Inflammation and the Body’s Response to Overwhelm

greenWe all know that stress causes disease. We all know that emotions live in our bodies. It is no longer surprising that certain physical symptoms show up when we’re stressed or overwhelmed. Simple observations can tell us, for example, that some of the physical discomforts we live with daily go away when we’re on vacation.

As a practitioner of Body Dialogue for more than 40 years, I’m looking again at the subject of inflammation in the body. I often notice that women who have a hard time accessing and expressing negative feelings, especially anger, will somatize these feelings into diseases that are otherwise seen as chronic flare-ups of arthritis or other autoimmune diseases. These illnesses become a way for the body to express heat and fire. We become inflamed because we’re unable to express the heat of our feelings in another way.


I do not want to suggest that we are to blame for our physical diseases, but I have observed that repressed emotions that are not released or discharged – even in simple ways such as crying, shaking, or yawning – can settle into the tissue and eventually show up as an autoimmune disease.

Just recently a friend remarked that she has been noticing an extreme flare-up of discomfort in her joints and a lot of swelling in her body. The swelling resembles osteoarthritis. Because she’s done a lot of emotional work and is a practiced meditator, she noticed that her mind and her body are not in sync with each another. She’s aware that her mind was saying one thing in a situation, but another part of her was saying exactly the opposite.

This was the situation: My friend’s housemate, whom she loves dearly, asked if her sister could move in with them. The sister has a chronic, debilitating illness. My friend said yes, all the time knowing that she really wanted to say no. She simply did not want to tell her housemate how she truly felt. She did not want to let her down. She probably felt she was being selfish. She believed that she should be able to accept the situation, but in truth some deep part of her could not accept her own “yes” to the request. And so her body “spoke” up. It started expressing symptoms of swelling, heat, and burning sensations. Notice the words she used to describe how she felt – all words connoting fire.

How many times have we done the same thing? How many times have we overridden those voices in our heads? How many times have we wanted to say NO, but out of our mouths comes YES? How many times have we overridden those inner instincts to tell the truth of how we feel?

I’m not sure this is a gender issue, but I work with so many women who feel they can’t express what they want to say. I’m certain men do the same thing, but they express it in a different way. It is not uncommon for the body to get our attention by producing physical symptoms in places where we already have physical vulnerability. It is not easy to listen to the body because sometimes it presents us with messages we do not want to hear.

In the case of my friend, she needs assistance. This is where the work of Body Dialogue comes in. The touch of tender loving hands can help us accept our true desires – to connect our minds with the messages our bodies are trying to tell us. My friend will be able to release the pain of her dilemma and conflict in the safe hands of one she knows and trusts. She needs to feel accepted for what she really feels and perhaps make a decision that is unpopular but is necessary for her well-being.

Because we have a relationship of trust, talking about the situation helped her understand what she needed to say. By speaking her true feelings, she started almost miraculously feeling much better.

In cases of extreme and chronic conditions this is just one way to approach the healing of the body. Once the inflammation has taken root and one has lived with it over a period of years, the body’s need to repair could take a long time and lead a person down many different roads towards healing. This observation can be addressed with a doctor, homeopath, acupuncturist, good masseuse, cranial therapist, or reflexologist. Ideally if the practitioner allows the person to drop into the physical and metaphoric understanding of the illness, images will emerge and take the person from distress towards compassion for one’s self and one’s healing.

The teacher Marion Woodman has written that the metaphor that lives in the body will emerge into one’s dream life. Once the metaphor is lived and understood, the road to recovery is possible.

In order to live in to the images one has to take their message seriously and then find ways the way to express the feelings so they do not have to show up as illness or physical pain. WE are the experts of what is happening inside us. We simply need to take the time to listen and discern what our bodies are trying to say.

Using the Breath as a Tool to Counter Anxiety and Fear

A student came to me with an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. I got her on my table and opened the space for her to describe what she was experiencing. While she was speaking, I used my hands to feel for where the tension patterns were in her back, neck and shoulders. With my touch alone her anxiety started to lessen. Together, we would slowly count to ten out loud, and with each counting, her body started quieting down, and her tension patterns began to release.  I gave her very physical instructions.  I told her to feel the weight of her bones on the table. I helped her experience opening the jaw wide (releasing some of the pressure at the back of her skull), and I helped her identify the tension at the back of her tongue.

In the space of one hour, she began to see that the physical patterns of her body and the restrictions in her breathing were simply a result of habit. With guidance, hands- on instruction and my insight, she began to quiet the chronic panic that would build from breath to breath.You might imagine that her anxiety was only an emotional problem, but she already had tried a decade of talking therapy and it wasn’t having results that were measurable; it wasn’t shifting her behavior. Her tension literally lived in her body.

We continued to count out loud in series of 10’s, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10…and little by little her exhale increased from 10 counts to 50.  With the increase of exhalation, her muscle tension released, the panic subsided, and she began to receive a glimmer of hope, that perhaps she didn’t have to live crippled by anxiety.

In some cases, dealing with anxiety can be as simple as becoming aware of where we are unconsciously holding tension in our bodies, and consciously releasing and relaxing our bodies.


Click here for a practice to try at home. Enjoy!