It’s a sunny, snow-filled afternoon here in Boulder, one of my favorites and truthfully a lot of the reason I live here. The combination of fluffy white snow and sunshine was not really a part of my New England childhood. So every year since I moved here I revel in the winter. Despite the hassle of shoveling and remembering to start my car well before I need to leave the house, the enjoyment of watching the snow come down never really gets old. I actually make it a point, every time it’s snowing in the evening, to take Lucy for a walk, even though she’s got a great backyard in which to run around. I love the muted world that unfolds when it’s snowing, the softening edges and the stillness that takes over, forcing us to pause in our busyness and be quiet, even if just for a minute. Suddenly, in that muted space, things look a bit different, the light shifts, and my focus becomes more diffuse. And then I kick the snow off my boots and go back inside and the sharpness returns. I have found, though, that my body remembers the feeling of that stillness and one of the things that I love so much about bodywork is that it’s a place in my daily life that I get to access that stillness, that quiet, whether it be working or receiving.
I’ve spent the past few days finding my ground again, or perhaps getting used to this new ground I’ve found, after being in CranioSacral training for 5 days. It’s something of a vortex, the training, in the most beautiful way possible. But, after that chunk of time I find it takes me a little while to reorient to my surrounds. And the trick is, as always when coming out of a profound experience, how to integrate this new learning into my life.
This week’s training focused mainly on the nervous system – the parasympathetic, sympathetic and social. The parasympathetic state is often referred to as “rest and digest” or “rest and renew,” in contrast to sympathetic “fight or flight.” Massage often helps to kick in a state of resourced parasympathetic. That’s why you feel so great and relaxed after a session
But, as I’ve previously mentioned, balance is an important factor here and the key is not necessarily to strive to be in one state but rather to move between the different levels in the nervous system, finding resource in all of them.
I received a wonderful shift in perspective this week, recognizing that both systems are good and necessary when they are resources. Let’s not demonize the sympathetic (there’s all kinds of evidence out there of the damaging effects of prolonged sympathetic nervous system arousal), it serves a wonderful and really important purpose when we access it as a resource (not as a prolonged stress response) – it’s our active, doing state. And, yes, even parasympathetic can be a state we actually don’t want to be in if it’s a stress response (it’s the lesser known “f” – freeze).
This idea of resourcing has been really important throughout the training – ways to help us when we’re triggered or activated by a topic we’re discussing or something arises when we’re on the table. In my mind, a resource is something that helps you contact yourself – sometimes it may be quieting, sometimes it may be energizing, but fundamentally it’s all about meeting yourself exactly where you are. For me there are some days when a run with Lucy is incredibly resourcing. I return home from being out on the trail really feeling in my body, feeling alive and comfortable and trusting myself. Sometimes sitting quietly reading a book by the fire is resourcing. Sometimes dinner with friends, talking animatedly and laughing hysterically is exactly what I need to reconnect with myself. And sometimes it’s a sub-zero quiet walk in the snow at night with Lucy, reveling in the soft edges that emerge. I find these to be resources because they remind me that, particularly when stress arises or something is difficult in my life, there are things that I can access that are working, that I can rely on.
I find this a really beautiful way of approaching the body, too. Sometime today, scan your body and make a few mental notes. We’re really good at sensing pain or aches or parts of us that don’t feel good. How about where you feel strength? Where do you feel the most ease in your body? Shine a little bit of attention on that part for a little while and then scan again. Notice a shift?