accident, he was so seriously injured that it was touch-and-go as to whether he would emerge intact.
Though he had recovered fully, it took quite a while for him to do so.
I asked if, by saying he was “selfish,” Lila meant that he continued to ride.
“No, he has agreed to give it up,” she replied.
I asked what reassurance Lila needed from her husband. She said, “I don’t know. I just feel so anxious all the time.” At that point, we went to the treatment table so I could put hands on her to better support whatever needed to unfold.
I was immediately drawn to her heart, so I put my hands on the front and back of it. I asked her to allow her awareness to come into the space between my hands. I registered a sense of shock and frozenness that was not readily apparent on the surface.
Lila was a vibrant, beautiful woman in the prime of her life. Before this series of events she was at the top of her game, both successful and highly esteemed in her professional world. With her husband’s latest accident, and her weeks at his bedside, she had to put much on hold, and that suspension was also adding to her anxious and ungrounded feelings.
Ever since, Lila had been walking on eggshells, constantly on alert for what was going to happen next. This is the typical response of a system still in shock. It loses its resilience, its ability to bounce back after the adversity or trauma has passed.
I asked Lila how her heart felt to her. She said it felt fortressed and hard, as though protecting itself. I gently let her know that was normal for someone who had been through what she had been through, almost losing a loved one.
I explained that the repeated shocks to her heart had caused it to tighten down to the place that felt protected, but there was no resilience left—no capacity to roll with whatever came next. She was basically hypervigilant and running on adrenaline.
“Has anyone held your heart like this since the last accident?” I asked. She said she had plenty of other kinds of support, but no one had held her heart. She was the one supporting everyone else, while trying to keep the pieces of her high-powered professional life together.
“And how does your heart feel, being held in this caring way, with no agenda and no time pressure?” I continued. Lila said my hands felt very warm, safe, and comforting. I could feel the hardness starting to soften between my hands.
Directing my next question to her heart, I asked what it needed from here. Her immediate answer was “peace.” I asked Lila what peace meant to her heart, and she replied that it was a sense of quietness and stillness, rather than the agitation she had been living with for the last few years.
Then she said, “Freedom.” I immediately thought of what she’d first told me, that she was wondering if she and her husband would be strong enough to stay together.
When I asked what she meant, Lila said, “Freedom from this anxiety I live with constantly.” Her response indicated to me that she was ready to drop a layer deeper. Her anxiety was no longer being projected onto her husband as the causal factor.
As I continued to hold her heart, I could feel the achy quality leaving her chest as it relaxed to deeper and deeper levels over the next five minutes. She shared that she could feel from the front all the way to the back, and it was one continuous flow of warmth.
Lila was concerned that she didn’t know how to feel safe if part of her wasn’t vigilant all the time. I asked her how she was feeling in that moment. She noted that she was not anxious anymore. I helped her connect her heart and her gut instincts so she would be signaled if something was truly wrong.
Lila realized that with her adrenaline running all the time, everything looked like a potential danger, which caused her more worry and stress. I pointed out that the gut would signal her if something in the current moment was dangerous in her environment.
I asked Lila how she was feeling about her husband. A slow smile came to her face. Her resilience had returned. Her heart was relaxed and full once more.
When I spoke to her the following week, she shared that her heart continued to feel full and that her anxiety was significantly lower. In fact, it had become negligible in her life.
When Marcus, an attractive, dark-haired 30-year-old, first came to my office, I could not quite put my finger on why I had trouble connecting with him. It was as though a glass shield existed between Marcus and the rest of the world.
Superficial witty exchanges took place, but nothing of depth. When his pain surfaced on my treatment table, I was able to clearly see the pattern and consequences of loving “halfheartedly.”
As my first session with Marcus began, I cradled his chest between my hands, and we both took our awareness into the area of his heart.
He reported that it felt knotted up and small—maybe half its original size. When we engaged with his “half-a-heart,” he suddenly remembered experiencing a deep loss in his life when he was 17. In a matter-of-fact voice, Marcus told me that he had ended his first deep love relationship when his girlfriend had to return to Oregon.
He reported that “the breakup was inevitable, and there was nothing that could have been done to alter the outcome.” His emotionless sharing indicated to me that he was speaking from his head rather than feeling the message his heart was trying to convey.
I asked Marcus what part of himself he was speaking from. He was silent for a moment and then realized his awareness had left his heart and was reporting in from his head. I gently asked him to drop back to his chest area and answer from there.
Within minutes, tears were streaming down his face. As he felt safe enough to share, he described how special she had been to him. Slowly, his heart unfurled from its tight ball, letting go of the grief of that loss. Marcus was startled and shocked by the intensity of his feelings. He had no idea how much he was carrying there.
His logical mind said, “After all, it was just a young love, one that we knew from the beginning was going to end because she was visiting family for the summer.”
Under my hands, his chest felt warmer and warmer as layer after layer of grief and sadness rolled out. To our amazement, after his heart expanded to its normal size, it kept right on going until Marcus had the feeling that it was filling his whole body. He was astonished by how different and real everything felt.
The glass shield was gone, and the fullness of life had returned to him. All his senses were reawakened, fine-tuned, and receiving exquisitely well. His face was lit up with joy.
I met up with Marcus again recently. We spoke in depth about that transformational session. His presence now has an authenticity to it. As we shared time together, I felt a deep, easy connection. What a difference having his whole heart is making to Marcus’s experience of the richness and fullness in his life.
About the Author
Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, C.M.T., C.S.T.-D., is the author of Reclaiming Your Body and Full Body Presence. Her Healing from the Core curriculum combined with CranioSacral therapy and other bodywork modalities creates a complete, body-centered guide to awareness, healing, and joy. She teaches around the world and lives in Reston, Virginia. Excerpted from the book Reclaiming Your Body: Healing from Trauma and Awakening to Your Body’s Wisdom. Copyright ©2017 by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana. Printed with permission from New World Library—www.newworldlibrary.com. Read more of Suzanne’s teachings on the heart in “Can You Really Trust Your Heart? Read This Before You Decide,” in the October print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.
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