Soma: my best friends have bodies

I recently attended the Integral Center’s Aletheia workshop, and one of the things we did was Holotropic breathwork. Basically you breathe very deeply, very fast, over an extended period of time. We were told that at some point it would become uncomfortable, but that if we breathed through it, we’d likely have some interesting experiences.

I did notice the point at which it started to become uncomfortable to breathe. I noticed my body getting tired, sending me signals that it would like to stop. And I responded with a command that, if I verbalized it, would be something like, “keep going, worm.”

Over time I noticed that the pain of breathing resembled what I feel when doing intense exercise such as Tabata intervals or Kettlebell snatches, or what I feel if I run enough to breathe heavily on a cold day. And then I noticed - this is the main way I have related to my body since I was a little kid: as a tool to be used. Body sensations are usually nothing but signals to tell me whether I am in danger of sustaining damage.

When I was a child, the game of tag terrified me. The prospect of being It, and not being able to tag anyone else, and then eventually the game would end, but I, being It, would not be properly able to exit the game, and would have to remain there indefinitely, which would make me late for class or whatever else was scheduled next. So, although I was not a very active child, and therefore not physically fit, I ran with the endurance of someone running for their life. I vividly remember one birthday party where everyone else got tired of the game and left, but I had not been given permission to leave, so I stayed, running from It, my body exhausted, breathing painful, staggering away, until, shockingly, he gave up. I won.

Sports and gym class were like this too - even warmups! Running around the soccer field, with a sharp pain in my lungs, lagging behind the others, but determined to finish the prescribed warmup. Even now, when I try something like yoga, I am focused on making my body obey my commands. It is other than me.

It recently occurred to me that not everyone related to their body in this way. That the people saying “listen to your body” are serious. That when they eat, or exercise, or have sex, they are not thinking only of whether their body is performing the right acts as intended, but how their body feels about it.

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