In my life, I have had perfect moments—a sunset in Jamaica with close friends, coming, unexpectedly, upon a bobcat on a hike, jamming in the Green Room with Taj Mahal, having an ex-client approach me at a party and tell me how much working with me changed her life, and, of course, a kiss I’d waited months for.
I’ve also been lucky enough to be present during other people’s perfect moments—like this one which happened when I was the lead vocalist in a wedding band during the 80’s.
The bride’s grandfather was guest of honor. He’d been a young cello player in Germany when, as a Jew, he was transported to and survived the camps. Before the wedding ceremony, the affianced vacationed in Germany, and decided to try and find her grandfather’s old home. They found his apartment and inquired whether anyone living there remembered him. They located a family that had occupied a neighboring apartment during those years. The old woman remembered the grandfather—they were kids together—and added, spontaneously, that she thought she knew who might have his cello. She was right, they were given the instrument and shipped it home.
After the ceremony, the newly married couple told the room this story as they presented him with his childhood cello. Weeping, he held it in his arms and played.
I’ve been practicing psychotherapy for two and a half decades now, and the way I work with individuals has changed enormously, with huge leaps forward in the past five years. In 1991, I would conduct a first session without ever thinking to ask my new client about his/her exercise habits. Today, I never do an intake without learning about that—in detail. The older…er…more mature…I get, the more I know how vital this connection is for all of us. I find that my stressed and anxious clients are often not using their bodies to heal—they are relying on getting a feeling that you can’t get unless you invite your body to help you along.
Recently, I have partnered with Renata Joy of PureJoyWellness— www.purejoywellness.com—to share our knowledge of the healing powers of mind/body work. I have known Renata for twenty years and have had the privilege to observe her amazing work and listen to her stories of success in helping people find…well…Pure Joy.
I decided to interview her for this blog. This is what I asked, and this is what she said:
Sharyn: My experience is that the body retains unpleasant emotions and unless clients use some form of exercise to discharge them, they hold them in their backs, their heads, their legs. For someone who is just beginning to exercise because of stress and anxiety, what are the most important things to know?
Renata: Your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. When you are stressed, anxious or upset, your body tries to tell you that something is not right. This is the mind/body connection. Your body will show you physical signs that your emotional health is out of balance. You might experience back pain, extreme tiredness, a stiff neck, head aches or weight gain or loss. Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety. Someone is who just beginning to exercise to relieve stress and anxiety should look for small ways to add activity to their day. For example, they can take the stairs instead of the elevator or go on a short walk at lunch or during another part of the day. Also never underestimate the power of deep breathing to calm you down. Aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise per day to get the most mental health benefits.
Sharyn: What form of exercise works best for emotional ailments that manifest physically?
Renata: For emotional ailments that manifest physically, try exercises that increase muscle flexibility and strength, promote healing and increase blood flow to the injured or tight areas. Try low impact exercises like Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi.
Sharyn: What are the things that exercise tells you about yourself?
Renata: Exercise can show you that you don’t like to be pushed, that you don’t care to be challenged, exercise can also make you come face to face with your fear. But I think there are three big things you can learn about yourself through exercise:
- You Can Change! You may have started off thinking you would never lose weight, it’s too hard, it will take too long. But when you really commit to exercise and eating healthier, you see results. Losing the weight teaches you that your decisions matter, that you are capable of creating change and that your life is what you choose to create.
- You Show Up! Many people get caught up in excuses and justifications for not exercising. I’m too busy, my job takes up so much of my time, I am too tired, I’m too upset. I have heard then all. But when someone makes the decision to be different, to show up for exercise every day, they are not only investing in their health, they are also being accountable and reliable. You show yourself that you do what you say you are going to do. Knowing you can count on yourself is big. It boosts your confidence and is personally rewarding.
- You Can Hit Big Goals! Whether the goal is to lose 10 pounds or to run a 5k, exercise teaches us that we can achieve big goals. Most exercise goals happen because of decisions we make daily. Those small decision add up to big results. The reason more people don’t see the result they want is because they want it overnight. They want the quick fix, because it’s easier. People who are willing to go the distance and take small steps to their health are the ones who see lasting results. You learn that you can meet other goals in your life that way too.
What Renata says is so true for psychotherapy as well. Knowing you can count on yourself is a big one. We have all been disappointed, rejected, let down by others—even those who love us most, or, I should say mainly by those who love us most (not because they are bad people though they could be, but because this is the nature of life—people can’t always be there when we need them). Feeling that you are solid for yourself, can hold yourself up when you need to, can get through it yourself for the time being provides the strength to go on until things change.
The other comment she made that jumped out at me is that people who are willing to take small steps are the ones who do best. I’ve had clients think that if they talk faster, they’ll get better sooner. Tee hee. The truth is that only slowing down provides the chance to look closely, explore patterns, make changes that last.
These days I never start psychotherapy without doing a mind/body exploration—what hurts? What part of your body holds the stress, the pain? How are you using your body to help your healing? You would be amazed, or maybe you already know, that working with the body as you work with the mind enhances your life and offers startling positive results.
If you want to know more about Renata’s work or to get her forthcoming book for free, go, as I mentioned earlier, to www.purejoywellness.com and sign up. That’s all it takes to get yourself started…one minute of your time. Got it?