In the 20 years that I’ve been teaching people about their bodies and what it takes to make them healthy again, I’ve discovered two elements of this healing equation that must be in place for optimal success: Theory and Practice.
For instance, if you think about building a solid house that will withstand storms, earthquakes and the general everyday stressors of the environment — you need both theory and practice.
By this I mean, you need an architect, the blueprint, your contractors, and building materials (theory).
Then, the actual daily practice of this team coming to the construction site, using the blueprints, plus the smarts of the foreman, and the willingness of the contractors to put in the hard work … this is what builds the house (practice).
You need both – theory and practice – for a final product that is functional (and safe) to be made.
Building a healthy nervous system and restoring resilience back to the human system is much the same.
There are SO many terms and principles that must be learned when the health of the nervous system, healing trauma and improving how we move and act in our world is front and centre. Concepts and principles such as interoception, neuroception, containment, neuroplasticity and the workings of the parasympathetic nervous system (especially the vagus nerve) come up a lot, just to name a few.
And then, there is the practice. This is when the apprenticeship truly begins.
(Down below I have a practice for you to try out … so keep reading … but first, a bit more theory!)
Some have argued with me that one doesn’t need to know the theory, they only need the practice. But I beg to differ.
From what I’ve seen it all comes down to the level (of healing, repair, freedom) a person wants to achieve. If they want some base level improvements that will help them get by with a little less struggle and pain – then sure, dabbling in some techniques and some proven coping strategies will do the trick. But, for the person who wants to go the distance, practice without theory is not enough.
To shift deeply held patterns and stop the trauma cycles in not only their own body system, but their family system (um, the world system)… well, then, all the pieces – theory and practice – MUST be deployed.
Enter A (Practice-Based) Heart Meditation
One factor that informs the work that myself and my colleagues do is teaching people how to hone in to specific parts of their biology. Their organ systems, tissues, fluids … really getting to know them from the inside out.
Feeling them. Talking to them. Intuiting what they need, and then some.
From my experience so much of our stuckness and struggle, the anxieties and depressions, the learning disabilities and attention deficits, are merely symptoms of a greater pain: The disconnection from self.
Put another way — we just don’t know who we are anymore.
And yet, sometimes, we do complicate this quest for self-awareness by getting too intellectual about it, when in fact, knowing thyself means going straight to the core – to the viscera and the organs so one can actually begin to develop an interoceptive (sixth sense) of what is ticking on the inside.
Today is a blend of theory and practice. But, mostly practice.
I have for you a different kind of exercise. It’s one of my neurosensory exercises that’ll give you a peek into what it means to connect structures that support the heart.
Yes. The structures that support the heart!
This is a biological, physical, energetic and soulful neurosensory exercise.
My mentors (Kathy Kain & Stephen Terrell) who taught me about this structure and how to work with it have said that when one works with pure intention to this area (technically, it is called the ‘Mediastinum’) it opens up the true essence of what it means to be human. What they, and I, have seen with our clients is that working with this heart structure, the mediastinum, opens up a paradoxical duality:
Feeling both space and constriction, at the SAME time.
Or, put another way: goodness and suffering; the light and the dark; good and evil.
Many people may feel one of these qualities, and then the other, but the factor that is less understood, and therefore rarely practiced, is being able to tap into BOTH sides of the human condition, at the same time.
Here’s why we want to have the skill to be with both, at the same time.
If we only felt the dark, why would anyone go on?
It would be way too tough. The trap of depression and the hopelessness it brings would swallow us whole. (And for many, it does.) But, in such biological states of shutdown, it is tough to intellectualize a better way out — hence, why it is essential to tap into the body system, the biological system, and especially these organ structures and tissues, such as this mediastinum, so there can be a morsel of access to the opposing duality of struggle and stuckness.
The flip side to only feeling the dark shitty stuff is being set on an autopilot setting to pure goodness – only the light – with no regard to the realities of pain that might be surrounding a person (or even, within their own system).
What happens in such modes of functioning is that when said ‘only happy person’ is faced with a harsh reality that isn’t so pretty, there is minimal capacity in the body system (the emotional and sensory systems, typically) for that tough piercing pain to be felt without it sliding them into a deep sense of utter doom and a desire to just quit.
(The Aerosmith song F.I.N.E. depicts this latter flip side scenario beautifully.)
This is why I believe so many get stuck with procrastination, be it for health, work, or doing daily to-do’s, because when we can only function when we are 100% in flow and in goodness, we don’t wire our psyche and body to work in less than ideal conditions.
We need to practice both dualities, at the same exact time. This means, in many ways, that this is not a duality at all, but a state of existence that encompasses both. Which takes practice.
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A few people have already tried out this heart meditation ‘practice’ and this is what they reported:
“Such a visceral experience… hot waves of tears in some parts, but deeply content and loving at the same time. Thank you for sharing this Irene. I have ‘meditated’ in many different ways and in many different contexts, but this was decidedly unique in the way I connected to the internal structure and the ‘roles’ that my body carries out. It was like being introduced to an old friend that I have ignored for far too long.” Kristin G.
“I just listened to this whole video, and wow it really grounded me back into my body in a way I haven’t experienced before. Your words and my awareness of my heart space kept my mind from wandering. I’ve always focused on just controlling my thoughts while anxious and that usually makes me more anxious, while really feeling my skin and connecting with the bones, muscles and organs in a tangible way is really grounding and calming. I’m new to the realm of learning about Somatic Experiencing and I never thought to simply just focus and accept the different sensations of my body. I always try to stop my nervous system from overreacting by suppressing it and then it manifests in feelings of deep anger. Now I know that it’s ok to allow the sensations to flow through me. I still have a lot of learning to do about this practice.” Annet Z.
“I love it. It really helped me, working with skin, touch, imagining all “inside,” feeling the bones, the calm that is there. Wow. It helps my mind to calm, to access breathing. I can turn my head and eyes easily, I noticed sadness coming – flashes going through my body. It was harder to transfer this to the throat and down to the belly – it seems like my mind would love to do it, but the body needs time. And now I noticed tears in my eyes and hearing my body saying thank you, please stay here. Give me more of this attention and intention. Thank you.” Anja W,
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If you’d like to try this heart meditation then set aside some time, give it a try, and then let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to know.
Remember to follow your impulse and pause the recording as needed to process and feel what might arise. There’s no need to complete this recording in one sitting, and you can return to this over and over again.
With pure heart <3 love from my mediastinum to yours,
PS Want to leave me a message and let me know how this neurosensory exercise was for you, or, maybe you’d like to say hi and let me know what you learned from this article? JOIN the conversations over in my Facebook Community, Healthy Nervous System Revolution, or if you have a personal note for Irene and her team, you can always send it via email from our Contact Page.